Paul Casey is in a unique position to comment on Europe’s prospects at this year’s Ryder Cup. The world number 14 has played in three tournaments himself – wining in 2004 and 2006.
Above that, the Englishman has just returned to the European Tour after three years away. And while playing his way into a share of ninth at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last weekend, he was hugely impressed with the depth at European captain Thomas Bjorn’s disposal.
The top 10 players at Abu Dhabi Golf Club were all European golfers, including the likes of winner Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters, Henrik Stenson, Matt Fitzpatrick and Casey, who have all appeared at the Ryder Cup previously.
Fitzpatrick, 23, a player likely to make his second appearance in September at Le Golf National in Paris, was tied for third with McIlroy – with United States poster boy and world number one Dustin Johnson behind all of them in 11th.
Even though the Ryder Cup is still nine months away, many experts are already proclaiming that defending champions America go into the tournament as overwhelming favourites.
But Casey does not believe that to be the case.
“The one thing I’ve noticed this week is the standard of European golf is better than when I left,” said the 40-year-old, who has called the US home for the last two decades and played the previous three seasons exclusively on the PGA Tour.
“I see a lot of these guys in the US but in the flesh it’s different. I’m impressed and Europe’s in a great spot.”
On the two occasions Casey won as part of a European team, they humiliated their opponents, winning 18½–9½ at both Oakland Hills Country Club in 2004 and the K Club two years later.
America, meanwhile, won by six shots two years ago in Hazeltine to halt three successive defeats.
But Casey feels 2018 could be one of the most competitive in recent memory.
“Without question,” he said.
“It’s nice for us it’s on home soil. I think it will be brilliant. I’ve been part of some amazing Ryder Cups, the K Club and Oakland Hills.
“I wasn’t part of Medinah, Gleneagles or the Celtic Manor but we have the potential to have one of the best teams ever with the depth, and it would be really cool to be part of that.
“We’re happy to play the underdogs. The Americans are very strong and seem like they have a wonderful team spirit. You never know what’s happening in the team room, but it looks like they have a brilliant team dynamic, something we’ve prided ourselves on through the years.
“It’s maybe been our 15th club or 13th man. They seem to have the same thing. So when you put it on paper it’s a very stern test. It’s why I’m excited to be back.
“I’ve played Ryder Cups against Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods), those guys, so hopefully I’ll be in France in September and playing against Dustin and Jordan (Spieth), it’ll be cool spanning a new generation.”
Even though he’s back on the European Tour with a view to being selected, Casey’s 2018 schedule is still heavily US-focused, though the criteria has been altered so players must participate in four European Tour tournaments as opposed to five in previous editions.
Something else that has also changed for this year is there are now four captain’s picks as opposed to three.
As it currently stands Casey would have to rely on being one of those picks as the eight automatic selections – based on being in the top four on both the European Points List and World Points List – put Fleetwood, Fisher, Fitzpatrick, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia and Paul Dunne as the men in the driving seat.
There is, however, plenty of time for those rankings to change, and Casey is just focused on getting his game to a level where he can contribute to Europe’s cause.
“I’ve discussed it with Thomas and my team, I’m not going to change my schedule just because it’s Ryder Cup year,” he added.
“The best thing I can do is play the quality of golf I’ve been doing the last few years. If I can do that, touch wood, I make the team. Europe wants a Paul Casey who’s playing great golf. Paul Casey playing great golf is an asset.
“If I don’t play good I’m not an asset and I’m not going to make the team. Fans, journalists shouldn’t look at who’s playing where, it won’t have any impact on Thomas. All that matters is how they’re playing, where they’re playing is kind of irrelevant.”
Casey is delighted to be back on tour, and not just because it’s a requirement if he wants to appear in France.
“I’ve really enjoyed being back. It’s been a fantastic week,” he said.
“Obviously I’d like to have been challenging Fish, Rory and Tommy, but still really good and successful.
“The start of the season, it’s really important to play my minimum requirement in Europe. Last week the EurAsia Cup and this week. I was always going to come and play here. I’ve got too good a relationship with HSBC and Abu Dhabi to skip it.
“I haven’t even seen the chipping green this week, not even ventured over there. It’s been great. It’s weird because I’m probably the only guy who’s probably stepped away and come back through choice.
“I’ve come back and it’s been like a really long summer holiday. Everyone’s asked what I’ve been up to and I’ve been like ‘had two kids’, it’s rekindled some old friendships and been such a cool vibe.”
European Ryder Cup team – as it stands:
The leading four players on the European points list:
Rank Name Nationality World rank
1 Justin Rose ENG 6
2 Tyrrell Hatton ENG 18
3 Ross Fisher ENG 27
4 Matthew Fitzpatrick ENG 28
The leading four players, not qualified above, on the World points list
Rank Name Nationality World rank
2 Jon Rahm ESP 2
4 Tommy Fleetwood ENG 12
6 Sergio Garcia ESP 9
8 Paul Dunne IRL 74
PLUS FOUR CAPTAIN’S PICKS*
*Number of captain’s picks has risen to four this year from three in previous editions
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