BETHESDA, Md. – Four holes into Friday’s second round, Patrick Cantlay looked more likely to miss the U.S. Open cut than find himself in contention. Then his favorite club – his putter – helped him turn in one of the tournament’s most impressive nine-hole stretches.
Cantlay shot a bogey-free 30 on Congressional’s back nine, the harder half of this layout in the Washington D.C. suburbs. He signed for a 67, a round that only had been topped by Rory McIlroy, who took a large lead after firing 65-66.
Cantlay is 11 shots back of McIlroy, who’s just three years older than him. Still, Cantlay’s even-par 142 (75-67) should leave him around 15th place at day’s end.
“It’s easier playing from the fairway,” said Cantlay, who just completed his freshman season at UCLA. “I drove it better today, and I really felt comfortable on the greens and started rolling some putts in.”
He was 6 over for the tournament after making double bogey on the par-4 fourth hole. He made birdies on six of his final 11 holes Friday. His 67 was the fifth-best score by an amateur in U.S. Open history.
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“He rolled the rock,” said playing partner Michael Putnam, who is three shots behind Cantlay. “He shot 5 under on the back nine. That’s a hard nine holes of golf. He just looks really good with a putter.”
Cantlay made putts of 30, 50, 5, 30 and 4 feet on his final nine holes. Congressional’s back nine was playing to an average of 37.3 strokes early Friday.
Several years ago, his instructor, Jamie Mulligan, used Cantlay and several PGA Tour players in a putting demonstration for teaching pros. Cantlay stole the show.
?“Three hundred of them said that kid had the best putting stroke there, even of the guys that have earned millions on Tour,” said Mulligan, who also teaches John Cook, Paul Goydos, John Merrick and John Mallinger.
Cantlay’s was one of the country’s top junior players, but his slight frame and lack of distance led some college coaches to overlook him. He’s developed into arguably the world’s top amateur after adding several inches and pounds to his frame (he stands 5-10, 160) and 50 yards to his tee ball. He averaged 304.3 yards off the tee during the Open’s first two rounds.
He won four times during his freshman season at UCLA and swept college golf’s player-of-the-year awards. He also was a semifinalist at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, a year after finishing 281st in the 312-player field.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Cantlay’s father, Steve.
Steve Cantlay is a former club champion at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, Calif., which Goydos, Merrick and Mallinger call home. Steve Cantlay is a former club champion there.
“He grew up around Tour players. He’s very fortunate,” UCLA head coach Derek Freeman said earlier this year. “He doesn’t see a golf course through an 18-year-old’s eyes. He sees it through a young Tour player’s eyes.”
Cantlay insists he intends to stay at UCLA for three more years, though his recent travel schedule has resembled that of a Tour player. Here’s his recent docket:
• June 2: Finishes runner-up in the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, Okla.
• June 3: His UCLA team loses to Duke in the first round of NCAA Championship
• June 5: Accepts the Jack Nicklaus Award (college golf’s player of the year) from Jack Nicklaus in Columbus, Ohio
• June 6: Qualifies for U.S. Open at 36-hole qualifier in Columbus.
• June 9-11: Represents United States in Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style match between top collegians from the United States and Europe, in Stanwich, Conn.
• June 13-19: Plays U.S. Open.
His travels won’t end here. He’s received a sponsor exemption to play in next week’s Travelers Championship. And Cantlay has sworn that he plans to stay in college for four years.
“Why rush a couple years?” Cantlay asked.
After a racing to the top of the amateur game, Cantlay is in no hurry.
– Sean Martin