Casey soaks in return to Ryder Cup after a decade out

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              Europe's Paul Casey smiles during a press conference ahead of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The 42nd Ryder Cup will be held in France from Sept. 28-30, 2018 at Le Golf National. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France (AP) — His hair is thinner on top these days, and the flecks of gray around the ears are another reminder of Paul Casey’s status as one of the veterans in the European team room.

But the 41-year-old Englishman has felt like a rookie at the Ryder Cup this week.

It has been 10 years since Casey pulled on the blue and yellow of Europe, and it’s not hard to sense his excitement and enthusiasm at being back in the fold.

“I missed putting on the clothes in the morning. I missed that first tee. I’ve missed a lot,” Casey said Thursday, a day before competition begins at Le Golf National outside Paris. “But I think the most is missing the vibes, the team, how close you get with these guys, and they always do become really good friends.”

Casey is aware this might be his last Ryder Cup on European soil so he’s intent on soaking it all in. He says he’s taking notes this time, and appreciating his value as an experienced player and a guide for the five rookies in the team.

His third and most recent Ryder Cup was in 2008 at Valhalla. Since then, he missed out — somewhat controversially — in 2010 despite being No. 9 in the world at the time, in 2012 and ’14 because of a deep slump brought on mainly by injuries, and in 2016 because he wasn’t a member of the European Tour.

Following a long conversation with his wife and fearing he would have regrets later in his career, Casey decided to rejoin the European Tour after a three-year absence and try to get back in this Ryder Cup in France. Now ranked No. 21 and back in the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour this season, he was one of European captain Thomas Bjorn’s four wild-card selections.

“Ryder Cups in the past have gone so quickly, and I just want to make sure I remember this,” Casey said. “You know, at 41, I don’t know how many opportunities I’m going to get to play another European-based Ryder Cup.

“Plain and simple, at 41, it’s got a chance that it is. So I just want to make sure that I pay attention to it and enjoy it, deliver points, play my heart out, but enjoy it at the same time.”

Casey made his Ryder Cup debut in 2004, securing a win in the second-day fourballs before being beaten 3 and 2 by Tiger Woods in the singles. In seven matches across the 2006 and ’08 competitions, he won two, halved four and lost the other. He ended one match at The K Club in ’06 with a hole-in-one.

It felt like he would go on to be a mainstay in the European team — he was No. 3 in the world for a six-month stretch in 2009 — but his snub the following year by Europe captain Colin Montgomerie hit him hard.

The way he found out hardly helped.

Casey was among four strong candidates up for selection, along with Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose and Luke Donald, and was playing the final round of a FedEx Cup event in New Jersey with Harrington.

Harrington’s wife gave her husband a thumbs-up when she heard he had been picked. Casey realized he had been left off the team and played the rest of the round knowing that.

Casey downplayed it Thursday and said he never lost his passion for the Ryder Cup, despite missing four editions.

“Oh, yeah. It’s the best thing on TV,” he said, smiling. “It’s the greatest thing on TV.”

In Casey’s decade-long absence, the Ryder Cup has become a bigger deal than ever. The giant first-tee grandstand at Le Golf National, seating almost 7,000 spectators, is testament to that.

“The passion is still as intense,” Casey said. “It’s just grander. It’s just bigger. It’s just been amped up.

“We had a small tasting of that first tee yesterday. It was really noisy. When we walked off the tee and we looked back, about a hundred yards, we realized it was about 5 percent full.”