Now No. 3, Casey eyes Colonial title

FORT WORTH, Texas – Paul Casey arrived at the Crowne Plaza Invitational a bit overwhelmed.

His body was worn out from flying to England last week, winning the prestigious BMW PGA Championship with birdies on the final two holes, hoisting a few glasses in celebration and then getting on a plane and flying back to the United States.

There also was the head-spinning part.

With that victory, Casey – who started the year ranked No. 41 – vaulted to No. 3 in the world rankings, behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. That’s keeping some pretty good company. So is this: He joined Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie as the only British players to climb that high since the world rankings began.

“I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet,” he said.

Adding to the commotion this week is the fact Casey will be playing a tournament at the Colonial Country Club for the first time.

He arrived Tuesday at the historic venue known as Hogan’s Alley, but opted not to play a morning round. He was back Wednesday for the pro-am and, on Thursday, will be eager to try building on a breakout season that also includes a runner-up finish at the Accenture Match Play Championship and a victory at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Casey has a list of reasons for this kick start to his career. There are swing improvements, like better approach shots and more touch with his better, to being in better shape. All told, it’s left him with a better attitude, “sort of a little bit of belief in my own game that I could, you know, win more frequently, certainly win on the PGA Tour.”

“The win in Abu Dhabi helped fuel all of that,” he said. “Without the win in Abu Dhabi, I doubt I would have finished second at the Match Play. And the second at the Match Play really helped with the win at Houston. And the win at Houston sort of helped for last week, so it sort of snowballed.”

Now comes a new heat to try melting that snowball – the expectations that come with being the world’s best player not named Tiger or Phil.

“It’s kind of fun,” said Casey, who in his days at Arizona State erased Pac-10 records set by Woods and Mickelson. “I think it’s a little bit of responsibility that goes with (being No. 3) and pressure. I have had that before, but not in the U.S. I’ve had that in Europe quite a bit. I think it assists me in some respects because I do take that very seriously. I feel like I need to perform. ... I will be quickly overtaken if I take my focus off the ball.”

Mickelson is the defending champion in Fort Worth and a two-time recipient of the plaid jacket that goes to this tournament’s winner, but he’s taken an indefinite leave to be with his wife, who announced last week that she has breast cancer. A “pink out” will be held Saturday, with golfers, caddies and others wearing pink to support Amy Mickelson and to help raise money to fight the disease.

Instead of Mickelson, the most recent Colonial winner teeing off Thursday will be 2007 champ Rory Sabbatini, who also comes in fresh off winning the Byron Nelson Championship last weekend.

Sabbatini already has joined Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Mickelson and Sergio Garcia among the 14 golfers to win both events in their careers. Only Hogan won both the same year, doing so in 1946.

Sabbatini has a lot going for him. There’s the momentum of last week, memories of his third-round 62 in 2007 and, perhaps most of all, his familiarity with the changes made to the course since last year. Geoff Ogilvy described them as subtle but tricky, like a lowered tee box on No. 3 and a bunker on No. 14 that’s gone from outside the dogleg to the inside, bringing it much more into play.

“I don’t live too far from here so I’ve played it numerous times since the redesign,” said Sabbatini, who moved to Fort Worth from another nearby suburb less than two years ago and considers Colonial one of his two home clubs. “They’ve done a wonderful job. They kept a lot of the succinct intricacies about the golf course out here so that makes it challenging and just toughened it up a bit.”

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