English pals Rose, Casey look to finally reach winner's circle at East Lake

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English pals Rose, Casey look to finally reach winner's circle at East Lake

PGA Tour

English pals Rose, Casey look to finally reach winner's circle at East Lake

ATLANTA – Justin Rose would love nothing more than to go head to head with fellow Englishman and pal Paul Casey over the weekend at the Tour Championship.

The two have plenty in common. Each has a terrific track record at East Lake, and each is desperately seeking a victory. Rose hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2015 Zurich Classic, which is now a team event. Casey, if you can believe it, has only one PGA Tour triumph on his record, the 2009 Shell Houston Open.

Even Rose is alarmed at that fact.

“He’s been knocking on the door and he loves this golf course,” Rose said of Casey. “He’s never finished outside the top 6 here, I know that for a fact. This is obviously a place he feels very comfortable, so it could be good timing for him as well if he keeps playing well.

“But yeah, I’m sure that’s the question he’s asking himself is when is his good play going to convert to a win?”

Casey is tied for the lead with Justin Thomas and Webb Simpson at 7-under 133. Rose, after a 66 on Friday, is one shot behind, tied with Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed and Jon Rahm.

Casey and Rose are experienced and quite comfortable at East Lake. Each relishes the opportunity this weekend to turn a solid season into a great one with a season-ending victory in Atlanta.

“The FedEx Cup is in everybody’s crosshairs,” said Casey, 40. “But the only way of winning it (for me) is to win this week. So I’m focusing on the Tour Championship as much as I can.”

This is Casey’s fourth trip to the Tour Championship, a tournament to which only 30 players advance. He tied for fourth in his debut in 2010. The last two autumns he has been T-5 and fourth. When he walked off the course on Friday afternoon, Casey was projected to jump from 10th to second in the FedEx Cup standings – trailing only Thomas.

“I do like the volatility (of the points). I said that a couple of weeks ago in Boston,” Casey said. “I like the volatility and it gives you an opportunity to … you look at guys, maybe somebody like a Hideki (Matsuyama) would say ‘I don’t like the volatility’ with the great season he had (and poor playoff stretch), and he seems to have been lapped. I quite like it. Maybe the opportunity is part of it. Maybe the fact it takes me nine months to warm up.”

Casey dropped strokes with poor tee shots at 12 and 13 on Friday, but his game was solid enough that he didn’t bother to wander to the practice area after play.

“We’re going to go back to the hotel, get some rest, save the energy,” Casey said, “because it’s going to be an exhausting weekend but a fun one.”

Rose, 37, hadn’t contended since his close call at Augusta in early April until last weekend at BMW, when he made a Sunday run at eventual winner Marc Leishman before Leishman pulled away to a five-shot victory. Prior to the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Rose had made six PGA Tour starts post-Augusta, missed three cuts (one at Zurich alongside partner Henrik Stenson), and owned a best finish in that stretch of T-54 at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

The playoffs, though, have energized him. His solid finish last weekend outside Chicago followed consecutive top-10 showings at the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies.

And here at the Tour Championship, he is the most comfortable of all. He didn’t make the field a year ago, but in the previous four seasons, here are Rose’s finishes: 2 (2012); 6 (2013); T-4 (2014); and T-2 (2015).

“It’s a strategic golf course,” said Rose, whose closing up-and-down birdie at 18 delivered a 4-under 66, leading him to call it “a good day’s work.” In his last 20 rounds at East Lake, only three have been over par.

“This course can suck you into missing in some wrong spots out here, and from that point of view, it’s a little like Augusta (National) in terms of the green complexes and where you need to leave the ball. I feel that I’ve got a good read on the course. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

His mission was hampered somewhat earlier in the week when his “dodgy” left shoulder began to ail him. Rose said he slept on the shoulder wrong on Tuesday, and in Thursday’s opening round, he had to hit a bunch of 3-woods off the tees to prevent experiencing further pain.

“I just sucked it up yesterday (Thursday) and weathered the storm,” he said. “Today, I hit the driver a lot, and I feel good going into the weekend.”

Much like his old pal Casey, Rose enjoys the lottery aspect of the points reset at East Lake to give all 30 players a mathematical shot. He entered the finale seeded No. 8.

“This tournament,” Rose said, “gives everyone a shot. Obviously, we all know top 5 is the secret number (the top five players in points coming into East Lake can clinch the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship), but at the end of the day eighth I think still gives me a great chance.

“I think Jordan (Spieth) and Justin (Thomas, seeded 1 and 2) to not have amazing weeks, and it could happen, we’ve seen a lot of guys, whoever wins the Tour Championship often is holding two trophies. I’m just focusing on winning the Tour Championship and the rest will hopefully fall into place.”

In truth, even one trophy would do nicely for a pair of veteran Englishmen and world-class players who love the golf course and would enjoy snapping long winless streaks come Sunday in Atlanta. Those two need to procure one trophy before thinking about the second one.

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