THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – For Patrick Cantlay, winning at home never felt so foreign.
The Southern California native grew up in Long Beach and was a state high school golf champion. He went to college at UCLA and had a glittering amateur career where he was the world’s best. During those years Tiger Woods hosted his Hero World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club.
But until this week, Cantlay had never played at Sherwood despite being in close proximity his entire life. So winning the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP for his third PGA TOUR win, but first in his hometown, was just a tad surprising. Even more so as he had to overtake Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm to do so.
Despite starting three behind Thomas and two behind Rahm, Cantlay produced a career-high nine birdies in his round to offset his only two bogeys of the week and shot a 7-under 65 to post 23-under. He then sat back and watched as neither Thomas nor Rahm could match it.
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Rahm had a 19-foot birdie chance on the 72nd hole to force a playoff, but it fell to the right side of the hole and Cantlay’s comeback was complete despite the fact he had no prior experience on the course and had limited preparation after taking Monday off to recover from playing back-to-back weeks in Las Vegas. While the course felt foreign, the weather felt just right.
“I usually like to see the golf course actually two times all the way through. This week I only saw the front nine twice and I saw the back nine once,” Cantlay said. “I like the golf course, it was good. It was in really good shape. I just had never gotten up here. I grew up about an hour and a half away and there’s a lot of golf between here and there.
“It’s really great to win at home. I look forward to hopefully winning at Riviera, and anytime you win close to home it just feels a little sweeter. I felt comfortable all week. I like this cloudy California weather, I’m used to it, it’s what I grew up with. It was just a nice week.”
With the victory Cantlay jumped to second in the FedExCup standings, a welcome feeling after he finished 34th last season. He failed to make the TOUR Championship thanks to a punctuated schedule due to the COVID-19 break and nose surgery.
After his second win at the 2019 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, Cantlay had a few close calls without closing the deal. He was runner-up twice, once in a playoff, and had a further fourth-place finish.
And through three rounds of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open a few weeks ago, he was tied for the lead and expected to win given his previous victory and runner-up finish there. But he faded into a tie for eighth. There was no fade on Sunday in Los Angeles.
“I played really well. I feel like I have been playing well for a while and this week it just kind of all came together every day. Obviously, I started today a few back, but I knew I had to go out and make a bunch of birdies,” he said.
“It’s just validation of all the hard work. I put in a lot of work and try to do the right things all the time, so when it all does come together, it’s really rewarding because it’s all that hard work paying off.”
The work came across in his game, but particularly his putting. Cantlay had been grinding on the putting green at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK last week after rounds. He was trying to further cement a recent putter switch that saw him move to a heavier and longer model.
In Saturday’s third round, he made just 53-feet worth of putts and lost -1.125 strokes on the field in Strokes Gained: Putting. On Sunday it was a different story as his 24 putts measured more than 111 feet and he gained 3.294 strokes on the field.
“I have been working on it maybe a little more than usual, especially last week in Vegas. I’m trying to get my hands a little more forward and the putter a little more square at address, so today it felt really good,” the 28-year-old said.
Now Cantlay has his sights set on the upcoming Masters at Augusta National which has been moved to November due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He balked at the suggestion he may have peaked two weeks too early.
“I was able to win one of the tournaments Tiger won last year, so now I’m just going to go try and win the other event that Tiger won last year,” he smiled.
It wouldn’t be a surprise at all this time if he did.
Source: PGA tour