Paul Casey talks Tokyo Olympics after opening Valspar three-peat bid with 68

The Englishman says he has no reservations about going to Japan this summer after making a confident start to the Valspar Championship

The big storyline surrounding Paul Casey this week is whether he can pull off the rare feat of winning the same PGA TOUR tournament three times in a row.

Although his two victories at the Valspar Championship came in 2018 and 2019, the fact that it was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic meant he headed to Innisbrook Resort in Florida as the double defending champion.

But while this was always going to be one of the first events marked in Casey's diary, there's another date on his mind and - as it stands - he doesn't yet know if he'll even be playing that week.

The tournament in question is the Olympic Men's Golf Competition in Tokyo, Japan. It starts two weeks after the Open Championship, running from July 29 to August 1.

The top 15 players in the Official World Golf Rankings will be eligible but there's a maximum of four golfers per country from that select group.

After that, the 60-man field will be filled out by going down the rankings and finding the top two ranked players qualifying from any country that does not have two or more players from the top 15.

As it stands, GB & Ireland has just one player in the top 15, Tyrrell Hatton.

Hatton had to withdraw from this week's Valspar due to a positive COVID test but, presuming he's fit again and wants to play, the World No.8 will take one slot.

Right now, the other GB & Ireland representative would be Matt Fitzpatrick, currently ranked 16th.

Casey is 20th, with Lee Westwood at 22nd and Tommy Fleetwood at 26th. All are in with a big chance if they can make a move.

And, of course, four of those five could be on the plane to Tokyo if they climbed into the world's top 15.

Perhaps there could be extra incentive for the English players after watching Justin Rose take gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Justin Rose displays his gold medal from the 2016 Olympics
Justin Rose displays his gold medal from the 2016 Olympics

It's become a running joke how much he valued that win but some of the enthusiasm could easily have rubbed off on his compatriots - even if they still rib him about it.

Indeed, maybe the lure of a return to the Olympics is fuelling Rose's current revival. After his strong performance at Augusta National, Rose is 39th and getting a spot isn't out of the question if he thrives at one of the remaining three Majors.

While a Valspar three-peat would be Casey's ideal outcome this week, he knows a big performance could make the Olympic ambition move a little closer.

He's certainly off to a good start after a 3-under-par 68 on Thursday, a score that nestled him nicely inside the top 20.

Starting the week as a 22/1 shot, Casey is now 18/1 to pull off victory.

Casey spoke about his opening lap, the Olympics and more when he walked off the course.

Reflecting on his first-round experience

"Nice to have some fans. Nice to finally be back, two years after I wanted to be back defending. The golf course is as good and as tough as it's ever been and I played a nice solid round of golf.

"Got the bogey out of the way early and then just played some good golf after that. So pretty happy with that start. It can be treacherous. And all I want to do -- I mean, a three-peat is going to be, has been talked about a lot and will be talked about until I'm done here, and I just want to kind of hang around, which is kind of what I did today.

"I certainly can't win it today but I want to hang around. It's a tough thing to do a three-peat, I think only 10 guys have done it, something like that. So we'll see what happens."

On playing at a course where he's won before

"I've got a great familiarity, which is nice. It's just an ease and a comfort and a knowing inside deep down that it doesn't guarantee anything, but I know I kind of got a way of getting around this golf course that, I mean nobody's beaten me for well three years now around this golf course, which is a pretty cool feeling.

"That's just nice - that just sits well, plane and simple. And my ball striking wasn't great yesterday, I missed some shots today early on, I struggled a little bit, but it's just that feeling I've got a way around this golf course and eventually kind of it came around and I showed it shooting a 3-under."

On having any reservations about travelling to Japan and his desire to compete in the Olympics

"No, no, I don't. I've always stated that I would love to play and I still do. It's a weird one, we don't know a lot of what's going on. It seems like there's now doubts, it seems like one of my sponsors, JIG-SAW, is a Japanese software company so I hear things from the owner and his team about sentiment towards the Olympics and so it's a difficult one.

"Yeah, I desperately want to go to the Olympics and play the Olympics, but then you also hear that whoever goes you can't watch other sporting events and things like that. And that's part of going to the Olympics, isn't it, being part of the whole thing and opening ceremonies and hanging out and watching other athletes and watching amazing sporting events.

"So I don't know what to tell you kind of thing. I'm still in. I'm outside on the qualifications but I'm still very much into it. But it's a weird one with that. There is a touchiness in Japan as to how it sits over there."

The medal winners from 2016
The medal winners from 2016

On trying to get in the top 15 and earn an automatic spot for Tokyo

"Love him to death but (Matt) Fitzpatrick has been my nemesis so far this year, he's always just ahead of me. And who else is in there? Tyrell's in there. Tyrell's got COVID this week so that means he'll be fine when July, August comes around, he's got it out of the way.

"Yeah, it is what it is. It's just one of those things. I would love to be top 15 and to be honest if we had four of us going for Great Britain it would be amazing, so the more the merrier."

READ MORE: Is Bryson DeChambeau a good bet to defend his US Open title in June?

Latest Golf Videos