Brian Keogh in Los Angeles
Changing horses in mid course doesn’t always give results but Ryder Cup star Paul Casey is relying on a change of jockey for some inspiration in this week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
In contrast to last season, when the 30-year-old from Cheltenham opened his campaign with a sensational victory in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, 2008 has been one of frustration so far.
After missing the cut by two strokes in Abu Dhabi and by one in the following week’s Qatar Masters, the eight-time European Tour winner has poached back his Scottish caddie Craig Connolly from Colin Montgomerie.
The pair split up after last season’s US Open at Oakmont, where eventually Casey finished 10th.
Now he’s hoping that their reunion in Los Angeles this week will coincide with the rediscovery of some form on the old style greens at Riviera.
“I was extremely comfortable with the way I struck the ball both weeks (in the Gulf) but I was unable to settle and get comfortable on the bermuda greens,” Casey revealed. “I felt after Abu Dhabi that my stroke was too handsy and even tried a new putter in Qatar.
“I didn’t make enough progress to stay for the weekend but I definitely felt that I had started to regain my touch.”
Casey didn’t play Riviera last season and missed the cut on his only appearance here in 2005 after posting a pair of three over par 74s.
But he hopes that his liking for the poa annua greens he grew up with in England will inspire him to something positive this week.
“Riviera is a classic old school lay out with poa annua so I am hoping that my experiences from the great courses in Surrey will help me acclimatise quickly to the pace and feel of the greens,” Casey said.
Not normally a fan of poa annua greens, Padraig Harrington decided to delay his arrival at the course and avoid the early morning crush on the small practice ground at Riviera.
The Dubliner has been warned not to overdo his preparations as he recovers from the effects of a case of shingles he picked up after the Abu Dhabi Championship four weeks ago.
But Colombian Camilo Villegas, his potential rival in next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, was grinding away from early morning in shirt-sleeved temperatures.
Barring a withdrawal from the 64-man field for next week’s desert clash, the world number 57 is looking forward to making his debut in the event against the Dubliner.
“It's a nice draw and he's a great player,” Villegas said before a practice round with friend Sergio Garcia. “But you just have to go out there and show up with your A-game and see what happens.
“It's my first year playing the matchplay and I'm really excited about playing that event. To play a player of Padraig's calibre in the first round is a great way to start.”
Villegas even has experience of golf in Ireland, having played there as a teenager, though he can’t remember where.
And while his is not regarded as an obvious danger in matchplay, he pointed out that he won two national championships under that format in his native Colombia and with the University of Florida .
“I played a lot of matchplay in college and did pretty well,” said the 26-year-old from Medellín, who reached the last 16 of the 2002 US Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills.
His PGA Tour CV still lacks a victory but he feels ready to take that step this season after finishing runner up to Tiger Woods in the Ford Championship at Doral in 2006 and losing out in a four-way play-off for the Honda Championship last year.
“I’m getting there,” he said. Could Arizona be the week? “You never know in matchplay,” he added with a grin. “In matchplay anything can happen.”