It wasn't easy, and was even a little ugly at times, but Patrick Cantlay grabs his much anticipated first PGA Tour title
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It’s usually all about making birdies at TPC Summerlin if you want to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. But down the stretch on Sunday in Las Vegas, with gusty winds confounding the field on the back nine, par turned out to be plenty good enough, as Patrick Cantlay can attest.
With a par on the second playoff hole, the 25-year-old former college player of the year claimed the title, his first PGA Tour win, beating Alex Cejka and Whee Kim in the gloaming.
Cantlay won after shooting a closing 67 to finish at nine-under 275. However, he stumbled home with bogeys on his last two holes that maybe his maiden victory more difficult than most had envisioned.
Cantlay made yet another bogey on the first playoff hole (a return trip to the 18th hole), as did Cejka, who improbably got into the playoff after starting the day tied for 29th then shooting a career-best 63, and Kim, who was six under on the day before bogeying his last hole in regulation. But Cantlay’s par on the second playoff hole—the result of a nifty up-and-down save on the 18th (again) after Cejka made bogey and Kim a double—was enough to seal the victory.
No one doubted Cantlay would one day be a winner on tour, particularly when he was a UCLA All-American and shot a 60 as an amateur at the 2011 Travelers Championship. But his route to the PGA Tour took a detour when a stress fracture in his back caused him to miss nearly three-plus years of action. It wasn’t until last February when the California native returned to play on a medical extension and was able to secure his card through the rest of the 2017 season with a runner-up showing at the Valspar Championship. He wouldn’t miss a cut the entire season, and reached the Tour Championship, one of just two rookies to do so.
Beyond his physical comeback, there was an emotional one, too. Cantlay carried the baggage of being on site when his best friend and caddie, Chris Roth, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in February 2016. In the wake of his friend’s death, and in the midst of his attempt to find his swing again, Cantlay wrestled with the idea of whether professional golf was really the career he should be pursuing. But he redoubled his efforts, vowing in part to not let the setbacks hamper the dream he’d had since his early days working with instructor Jamie Mulligan at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach.
Hanging tough on Sunday at Summerlin was easier said than done. The wild winds, which had appeared through the week, resulted in the highest winning score at the Shriners by seven strokes (16 under won in 2015) since the event became a single-course tournament in 2008.
The difficult setup took a toll on the two players who shared the 54-hole lead entering Sunday in Vegas. Beau Hossler couldn't get a putt to drop as he shot a two-over 73 to finish T-7. Meanwhile J.J. Spaun, tied for the lead with just two holes remaining, finished double bogey-double bogey to fall to T-10 after posting a three-over 74.