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Casey goes for 3-peat at Innisbrook against top-heavy field


PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Paul Casey goes for his third straight victory at the Valspar Championship, a feat tough sufficient that solely eight instances within the final 40 years has a participant gained the identical event at least thrice in a row.

It did not take lengthy for Casey to take a stab at who else was on the listing.

“Tiger, Tiger, Tiger?” he stated.

Now repeat.

Tiger Woods owns six of these eight events. He gained three in a row at Firestone twice (1999-2001 and 2005-07), together with the Memorial (1999-2001), and he gained 4 in a row at Bay Hill (2000-03) and Torrey Pines (2005-08). The different was a World Golf Championship that was held at three programs (Harding Park in 2005, The Grove in England in 2006, Doral in 2007).

The different two gamers have been Stuart Appleby at Kapalua and Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic.

It’s no small job.

Now throw in a field that features Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, the highest two gamers on the planet, together with Patrick Reed to spherical out three gamers from the highest 10.

“I’ve never had a three-peat as a professional, and I feel like the pressure is not on me,” Casey stated. “We’ve got Justin Thomas and guys like that playing this week, and the focus is going to be on them. So I feel like I’m kind of in a sweet spot and raring to go.”

Casey has gained three in a row as an newbie, and that wasn’t straightforward both. He gained the Pac-10 championship three straight instances whereas at Arizona State. The second time, he shot 60 within the last spherical.

The Copperhead course at Innisbrook is thought to be among the many greatest event programs in Florida, counting on such un-Florida traits as elevation and bending, tree-lined fairways. Yes, there’s water, however it comes into play on solely a half-dozen holes.

Casey is a premier ball-striker on the PGA Tour, which explains why he has fared so effectively at Innisbrook.

“When he’s on, it’s really impressive,” Thomas stated. “The sound his ball makes when it comes off his irons … it’s a short, compact move. It’s fun to play with and it’s fun to watch.”

That does not imply it is easy.

When he gained in 2018, Casey rallied from a five-shot deficit and nonetheless did not have victory secured till Woods did not make a 35-foot birdie putt on the ultimate gap. The following 12 months, he had a one-shot lead over Johnson in situations so robust Johnson did not make a birdie within the last spherical. He gained by one shot over Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen.

The Valspar Championship took one on the chin like no different PGA Tour occasion final 12 months. The total event construction was in place and it was 4 days away from the beginning of event week when the PGA Tour shut down golf due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m excited to be finally back, and I’m sure everybody else is, too,” Casey stated.

Like different PGA Tour occasions, the Valspar Championship is permitting restricted spectators — 30% of accessible capability, although nobody has been in a position to outline what full capability is at a golf event.

Johnson is hoping he can piece collectively all elements of his sport and contend, which he hasn’t significantly carried out since he went into the ultimate spherical at Riviera two photographs out of the lead. He shot 1-over 72 and completed in a tie for eighth, six photographs behind. That was two months in the past. It additionally was his final prime 10.

Five straight tournaments out of the highest 10 is his longest drought because the last eight tournaments of 2019, when he was struggling together with his left knee and had surgical procedure at the tip of the season.

Somewhat little bit of all the pieces has held him again, both his placing or lengthy sport or irons, not all at the identical time.

“I feel like it’s really close,” Johnson stated. “I just haven’t put it all together, especially for a week. But I feel like I’m driving it good again. Just the only thing, just a little off with the irons at Hilton Head. But it feels like it’s getting better and it’s trending in the right direction.”

He ought to get a robust take a look at from Innisbrook. The event has moved this 12 months from the center of March to the final week in April, with hotter climate and no vital rain within the forecast.

“You’ve got to drive it well. You’ve got to hit your irons well. You’ve really got to kind of think your way around here just because … you can get out of position, and it’s tough to make pars,” Johnson stated. “You don’t have to shoot way under par. You just shoot a couple under each day, and you’re going to have a chance to win come Sunday.”

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