When Paul Casey finally bagged a par at Augusta National's 9th hole on Sunday, it was greeted with the kind of awkward applause usually reserved for a manager's speech at the holiday party. Given the train wreck that Casey's round had descended into over the previous five holes, a par was worth applauding.
The Englishman's tilt at Masters glory began to come undone at the par-3 4th hole, where a gusting wind saw his tee shot balloon up then crash land in the front bunker. After leaving his next shot in the sand, Casey finally escaped and two-putted for an ugly double bogey five. "It all started to go wrong with a poor 3-iron," said a disappointed Casey after signing for a 79 to finish tied 11th on even par. "I had a really difficult lie in the bunker and compounded it with a bad shot. It's a shame because those two shots were really only the first poor shots I'd hit all week."
Casey added a bogey at the 5th hole but his title hopes ultimately fell apart at the 6th. He had addressed his par putt when another gust of wind moved his ball. Casey was probably the only person at Augusta who saw the ball move, but he immediately called a one-stroke penalty on himself. His par putt became a bogey putt. "That really took the wind out of my sails," Casey said. "It was so windy out there and that was just out of my control. That's very difficult to handle. It threw me for a couple of holes and that was it."
Further lost shots at Nos. 7 and 8 making for a five-hole stretch played in six over par took him from a serious contender to Sunday's tragic figure. But when the final round began, many had high hopes for the young Brit.
He had started the day at seven under par, just four shots behind Trevor Immelman. On the first tee Casey was so in the zone that he didn't even flinch when a waiter serving lunch on the nearby clubhouse lawn dropped a pile of plates on his backswing, smoking his opening drive down the middle. He birdied the thirrd hole to stand just two off the lead, but the wheels came off on the very next hole. He went on to shoot 79, the same Sunday score he posted when in contention at Oakmont in last year's U.S. Open.
Casey's collapse was so complete that he didn't even earn honors as the top European. That distinction fell to British Open champion Padraig Harrington, who finished tied for fifth at two under after a 72 on Sunday. Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez posted the low score of the day with a 68 that moved him from tied for 35th starting the day to tied for eighth by sunset.
After his round Casey admitted that Sunday was a learning experience, and that it might have been a mistake to assume he needed to attack the course to have a chance of winning. "I felt I had to make birdies," he said with a shrug. "But hindsight is such a great thing. I'd like to have today all over again if I could. The golf course was very windy. It was brutal. Amen Corner is a scary enough place at the best of times, but when you are not sure which club to pick out at 12, it's intimidating."
Despite his disappointment, Casey managed to find at least one positive from a tough day. "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger," he said. "And hey, at least I broke 80!"