By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio – There may have been more twists than a Hollywood blockbuster but ultimately Patrick Cantlay’s wild ride ended with a second Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide win and the FedExCup lead.
Cantlay picked up his fourth PGA TOUR victory and second Memorial Tournament (2019) title in the last three seasons by outlasting Collin Morikawa in a playoff, draining a crucial par putt of 11-feet, nine-inches before his opponent failed to match from 6 feet.
Both players scratched out rollercoaster 1-under 71s on Sunday to finish 13 under and force extra holes. Only two other players, Texan Scottie Scheffler (70) and South African Branden Grace (71), had realistic shots at the title throughout the day.
It was a stunning turnaround from less than 24 hours earlier when all players finished Round 3 well back of defending champion Jon Rahm. But Rahm’s six-shot lead was rendered moot when he unfortunately had to withdraw following a positive COVID-19 test.
“I'll definitely remember it slightly different. But the way it felt today, it felt no different. It is a very unfortunate situation and not anything I would wish on anybody. (Jon) played so great for the first three rounds. So there's a little something that I can't quite put my finger on that makes it feel a little different but I really hit a lot of clutch solid shots today and so I think I'll remember that mostly,” Cantlay said of the circumstances.
Cantlay lost the lead three times Sunday, missing some critical putts and seemingly crucial times. But the 29-year-old stepped up big time on the 17th hole with a 23-foot birdie to join Morikawa at the top. This came after a shelter in place rain delay with a heavy downpour buffeting the course.
The Californian missed a chance from similar range to win it all on the final hole of regulation but prevailed on the first extra hole to once again share the ultimate handshake with tournament host and legend Jack Nicklaus.
From the time he won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the best collegiate player in America in 2011, the two have had a kinship. Nicklaus went as far to say Cantlay, and all of the other previous winners of the award, are “in many ways my children.”
“It's always special coming off the 18th green and shaking his hand. We have a great connection and we are, I would say, good friends at this point, and so that makes it just a little more special,” Cantlay said. “He's taken me under his wing and to do it at his place with the advice and encouragement that he's given me over the years is very special for me.”
With his second win of the season (ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD) Cantlay rocketed to the top of the FedExCup standings – amazing considering he missed four cuts in his previous seven events.
“It's a byproduct of doing my process and playing well at tournaments and winning tournaments,” Cantlay said.
“Somehow I always feel like I badly need a win and a win will make things just a little bit better. The last few months have not been the best golf I've played and the interesting thing is when I think about it, I always felt maybe a little closer than the result.
“It was a shot here or a shot there, an up-and-down or a putt… There was just a stretch where the cookie kind of crumbled the wrong way a number of weeks in a row. But I've been putting in some good work with Jamie Mulligan my coach and I think we're on the right path and my game feels really good right now.”
The lead pair started the round tied at the top and three clear of the nearest chasers but were instantly out of sorts. Cantlay bogeyed two of the first three holes but managed a 44-foot birdie between. Morikawa bogeyed two of his first four bringing Scheffler and Grace into contention.
But despite uncharacteristically hitting just half of the 18 greens in regulation on Sunday, Morikawa looked set for his own double down effort at Muirfield Village having won the one-off Workday Charity Open at the venue last year.
Morikawa’s birdies on 11 and 15 pulled him ahead of Cantlay, but when he failed to find the putting surface with approach shots on 17 and 18 Cantlay pounced. Despite clutch par saves on those two occasions another missed green in the playoff on 18 once again left his short game under pressure and this time the putt to extend didn’t drop.
“Obviously it sucks to lose a playoff. But today was a grind and that's all I could focus on. I couldn't really hit a green for my life,” Morikawa, who made an impressive 109-feet of putts in the final round said.
“To get into a playoff to make the putts I needed to make, just to keep myself in it, I'm proud of myself. I didn't feel like I really ever played this game where I'm missing every green, chipping, making 10-footers. I like it the other way where I hit it a lot closer. But it's going to be something I'm going to learn from a lot and just look back and see how I can grow from this.”
Despite starting Sunday three back of the lead, Scheffler had it to himself after a birdie on the fifth hole only to bogey the next. Chasing his first career win, an untimely shank on the ninth hole led to another dropped shot.
But the 24-year-old refused to quit and birdies on 14 and 15 moved him within a shot of the lead. Needing a birdie on the last Scheffler attacked the pin but came up short and couldn’t get up and down for par, falling two shots short of the playoff.
“I felt like I played pretty good. I made a few silly mistakes here and there but overall I felt pretty good about how I played,” Scheffler said after collecting his sixth top-10 of the season.
“Gave myself a chance to win down the stretch, I just wasn't able to hit the ball close enough to the hole and then wasn't able to make the putts I needed to.”
Grace was one back at the turn but dropped three shots in his next four holes to fall out of the mix and ultimately settle for fourth place.