The Open: Paul Casey reflects on a tough day but admits that even his best would not have been enough
BEGINNING the final round just four strokes adrift of Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey was in the perfect position to put pressure on his opponent. Having already enjoyed top-ten finishes in the Open, the Masters and the US Open, the Englishman had far more experience than the South African of competing at the business end of major tournaments.
And that four-shot deficit, as Paul Lawrie could have reminded him, was far from being the widest margin to be made up on the final day of golf's oldest championship.
But instead of even asking questions of Oosthuizen, Casey was soon posing himself problems instead. As a result, his challenge never got going, and he ended up being overtaken by Lee Westwood to finish tied for third on eight-under-par 280 with Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.
As Oosthuizen began with a string of pars, Casey's only hope of countering such conservatism was to go on the attack. But a bogey at the second put paid to that hope, and another chance was lost at the 5th when he failed with a birdie putt from around ten feet.
There was a glimmer of light at the 6th when an excellent second shot took him to within four feet of the pin. He sank the putt to go back to 11 under, and when Oosthuizen dropped a shot at the 8th the chase appeared to be on with a vengeance.
But that three-shot difference was as close as the pair came to converging. If the leader suffered any jitters at that point he had shaken them off by the time he claimed an eagle at the ninth. Casey birdied the same hole, but there was a touch of despondency about his demeanour after that - or more specifically, especially after a triple-bogey 7 at the 11th, where even the two-foot putt which did find the hole was a touch on the uncertain side.
A further dropped shot at 15 took him back down to 8 under par, and there he stayed, ending up twice as far behind Oosthuizen as when he had begun the day's play.
"It was a frustrating day," Casey said. "I played pretty solid for most of it, certainly got a few bad breaks.
"Even coming down the last, I thought I hit a perfect tee shot to the centre of the green and it rolls off towards the Valley of Sin and doesn't get into the middle of it, which would have been nice. Would have left me with an easy putt. It was disappointing.
"Having said that, even if you take away the mistakes I made, the couple of 7s I've had this week, I don't think it was good enough to get near Louis. That was an unbelievable performance.
"He was very calm, played wonderful golf, and all credit to him. I'm disappointed, but the emphasis has to be on that performance, because that was fantastic."
Having praised his opponent and admitted his own shortcomings, Casey was able to be optimistic about the general shape of his game, certainly when compared to a year ago, when torn ribbed muscles forced him out of action.
"It's a year on since a pretty down period for me, not being able to get out there and play and practise and enjoy the game, sitting there and watching everybody on TV compete.
"And that was tough. So I'm having a blast. It's sort of full circle now. I had some good bounces this week and maybe it's the golfing gods getting me into good form. And the beginning half of the season, although I've had some good results, I must admit I've been playing a little bit tentatively.
"I've done okay, and maybe this is a sign that the latter half of the season is going to be great for me. That would be nice."
Another nearly man to reflect on what might have been was Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. The first-round leader after a record-breaking 63, McIlroy fell out of contention with an 80 on Friday before recovering form with a 69 in the third round.
He kept up his form of avoiding a round in the 70s by concluding yesterday with a 68 for an eight-under-par total of 280. That was good enough for a share of third place, but inevitably McIlroy reflected on how he might have been higher still but for that horrendous second round.
"I couldn't help but think about Friday going up the last hole there," he said. "If I had just stuck in a little bit more on Friday and held it together more, it could have been a different story.
"But the other three rounds I played very, very solidly.
"After that 80 on Friday I felt I came back well by shooting 7-under at the weekend.
"You know, the game is there, and I can take a lot of positives out of the week. I know if I could have played anywhere decent on Friday I could have been a lot closer to the lead.
"I'm not saying that I could have got to 17 under, but I definitely could have been contending for second place anyway."
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