Casey on track for back-to-back Valspar wins

But he has to hold off world No. 1 John­son

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS -

Eng­land’s Paul Casey worked re­ally hard and played very well through most of Saturday’s third round at the Valspar Cham­pi­onship. He fired a 3-un­der-par 68 and leads by one shot with a 204 to­tal af­ter 54 holes. So why does it seem like he has to do the chas­ing on Sun­day rather than en­joy his night atop the leader­board?

Casey, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, finds him­self trapped in that sce­nario be­cause of what hap­pened on the fi­nal hole Saturday at the In­nis­brook Re­sort’s Cop­per­head Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Casey had ripped off three birdies in a four-hole stretch of the back nine and led by three shots with two holes to play in the third round. But that’s when Dustin John­son, the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer play­ing two groups in front of Casey un­der flaw­less, sun-splashed con­di­tions, birdied the 18th, cut­ting into Casey’s lead with a 4-un­der 67.

Casey then bo­geyed the clos­ing hole to end the day at 9 un­der, al­low­ing John­son to pick up two valu­able shots on the de­mand­ing track’s daunt­ing, three-hole “Snake Pit” fin­ish­ing stretch.

Casey is bid­ding to be­come this event’s first back-to-back win­ner. His vic­tory last year here was his sec­ond on the PGA Tour and first since the 2009 Shell Hous­ton Open.

“Hav­ing won this, my mind­set now is I have noth­ing to lose,” Casey said. “I’m feel­ing like I’m in a good po­si­tion, like I don’t have re­ally any pres­sure. I’ve got one of those tro­phies. Yeah, I want another one, but it’s not as much sort of ur­gency or pres­sure. To­mor­row’s go­ing to be highly en­ter­tain­ing for me.”

Thir­teen play­ers are within five strokes of the lead head­ing into the fi­nal round, and 20 golfers are within six shots.

“There’s a lot of guys in with a chance, but it’s a tough golf course to shoot low,” Casey said. “A 65 by some­body out of the pack just be­hind us would be prob­lem­atic, but I can’t con­trol that. I’m go­ing to go out there and at­tack the golf course the way I at­tacked it to­day.”

Ja­son Kokrak (66 on Saturday) is two shots back, while Luke Don­ald of Eng­land (who shot a 70 on Saturday) and Scott Stallings (70) are three back at 207.

John­son blasted a “moon-ball” ap­proach out of a fair­way bunker on the clos­ing hole to set up a curl­ing, down­hill 10-foot birdie putt to close the gap on Casey’s lead.

“That was a tough shot and I hit a great shot and then made a tough putt, too,” John­son said about the 18th hole. “To­day it was a good day – I hit it well, and had a cou­ple of loose shots, but around here you’re go­ing to hit a cou­ple. I hit my irons re­ally well, con­trolled dis­tance good, I gave my­self a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties, hit a lot of re­ally good shots and even hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in.”

Kokrak’s round in­cluded five birdies, a bo­gey, and a hole-in-one on the 218-yard par-3 15th hole.

“I like this golf course,” Kokrak said. “It’s a good, hard golf course. There’s noth­ing quirky about it.”

Getty Im­ages

Paul Casey’s lead at the Valspar Cham­pi­onship dropped from three shots to one af­ter a bo­gey on 18.

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