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Casey battles illness to take lead with stunning round

 

On top: Paul Casey on his way to a six-under 66 in the opening round of the European Open in Hamburg yesterday
On top: Paul Casey on his way to a six-under 66 in the opening round of the European Open in Hamburg yesterday

By Phil Casey

Ryder Cup star Paul Casey overcame illness and tough conditions to claim the lead after the first round of the Porsche European Open.

Casey carded seven birdies and a single bogey in an opening 66 at Green Eagle Golf Course in Hamburg, despite strong winds making the 7,500-yard layout play even tougher than usual.

On six under par the world number 17 held a one-shot lead over Austria's Matthias Schwab, with fellow Englishman Ben Stow, Scotland's Robert MacIntyre and Germany's Max Rottluff all on four under.

Former Masters champion Patrick Reed had to birdie the last three holes to shoot a two-over-par 74, while world number nine Xander Schauffele was one shot better off despite dropping three shots in his last eight holes.

Casey, third in the Tour Championship behind Ulsterman Rory McIlroy on his last start, was delighted by his performance and said: "It was a really good round of golf. Sure there were a couple of putts that slipped by but that is such a difficult golf course.

"You asked me on the 11th what I was happy with and I was happy with the patience I was showing and the quality of strike on the golf ball considering I didn't play great in the pro-am.

"And here I stand even happier because the score doesn't really do it justice. That's one of the finest rounds of golf I've played this year. I couldn't have hoped for better; happy to be under par, let alone six (under)."

Casey revealed he has been struggling with a sore throat for several days and added: "I'm not great, but it is what it is. Maybe beware of the sick golfer."

Stow came into the event on the back of consecutive top-10 finishes on the Challenge Tour and recovered from starting his round with a double bogey to post an opening 68 in what could be a turning point in his career.

"There's a level of expectation you have to manage but it is a great opportunity for us, weeks like this can be a life-changer," the world number 347 said. "You try and put that behind you and concentrate on your ball and the hole and hopefully the rest figures itself out. But it's nice to play here, you get treated nicely and you feel a bit more looked after."

MacIntyre's brilliant debut season on the European Tour has already produced back-to-back runners-up finishes and a tie for sixth in the Open at Royal Portrush, but the 23-year-old from Oban has his sights set on more success.

"I'm pushing to try to get into the WGC event (in China in November) and I think I might have secured the final three (European Tour events) already and if you do well in those, then that opens bigger doors so it's just about taking it step by step, week by week and see where we end up," MacIntyre said.

• Former world number one Dustin Johnson has undergone surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee.

Johnson, who has slipped to third in the rankings after a poor finish to the PGA Tour season, underwent an arthroscopic procedure in Florida yesterday, according to a statement released by his agent David Winkle.

"He is now resting comfortably and is expected to make a full recovery before returning to competition later this fall," he said.

Winkle said the procedure is considered routine and was similar to surgery on Johnson's other knee in December 2011. Both operations were performed by Dr George Caldwell.

Johnson was runner-up in the Masters and US PGA Championship, but since finishing second to Brooks Koepka at Bethpage in May the 35-year-old has finished no better than 20th in eight starts.

Although no date has been set for his return, Johnson has regularly competed in the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China, which starts on October 31. He also qualified for the US Presidents Cup team which will take on the International Team in Melbourne in December.

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