Defending champion Paul Casey aiming for another first at Dubai Desert Classic

Englishman triumphed last year, but has never successfully defended a title on DP World Tour

Paul Casey of England plays a shot during the pro-am prior to the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club. Getty Images
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A 15-time winner on the European Tour, Paul Casey ranks as one of the most decorated players at this week’s Dubai Desert Classic.

He can claim to be among the field’s most experienced, too, with more than two decades as a professional under his belt. He has represented Europe in five Ryder Cups.

But the revamped Classic offers the Englishman the opportunity of registering a fresh feat: as the defending champion, Casey gets the chance to retain a title for the first time on the DP World Tour.

On Wednesday, when asked about his emotional victory 12 months ago, which sealed his place as the tournament winner alongside some hefty names from history, Casey looked back before casting his mind forward.

“It's very cool” he said. “A guy came around with a flag, he's had all the previous past champions sign and he's got pretty much everybody but Seve [Ballesteros], bless him. And you start to look at guys on there, Wayne [Westner], Ernie [Els], Mark James, all sorts of stuff. I've always thought this is - well, it is - one of the iconic events, not just in European golf but in global golf.

“So to see the trophy again - I saw it on Monday night in the event down the road - and to see my name next to other great champions is a very, very cool thing. It's not something I take lightly. I've still yet to defend a title on the European Tour. I did it in the States. I did it as an amateur. I'd love to do it on the DP World Tour.”

Last year, Casey captured the Coffee Pot trophy courtesy of a four-shot victory over closest challenger Brandon Stone. Given the pandemic, the tournament was played in front of a limited amount of spectators on the Majlis Course.

This year is markedly different. For one, the free general admission should translate to sizeable galleries, while the 33-year-old tournament now falls under the banner of new title sponsors. What’s more, it has been upgraded to one of only five Rolex Series events on the 2022 DP World Tour. Consequently, it carries an $8 million prize fund (last year, the purse was $3.25m).

Dubai Desert Classic pro-am

Everything considered, the mood is good.

“It feels great [being back],” Casey said. “There's not many times you're defending champion. Feels brilliant. For me it was an emotional win last year, big win. This year, we're back, it's Rolex Series, a new sponsor with We have got fans back which is even better, so it's wonderful to be back in Dubai.”

Sunday’s conclusion to the SMBC Singapore Open, where Casey rebounded at the Asian Tour event from Thursday’s opening 76 to finish tied-16th, suggests his game is trending in the right direction. It constituted a fine performance on his first pro outing since his T9 at November’s DP World Tour Championship, the 2021 season finale, not far away at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

“Yeah, eight weeks off between the climax in Dubai and Singapore last week, hard to work really hard all the way through a holiday break, so Christmas is a big holiday home,” Casey said. “But I've certainly put the work in. I feel like I’ve kind of made some gains with the game.

“Physically I'm in much better shape than I was in the back end of 2021; swing-wise I feel like I'm hitting it better. I'm not sure I'm quite as sharp as I was this time last year.

“Without too long an answer, 2021 was a wonderful start and feel like I fizzled out a little bit and that's something I want to correct this year: have a great season all the way through. Things like fitness have become more of a priority again.

“Where am I at? I don't know, going to find out this week but I'm certainly excited and I've done a lot of work.”

Updated: January 27, 2022, 4:43 AM