Paul Casey is pushing 40, but that hasn’t stopped him from pushing at the door to the Champions Locker Room at Augusta National.
With ties for sixth and fourth in his last two Masters starts, Casey hopes to be trending toward a green jacket.
“I don’t have that many more opportunities left but I’ve certainly still got the skills to get my way around that golf course and put myself in position,” said Casey, who will be making his 10th Masters start since finishing tied for sixth in his debut in 2004. “I know (the course) better than I’ve ever known it. You always learn something every year you play. If I eliminate a couple more mistakes, hopefully I’m in the right place at the right time. You need a little bit of luck as well.”
Casey tied fellow Englishmen Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick with the low round on Sunday last year with a bogey-free 67. His downfall proved to be a second-round 77 when he bogeyed four of the last five holes. He ended up finishing four strokes behind Willett.
“I don’t remember walking away going, ‘I missed an opportunity,’ ” Casey said. “It wasn’t like I’d blown it and had it on a string and didn’t take the opportunity. I’ve had a couple of those where I felt like I had more of a chance.”
Casey’s first experience at Augusta was such an occasion. He played with Bernhard Langer in the penultimate group and got a lesson from the two-time champion out of the gate.
“I wedged it up to 7 feet on the first and Langer missed it short right – that really treacherous middle right pin – and he chipped it in,” Casey recalled. “Amazing shot and I missed the putt for birdie and it kind of set the tone for the day. I didn’t have enough experience at the time, but if I’d made that it would have been a different kind of momentum.”
Casey is a self-described “golf geek” who keeps the yardage books and pin sheets from every tournament he plays in a Dropbox folder so he can call them up in the cloud. But the best lesson he ever got at Augusta was his first trip when he played a scouting round with one of veteran caddie Carl Jackson’s brothers and picked the brains of Langer, Ray Floyd and Ben Crenshaw during practice rounds he carefully set up.
“I did what I could to learn as quick as I could,” he said. “And that’s always stayed with me. Even if they change the front of a green, the essence is still there. I’ve got my blueprint of how to kind of play it.”
Casey hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2009 in Houston and hasn’t won anywhere since the 2014 KLM Open in Germany, but he’s settled into a comfortable place in his life that keeps leading to consistent results and a No. 15 world ranking. He attributes an uptick in his results – including a pair of second-place finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, a fourth at the Tour Championship and a tie for third in the season-opener in California – to his caddie, John McLaren, who used to work with former world No. 1 Luke Donald.
“Stole a lot of Luke’s notes,” Casey quipped. “The biggest thing I enjoyed about last year was we played a lot of really good golf but we also made a lot of friends. It was fun playing golf. Didn’t dwell on the bad and enjoyed the good when it came along. Our goal this year is to try and have as much fun as we did last year.”
He wouldn’t mind if Willett’s victory at Augusta last year opens the door to a new era of European success at Augusta.
“It seemed so attainable in that great era of Europeans in the ‘80s and ‘90s passing green jackets to each other that obviously sparked something,” Casey said. “Hopefully the Danny Willett victory will spark more to come in the next 15 years.”