Failing in his first Pebble Beach start, Casey’s now on the verge of success
Mickelson, a four-time winner of the event, will be in final pairing just three shots back
February 09, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Paul Casey takes three-stroke lead into Sunday at AT&T Pebble Beach
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Eighteen years ago, Paul Casey made his first career PGA TOUR start. It was at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and his partner was Seth Waugh, the former Deutsche Bank executive who last summer was named CEO of the PGA of America.
Casey, then 23 years old, opened with consecutive rounds of 76. He and Waugh did not make it to Sunday.
“Failed miserably,” Casey recalled. “Still have a friendship with Seth, so I guess I didn’t fail totally.”
A year later, Casey returned to Pebble Beach and missed the cut again. It then took him 16 years to make another appearance in this tournament, as his early-season schedule usually took him through the Middle East swing on the European Tour.
Even after committing full-time to the PGA TOUR, Casey wasn’t sure he wanted to add the AT&T Pebble Beach to his schedule. “Wasn’t really kind of on the radar again,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it.”
But then he started developing a friendship with Don Colleran, an executive vice president at FedEx and, like Waugh, a Massachusetts native. Colleran wanted to play the tournament – and he wanted Casey as his pro partner.
Casey still wasn’t sure if he was ready to compete again in the tournament’s unique pro-am format. “I was a little reticent admittedly, having seen this so much on TV, knowing what it can be like around here,” he said.
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Last year, he finally said yes. He and Colleran then proceeded to finish fourth in the team portion of the event, while Casey tied for eighth on the pro leaderboard, seven shots behind champion Ted Potter Jr.
Now Casey is 18 holes away from winning at Pebble Beach. He’ll take a three-shot lead over Phil Mickelson in Sunday’s final round; meanwhile, he and Colleran lead the team competition by four shots.
Once wary of this event, Casey obviously now embraces it.
“There are two factors, two big factors,” Casey explained. “One is the weather, obviously. If you have great weather, this is one of the best places on the planet.
“Two, if you have the right partner, it can be wonderful. And if you don’t … so it’s a tricky one. At least I can guarantee one of those elements. Last year we had both, and it was such a great experience with Don that I thought even if we get a bad year weather-wise – I mean, it’s a wonderful place to be. He’s such a great guy to play with. The U.S. Open’s here in June.
“I’ve got to do it again. Why not? … I had a decent result around here last year, so it’s going to stay on. As long as I have decent results, why wouldn’t I play it?”
The weather hasn’t been great this week – rain suspended play on Friday, forcing 44 players (but not Casey) to return early Saturday morning to complete their second rounds. Casey started the third round in a four-way tie for the lead, but while most of the contenders played at Pebble Beach with the celebrity portion of the draw, Casey and Colleran faced less hoopla at Spyglass Hill, with Casey shooting a 5-under 67 that left him at 15 under through three rounds.
Casey, who broke a nine-year TOUR drought last season by winning the Valspar Championship for his second TOUR title, said the celebrity aspect doesn’t bother him. He recalled playing in a group that included Bill Murray at a European Tour event. “I had a great time,” he said.
Plus, Casey joked, “Are you suggesting Don Colleran is not a celebrity?”
Still, he couldn’t have asked for a better group with which to spend three rounds this week. The other pro in his foursome was Graeme McDowell, a long-time friend of Casey’s and the U.S. Open winner in 2010 when that event was last held at Pebble Beach. Casey opened with a 69 that week that left him tied for the lead after 18 holes -- but fell off the pace and eventually finished T-40.
The topic came up early in Thursday’s first round, but after that, Casey and G-Mac didn’t talk golf. “We chat about everything but,” Casey said. “Food mainly. And alcohol.”
Phil Mickelson Round 3 highlights at AT&T Pebble Beach
On Sunday, Casey will be paired with Mickelson, a four-time winner of this event. A year ago, Mickelson made a Sunday charge, shooting a 67 to tie for second. Although Potter won last year while playing in the final group, Mickelson said teeing off last is not necessarily an advantage at this event.
“Usually, the winner comes from groups in front of the last group, so it will be a challenge for us to keep pace,” said Mickelson, at 12 under. “And obviously Paul’s playing some great golf, so he’s going to be tough to catch no matter what.”
For Casey, it will likely be a different dynamic than the first three days, as business now turns deadly serious. But having suffered just two bogeys this week, he’s confident that his solid play will continue on Sunday. He shot a 3-under 69 on Thursday when he opened the tournament at the Pebble Beach course.
“Every time I play Pebble, I learn a little bit,” Casey said. “I don’t know this place as well as other classic venues that we play, so every day’s a bit of a school day.”
Now he’s hoping to pass the final exam Sunday.