DUBAI // Paul Casey is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sandy Lyle and Phil Mickelson by capturing the coveted US Masters green jacket in the immediate aftermath of a triumph in the annual warm-up tournament in Houston. Casey, the strongly built Englishman who won the Abu Dhabi Championship for the second time in January, ended a frustrating wait for a first US PGA title last Sunday and rejected the notion that he has peaked a week too soon.
"I have waited long enough and have worked very hard to win on the PGA tour so I would have been delighted to win any event," he said after making his way from Texas to Georgia to pursue his next objective. "My next goal is to win a major and naturally my confidence has increased by a huge amount over the last week. "I go into the Masters knowing now that I can win in the US and I am one of the players on form this week. Also it's very windy here in Augusta at the moment and I certainly got my fair share of practice in the wind in Houston last week."
Casey, 31, was speaking to The National as part of an exclusive link provided by his UAE sponsors Aldar. He, as a result, feels he is flying the flag for the Emirates as well as Great Britain and Europe against a formidable home challenge in the Masters led by the world's top two, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Until his two victories this year - he also finished runner-up to Australia's Geoff Ogilvy in the prestigious Accenture Matchplay - Casey had endured an embarrassing barren spell lasting two full seasons and reflected: "I really felt I was disappointing my sponsors and supporters by going for so long without a win.
"So when it came in Abu Dhabi again this year in front of my very important sponsor Aldar it made it all the more special. Abu Dhabi holds a special place in my heart, so I am trying hard to do all the right things for the capital city as well, including in America." Casey's buoyancy after his 10th professional title, Padraig Harrington's recent impressive record in the majors - the Irishman has won the last two, albeit in the absence of Woods - and Sergio Garcia's challenge for world No 1 status earlier this season suggests European golfers have their best chance in recent years of taking the Masters.
Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal was the last European to enter the renowned Butler's Cabin as champion a decade ago and Casey has set his sights on ending that wait. "Harrington's recent successes have helped us all believe that a major might not be far from our grasp and I certainly think that way," he said. "Any major is on my hit list but I would love to win the Masters. Augusta is such a unique place. Maybe it is because it is the only major that is played on the same course every year but I think it is also because of all the great players who have won it."
Casey, like the rest of the players in the line up seeking a maiden major success, knows his chances of doing so are reduced by the return to action of Woods after an eight- month lay-off. But the Englishman is glad to see the charismatic Tiger prowling for honours again. "I am delighted to see him back and I think it is great for the tour that he has come back in such fighting form," he said. "I think about what I have to do, rather than what anyone else is doing and I think you'll find that most golfers in the Masters field feel the same."