Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Paul Casey
- Paul Casey shot 62 on Saturday to grab at four-shot lead at the Travelers Championship.
- Casey has held three 54-hole leads in his career, converting just one of them into a victory.
- A bevy of big-name players loom Sunday, including Russell Henley, Bubba Watson, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day.
CROMWELL, Conn. — Not long after Paul Casey tied a personal best with a third-round 62 to grab a four-stroke lead at the Travelers Championship, I asked him how he can continue that momentum, considering the inherent difficulty of following up a decisively low score.
“I’m in a good spot mentally and physically, so I’m not overly worried,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I know the outcome of tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to it more than anything else.”
Casey enters the final round as a -260 favorite to beat the field (+180) — and for good reason.
He’s fresh off a bogey-free round that featured a perfect 18-of-18 greens in regulation, he ranks in the top five this week in strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained putting, and he’s already gotten the monkey off his back, having won three months ago for the first time on the PGA Tour in nearly a full decade.
Paul Casey won the Valspar Championship earlier this year. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Then there’s the simple fact that, as Golf Channel’s Justin Ray tweeted after Saturday’s round, 54-hole leaders of four strokes or more have won 82.4% of the time since 2013.
Is there a reason to believe this could be one of the 17.6% where the prohibitive leader blows it? No — there are five of ’em. The odds say it’s improbable — and it might be — but let’s examine how Casey might lose this on Sunday.
1. He only owns two career PGA Tour wins.
Sure, that number can be more than a bit misleading, considering the England-born Casey owns 13 titles on the European Tour, but his struggles to find the winner’s circle here in the U.S. have long been documented. It’s within the realm of possibility that a few early bogeys could lead to some internal doubt as the field starts to hunt him down. And as Casey’s Saturday 62 indicated, TPC River Highlands is a course where players routinely go low.
2. His win this year came from way behind.
When Casey vanquished the field at the Valspar, he didn’t exactly grab a stranglehold on the lead and stiff-arm his fellow contenders. As you might recall, he teed off in the ninth-to-last group that Sunday afternoon — yes, you read that right, the ninth-to-last — a full 80 minutes before the leaders. That’s hardly the same as having the pressure on your shoulders and the target on your back.
3. He’s 1-for-3 in converting the 54-hole lead.
Here’s some trivia for you: The last — and only — time Casey parlayed a third-round lead into a victory came at the 2009 Shell Houston Open, when his playing partner that day was none other than … Tommy Armour III. So, yeah, it’s been awhile. And he didn’t exactly close out in spectacular fashion, posting a final-round 72 and needing to defeat J.B. Holmes in a playoff.
Bubba Watson is six back of Casey entering Sunday. Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
4. He followed his last 62 with a 70.
Granted, there’s little about the first two rounds of the 2015 Sony Open that correlates to this weekend, but there might be some relevance. In the opening round that year, Casey posted 62, only to fall eight strokes off that pace the next day. He admitted after his latest 62 that, in general, it’s difficult for a player to back up a low round with another solid one the next day. That could lead to an opening for those playing chase.
5. He’s being chased by some big names.
It’s not exactly a list of journeymen and also-rans behind Casey. Of the nine others in the top 10, six have won on the PGA Tour before, including three already this year. Russell Henley (+725) will be paired with him, the only player who’s four back. He’s followed by Brian Harman (+900), J.B. Holmes (+1700) and Anirban Lahiri (+2400), each one shot further back. And even those six back have a chance if, say, they post 63 and Casey shoots even-par 70; among them are Bubba Watson (+1800), Beau Hossler (+3500), Bryson DeChambeau (+3500), Ryan Blaum (+11000) and my personal favorite as a not-so-sneaky pick at a not-so-bad value, Jason Day (+2500), who is seeking his third victory of the year.