By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Paul Casey's "rubbish year" continued to get a little better on Thursday when the former world number three fired a three-under 68 to confirm his recent return to form and put him in early contention at the Singapore Open.
The 35-year-old Englishman has endured a miserable campaign since dislocating his shoulder while snowboarding last December, but top-10 finishes in Australia and China last month suggested he was getting back to his best form.
Hoping to end his year on a high by sneaking into the elite 60-player field for the European Tour's season-ending Dubai World Championship, Casey's opening round on the demanding Serapong Course will give the Briton plenty of encouragement.
"I'm very happy with that. It's the first time I have played in this kind of heat in a long time. My caddy is going to earn his keep - keeping the grips dry, and the player cool and happy," Casey told reporters after a solid first round.
"Very much a team effort and that's what contributed to me shooting a 68."
Casey has slipped to 118th in the world rankings and sits 83rd in the Race to Dubai standings with just the Hong Kong Open to come after Singapore, but the three-time Ryder Cup player believes he can end a victory drought dating back to January 2011.
"I have had a fairly rubbish year and it has been a season where I have really struggled to get over the shoulder injury," he added.
"I struggled with my game and lost a bit of confidence. But the last few months, I have been building that back up and playing the sort of golf I am used to playing.
"My golf has been very nice lately and I would like to sneak a win in before I finish my season this year.
"In terms of where I stand in the rankings is pretty much a write off. I am very much focusing on next year for that aspect of my game but there are tournaments still to be won."
Casey admitted to being a frustrated spectator in September when the European Ryder Cup team staged a remarkable Sunday comeback to beat the U.S. in Chicago but rather than dwell on not being involved, he preferred to use the experience as motivation.
"I would have loved to have been a part of that. What I saw was remarkable. I was very proud to watch them. I know where my golf game was at that time so there was no way I could have joined them whatsoever," he said.
"When I started my career, I never enjoyed sitting on the sidelines and I still don't now. If I am missing out on big tournaments or Ryder Cups for example.
"I didn't even want to watch but now I do for two reasons. I want to see great golf, as witnessed in September, and I use it as motivation to get back to where I want to be."
Denmark's Thomas Bjorn shot a first-round 66 to forge an early lead in the $6 million co-sanctioned European and Asian Tour event, with world number one Rory McIlroy taking to the course later on Thursday.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)