THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Patrick Cantlay felt his swing was good enough to take on any shot, and then it was a matter of making putts. He did both exceptionally well Sunday in the Zozo Championship at Sherwood for a victory he felt was overdue.
Cantlay rallied from a four-shot deficit and surged into the lead with four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine. He closed with a 7-under 65 and held on for a one-shot victory over Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas.
It was the third victory of his career, and first in his home state of California. All three required making up deficits of three shots or more in the final round.
“I put in a lot of work and try to do the right things all the time, so when it all does come together, it’s really rewarding because it’s all that hard work paying off,” Cantlay said.
He was looking to join what had been shaping up as a duel between Rahm and Thomas, the Nos. 2 and 3 players in the world. Instead, Cantlay surged past them with three straight birdies - a 3-wood to the fringe on the par-5 13th that set up a simple two-putt, a 7-iron to 18 feet on the next hole and the most exquisite shot of his final round on the par-3 15th.
With a three-quarter 7-iron to a front pin over a tiny rock-lined lagoon, the ball landed next to the hole and rolled out to 10 feet for his ninth birdie of the round, and only the fifth birdie at No. 15 on Sunday.
“That’s a hard hole and to make a birdie,” he said. “It was just one of those swings where you make the swing exactly how you picture it in your head.”
That gave him a three-shot cushion, and his challengers never caught up.
As much as Cantlay celebrated, Rahm and Thomas were left to rue their mistakes.
Rahm took the lead with a birdie on the par-5 11th, only to drop shots on each of the next two holes, including the par-5 13th. The Spaniard had a chance to force a playoff, but narrowly missed from 15 feet on the par-3 17th and from 20 feet on the final hole. He closed with a 68.
“Just a couple of unlucky moments,” Rahm said. He said the wind switched on both shots, especially on the 13th, where his second shot flew about 20 yards shorter than he expected and went into a bunker, leaving an awkward distance.
Thomas, who started the round with a one-shot lead, had to scramble for par on the last two par 5s, and hit into hazards on consecutive holes down the stretch. His tee shot to the 15th plugged into thick grass, and Thomas did remarkably well to hack out to 30 feet and make bogey.
Cantlay, in the group ahead of Thomas and Rahm, didn’t realize he had a three-shot lead and went after another birdie with a wedge to the par-5 16th, pulling it slightly into a tree and leading to his second bogey of the round.
Thomas drilled a drive and was in perfect position with a 4-iron. But he sent that out to the right, trying to avoid a shot left of the green, and it bounced off a tree and into the creek.
“Pathetic,” Thomas said as he watched it sail to the right. “So afraid to hit it left.”
After the penalty drop, he had to play a marvelous pitch-and-run off hard pan to get up-and-down for par.
But he needed birdies, and that didn’t come for Thomas until he needed to hole out from the 18th fairway for eagle. His approach landed 4 feet next to the hole for birdie and a 69. It was his first birdie since the sixth hole.
“You could say a lot of things - making one birdie my last 12 holes, shooting even par on the back nine, playing the par 5s 1 under,” Thomas said. “But I know I made a lot of really key putts when I felt like I needed to. But again, it just (stinks) when you’re right there and you don’t get it done.”
His last birdie denied Rahm a small consolation. Rahm needed to finish second alone to return to No. 1 in the world. Dustin Johnson, a Sherwood member who missed this week recovering from a positive coronavirus test, remains No. 1.
Cantlay moved back into the top 10. He has no weakness in his game except for the victory tally. Cantlay had gone more than a year since his last victory, when he rallied from three behind at Muirfield Village to win the Memorial. His other win was in Las Vegas in 2017 when he came from four shots back and won in a playoff.
Cantlay finished at 23-under 265. No one else was within four shots of him.
The other show at Sherwood was on the opposite side of the course, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson playing together in the final round with no fans. There was nothing to see, anyway.
Woods closed with a 74 and still beat Mickelson by four shots. Mickelson, coming off a victory last week on the PGA Tour Champions, had five 6s on his card. Both finished out of the top 70 against a 78-man field.
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