Paul Casey successfully defends Valspar Championship


Paul Casey has become the first player to successfully defend the Valspar Championship with a one stroke victory over Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Kokrak 

Paul Casey left a period of nine years between his first and second PGA Tour victories, but he barely had to wait a year for his third. 

In a day of tough conditions, Casey's one-over 72 was enough to come out on top of a stacked leaderboard by a single stroke, ensuring the first title defence of his career. 

"This feels very different from last year, it feels better, I'm enjoying this one so much more," said Casey. 

"Very satisfied with that today. It was a scrappy round of golf but that golf course as Doug Ferguson just said is so difficult that it's damn near impossible to have a clean round of golf and not make mistakes. But I was composed, I was very keen to play well and I did and I made mistakes but then so did everybody else and I good shots it done and I couldn't be happier."

Unlike last year, when Casey came from well behind the leaders to beat out Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods by a stroke, the Englishman found himself one shot clear after 54-holes and in a final group with World No.1 Dustin Johnson. 

For Casey, the task seemed simple enough: beat the World's best player, and win the trophy. But on a day where DJ struggled and the Copperhead course showed its teeth, the 41-year-old battled a host of other players as he edged out Oosthuizen and Kokrak by a stroke.

"I had a lot of confidence," he said. "My victory here last year put me in back into a frame of mind that I, a comfort that I felt many years ago during my career back in, pick a year, when I was winning consistently in Europe. People forget, I'm not a prolific winner but I've won 17 times around the world. It's not bad. I would like it to be more, obviously. I know how to win, plane and simple.

"I think I had forgotten and last year's victory kind of maybe kind of broke the seal for lack of a better term and, yeah, today was a very different attitude to maybe I had had the last three, four years and an attitude that I had and a comfort and a relaxed approach confidence in my game. I still felt Dustin was the favorite, but it didn't mean I didn't think I could beat him."

Casey began the final round with a shot in hand over the rest of the field, but with opening eagles from Oosthuizen and Luke Donald and back-to-back gains from Kokrak, it seemed from the outset it was going to be a tussle. 

A birdie on the first hole moved him to 10-under-par, but Casey gave that shot back after failing to get up-and-down from the greenside bunker on the third, yet once again grabbed hold of the lead thanks to a birdie at the par-five fifth. 

The good work was unravelled with back-to-back dropped shots from the sixth, and a birdie from Oosthuizen gave him company at the top on eight-under. 

He would nose out in front once more with a sublime up-and-down for birdie from the greenside bunker on the 11th, but fell back in to a three-way tie after making bogey on the par-three 12th before taking back that advantage on the next par-five to go one shot clear. 

It was Oosthuizen who would then make the first mistake, missing a putt from 8 feet for par on 16 to drop back to seven-under as Casey remained one shot ahead of Kokrak. 

Soon, Casey would then card his final dropped shot of the day with a three-putt on the 17th, leaving both he and Kokrak in need of pars to force a play-off. 

But with a leaderboard at the back of the green incorrectly displaying Casey's score, Kokrak may not have been aware that an up and down from the side of the green would likely get him in to a play-off. The commentators called his third shot a bit of a miss-hit to just under 10 feet, which he then pulled to bogey the final end hole and end  up tied with Oosthuizen at seven-under. 

Fresh off his fifth dropped shot of the day, Casey looked to be in trouble after finding the bunkers from the 18th tee, but managed to get his approach to just over 20 feet. 

His birdie putt grazed the edge of the hole, but it was an easy tap-in par to win. 

Bubba Watson, who birdied two of his last three holes, finished in a tie for fourth with Sungjae Im while Dustin Johnson, who was playing with Casey, struggled to a three-over 74 to finish in a tie for sixth with Jon Rahm and Ryan Armour. 

And now, Casey's sights are firmly set on two big weeks: The WGC match-play, and Augusta National for the first major of the year.