PALM HARBOR ― When players were told they could use nicknames on their caddie bibs this week at the Valspar Championship, Paul Casey chose “The Champ.’’ Next year the bib will read: “The Champ X 2.’’
Casey became the first player in tournament history to defend his title Sunday after he shot a final-round 72 for an overall score of 8-under 276 on Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course. He held off Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthiuzen by a shot.
Bubba Watson, who shot a final-round 3-under 68, and Sungjae Kim tied for third at 6 under.
Casey is the third two-time winner of the tournament, joining K.J. Choi and Retief Goosen. This is his third win on the PGA Tour. The 41-year-old from England won the 2009 Houston Open.
He earned $1,206,000.
“It’s very satisfying," Casey said. “It was a scrappy round of golf. I made mistakes, but so did everybody else."
Casey’s final round was not only his worst of the week, it was also the highest final round of any tournament winner since it started in 2000. But with most players struggling to make par, it was good enough.
The tournament was basically a three-player race by the back nine. Casey’s playing partner, Dustin Johnson, was a non-factor. The No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Rankings, he shot a 3-over 74. He started the day one shot behind. It was the first time in 98 rounds that Johnson did not make at least one birdie. It also broke a streak of 14 straight rounds in the 60s.
“It’s surprising," Johnson said. “I hit good putts, they just didn’t go in the hole. I didn’t feel like I played bad. I’ve still got a lot of confidence in the game, but it was a tough day."
Oosthiuzen shot a steady 69 and was the first player in the clubhouse at 7 under. Kokrak, playing in the group ahead of Casey, had the best chance of at least forcing a playoff.
Casey bogeyed the 17th hole when he missed a four-foot putt. Kokrak was briefly tied for the lead at 8 under on the 18th hole. It could’ve been 9 under had he not just missed a birdie putt on 17.
On the 18th, his approach shot came up short of the green. His lag putt was still six feet from the hole, which he missed.
“Not the way I wanted to finish,’’ said Kokrak, who has not won in eight years on the PGA Tour.
Staked to a one shot lead, Casey’s drive on the final hole found one of the right fairway bunkers. He had 129 yards to the hole and put his second shot just outside of 20 feet. From there he easily two-putted to secure the trophy.
“The bunker shot on 18 was pretty damn good," Casey said.
His round overall doesn’t look very good. He had three bogies on the front nine, including two straight on the sixth and seventh holes. There were two more bogeys on the back nine.
But on a day when the wind was blowing and the pins were in their toughest position, a 72 worked just fine.
“I wasn’t really thinking about a number," Casey said. “Mistakes aside, I’m very happy with how I executed the round. I didn’t think 72 would get it done. I didn’t think even par would get it done. I thought probably double digits. It shows how difficult the golf course is."