Casey eyes Augusta after breakthrough US win

England’s Paul Casey gave himself the best possible boost before the first major of the season after earning his maiden victory on the US PGA Tour.

Casey overcame JB Holmes in a play-off at the Houston Open to increase his titles on global stage to nine since 2001 but his first-ever on American soil. He is also the first European to win the tournament.

He jumps from 12th to sixth in the world and can look forward with confidence to this week’s US Masters at Augusta.

The 31-year-old, who went into the final round at Augusta last year with a chance of winning, hit a bogey on the first play-off hole against Holmes, who surrendered the fight with a double-bogey.

He closed with an even part 72 to join Holmes (69) on 11-under 277 for the tournament. Neither player had a particularly good play-off hole but Casey did enough to snare the title and take home the more than $1 million first prize.

Fred Couples (74), Nick O’Hern (70) and Henrik Stenson (70) tied for third on 279. Casey said he is approaching the Masters on a positive note and is not thinking about what happened last year, when a double-bogey on the fourth hole of the final round ruined his Augusta chances. He said in an AP article:

“I don’t feel like I’ve got something to prove and I’ve got to go back and rid the demons on Monday, or something like that. It will be the Masters 2009 and it’s a new tournament. I can’t step on the first tee with any sort of dash and any thoughts of last year.”

For Holmes, it was a bitter blow. He needed victory to qualify for the Masters and second place, though earning him more than $600,000, is not good enough to tee off on Thursday with the likes of Casey, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods.

There was also a play-off to decide the Estoril Open de Portugal on the European Tour, with Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey beating off the challenge of Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano for the title.

Hoey (66 in the final round) and Fernandez-Castano (67) finished tied at seven-under-par 277, one stroke ahead of Italian Francesco Molinari, who ended with a 68.

England’s Paul Broadhurst (73), Jamie Donaldson (72), of Wales, and Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg (70) were tied for fourth at 279.

Like Casey on the PGA Tour, it was Hoey’s first-ever victory on the European Tour and came after he fought back from five shots off the pace at the start of the final round.

His brilliant 66 brought him on par with Fernandez-Castano and the pair went to the third play-off hole, the par-four 17th, where Hoey rolled in a six-footer for par while his opponent bogeyed.

It was a major week on the LPGA Tour with Brittany Lincicome finishing with a four-foot eagle to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Rancho Mirage, California.

Lincicome completed a three-under-par round of 69 for a total of nine-under 279 and a one-stroke victory over Kristy McPherson and Chrisie Kerr.

And fulfilling the tradition of the tournament, the 23-year-old, her father Tom and caddie Tara Bateman jumped into Poppy’s Pond in a ritual reserved for the champion and her entourage.

Last year’s winner and world number one Lorena Ochoa, of Mexico, was tied for 12th with four others at one under while Michelle Wie paid for her two 81s with a tie for 67th on 16 over.

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