Patrick Cantlay is a thief. With Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas the heavy favorites going into the final round of the Zozo Championship on Sunday, Cantlay shot a 65 from a few groups out ahead of them and stole the event on a day where neither of them could truly get going.
Cantlay was terrific in every aspect throughout the week at Sherwood Country Club, but his putter carried him on Sunday as he made nine birdies, with three of them coming from 15 feet (!) or longer. After going out in 32 on the front nine, Cantlay birdied four of the first six on the back nine to take over a lead Rahm and Thomas threw away. Cantlay stumbled a bit over the final three, making a bad bogey from the middle of the fairway on No. 16 and two pars late, but it was enough to clip Rahm and Thomas by a stroke.
The story of Sunday was as much about them as it was about Cantlay. Rahm played the back nine in level par and made a ghastly bogey on the par-5 13th from 225 yards away after his drive. J.T. played his last 12 holes in level par, and it was a minor miracle that he scored that well given how he hit it. Despite shooting a combined 7 under, neither will be pleased with how they closed.
Cantlay, on the other hand, will be. He's had a pretty mediocre last few months with just one top 10 since the Memorial Tournament in the middle of July. This week, though, he was the best putter of the handful of best ball-strikers in the field (Cantlay finished third from tee to green) and needed a tournament-low (for him) 24 putts on Sunday for the victory.
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The Zozo win is -- maybe surprisingly -- just the third of his career to go along with a Shriners Hospitals for Open victory and a Memorial victory a few years ago. Interestingly, Rahm is a decent comparison for Cantlay when it comes to PGA Tour wins. Both have three in fewer than 90 starts throughout their careers, and both will be tough outs when it comes to the Masters next month.
Rahm has a pair of top 10s there over the course of his young career, and Cantlay scared the lead last year on Sunday before Tiger Woods closed out the 15th major championship of his career. While winning the Zozo is a big deal for Cantlay -- this field was absolutely loaded, and he shot 65 when it counted -- it will also give him a nice boost going to that other massive event to close out the year. Grade: A+
Justin Thomas (T2): It was a bonkers back nine for J.T. He saved par and bogey from some truly ridiculous spots before finally succumbing on the 71st hole. He was pretty lousy off the tee when he needed it on Sunday, and it cost him what probably should have been a win given how well he putted it. He's always a show to the very end, though. Knowing he needed to hole out on the final hole to win, he hit it to 4 feet and reacted as if he was trying to make it (which he undoubtedly was). Grade: A-
Bubba Watson (T4): That's back-to-back top-10 finishes for Watson, who has an event he normally plays pretty well at on deck. Watson finished fifth from tee to green, and along with my one-and-done guy Russell Henley as well as Scottie Scheffler, did not putt the ball well at all. He's the ultimate feast-or-famine player, but he's worth keeping an eye on for the 2020 Masters.
Bubba Watson ranks 5th in the field in strokes gained tee to green this week.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) October 25, 2020
Since the PGA Championship, only DJ is averaging more SG tee to green per round than Watson is.
Bubba Watson has a top-4 finish in at least one of the two events leading up to his two Masters wins ... he's currently T-4 at the Zozo with the Masters less than three weeks away.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) October 25, 2020
Rory McIlroy (T17): He was never a factor in this week's event, but his work over the last two rounds was interesting. He gained eight strokes from tee to green and hit his irons as well as he has since the restart. It was meaningless in regards to the Zozo, but it might be very meaningful come the final major of the year in a few weeks. He also made a career-high 29 birdies on the week. I'm going to guess if he does that at Augusta National, he'll be rocking a green jacket over his hoodie. Grade: B