Paul Casey, a winner on human rights — and maybe at the AT&T

© Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — He’s in first place. As a golfer. As a humanitarian. Whether or not Paul Casey holds his lead in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am going into Sunday’s final round, Casey is a winner.

For his stand on human rights. For his authenticity. For his refusal to bend principles for a lot of money.

Saturday was one of those all-too-typical February days on the Monterey Peninsula, sunshine followed by rain, followed by clouds, followed by rain. Sunglasses on and off. Umbrellas open and closed.

And, oh yeah, some fascinating golf.

Most of the big names were at Pebble, with its panoramas and its dangers — we’ll get to victimized Jordan Spieth in a moment — but Casey was maybe a half-mile away at Spyglass Hill, one of the other three courses used in the first three rounds.

He was away from the celebrities. And, in a sense, away from the rest of the pros, shooting a 5-under-par 67.

That gave him a 54-hole total of 15-under-par 200 and a three-shot advantage over Phil Mickelson, who had a 70 at Pebble for 203. Scott Piercy and Lucas Glover were at 204, Piercy after a 69 at Spyglass and Glover after a 70 at Monterey Peninsula, where par is 71.

Spieth? It went so well for so long. He was 2 under for 12 holes at Pebble, and in second place at 11 under for the tournament, when he wobbled in with double bogeys on 13 and 18, a 74, and at 208, tied for 18th.

Casey is the 41-year-old Englishman who went to Arizona State — as did Mickelson — and his golf bag carries the logo of UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, for which he serves as an ambassador

Although he still plays the European Tour and through the years has competed in tournaments in the Middle East, he refused to enter last week’s Saudi Arabia International, based on the country’s “human rights violations.”

Justin Rose, another Englishman, went, using the worthless argument that he deals in sport, not politics. He missed the cut. Dustin Johnson, an American, won, after offering the same point as Rose, that he is a golfer and not a politician. Top-name entrants received guarantees of more than $1 million apiece.

After his Saturday round in the AT&T, Casey was asked whether he was happy how the decision on rejecting Saudi Arabia turned out. “I’m not going to answer that,” he answered, “but I stand firm on what I said.”

Tiger Woods, along with Casey, would not enter.

On the Golf Channel, Brandel Chamblee, the outspoken voice and onetime PGA Tour winner, ripped both the golfers who accepted the huge appearance fees and the European Tour for scheduling the event.

“To turn a blind eye to the butchering of a media member in some way euphemises the egregious atrocity that not only took place with the (Jamal) Khashoggi murder, but what goes on there all the time," Chamblee said.

“It is a PR stunt… Non-participation — and I applaud Paul Casey — in some marginal way makes a statement about human rights. By participating, (the players) are ventriloquists for this abhorrent, reprehensible regime.”

Across the Atlantic, Ewan Murray, golf correspondent for The Guardian, was no less critical. “Recurring horrors in relation to Saudi Arabia and human rights barely need revisiting,” wrote Murray.

“(The Euro tour) is a sporting body which penalizes competitors for making an error with a scorecard yet thinks it reasonable to go cap in hand to a regime which, according to Amnesty International, oversaw the execution of 146 people in 2017... The next time golf preaches about a genuine desire to be inclusive and diverse we are entitled to burst out laughing.”

Maybe Paul Casey simply will be smiling.

Asked if there had been conversations this week with other pros about his Saudi stand, Casey said, “I had a few. My funniest was when Nick Watney came up to me, and how did he did put it? He goes, ’I think you won last week.’“

As he very well might this week, in a different way.