Paul Casey retains title with thrilling win in Florida

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It wasn’t easy but Paul Casey became the first to successfully defend his title at the Valspar Championship, closing with a 1-over 72 to beat Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen by one.

Casey’s final round got off to a rough start Sunday with three bogeys through his first seven holes. He bounced back to claim another win at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla., at 8-under 276. Casey is the second player to win on the PGA Tour this year despite posting a score over par in the final round, joining Rickie Fowler who shot a 74 Sunday in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Oosthuizen (69) and Kokrak (71) tied for second at 7 under, followed by Bubba Watson and Sungjae Im, who finished T-4 at 6 under. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson was in the final pairing with Casey, but was unable to make birdie in his final round and shot 74 to tie for sixth.

It took Casey, 41, nine years to get his second PGA Tour win at last year’s event, and his third win comes just 12 months later.

“Obviously I’m finding it easier (to win), although today wasn’t easy. But I’ve felt very different since winning last year,” said Casey. “Last year’s win was so big, 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.”

Things got interesting down the stretch when Casey bogeyed the par-3 17th, the second hole of Copperhead’s Snake Pit. The dropped shot temporarily pushed Casey into a tie with Kokrak, who was playing in the group ahead.

Casey’s tee shot on the final hole missed right, but a great second shot from the church pew bunkers along the right side of the fairway – and a Kokrak bogey – set up a two-putt par for the win.

Kokrak was on pace to continue an interesting trend over the last two months. Seeking his first PGA Tour win in 197 starts, the 33-year-old Canadian would have become the third player this year to make a hole-in-one and win the tournament had he been able to beat Casey.

Conditions weren’t ripe for scoring on Sunday, as seven players tied for the low round of 3-under 68, led by Watson and Jon Rahm.

The PGA Tour ends its Florida swing and now moves on to Austin, Texas for the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.

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