Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
LIFE hasn’t been a bed of roses for Patrick Cantlay. When he turned professional back in 2012 he was the world’s top-ranked amateur, having spent a record 55 weeks at the top of the amateur rankings. He had finished 21 at the 2011 US Open and even shot a round of 60 at the Travelers Championship - as an AMATEUR.
The American seemed to have the world at his fingertips. But, just when you least expect it, life has a bad habit of turning on you. And it did so on Cantlay in spectacular fashion. First there was the stress fracture in his back that initially sidelined him for three months in 2013. He managed to come back and did enough to keep his card but the effort aggravated the injury and he was forced to spend a further seven months out of the game. And so the pattern continued throughout 2014, 20-15 and 1016. Cantlay would play some golf and would then have to take time off.
That was bad enough but then, two years ago, Cantlay and his caddie, Chris Roth, who also happened to be his best friend, were out in Newport Beach. As they crossed a road Roth, just 10 feet or so in front of Cantlay, was struck by a car in a hit-and-run accident. Cantlay called 911 and tried to help his stricken friend but Roth was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
He admits the incident sent him into a depressive state. Cantlay was devastated, but he refused to be beaten. He eventually recovered full fitness and gradually the results started to come. And 12 months ago he finally got his reward when he won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin. It was a time for reflection. Roth should have been on the bag, should have been there to share the moment with Cantlay.
“I want to be the best player in the world, and I want to win a bunch of tournaments. I feel like if that's not what you're out here for, you shouldn't be out here,” Cantlay said. “Having won, I hope they pile up. I feel like getting your first one can sometimes be the toughest one to get, and I feel really good about my game, and hopefully I can start getting some more wins.”
Cantlay says he’s not frustrated by his lost time or the success of those he was once beating as an amateur, including Jordan Spieth. “I don't feel like I'm behind the eight ball. I feel like someone put the pause button on playing… but I feel like I picked up right where I left off, where I was playing good before,” he added. “2018 was a really good one for me. I feel like I've always been right there with those guys, so I’m looking forward to working hard and hopefully having some battles with them in the future.”
The 26-year-old American returns to defend his title. It was won in 2011 by Kevin Na, in 2012 by Ryan Moore, in 2013 by Webb Simpson, in 2014 by Ben Martin, in 2015 by Smylie Kaufman, and in 2016 by Rod Pampling.
These early-season tournaments are a big deal for the PGA Tour’s so-called lesser lights. It is fair to say that the victories achieved by Na, Martin, Kaufman, Pampling and Cantlay were not expected but it transformed their lives, put money in their bank accounts, gave them a two-year exemption, entry to The Masters and allowed them to plan their schedules without the pressure of wondering how they were going to earn enough to maintain their playing privileges.
And here we are in 2018 with the same incentives. Former US amateur champion Curtis Luck is one of the men who will be hoping that he doesn’t have to wait long for that life-changing experience to happen to him. The young Australian is an impressive specimen. He has massive forearms and he hits the ball into the middle of next week but, as anybody who witnessed his victory in the US Amateur will attest, he also possesses a glorious short game. The 22-year-old played in a host of tournaments as an amateur and achieved some notable results, including a top-10 finish at the 2017 Valspar. But now he has to do it for real in the paid ranks. He has already found out that there is a huge difference between rolling up at a tournament as a feted amateur and then turning up at the same event as just another young man trying to eke out a living in the paid ranks. Luck knows there are no guarantees but he surely possesses the talent to turn huge promise into proper results.
It is interesting to note that Jordan Spieth has entered the tournament. The three-time major champion went through the entire 2017-18 season without a single victory. That was bad enough for a golfer of his quality but what was most surprising was that at no stage did he ever look like contending, apart from his startling charge in The Masters at Augusta way back in April and his run at July's Open. He spent the season floating about on the fringes, missing several cuts and, most worrying of all, struggling on the greens. He appeared to have got everything back on track at Augusta but it proved to be a false dawn. Spieth is a born winner and he hated the way he played last season.
Many pundits thought that the Ryder Cup might help to fire him up but, to be frank, his play at Le Golf National was pretty dire. He has been working incredibly hard on his game and is definitely the man to beat this week. The big-hitting Gary Woodland has shown some fabulous form in recent weeks and he will surely run Spieth close.
Jordan Spieth. Time to get back to winning ways
Gary Woodland. Impressive player
Aaron Wise. Last season’s breakthrough player
Jordan Spieth. Desperate to turn things around
Gary Woodland. Should win far more often than he does
Aaron Wise. Won’t be long before he wins again
Sam Ryder. Bright prospect
Webb Simpson. Playing some of the best golf of his life
Bronson Burgoon. Keeps knocking on the door
Curtis Luck. In it for the long haul
Kevin Na. Love him or hate him, the guy can play
Martin Laird. Just gets his head down and does what needs to be done
Ryan Palmer. Looking to rediscover his best
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