So That's What Happened to Patrick Cantlay
Earlier in the year, Golfshake's Liam Moore wrote a piece exploring Patrick Cantlay's mid-season struggles. However, as we know, things turned out rather well for the American, as Liam now responds with a follow-up article on the FedEx Cup champion.
When we wrote our original article, Patrick Cantlay was enduring a period of turbulence. Ironically, prior to May, Cantlay had secured his first victory of the season at the ZoZo Championship and continued to muscle his way into contention during the following tournaments. He remained consistent with his form, finishing T15 at the lucrative Genesis Open back in February - which demonstrated signs of an encouraging season on the horizon. What followed next, however, had the entire golfing community scratching their head.
It started at TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship. An uncharacteristic opening round of 74 was subsequently followed by a 75; Cantlay missed his first cut of the season. What was surprising at the time was the fact that the American had actually missed a cut.
Of the nine events played prior to The Players, Cantlay had made it through to the weekend on every occasion and the U.S. Open was his worst finish, T43. During that spell, Cantlay finished the Sentry Tournament of Champions (T13), American Express (2nd), AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (T3) and the aforementioned Genesis Open (T15).
However, this is professional golf: The ups; the downs; the good breaks; the bad breaks; good shots punished and poor shots rewarded. As golfers, we are all aware of how much is out of our control on the golf course. While the 29-year-old did not necessarily need a response from missing his first cut in ten, a stronger finish would ease the nerves as preparations for the imminent Masters were well underway.
With the first major of the year, Cantlay travelled to Georgia with the hopes of getting his game back on track and securing his maiden major. That dream lasted all but a round as a disgruntled Cantlay headed into the clubhouse, ready to sign off his uninspiring 79. While he did improve the following day with a battling 73, it could not prevent the inevitable outcome of being removed from the competition. His performance with the putter was his ultimate downfall, averaging 32 putts per round in contrast to his season average of 28.
Once again, at the Wells Fargo Championship, Cantlay missed the cut after carding rounds of 72 and 73. A similar performance to the one at the RBC Heritage had damaged Cantlay’s progress into the weekend. He could only hit 58.33% of greens (compared to his 70.16% seasonal average (10) which was compounded with an aberrant performance with the putter, where he lost strokes on the field with the flatstick (-1.179).
There was plenty for Cantlay to ponder as the Tour headed to Kiawah Island for the second major of the calendar year in May. He had failed to make a cut in a singular stroke play event since The Genesis in February. Thankfully, that unwanted streak would come to an end and Cantlay finished T23 after rounds of: 73, 73, 70, 73. It might not have been enough to win - it wasn’t even enough to secure a top ten finish - but what it did do, was enable Cantlay to believe that his wayward form could be about to vanish.
That’s exactly what it did, as he picked up his second title of the season at the Memorial Tournament. Cantlay opened with 69 before further bolstering his chances of victory with a scintillating 67. A 68 followed before finishing in moderate fashion with a 71. Those shortened weeks through the severity of the cut seemed a distant memory, Cantlay was back among the winning circle and boy, did it feel good for him.
Obviously, it’s important to note that Jon Rahm looked to be the certain winner before a positive COVID-19 test would completely remove him from the equation. Nevertheless, competing head-to-head - and overcoming - a spirited Collin Morikawa was a feat in itself. During his week at Muirfield Village, Cantlay finished in the top 20 of every strokes gained category and demonstrated he was back to his consistent best.
The win at the Memorial Tournament resulted in him tying the Tour for the most wins of the season, with two, and the Travelers Championship provided the perfect arena for a third. He started strongly with a pair of 68s before finishing with rounds of 70 and 68. A tie for 13th was his final position and the American headed to the UK for the Open Championship.
The Open Championship is a notoriously difficult event to win. Not only is it a major championship but the courses are vastly different to American designs, with their soft greens and fairways. Some players can adapt immediately - think Morikawa - and others take some time. Unfortunately, Cantlay belongs to that second group and after opening with 74, the damage had been done. A spirited 69 followed but his fate was sealed: heading straight to the airport and the first plane back to his homeland.
Cantlay had taken roughly a month away from competition before returning to the fold at the WGC- FedEx St. Jude Invitational. An opening round of 71 was slow, but three successive rounds in the sixties resulted in a T23 finish. There was evident improvement at the Northern Trust, finishing in T11 after four excellent rounds in the sixties.
The BMW Championship saw the field reduced to 70 players as part of the FedEx Cup. Many names flew out of the mouths of tipsters, ‘Rahm is sure to win’, read one. ‘I can see Bryson doing well this week’, revealed another. Cantlay’s name would appear here or there but he was never touted as a clear favourite or someone who could steal the show.
It’s important to recognise where Cantlay’s talents lie with the putter. He’s ranked 74th for Putts Per Round during round one, 84th for round two, 132nd for round three and the interesting one, 23rd for round four. Why rounds three and four can fluctuate so drastically is anyone’s guess but potentially highlights that Cantlay thrives not only under pressure, but under pressure on the greens.
Caves Valley is a course that definitely pleased the longer hitters and Cantlay would share the final pairing with the longest hitter of them all: Bryson DeChambeau.
Cantlay had opened with a 66 before improving that to 63 on the Friday. At one stage, it looked certain that DeChambeau would run away with proceedings but, as expected, DeChambeau could not be saved from himself as needless mistakes would creep into his performance.
DeChambeau had several chances to win that tournament. The problem was, he just couldn’t convert the victory. In fairness to Cantlay, he refused to budge, refused to give his competitor an inch. Every putt he hit seemed to sink. To contrast, every putt that DeChambeau struck seemed to miss. The stars could not have aligned more perfectly and after six playoff holes, Cantlay would edge out his countryman and become the first player on Tour to secure three victories this season.
Remember his ranking for fourth round putting? That was taken to a completely different level on Sunday. Across the weekend, Cantlay’s 14.577 strokes gained in putting was the highest ever recorded in that category since the inception of Shotlink!
The Tour Championship at East Lake provided the final cherry on the cake that was gently baking over the final few weeks of the season. While the FedEx Cup’s finale format has received widespread criticism, Cantlay still needed to defend his lead.
With only a two-stroke advantage over Jon Rahm, it was imperative that Cantlay was at his best across the entire 72 holes. Throughout the last 12 months, Rahm has been the best golfer in the world. Regardless of Cantlay’s resurgence, many expected the Spaniard to chip into his deficit and eventually become Tour champion. The problem, however, was Cantlay’s resilience - arguably his greatest tool. While he has an abundance of skills in an array of areas, maybe, just maybe, his scrambling was his deadliest weapon.
He ranked first throughout the Tour this season in scrambling, with a 67.30% success rate. While Morikawa may be the most precise with his irons or DeChambeau may be the longest with his driver, if these two typically miss their target, they’re in danger of dropping shots - offering chances to the chasing pack in the process. Cantlay is the complete opposite: If, and it’s a big if, he misses his target then his peerless short game is ready to bail him out but perhaps more importantly, it’s ready to slam the door on anyone who’s looking to close the gap.
While Cantlay experienced a difficult period during the early stages of the year, his raw ability was enough to drag him from his rut. Missing the cut at the first major of the calendar year would have been difficult to accept - especially for someone who is so likeable but also expected to win one imminently.
In May, during the height of his struggles, we asked what had happened to Patrick Cantlay. At the start of September, days after Cantlay had been crowned Tour champion, we finally have our answer. Patrick Cantlay isn’t here to make up the numbers, he’s here for titles and to leave his mark on the sport that he has dedicated his entire life to.
Cantlay can look back on this season and identify it as his best on Tour. Prior to this period, the American had two victories on the PGA Tour; he now has six after becoming the first man to win four titles since 2016-17. It would appear that questioning Cantlay is all the motivation he needs - it’s now time for a major championship.
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