As sumptuous ball-strikes go, Paul Casey’s majestic approach to the 18th green at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday was, of course, nothing but positive.
Yet for those who believe that the game’s authorities need to act when it comes to golf’s distance issue, here was just another example of the changing nature of the sport.
A quarter of a century ago, Colin Montgomerie stood in almost the exact the same spot on the final fairway and from 220 yards fearlessly hit a driver off the deck over the water guarding the putting surface to set up the two-putt birdied with which the Scot claimed yet another of those memorable successes in his garlanded career. The shot was considered so highly that there is a plaque to commemorate it.
Casey was nearly stood on this plaque when he sized up the same scenario. Except, the 43-year-old was not in two minds at all. “I had 220 to clear the lake and 243 to the pin, and it was nice to be able to go full tilt at it knowing I was sure to make the carry if I struck it nicely — and I absolutely nailed it,” Casey said. “I’m sure Monty will shake his head a bit when he hears I hit three-iron into the wind. But that’s golf isn’t it?”
Well, it is until the R&A and USGA do something about it and all eyes will continue to concentrate on the officials as they deliberate whether to rein back the ball. Surely, the time has come if great layouts are to be protected and if the iconic shots are to be kept iconic.
None of which is meant to downplay Casey’s eagle on that par-five one iota. The Englishman conjured it to 10 feet to fire a brilliant 64 and so move to 15-under to take a one-shot advantage into Sunday’s conclusion over another Scotsman in Robert MacIntyre. Casey believes he will require further fireworks to collect a 15th European Tour title.
“There are some great players on the leaderboard behind me, and I know how tough this course can play,” Casey said after a bogeyless round featuring six birdies as well as that eagle. “We all saw how volatile the scoring can be here with last week’s winner, Tyrrell Hatton, going 76-64 in the first two rounds. So I’ll need to play some more great golf to get the job done. Someone pointed out that this is 20th anniversary since my first Tour title [the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship] and it would be quite something for me to record victories two decades apart.”
After his own swashbuckling 67, MacIntyre will certainly not lack for motivation. At 52 in the world rankings he knows he is the cusp of the result that would guarantee a place in the top 50 for the last qualification cut-off point for the Masters. A second Tour triumph in three months would also put the ever more impressive 24-year-old into the frame for a Ryder Cup debut in September. The Oban left-hander is determined that he is not going to fail wondering,
“All I’m going to is go for it — no hanging about,” MacIntyre said. “I’m going to put it all on the line, whether it’s good or bad.”
South African Brandon Stone is in third on 13-under, while Sergio Garcia is alongside another Englishman in Laurie Canter in a tie for fourth on 10-under. As Casey said, the Maljis layout lends itself to fast-finishing drama and despite being on eight-under, seven behind, Justin Rose will not feel entirely out of the equation.