Rozner: Cantlay rides hot flat stick to within 1 of lead
Patrick Cantlay was playing nearly flawless golf Friday afternoon when he stepped onto the 15th tee box at Medinah.
Tied for the BMW Championship lead at that moment, Cantlay wasn't thinking of driving the green only 320 yards away. It's not like he had visions of eagle and had gone off the deep end.
Not at all intending to flirt with the water right and fronting the green, Cantlay hit what he thought was a perfect drive.
"When I made contact with the tee shot, I didn't think it was going that far right," Cantlay said. "The wind got it and kind of carried it off to the water."
But rather than let the energy of another fine day get lost in the lake, Cantlay hit a brilliant 30-yard chip from the deep rough to 8 feet after the penalty drop and drained his par putt.
"That was big," Cantlay said. "Anytime you make a par after hitting the ball in the water, it's good. Gave me some nice momentum to close out the round."
Cantlay's 5-under 67 following an opening-round 66 left him at 11-under and 1 shot behind leader Hidecki Mastuyama, hardly a surprise given the 27-year-old has a win, a second, a third and eight Top 10s this season.
He's yet another of the "Soon To Win a Major" crowd, one of the best amateur players ever who was slowed by back problems a few years ago, and then in 2016 his close friend and caddie, Chris Roth, was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
It hasn't been an easy, or unemotional, return to the top of golf for Cantlay, though he made Friday's very smooth round look almost easy.
"Going bogey-free is always nice," Cantlay said. "All the parts of my game are feeling good and I really like the golf course, which is a bonus."
Playing alongside Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar, Cantlay and his partners were faced with a different wind and therefore a different course from Thursday.
For someone with so little local knowledge, Cantlay -- who's trying to win the BMW, the FedEx Cup and make the Presidents Cup team -- worked his way around Medinah as if he had caddied here in a previous life.
"The wind turned almost 180 degrees back in our face compared to yesterday," Cantlay said. "You really have to pick your spots. When the hole location is right and you're in the fairway, you can be aggressive, but if you're a little out of position or not sure about the wind, you need to play a little safer.
"Just trying to manage that. If you play smart on this golf course and pick your spots and play those par-5s well, you can put up a good number, as long as you don't make any big mistakes."
The difference between Cantlay and Rahm -- who backed up a 68 with a 69 and is 7-under for the week -- was the putter.
Cantlay had no 3-putts and eight 1-putts, including three straight with saves on 15 and 16 and a birdie on 17.
"Obviously putted well today and that makes such a big difference out here," Cantlay said. "My goal is to win golf tournaments and I haven't put myself near the top as much as I would have liked this year, but I've had some chances and I've played some really nice weekends, so I think it's starting to come together."
Rahm certainly played well enough to be 9- or 10-under and within shouting distance of the lead, but he posted 16 putts on the back nine with 2 birdies and a bogey, burning the edge half a dozen times coming home.
"I guess today Patrick took all the putts for the group," Rahm said with a smile. "I made some good putts on the front nine. After the 10th, I hit a lot of good ones. They just didn't want to go in.
"Any time you're burning edges it's good. Sometimes they drop and sometimes they don't. Everything evens out, so at some point they'll go in."
On Friday, they dropped for Cantlay and not for Rahm, but Saturday -- as we are often reminded in golf -- is another day.