If there were any questions whether Patrick Cantlay was ready for his title defense at the Memorial next week, he answered them on Sunday, shooting a 7-under 65 at Muirfield Village Golf Club during the final round of the Workday Charity Open.
“It actually felt like I gave some back coming in,” Cantlay said. “But I played really well, so I’m happy about getting a good feel on the golf course. The greens were a little quicker, felt a little like a first round of the Memorial out there today, so it was a nice rehearsal for next week.”
A year ago, Cantlay fired a final-round 64 to erase a four-stroke deficit and win his second PGA Tour title. How much did it mean to Cantlay, a former Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year award winner, to win at the house that Jack built? In response to a congratulatory text from John Cook, one of his mentors growing up at Viriginia Country Club in Long Beach, California, wrote, “If I never win a major, I’ll always have this win.”
“He loves the golf course,” said Cantlay’s instructor Jamie Mulligan recently. “Reminds him of Augusta. It’s a demanding golf course and the complete player is going to be rewarded. Usually when he wins, I get mist in my eyes. This time I just laughed like Mozart. He looked so in control.”
Through the first three rounds at Muirfield Village, Cantlay was stymied by the slower green speeds and found himself relegated to the first tee time off No. 1 at 7 a.m. But he channeled some of the Sunday magic of a year ago. Cantlay started 5 under through his first five holes, including a 13-foot eagle at the fifth. A bogey at the eighth only temporarily slowed his momentum.
Cantlay made birdie at 9 to go out in 31 and tacked on three more birdies coming home. A bogey at the last wrapped up a round of 65 and a 72-hole aggregate of 11-under 277. Not a bad week for Cantlay, who is making just his second start since the Tour resumption.“It was really good prep work,” he said.
But Cantlay isn’t one to get to worked up over a back-door top-10 finish.
“Wins,” he told Golfweek recently. “That’s how we’re measured.”
But it does give him confidence heading into his title defense at The Memorial. No less than Jack Nicklaus wouldn’t be surprised if he was shaking Cantlay’s hand at the back of the 18th green a week from Sunday.
“He’s wound up real tight,” Nicklaus said of Cantlay. “I’m trying to get him to relax a little bit. I had two or three talks with him during the tournament last year, got him to enjoy a little bit. Even got a couple smiles out of him during the round. He’s a good kid, though. Good player, too.”