Casey in front at Innisbrook

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England’s Paul Casey has grabbed the lead on the first day at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook.

Casey posted a sparkling, bogey-free 64 on Innisbrook’s tough Copperhead course to take a two-stroke lead over the four-strong chasing pack in second place that included last week’s still-hot WGC-Cadillac Championship winner Nick Watney, fellow Americans Scott Stallings and Garrett Willis and the in-form Scot Martin Laird.

Casey was clearly upbeat after the round.

“The state of my game is going in the right direction,” he said beaming.

“Sure I got lucky, got a few good bounces, but I rode it well and made some putts,” said Casey.

“I’m very happy with that.

“The nice thing today was we had some favourable wind. It was great golfing weather. I didn’t even see the fog this morning.”

Casey was putting for birdie on all but three holes and took only 28 putts in his flawless round, which he described as his best ball-striking round of the year.

And that included the Volvo Champions in Bahrain, which he won earlier this year during the European Tour’s MIddle East swing.

Casey wasn’t planning on playing Innisbrook. He won the Shell Houston Open in the week before the Masters two years ago, but decided to take a few weeks off before heading for Augusta this year.

“If you look at my history in terms of how I’ve played … I’ve always struggled after victories,” he said.

“I don’t know why – fatigue, whatever it is. But I’ve performed poorly. So we want to go back to being nice and fresh before the majors.”

The fog delayed play at the start and three players were unable to finish their rounds due to the onset of darkness.

None are high enough on the leaderboard, however, to worry any of the top 20 front-runners.

The conditions could not have been much better – plenty of sunshine, minimal wind and true greens.

Copperhead is one of the most respected on the Florida swing, and the tournament has been attracting strong fields.

The gallery was as big as ever with the largest percentage following a stellar group that featured Watney, big bomber Bubba Watson, and PGA champion and World No 1 Martin Kaymer, who was making his debut at Innisbrook.

“It’s a fantastic golf course, one of the best I’ve played in America, to be honest,” Kaymer said after shooting a respectable 68.

“It’s very difficult. You have to hit a lot of good tee shots.”

Casey started on the back nine and put himself in contention for a second victory of the season thanks to seven birdies, including two in succession at seven and eight.

Watney has not been outside the top 10 in any tournament this year, and would have been level at the top again on Thursday but for bogeys at four and eight on his back nine.

Scotland’s Martin Laird in the meantime, sank five birdies and no bogeys as he once more started his challenge high up on the leaderboard.

Defending champion Jim Furyk was one of 10 players to shoot a 67 and finish a shot further back.

Japan’s Ryuji Imada said he would donate $1,000 for each birdie he made at Innisbrook this week to the American Red Cross Japanese Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund.

Sadly he didn’t make any in the first round and shot 74.

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