Can Casey beat Masters history?
Updated: Nov 14
History isn’t on Paul Casey’s side in his bid to win this year’s Masters. First round leaders don’t usually go on to wear a garish green jacket. Even those who shoot an opening 65.
Peter Jacobsen got it right during the 1990 Masters when he said:
“The streets of Chicago are full of first round leaders.”
Jacobsen shot an opening 67 to take the early first round lead and was brought into the interview room. The above was Jacobsen’s response to his chances of winning. Mike Donald later beat Jacobsen’s score by three shots to hold the opening day’s bragging rights. Donald eventually finished 47th, adding rounds of 82, 77 and 76. Jacobsen didn’t fade quite as badly. He placed 30th.
Casey obviously has a higher pedigree than Jacobsen and Donald. He’s been a major winner in waiting since he left the University of Arizona with a slew of records. His second-place finish in this year’s PGA Championship is the closest he’s come to major glory. He might already be a member of the major club in not for Collin Morikawa’s brilliance.
The Englishman has another six top 10s in the marquee events, five of them in the Masters. His fourth-place finish in 2016 is his best tilt at a green jacket. No wonder he couldn’t wait to tee it up in the 84th Masters despite initial concerns about playing during these troubled times.
“This is something I’ve looked forward to,” Casey said. “I was vocal earlier in the year about not enjoying golf in a pandemic. I’m acutely aware that I’m in a very fortunate position. I still get to be a professional golfer and play championship golf, but I didn’t know how the fan-less experience would be. So far, I’ve not enjoyed it and I felt the lack of energy.
“The Masters, though … this week, it still has a buzz to it. There’s an energy and a little bit of a vibe. Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than what we are used to but there’s something about this place. I felt excited to be here. I’ve never been so happy to pass a Covid test, just to get in.
“With the history of this championship, this tournament. So many people like myself are just excited to play this. This is a treat. It always has been and always will be a real treat.”
Whether he’s treated to a gaudy green jacket is another story. The statistics don’t make for good reading. Augusta National hasn’t been particularly favourable to first round Masters leaders.
Of the 83 previous Masters, just 16 players who led or were tied for the lead after the first round have gone on to win. There have only been two in the last 34 years. Jordan Spieth held the solo lead in 2015 and won, while 2008 champion Trevor Immelman shared first round honours with Justin Rose. Rose limped past the finishing line in 36th place.
Of the six players who’ve opened with 65s, only Ray Floyd in 1976 has gone on to win. Jeff Sluman and Lanny Wadkins both shot opening 65s in 1992 and finished fourth and 48th respectively as Fred Couples won his only major. Chris DiMarco carved out an opening 65 in 2001 and finished 10th. Chad Campbell finished second behind Angel Cabrara in 2009. Alvaro Quiros and Rory McIlroy both started with 65s in 2011. Quiros finished 27th, while Rory blew up with a closing 80 to finish 15th. Charley Hoffman, 2017, was the last first round leader to navigate Augusta in 65 opening blows. He finished 22nd.
Here’s hoping Casey can swim against the tide of statistical history. Casey would look good in green.
#JustSaying: “Ask any top professional today about what it means to win their first major. The first one is always tough, perhaps the toughest.” Nick Price