Paul Casey says he is relishing the challenge of a fast and firm Augusta National and believes experience will be key to this week as he makes his 15th appearance in The Masters.
A fast and firm Augusta National awaits players for this year’s Masters Tournament, providing a stark contrast to the soft, low-scoring conditions of the November edition where Dustin Johnson won his first green jacket just five months ago.
It’s something that Casey is particularly excited about, and says he expects that this year’s champion will likely come from a more experienced group of players in the field because of it.
“November was just very cool in its own right, but a totally different experience,” he said.
“The leaves and the setup and everything, it was a Masters, but one we'll never see again, and I'm glad I was a part of it, but this is back to what I remember, what I remember seeing as a kid.
“Balls will gather in places that, if a guy hasn't been here in half a dozen years, he won't experience, and the firmness, and the way the strategy that you then have to implement and the angle of descent and the shots and the spin control and all those things.
“I just played nine holes with Phil, and he was on top form talking about how he's going to attack this golf course. And Justin Rose and I talked walking down the 2nd, and he knows how to play this golf course. Look, not that I'm not going to back the younger guys, but I would back a guy who's been here several times and has seen an Augusta National firm and fast like the one we're going to get this week.”
In order to play well, Casey believes strategy is going to be a huge factor. And for him, it provides an opportunity to draw on his own past experiences.
“I relish the challenge,” he said.
“It's never easy around here, but it's always fair. Sometimes it runs right up against that line, but it never crosses it, and I'm excited. It's going to be difficult. There will be mistakes that are made by everybody. Hope to eliminate them. If you eliminate those, hopefully, you can stick around near the top of the leaderboard, but it's fabulous.
“I would almost phrase it that I'm trying to recall from all the Masters that I've played -- my first going back to '04 -- that this is spot on this year. This is we haven't seen -- as players, we haven't seen a setup like this in a long, long time. Usually mother nature has her hand in that.
“But this is fabulous. I've seen some young guys this week have a slightly deer in the headlights look because they've walked out on a couple of those greens and they've seen the colour of them and they've seen the firmness, felt the firmness. You can see they're kind of going, whoa, like this is a whole different animal.
“I hope the rain stays away all week. I think it's what the patrons want as well and the fans watching on TV. It's absolutely glorious. This is what the Masters should be.”
Casey will be hoping to make the most of his own recent form – coupled with an impressive previous Masters record that includes five top 10s in 14 appearances - as he continues his search for his first Major around a course he feels suits his game.
“There's no question that the golf course suits my game, which is fundamentally, I'm a very good ball striker,” said Casey, who recently captured his 15th European Tour win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“I drive it well. But then there's other subtleties. You know, the off-camber lies, the slopes. I've always felt you need -- you don't necessarily need strong legs because there's plenty of guys, Masters champions who probably don't squat a lot, but you need good base, good footwork, the ability to deliver the club repeatedly on those awkward slopes and awkward lies, and that's one of the things I do pretty well.
“Good angle of descent into the greens with the golf ball and good spin control. I mean, there's a whole list of things, almost like a checklist I could run you through. I'm not a great putter, but I'm a good touch putter, which very much assists round here. There's a whole bunch of stuff I do really well that just plays into, I'd say, the hands of this golf course, things you need to do well to play well around here.”
Casey shared some of that former knowledge with Viktor Hovland during a practice round on Monday, who said both he and Phil Mickelson were very candid about the importance of missing it in the right places.
“It was great fun to play with Phil and Paul,” said Hovland.
“It's just kind of picking a lot of different people's brains about it because everyone has their own unique perspective on it.
“They were very candid about telling me how to miss in certain places and kind of what they've strategized into certain pins.”
Meanwhile, players like Victor Perez have been giving their own perspective on experiencing a different set of conditions than the ones he had on his Masters debut in November.
"I think it's a lot more what I expected the course to be," said Perez, who finished in a tie for 46th here last season and heads back to Augusta National following a fourth place in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
"Watching it on TV growing up, a lot firmer, a lot faster, it's only Tuesday. I think they have full control over what they want the golf course to be like, and it's going to be -- I think they're expecting a little bit of rain this week, and I think they're going to try to take advantage of the good couple days of sunshine to firm it up and have control of the golf course.
I think it's going to play so different than what I've expected. Back in November, it was playing just a lot softer. So I think it's just a matter of getting comfortable with the greens, I think getting comfortable with the angles. Some of the tee shots are going to be playing a lot different. I think 14, for example, is a hole that was a no-brainer of a driver for me, that even fades the ball. I think with the fairway firming up, the landing area becomes a lot smaller. So that was just one example that comes to mind where playing 3-wood on 14 was really a no-go back in November. That's something that's probably going to be in play this week depending on the wind.
"So it should play a lot different, and just a matter of keeping the angles to the pins."