PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Pat Riley trademarked the term three-peat in 1988 while the Los Angeles Lakers were going for a third consecutive NBA championship.
He may score some royalties this week as Englishman Paul Casey bids to win the Valspar Championship and become the first on the PGA Tour to win the same event in three consecutive editions since Steve Stricker claimed the John Deere Championship from 2009-2011.
“It would just be extremely cool, flat out. I think even more so with the gap, as well, with the one-year sort of hiatus,” said Casey, noting that last year’s edition was the first tournament to be canceled following the Players Championship being called after one round in March. “Yeah, it would just be very cool.”
In 2018, Casey delivered a scintillating 6-under 65 in the final round and waited for more than an hour to see if Patrick Reed or Tiger Woods could catch him. That victory ended a nine-year spell between PGA Tour victories for Casey. A year later, he played in the final group and needed to two putt a slick downhill 18-foot putt on the final hole to become the first back-to-back champion of the Valspar Championship.
“I could have putted off the green and I didn’t, that was the most satisfying feeling, halfway through knowing that ball was the perfect weight,” he said.
Asked which victory meant more to him, Casey smiled and said, “Your last win is always your best one because it’s the freshest.”
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort is the site of two of his three PGA Tour victories in 250 career starts. (He also counts 15 European Tour titles to his credit.) What makes this venue such a happy hunting ground for Casey? It’s a ball striker’s paradise, which is right up Casey’s alley.
“This golf course is kind of a 175- to 200-plus golf course,” he explained. “That’s where the premium is, and that’s what I do well.”
This season, Casey ranks first in average proximity to the hole on approach shots outside 200 yards at nearly 42 feet, which is a good 12 feet better than the Tour average. Moreover, Casey has ranked in the top 15 of Strokes Gained: Approach for seven consecutive years and is on track to make it eight, ranking No. 14 this season.
“When he’s on, it’s really impressive,” said World No. 2 Justin Thomas. “I mean, the sound his ball makes when it comes off his irons, compresses it, it’s a short, compact move … it’s fun to watch.”
For Casey to pull off the rare three-peat – over the last 40 years there have only been eight instances of a player winning a PGA Tour event three or more times in a row. In addition to Stricker being the most recent to do so, Tiger Woods turned the trick a remarkable six times and Stuart Appleby once – he’ll have to contend against the top-two players in the Official World Golf Ranking, Dustin Johnson (No. 1) and Thomas, as well as 18 of the top 50.
“I feel like the pressure is not on me,” Casey said. “We’ve got Justin Thomas and guys like that playing this week, and the focus is going to be on them, so I feel like I’m kind of in a sweet spot and raring to go.”
Casey, who has recorded four top-10s in 12 starts during the 2020-21 season and won the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January, recalled winning the Pac-12 Championship three consecutive years from 1998-2000 and having captured back-to-back titles at the English Amateur.
“I wasn’t really that nervous,” Casey said of the amateur event. “There was a level of expectation, but it was overwhelmed by actually I felt like there was no pressure because nobody is expecting me to do it, which is a little bit the same case this week.”