Casey, Westwood enjoy Saturday pairing, and chance to become Britain's champion
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland It isn't always easy being British in the British Open, where the tabloids suffocate their own and the galleries ache with every bogey. England's Paul Casey and Lee Westwood were lads when Nick Faldo was the man of the moment, a player the papers called "Nick Foldo" before he won his first major at the 1987 British Open at Muirfield.
That burden has been passed onto Westwood and Casey, two friends and rivals and Ryder Cup mates each looking for his first major at the grandest stage in golf. On Saturday in the gloaming at St. Andrews, Westwood and Casey shared a tee time and the admiration of thousands packed into grandstands, corner bars and hotel balconies. The applause at a British Open sounds different than it does in the states, its rapid rat-a-tat-tat carried on swirling, seaside wind. The applause for a British player is even more special than that, the rat-a-tat-tat joined by shouts of the golfer's name.
Casey and Westwood enjoyed loud cheers in their sunset spin around the Old Course, where Casey shot 67 to stand four shots behind Louis Oosthuizen, and Westwood's 71 left him eight back.
"Sir Nick's achievements, if I can emulate just a fraction of what he's achieved," said Casey, knowing full well Faldo is the last British golfer to win a St. Andrews Open, in 1990. "He's certainly a hero of mine, and I would love to replicate what he did here."
Casey and Westwood have each taken a unique path into the heart of this championship. The 37-year-old Westwood found success early in his career, winning the Order of Merit in Europe and a PGA Tour event in his 20s before losing his way and plummeting in the world rankings. He has cobbled together a comeback with a strict workout regimen and greater dedication to his craft, and he has been rewarded with a bundle of high finishes, including a win on the PGA Tour in Memphis earlier this year. Westwood is a regular on leaderboards in majors, but so often he's been stung by near misses a shot from a playoff at Torrey Pines, a shot from playoff at Turnberry, the kinds of losses that build either a thick skin or a charred one.
But for a few loose putts Saturday, Westwood would be closer to Casey on the leaderboard, but he still took plenty from the day, including the enjoyment of a walk with a friend, and the belief he can win from so far back.
"We shared a few jokes and barbs out there," said Westwood, who exchanged a fist-bump with Casey on the 10th hole after Westwood made birdie there. "It was just a great day to be playing St. Andrews I bet it looked great on TV."
It was sparkling for Casey, a supremely talented golfer who is learning that patience is just as important as power. After hitting his drive onto the fifth fairway Saturday, the 29-year-old Casey had 3-wood in his hand and was addressing the ball as he prepared to go for the green in two. The wind picked up from his left to right, and Casey looked up at the flag, then down at the ball, up at the flag, and down at the ball again. Peter Kostis, Casey's swing coach who was following well behind the action, says he yelled in his mind, "Start over!"
Casey stepped away from the ball, went through his routine again, and hammered his ball 30 feet right of the flag and onto the green. He lagged from there and kicked in a birdie.
"Probably the most controlled round I've played around St. Andrews," Casey said.
On Sunday, Westwood and Casey will play in different groups, but they will be bound by the pursuit of the oldest major in golf. Several years ago, I asked Faldo about winning a claret jug for the first time and all that went with it. The trophy opened doors and lifted burdens at home, but there was a simpler joy, too. For the year he possessed the claret jug, Faldo kept it by his bedside just so he could reach out and know it was there.
A British golfer hasn't won an Open since Scotland's Paul Lawrie took the claret jug from Jean Van De Velde in 1999. Before Lawrie, it was Faldo in 1992 at Muirfield.
"The biggest tournament of the year, as far as I'm concerned," Westwood says. "It's even more special when the Open Championship is here."
Jack Nicklaus, who won two Opens here, used to say that, too, and there isn't a soul in the United Kingdom or anywhere who would argue. On Saturday, Casey and Westwood shared a pairing, warm cheers and a good stroll on ancient links.
On Sunday, after a long wait, a son of Britain may leave as the champion.