With the specter of what happened to Jon Rahm looming over the tournament, Patrick Cantlay went out and won the Memorial for the second time
Of all the people standing around the 18th green as Patrick Cantlay was wrapping up his Memorial Tournament win on Sunday—the jam-packed gallery, playoff competitor Collin Morikawa, even tournament host Jack Nicklaus—the biggest presence was someone who wasn’t there.
Jon Rahm should’ve been there on Sunday. He was running away with the tournament, holding a six-shot lead after the third round and well on his way to winning the Memorial for the second straight year. Then the PGA Tour was reminded that COVID-19 isn’t over just yet. Rahm was informed he tested positive following his round on Saturday and forced to withdraw.
That left Cantlay and Morikawa, who initially thought they needed a slight miracle to win Jack’s event, vying for the title. And on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, it was Cantlay who saved par and Morikawa who missed his putt, making Cantlay the champion at Muirfield Village for the second time in three years.
There was still the loud ovation from the gallery, the glass trophy, and the handshake with Jack that Cantlay first experienced in 2019. But this one felt different. The official PGA Tour record book won’t assign an asterisk beside Cantlay’s fourth career PGA Tour title, but, regardless of whether this is right, the tournament will be remembered for what happened to Rahm.
“I think I’ll probably remember it slightly different,” Cantlay said. “The way it felt today, it felt no different. It is a very unfortunate situation and not anything I would wish on anybody. He played so great for the first three rounds. There’s a little something that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes it feel a little different.”
It feels different, but Cantlay is still the rightful champion
Nothing should take away from Cantlay’s accomplishment. Rahm was gone and there was nothing Cantlay or anybody else could do about it. Cantlay and Morikawa dealt with the situation that was presented to them and made the most of it. Cantlay even knows first-hand the impact of COVID-19; he tested positive in December and had severe flu-like symptoms for three days.
This was a well-earned victory. Amidst a driving rainstorm that halted play for five minutes while the final group was on the 17th green, Cantlay holed a 24-foot birdie putt to tie Morikawa at 13-under. Then, at the 18th, he saved par from a downhill lie in the right-hand rough after his ball rolled along the cart path. In the playoff he was well right off the tee again but, for the second time in about 20 minutes, salvaged a par after hitting his approach in the greenside bunker. Morikawa, in a similar position after his second shot, wasn’t as fortunate.
Cantlay led all players in the field this week in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, was third off the tee and around the green, and ranked fifth in approach shots. This victory wasn’t handed to him by the PGA Tour’s health and safety protocols; he earned it.
When he won here in 2019, Cantlay credited a talk he had with Nicklaus just before the tournament that put him in the right frame of mind. Nicklaus told him to relax and have fun, to smile and enjoy the moment. Cantlay didn’t get a chance to talk to Nicklaus this time, but he still had the perfect approach to the final round amid the most unique situation he’ll ever have to deal with.
“The way I felt Sunday morning was obviously a lot different than I felt walking off the 18th green on Saturday,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do except reset and just take the new paradigm and just run with it.”
He did just that, and the way he handled the situation, holed the putts he needed to, and played his way to victory would make even Jack proud.