By CHRISTOPHER POWERS
This time last year, Paul Casey was stuck on one US PGA Tour victory, and it came at the 2009 Shell Houston Open. He finally got No.2 at the 2018 Valspar Championship, snapping an eight-plus-year win drought, or 3,269 days, to be exact.
For win No.3 he had to wait only 371 days, as he defended his title at Innisbrook Resort, becoming the first player to successfully do so at the Valspar Championship. His nickname this week, which could be seen on the back of caddie Johnny (Long Socks) McLaren’s bib, was “The Champ”, and it sounds like it will make a return next season at the Copperhead course.
“Valspar is such an awesome sponsor, and to come back here and defend, it means I don’t have to change the caddie bib next year,” Casey told NBC’s Steve Sands as McLaren held the bib up in the background.
Casey hung on tight on a difficult final day, winning with a one-over 72 and becoming the third consecutive European winner on the US PGA Tour this season. He’s also the first to defend a title in any PGA Tour event, and he did it in grind-it-out fashion, making four birdies, five bogeys and one clutch par at the 72nd hole, where his tee shout found a bunker right of the fairway. The 41-year-old Englishman clipped a perfect second shot over the lip of the trap to 23 feet and two-putted to victory.
“Today wasn’t easy,” Casey said. “But I felt very different since winning last year. Last year’s win was so big that it felt like my first victory as a professional. But I’ve felt so different since then. New confidence, I’m getting older but I feel like I’m getting better.”
Casey held off a worthy pack of chasers that included world No.1 Dustin Johnson, who failed to make a single birdie and posted his first over-par final round of the season, a three-over 74 that dropped him into a tie for sixth. Louis Oosthuizen gave Casey the biggest scare, posting a two-under 69, but he came up one shot short, as did Jason Kokrak, who bogeyed the last hole to finish with an even-par 71.
Best among the Australians were Matt Jones and Curtis Luck in a tie for 13th.