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Paul Casey
Paul Casey and leader Louis Oosthuizen are the only two players to post three straight rounds in the 60s so far this week. (Getty Images)

Tender ribs make Casey grateful for his health

The rib injury that wrecked Paul Casey's 2009 season has healed, and he's now able to focus completely on his game. Heading to Sunday, he's focused on trying to win his first major title.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- There are times, even now, a full year after he injured himself preparing for last year's British Open, when the muscles in his ribcage get a little angry.

Nothing like the pain that kept him on the sidelines for the better part of six months last season, though. And nothing that would have an effect on the way he wields his golf clubs now, either.

But it's just enough to remind Paul Casey that he's lucky to be doing what he loves -- and even more fortunate to have a chance to win his first major championship at the 139th British Open on Sunday.

The opportunity presented itself after the 32-year-old Brit fired a bogey-free 67 at the Old Course in the third round that pulled him within four strokes of Louis Oosthuizen. The two will square off in Sunday’s final pairing and Casey could become the first Englishman since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992 to win the Open.

That’s where the ribs come in.

"Even going into early this year, I was very unsure of how things were going to go, and sitting here right now, I'm ecstatic," Casey said. "... But it’s a small reminder that quite often you take for granted a lot of things.

“And nothing is better than an Open Championship at the Home of Golf.  So I'm loving it. I'm loving the fact I'm playing absolutely great golf and I'm four shots behind Louis.”

Casey smiled easily and often on Saturday afternoon after matching the day’s low round. And why not? He came to St. Andrews tanned from a tropical vacation and revitalized after some practice sessions with his long-time coach, Peter Kostis, that “got the golf ball going in the right direction,” he said.

“I feel fresh and feel ready to play good golf, feel ready to work, good attitude, and really looking forward to the rest of the year, which I wasn't four or five weeks ago,’” Casey added. “Whatever happens tomorrow happens, but already I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to whatever, Canada next week (in the RBC Canadian Open) and then the rest of the year.”

As well as Casey has played this week -- he and Oosthuizen are the only two players with three rounds in the 60s at the Old Course -- he credited a slight change to his driver as being pivotal in his performance. After the first round, Casey switched to a driver with the same shaft and head but three-quarters of a degree more loft at 10.5 to provide more spin.

“The reason being the squalls we were getting coming through this week, the rainstorms, the ball, my spin rate is pretty low,” Casey explained. “I'm low 2,000s RPM off the driver, which is great when it's nice and hot and sunny, and tricky when water gets between the ball and the club face.  So I had a couple of drives slip off the driver face and not go in the desired direction in practice. 

“I haven't had a problem keeping (the new one) down if I wanted to keep it down.  … If it just gives another 100 or 200 rpm, that's the difference between a middle one that slides off the face, and one that goes down the middle of the fairway. That's given me the confidence this week.”

Casey has also done a good job of navigating his way around the Old Course with its bumps and pot bunkers and blustery winds. He went to college at Arizona State and has lived in the United States for more than a decade, though, so regaining his feel for the links golf he played as a child has been a challenge. 

“I think the bump-and-run I played on 18 the first round, the 6-iron through sort of the corner of the Valley of Sin, I played it beautifully and knocked it to tap-in distance for a birdie 3, just made me smile, because I haven't played a shot like that in years,” Casey said.

“I'll be the first to admit, I worked so hard … certainly when I went to college, changing my ball flight, getting a high ball flight, being able to play the style of golf courses over there that when I came back to play in the British Isles, I had kind of forgotten how to play a little bit. It's in there. I know how to do it, and I love doing it.” 

Given his struggles of with links golf -- he’s never finished higher than 20th, Casey says winning a British Open at St. Andrews would be the “ultimate” for him. He always thought his ball flight was more suited to the Masters, though, and indeed went into the final round at Augusta National in 2004 trailing Phil Mickelson by one stroke, only to tie for sixth. He’s played in 23 majors since, but only has three more top-10s.

“There are so many great players out there, and Tiger has been in pretty good form for most of that (time),” Casey said. “I’ve not played the golf I've wanted to, to give myself those opportunities. That's been a bit frustrating, but you know, I've worked very hard, and I feel that I've got ten years or so to take advantage of my game.
   
“I can't tell you what's going to happen in the future, but … I desperately want to be a major champion, and I think I have the ability, and I think I'm working hard enough, but that doesn't guarantee anything, as we know.  So we will see.”

Maybe as soon as Sunday.
 

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