(Reuters) – Paul Casey became the first player to successfully defend his Valspar Championship title when he secured a hard-fought one-stroke win over Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Kokrak in Florida on Sunday.
Overnight leader Casey eked out a one-over-par 72 in the final round, which was good enough to fend off his rivals in demanding breezy and firm conditions at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor.
After a three-putt bogey at the penultimate hole, where he missed a five-footer, the 41-year-old Englishman hit a tournament-winning shot from a fairway bunker to the heart of the final green.
With two putts he finished at eight-under 276 for his third victory on the PGA Tour.
Long-hitting American Kokrak challenged Casey and was tied for the lead playing the final hole, which he bogeyed for a 71.
Sweet-swinging South African Oosthuizen (69) made a flying start by holing a 25-yard bunker shot for eagle at the first hole, but rued a bogey at the 16th hole.
Casey said the self-belief attained in winning last year had held him in good stead.
“Last year’s win was so big,” he told NBC television. “That felt like my first victory as a professional. I’ve felt so different since then, new confidence.
“I’m getting older but I feel like I’m getting better. This is so cool.”
Casey is the third consecutive European winner on the PGA Tour, following Francesco Molinari (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and Rory McIlroy (Players Championship).
He will head to the Masters in a couple of weeks certainly part of the conversation at a tournament where he has a strong recent record, having not finished worse than 15th over the past four years.
While Casey celebrated, world number one Dustin Johnson lamented a birdie-free 74 that left him three shots behind in a tie for sixth, after he had started the day one back of Casey.
Casey played all week with an unusual caddie bib, which instead of displaying his name on the back simply said “THECHAMP”.
They were words of his choosing, after tournament organisers asked him what he would like to do.
“Today was a struggle but all week it’s felt so cool being defending champion,” he said.
“It means I don’t need to change the caddie bib for next year either.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Clare Fallon)