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Paul Casey says ‘Masters is in his crosshairs’ as he takes lead at Valspar Championship

Phil Casey
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Paul Casey says ‘Masters is in his crosshairs’ as he takes lead at Valspar Championship

Paul Casey admits the Masters is already "in the crosshairs" even as he tries to make the first successful title defence of his professional career in the Valspar Championship.

Casey carded an eagle, four birdies and a solitary bogey in a second round of 66 on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort to share the halfway with American Austin Cook on six under par.

Former world number one Luke Donald, who partnered Casey to victory for England in the 2004 World Cup, is a shot off the lead with Scott Stallings and Sungjae Im, with current number one Dustin Johnson another stroke adrift alongside Joel Dahmen and Curtis Luck.

Starting on the back nine, Casey birdied the 10th, 11th and 14th to reach the turn in 32 and also birdied the first before holing from 27 feet for an eagle on the par-five fifth.

The 41-year-old Ryder Cup star dropped his only shot of the day on the ninth after finding sand off the tee and with his approach to the green, but was happy to bounce back after a missed cut in the Players Championship last week.

"I feel really good about it because last week was rubbish," Casey told PGA Tour Live. "For whatever reason I struggled a little bit round Sawgrass and that frustrated me, annoyed me, (ahead of) coming in here trying to defend my title which I'd love to do because I've never defended a professional title.

"I've worked very, very hard on the game and it's slowed things down, quietened the transition at the top of the swing, and I like slopey greens.

These are very, very difficult greens but that's the way I like them and it's why I play well at places like Augusta as well."

Casey has finished no worse than 15th in his last four appearances at Augusta National and believes the Masters represents his best chance of winning a maiden major championship.

"We talk about the PGA Tour and FedEx Cup but you know my feelings, there's one tournament I write down at the top of the list every year when I start writing my goals for the year and that's the Masters," Casey told Sky Sports.

"It's the one I believe I can win, I've got a great opportunity to. I've played wonderful rounds of golf round there before... and I need some luck, guys like Rory (McIlroy) and Dustin, these guys are so strong on their games, who can beat them?

Casey has been in excellent form since the turn of the year (Getty)

"But it's a great chance I have round that venue and I love it to death. It's been in the crosshairs for quite a while and we've been doing work this week for the second week in April."

Donald, whose victory in this event in 2012 saw him regain the world number one ranking from McIlroy, held the outright lead after holing a bunker shot on the fifth, his 14th, for a fifth birdie of the day.

However, the world number 919, who is playing only his second event of 2019 after a back injury, bogeyed two of his last four holes to add a 70 to his opening 67.

PA