World number 24 came face to face with his matchplay nemesis at Sentosa Golf Club earlier this week and it was a timely reminder of the task facing him if he is to win the prestigious SMBC Singapore Open.
England’s Casey, the highest-ranked player in the field, enjoyed some gentle sparring with Poom Saksansin of Thailand who beat him in the singles at last year’s EurAsia Cup contest between Team Asia and Team Europe.
Poom, dubbed the ‘baby-faced assassin’ for his giant-killing acts on the golf course, downed Casey by one hole in Malaysia although Team Europe took overall honours.
Casey was full of praise for Poom, in particular, and Asian golf in general in the lead up to this week’s Singapore showpiece which is joint sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organisation.
“Is he playing this week…oh no,” Casey said jokingly. “He outplayed me at the EurAsia Cup in the singles. Putted brilliantly and dusted me off at the last. And I was playing very nicely that week. I was going for a clean sweep of points. That just shows. I am a pretty good matchplay player, I pride myself on that, I gave it my full attention and got beaten.”
Casey said that Poom, who edged out both world number two Justin Rose and Major champion Henrik Stenson en route to victory at the BNI Indonesian Masters in December, was just one of a talented crop of Asian players making their mark in the game.
“I believe there has has been a constant kind of curve on the way up in terms of how many (Asian) guys we see playing world class golf now,” said the 41-year-old Casey, winner of the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour last year.
“It feels like it used to be just a number you could count on one hand, sort of key names. But its dozens of guys, and guys I’ve never heard of right behind them who are about to take our place.
“I’d love to see the numbers on it but it’s certainly been a swell, and it’s something the world has taken notice of. They are competing all over now – there are multiple winners on the PGA Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour so that’s why when the three of us (defending champion Sergio Garcia and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick) come over here this week, we know how tough this is going to be.
“You see the great (Asian) players playing world golf but it’s now very deep as well. I don’t think we could honestly say that a decade ago. The depth wasn’t there but it is now.”
Garcia concurred with his Ryder Cup teammate that Asian players were increasingly to the fore in world golf.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while now – every year, you see more and more great Asian players coming out,” said the 2017 Masters champion.
“Youngsters are coming out [playing] at a great level – they’re doing well. I think probably one of the biggest ones right now is Li Haotong of China. There’s a good group of young Asian players out there, such as (Japan’s) Hideki Matsuyama and some Koreans, and you can see that the level is growing every year. Things are being done the right way here in this part of the world when it comes to golf, and you can see the effects.”
The US$1 million SMBC Singapore Open tees off on Thursday over the challenging Serapong Course.