AUGUSTA, Ga. — At seven under par, Paul Casey is the trailblazing European at Augusta, only four shots behind Trevor Immelman. Saturday night dinner must have been mighty interesting in the Augusta house rented by the management company that the two players share. They have been bumping into each other all week around suppertime. (“Trevor, pass the salt — and, I noticed you lifting your head in your backswing.”)
But there’s little chance a food fight broke out. Casey and Immelman are good friends. Besides, they may be too busy looking over their shoulders for the guy who already has four green jackets. Because Tiger Woods, at five under, is poised to make a Sunday charge.
Casey glanced up at the leaderboard during his press conference on Saturday before tackling the Tiger question. “I’m not sure everyone is quaking in their boots when they see his name on the leaderboard,” he said. “Are we scared of him? No, we’re not scared. He just doesn’t make mistakes. But I am playing the best golf I ever have at Augusta.”
The last time Casey was in a position to win the Masters was 2004 when, at 26, he went out in the penultimate group but stumbled to a 74, finishing tied for sixth. “I was probably too excited,” he said. “It was all new to me then. But now I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Casey has been playing poorly this season but took two weeks off before the tournament to work with coach Peter Kostis on Augusta-friendly shots, such as the low, pin-seeking chip he fired inside 10 feet on the 13th green to set up one of six birdies (to three bogeys) en route to a Saturday 69.
It was a great shot and, as Casey pointed out, “Good shots are just good shots at Augusta, but great shots are rewarded. I know I have the shots I need for this golf course. And I know that if I make bogeys I can bounce back to make birdies.”
Casey looks and sounds relaxed. And, unlike in 2004, he’s older (30) and wiser. He was once in awe of Magnolia Lane, the clubhouse and Amen Corner, but now he’s comfortable enough to say that the National inspires but does not intimidate him. “There is something special about this place. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The only other place that does that to me is St Andrews. I love it here.”
While Casey was waiting for a post-round TV interview, his friend and caddie Craig Donnelly shouted over, “Not too emotional, now, eh, Paul!”
“No, I might choke,” Casey fired back, laughing.
Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t mention the “C” word. Not even in jest.