The strongest suggestion yet that Paul Casey will return to the upper echelons of the game appeared on a blustery afternoon in County Kildare as the Englishman won the Irish Open.
Casey's victory, his first since 2011, will move him back into the top 100 players in the world. A sign of how far his star had fallen in a short space of time is highlighted by the fact he started the tournament ranked 169th. Four years ago Casey lay third.
The Irish Open was claimed in impressive circumstances. Casey holed from close to 50ft on the 18th green for an eagle and a 14-under-par total, claiming the £283,890 first prize by three shots from Joost Luiten and Robert Rock. His 67 was the best final-round score at Carton House.
"It is incredibly sweet," Casey said. "It has been a while. When that putt went in, half of it was relief and half of it was satisfaction at playing a great round. What a grandstand finish. Winning an Irish Open is an absolute dream. I didn't look at a scoreboard the whole way round. Even after holing that putt on the last, I asked my caddie if that was good enough."
Casey's on-course troubles are linked to off-course events. He suffered a serious injury while snowboarding in 2011 that wiped out more than a year of his career. There has also been the trauma of a marriage break-up. In the midst of it all Casey's unquestionable talent was overshadowed. At 35 Casey has it well within his capabilities to return his game to its appropriate level.
This tournament, which suffered as Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell missed the cut, was afforded a worthy winner and an uplifting tale.
"I have known Paul for a long while," said Rock, who partnered Casey on the final round, "so I am happy to see him winning again, because he's had a few injury problems and stuff. We discussed that on the way round and he's come through like he should do." Casey had pointed out earlier in the tournament that only troubles with his putter have prevented him from winning. That sentiment was endorsed during the fourth round; after 11 holes he had putted only 16 times.
His crucial run came around the turn, where Casey birdied four holes in succession and five out of six. There followed dropped shots on the 15th and 16th but, with those around him also toiling in tricky conditions, that wonderful eagle putt ensured his overdue success.
"This means I can plan my year a little better – I know what I'll be playing in now," Casey said. "So I can relax, put the pedal down and hopefully collect more trophies."
José María Olazábal, who has an association with the Irish Open dating back to 1986, had earlier threatened to roll back the years after reaching 12 under and taking a share of the lead within 10 fourth-round holes. Yet Europe's victorious Ryder Cup captain from last year in Medinah dropped four strokes and ended up in a tie for fifth.
"I played pretty good golf those 10 holes and then I made three bad drives and missed a short putt on 12 that cost me dearly. But overall I guess I should be happy," Olazábal said
Inbee Park has won the US Women's Open to make history with titles in the year's first three majors. The world's top-ranked player finished at eight under to win by four strokes. Her two-over 74 in the final round was sufficient, with Sebonack's trying conditions keeping any rivals from making a run. Only three players were under par for the tournament.
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