For a man who became the first double winner at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, it must have been terribly disappointing to miss out on one of his favourite tournaments last year when he had to pull out with a dislocated shoulder following a freak snowboarding accident. But come January 17, former World No. 3 Paul Casey will feel at home as he lines up alongside some of the game’s biggest names and he tells XPRESS in an exclusive interview how the long injury lay-off has actually helped him de-construct his game as he bids to make it back to the top, the quest for which starts at the UAE capital.
“The Abu Dhabi championship is one that I am very fond of. I remember coming down the 18th during my final round in 2007, when I shot 65, thinking just how special it will be to be champion and to have that feeling again in 2009, after two barren years was amazing,” said the Englishman.
“It's great to be back again this year, obviously I missed out last year through injury but this is a new beginning for me and a great start the 2013 season. I enjoy playing in the Gulf and Abu Dhabi is a wonderful part of the world. People are fantastic, and it’s fun being here so I can’t wait to get started. The event goes from strength to strength each year so I expect it to be better than ever, the field is always really strong and the course is always in magnificent shape so it is a pleasure to play in. I hope I can put on a good performance.”
Casey believes that despite the accident costing him an entire year, he has managed to find positives out of it.
“When I dislocated my shoulder right at the end of 2011, I didn’t expect it to be so bad. Rehab took a little bit longer than I thought and I think getting my golf game back and trusting the shoulder, took a lot longer than I ever thought it would take.
“But in hindsight, maybe it's one of the best injuries I've ever had because it allowed me to really de-construct my golf game and go through and look at everything and see what I need to do and what I need to work on to be as good a player as I can be. The year 2012 was very frustrating, and obviously it was my own fault, but I feel very good about the way things are going now and the way the future is looking. My shoulder is great and body feels fantastic. I don't know if we are ever 100 per cent but I feel like I'm 100 per cent.
“I’ve been working extremely hard at my game and started to play some nice golf at the end of last season. Things are very much going in the right direction, if I play as much as I can then I feel it's not going to be long before I'm back in the winner's circle,” Casey said.
So, does that mean he can reach the dizzying heights of 2009 when he won three tournaments across the Atlantic and reached a career-high No. 3?
“I don’t see why not. Obviously my first priority is to work my way up the world rankings and get back in the top 50. I know I dropped significantly in 2012, but now it’s time to move forward. If I can get back to the standard of golf I was playing at the beginning of 2009, before I tore all the muscles in my ribs, I know I can climb up the rankings.
“I just want to get back to a point where I'm playing that level of golf and I think I can be better than I was at that stage. Where that puts me in the world, I have no idea, with guys like Luke [Donald] and Rory [McIlroy] playing amazing golf but that’s not much of a worry. It's just finding that level of golf that I know is buried inside,” the winner of 11 European PGA Tour titles said.
Casey’s best in a Major has been tied 3rd at The Open Championship in 2010 and the 35-year-old says the Big Four are currently not on his radar.
“Obviously it would be nice to win a Major during my career and that’s something I dream of doing but for now I just want to get back to playing the golf that I know I am capable of. With that results will follow and hopefully it won’t be long before I win a trophy. What trophy that will be, I don’t know, but hopefully I can go on from it and contend in the big events again,” he said.
Comparing Woods & McIlroy
“Both are fantastic players who are at different stages of their careers. There will always be comparisons between the world’s top players and there will be for years to come. With Rory at World Number one at the moment and Tiger in third it is definitely something for fans to talk about and for comparisons to be made. It’s great that both players will be at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for the second year in a row. What Tiger has done for the game of golf is insurmountable and whether Rory can go on to match any of Tiger’s records is up for debate. But for me both are players who I want to be competing against regularly on Tour. I know if I play my best I can match up with anyone so I like to focus on my own game.”