Patrick Cantlay delivered a clutch birdie late in the round and a 12-foot par putt in a playoff to win the Memorial on a Sunday filled with drama, a little rain and no Jon Rahm.
Cantlay closed with a 1-under 71 and won the Memorial for the second time in three years, and he said he felt the same range of emotions in the final hour at Muirfield Village in his duel with Collin Morikawa.
But it wasn’t the same.
Only a day earlier, Cantlay walked off the 18th green six shots behind Rahm, whose 64 ranked as one of the great rounds at the course Jack Nicklaus built and tied two Memorial records, including largest 54-hole lead.
But he tested positive for the coronavirus — Rahm had been in the contact tracing protocol — and was withdrawn from the tournament in dramatic scenes broadcast live around the world.
Rahm withdrawal highlights ‘brave new world’
Rahm said goodbye to a near certainty of winning over $2.15 million in prizemoney, and missed out on moving closer to regaining the world No.1 ranking. Now forced into isolation he is also going to have to sit out the US Open.
“I’m very disappointed in having to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament,” Rahm later tweeted.
“This is one of those things that happens in life, one of those moments where how we respond to a setback defines us as people. I’m very thankful that my family and I are all OK. I will take all of the necessary precautions to be safe and healthy, and I look forward to returning to the golf course as soon as possible.”
The Spaniard’s withdrawal, as per the PGA Tour’s COVID-19 policy, sent shockwaves through the golf world, with their “nightmare scenario” playing out and more questions remaining in the aftermath.
The PGA Tour said the Spaniard had come in close contact with a person who was COVID-19 positive, meaning he could play provided he was tested daily. Every test came back negative except the one after his second round, which was completed Saturday morning.
The positive test was confirmed, the results returned as he was playing the 18th hole.
“I don’t know how you send him a trophy for three-quarters of a tournament but I’d certainly like to,” Jack Nicklaus told The Golf Channel.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything that affected an individual that much. Particularly in that position in the tournament. That was a tough thing to swallow for everybody.”
There was mystery over whether Rahm was vaccinated, but it appeared that the Spaniard was likely not inoculated.
“If someone had been fully vaccinated – as defined by the CDC, 14 days past the full cycle of the vaccination – they do not have to test as a result of being a close contact,” Andy Levinson, PGA Tour Senior Vice President of Tournament Administration, told media after Rahm’s withdrawal.
“Unless they develop symptoms,” Levinson clarified.
Levinson also confirmed that Rahm would receive some reimbursement for losing the opportunity to claim the tournament’s prizemoney by withdrawing.
“There is a stipend program with players to assist them with lost earnings and potential cost of isolation and so forth,” the PGA Tour official said.
Fellow professional Lee Westwood attempted to clarify any further questions on what Rahm would have experienced with the Tour protocol with a Twitter question and answer.
Westwood never tested positive for COVID-19 during a tournament, but he did have a similar experience of being a close contact at the Players Championship in March.
Westwood explained the PGA Tour’s close contact policy that Rahm would have had to follow.
“You’re given a separate room. You’re not allowed in the clubhouse, player dining locker room or any public areas,” Westwood explained.
He also said that Rahm’s scenario would have been a “last resort” for the Tour.
“The PGA Tour are not trying to find people positive. They give the players the maximum time and every possible scenario to play and opportunity to play. Withdrawing people is the last resort,” Westwood tweeted.
Cantlay and Morikawa made the most of going from six shots behind to tied for the lead.
But for so much of the final round, it stayed that way with pair matching each other blow for blow. Morikawa surged ahead with an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 15th, while Cantlay missed birdie putts from 8 feet to tie him on the 15th, and then on the par-3 16th.
The round was halted for about five minutes because of a pop-up downpour while they were on the 17th green. When it resumed, Cantlay holed a 25-foot birdie putt to tie, and Morikawa stayed in the game with a 12-foot par.
Cantlay had a 25-foot birdie putt for the win on the 18th in regulation that grazed the right side of the cup, leaving he and Morikawa (71) at 13-under 275.
Rahm finished his 54 holes at 18-under 198, tying the Memorial record. No one had ever lost a lead that large in the final round at Muirfield Village, though it has happened six times on the PGA Tour, most recently by Dustin Johnson in Shanghai in 2017.
Nicklaus figured the awkward situation for Cantlay and Morikawa would be one more element for them to battle.
“It was such a weird situation, so unfortunate,” Cantlay said. “Everyone, me included, knows it would be totally different today if that hadn’t happened. But there’s nothing I could do about it. I tried as hard as I could to reset and refocus.”
It led to the fourth victory of his PGA Tour career, and second this season. Cantlay also won the ZoZo Championship in California last October, rallying from a three-shot deficit to beat Rahm and Justin Thomas.
He becomes the seventh player to win multiple times at the Memorial, a list that starts with Tiger Woods winning five times and even Nicklaus, the tournament founder, winning twice.
Morikawa won at Muirfield Village last year, just not the Memorial. He won in a playoff against Thomas at the Workday Charity Open, a one-time even when the pandemic forced the John Deere Classic to be canceled.
In that tournament, Morikawa twice had to watch as Thomas had a putt on the 18th green to win, and he survived to win on the third extra hole.
This time, he escaped one birdie chance by Cantlay in regulation. On the 18th in the playoff, Morikawa had a small piece of mud on his ball and came up well short from the fairway into deep rough. He chipped out to 6 feet.
Cantlay was well right and hacked it out into a bunker, but his shot from the wet sand rolled out 12 feet. It was on the same line as his 25-foot birdie attempt in regulation, and this time he poured it in for par. Moments later, Morikawa missed his 6-footer and Cantlay let out a big exhale before going over to shake hands with Nicklaus.
Scottie Scheffler, who started three shots behind after Rahm was knocked out of the tournament, was tied for the lead with a birdie on the 15th.
His last chance ended when he missed a 6-foot par putt on the 18th. That gave him a 70, and he finished alone in third, two shots behind.
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