Paul Casey is in position to win his first tournament this year.
It’s about time.
And if you are only going to win one, this would be it.
Casey is 12 under par following the third round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday. He leads the finale of the FedEx Cup playoffs by two strokes over Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele and by a more comfortable four strokes over Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, all tied for fourth.
Casey has dealt with the close-but-no-trophy frustrations for some time. He has not won in the United States since 2009. Yet in the past three years, he has 23 top-10 finishes, including four seconds and three thirds. After much consultation with advisors, he came to an epiphany. You have to really be in it to win it. These days, trailing by a couple of strokes headed into a final round is not good enough. You’ll get left in the dust by the new wave of talented youngsters.
“I’ve looked at it, ‘Why haven’t I won this year? Why haven’t I won last year?’” Casey said of his inability to win. “I haven’t truly put myself in quite good enough position. Too much pressure on Sunday to try to do something special. …
“Finally, this is where we want to be. We are getting somewhere.”
There is evidence of the final-day pressure that has forced Casey to reach to make a late move. In scoring average, he is ranked first on Thursdays and 76th on Sundays.
The 40-year-old Casey entered the Tour Championship a distant 10th in the FedEx Cup point standings. He would need to win the tournament and get a lot of help to walk away with the playoff title and its $10 million prize. The scenarios:
* Jordan Spieth to finish in a three-way tie for fourth or worse. He is tied for 13th. Check.
* Thomas to finish in a three-way tie for third or worse. He is tied for fourth. Check.
* Dustin Johnson to finish in a three-way tie for second or worse. He is tied for 13th. Check.
* Marc Leishman to finish in a two-way tie for second or worse. He is tied for 22. Check.
* John Rahm to finish second or worse. He is tied for seventh. Check.
“I have no issue,” Casey said on the prospect of winning the FedEx Cup after winning only one tournament.
Casey’s margin headed into the final round is slim. It appeared he was going to run away with the tournament early in his third round. Casey went 5 under par in a stretch of five holes, Nos. 3-7, with an eagle, three birdies and a par. Casey stood at 12 under par, four strokes ahead of the closest competitor. The lead would be gone in two holes.
However, as was the case Friday, East Lake fought back. Casey had back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9. Kisner and Koepka made moves, and the three were tied at 10 under as Casey made the turn.
Casey birded No. 11 to regain the lead and held the advantage the rest of the afternoon. Another birdie at No. 17 gave him a two-shot cushion.
Casey has fared well at the Tour Championship with two fourth-place finishes and one fifth-place finish. He shot a final-round 64 last year, but it was not enough.
Kisner shot the low round of the day and tournament with a 6-under 64. The former University of Georgia golfer said little following his round, as he raced to catch a helicopter flight to Athens to watch the Bulldogs play Mississippi State in a college football game.
Schauffele, who entered the third round tied for eighth, shot a 5 under par to put himself in the final pairing with Casey.
Spieth entered the final event of the season leading the FedEx Cup point standings. He is 4 under par after a third round, with four birdies and four bogeys.
“Unfortunately, I’m not really in control of my own destiny at this point, but I'll go out tomorrow, try and shoot a really solid round of golf and then do some cheerleading,” Spieth said. “That’s kind of the plan.”
For a change, Spieth will be trying to catch Casey. So much for those youngsters who have dominated the PGA Tour this year. Of the 47 events this year, 27 have been won by a golfer in their 20s. A total of 19 players have done all that winning. By stark contrast, just five golfers in their 40s have won this year.
“I still have great physical talent,” Casey said. “So the age thing doesn’t bother me. I don’t see it as a handicap in any way. It would be cool to brag about it to the young guys. I don’t think about it too much but, for me, the clock is ticking for sure.”