Casey's sizzling 65 leads darkness-halted Masters

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Paul Casey took full advantage of a three-hour storm delay, matching the lowest major round of his career with a seven-under par 65 Thursday to seize the lead at the Masters.

The Englishman awoke to heavy showers and was happy to wait before setting out on rain-soaked Augusta National.

"I was not relishing the challenge ahead waking up in the rain this morning," Casey said. "That was a very good break I capitalized on because it was a glorious day for golf, really, after that."

There were 44 players who must finish their first round Friday due to darkness because of the delay. And that means Casey is unlikely to finish round two before sunset Friday. But it was worth it.

Casey's only other 65 in a major came in the final round of the 2018 Masters, but as he pondered a day with five birdies and an eagle at the par-5 second, the Englishman was bothered by shots he felt he left on the course.

"It was a great round. It was just very solid golf," he said. "I did the right things when I needed to.

"You rarely walk off this golf course going, it could have been two or three better, but it kind of felt that way."

Casey is chasing his first major title at age 43 but had his best major finish, a runner-up spot, in August at the PGA Championship.

He has struggled with finding the electricity and inspiration playing without spectators since the return from the Covid-19 shutdown.

"I didn't know how the fanless experience would be. And so far, I've not enjoyed it, and I've felt the lack of energy for me," Casey said.

"I've had nothing or very little to draw from being out playing tournament golf."

Even without spectators this week, Casey said, the Masters packs enough energy to inspire him.

"The Masters, though, this week it still has a buzz to it. There's an energy and a little bit of a vibe," Casey said. "Yes, it's clearly a lot less than what we are used to, but there's something about this place that still I felt excited to be here.

"It's quite a special experience this week."

Casey attributes the emotions to the legends and legacy of Augusta National.

"The golf course itself is part of it, the history of this tournament," he said. "It always has been and always will be a real treat. It's not lost on me."

- Westwood on his heels -

Another Englishman chasing his first major, 47-year-old Lee Westwood, shot 68 to stand three back.

"Zero surprise to see Westy. He's so good. He continues to be world class," Casey said. "He knows this place better than I do. Very few guys know it better than I do, but he's one of them."

Westwood has 19 top-10 major finishes without a victory, including 2010 and 2016 Masters runner-up showings.

"It's nice to see my name up there," Westwood said. "Any time you shoot 68 in the first round of a major championship, you're pleased. You've played yourself right into contention."

It doesn't hurt that this is his 19th Masters appearance.

"It's the kind of golf course that gives the older guys a chance," he said. "Experience counts for a lot around here. It's long. You don't have to be a bomber to get round it. It gives you chances if you hit good shots and keep it in play."

He tried not to be fooled by soggy conditions in places.

"You can be a little more aggressive, I thought, but that's when Augusta sucks you in, isn't it?" he said. "When you're too aggressive and you still miss it in the wrong place, you can find trouble."