The Associated Press
PALM HARBOR, Fla.–Paul Casey got the battle he expected yesterday in the Valspar Championship.
Just not from Dustin Johnson.
Casey and everyone else had full attention on a Copperhead course at Innisbrook that made the final round feel more like survival than a shootout.
Casey did just that, closing with a one-over 72 for a one-shot victory that made him the first back-to-back winner in the 19 years of the tournament.
He rallied from five shots behind last year with a 65.
This time, he became the first winner at Innisbrook with a final round over par.
“It feels very different but not any less cool,” Casey said after making par from a fairway bunker on the 18th to avoid a playoff with Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen.
“That golf course is so difficult that it’s damn near impossible to have a clean round of golf and not make any mistake,” he noted.
“But I was composed. I was very keen to play well,” Casey added. “I made mistakes but then so did everybody else.
“I got it done and I couldn’t be happier.”
The course was so dry and fast that no one shot better than 68 yesterday and the average score of 72.143 was the second-highest for a final round this year on the PGA Tour behind rainy, windy Riviera.
Kokrak (71) and Oosthuizen (69) each had a share of the lead on the back nine until one mistake cost them.
Oosthuizen, who hit only six greens in regulation, opted for a fairway metal from just behind the 16th green and hit it too firmly.
He missed the eight-foot par putt and never caught up.
Kokrak then had a good lie in trampled, dry grass near the cart path on the 18th hole but his shot came out short of the green into a sprinkler hole.
A free drop put him in a position to putt but he was short and left, then missed the eight-foot par putt to fall one shot behind.
“Played good golf all week, just not the way I wanted to finish,” Kokrak said.
Behind him was Casey, in one of the bunkers that resemble a miniature version of Oakmont’s church pews, facing a key shot into the wind to an elevated green.
It came out perfectly to the right of the flag, and his birdie attempt grazed the left edge of the cup to leave him with one of the easiest shots he had all day.
Casey finished at eight-under 276 and moved to No. 11 in the world.
It was the third-straight week for a European-born winner on the PGA Tour–the first time that has happened since 2010 when Justin Rose (Memorial), Lee Westwood (St. Jude Classic), and Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open) won in successive weeks.
Johnson closed with a 74 and tied for sixth.
Mackenzie Hughes (71) of Dundas, Ont. tied for 13th at three-under while Nick Taylor (75) of Abbotsford, B.C. tied for 24th at one-under.