Paul Casey gave European Ryder Cup Captain Ian Woosnam, watching the action on television at home in Jersey, good reason to smile when a sensational third round 64 moved the Englishman into a share of second place in the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron Ohio and only one shot adrift of leader Stewart Cink.
The 29 year old – already comfortably in the top ten automatic places for the European Ryder Cup Team which will be finalised next Sunday in Munich – showed he is bang in form for the contest against the United States in less than a month’s time at The K Club with a fine performance.
Starting the day outside the top ten, Casey – a six time winner on The European Tour International Schedule – moved quickly to amend that statistic and ended the day right in the mix for the €1,014,833 first prize, alongside Davis Love III and Tiger Woods on eight under par 202, the trio right on the coat-tails of pacesetter Cink.
Four birdies in his first six holes offset a bogey five at the fourth and helped Casey to the turn in 32 and he continued his assault on the Firestone Country Club’s par when he rolled in further birdie putts at the tenth and 11th holes to move to seven under par for the tournament.
Despite an audacious recovery attempt through the branches of a greenside tree at the 13th after a wayward approach, he dropped a shot at the demanding 471 yard par four to slip back to six under but put that right at the 667 yard 16th with a superb 25 foot putt for birdie four.
A regulation par four followed at the 17th before he closed in style at the 18th, a superb approach shot finishing a mere five feet from the cup from where he rolled in his eighth birdie of the day.
Leader Cink matched Casey’s 64 for a nine under par total of 201, his flawless third round – the highlight of which was a pitch in for birdie at the 17th – justifying the faith shown in him by US Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman when he named the 33 year old as one of his Wild Cards for next month’s contest in Ireland.
It also, of course, gave Cink the chance to repeat his feat of two years ago when he also came to Firestone Country Club as a Wild Card selection for Hal Sutton’s 2004 American Ryder Cup Team and showed how good a decision that was by winning the title.
However, he will have a tough battle on his hands if he is to win again as the immediate chasing pack of Casey, Love III and Woods are an imposing trio.
Woods, the winner now of a dozen Major Championships following his victory in the US PGA Championship last weekend at Medinah, seemed set to take a giant stride towards his 11th individual victory in a WGC event when he pitched in for birdie at the third to move to ten under par for the tournament and into a two shot lead.
But, inexplicably, the World Number One’s game came off the rails in spectacular fashion on the rest of the front nine, dropping four shots in a row from the fifth before managing to halt the slide with a scrambled five footer for par on the ninth to be out in 38.
However Woods regrouped well on the inward half and made no further mistakes, his only departures from par coming at the 13th where he holed from eight feet for birdie, and at the 17th, where he repeated his feat of the third hole and pitched in for another birdie three to be home in 33 for 71.
For a long spell, playing partner Love III looked like he would profit from Woods’ misfortunes, three birdies in a row from the eighth after seven straight pars moving him into the lead in the tournament at 11 under par and, more importantly, five shots clear of the World Number One.
But, like Woods, Love III endured an uncomfortable spell in his round, dropping consecutive shots at the 12th and 13th before missing from four feet at the 16th for par to be back in 37 for a third round 70.
Standing in fifth place on his own is Jim Furyk, who could have shared the lead with his Ryder Cup colleague Cink but for the fact he dropped two shots in his last three holes, his eventual 69 giving him a seven under par total of 203.
Aside from Casey, the next European Tour interest comes with the three players sharing seventh place on five under par 205 – Ernie Els (70) Adam Scott (71) and Kevin Stadler (70), while Luke Donald recovered from an early setback to post a 70 for a share of tenth place with another American Ryder Cup man, JJ Henry, and Thomas Björn, who posted an excellent 67.
It was a score matched by Ian Poulter who moved up to a tie for 17th place, both Björn and Poulter hoping to do well enough this week and next week in the BMW International Open to either move into automatic selection for the European Ryder Cup Team or do enough to catch Captain Woosnam’s eye in terms of a Wild Card.