FORT WAYNE – The odds against Patrick Cantlay doing this were pretty high. Not only is he the youngest player in the field at the Hotel Fitness Championship, but he had been so hobbled by a back injury that he hadn’t even planned on participating in any of the Web.com Tour’s four-week Finals.
But he didn’t finish in the top 25 on the money list this summer, which would have guaranteed him a PGA Tour card for next season, so he hustled to Sycamore Hills Golf Club determined to swing the club as little as possible to avoid the pain.
Now, he’s atop the leader board at 19 under, heading into today’s final round, when the winner will get $180,000 of the $1 million purse.
Cantlay has a three-stroke lead over Kevin Kisner, who equaled the course record with a 9-under 63 Saturday.
“I’m just going to stick to my game plan and keep playing smart shots,” said Cantlay, who said being only 21 is not an issue, even if he was in a group with a former Masters champion, Trevor Immelman. “There are plenty of young guys who play well.”
The most impressive thing about Cantlay’s day wasn’t that he shook off the back pain and endured the pressure of having thousands watch him (not including those at home with the Golf Channel), but that he shot an 8-under 64 despite a double bogey on the par-4 6th hole.
“I’m pretty good at just letting stuff just roll off my back. And it was nice to make birdies on 9 and 10 and then just freewheel it on,” said Cantlay, who shot a 6-under 30 on the back nine.
Not bad for a guy who won once this year on the Web.com Tour, the developmental circuit of the PGA Tour, and has earned $508,502 on both tours in two years.
Twenty five PGA Tour cards are up for grabs in the Finals, which started at the Hotel Fitness Championship.
The scores have been so low this week at Jack Nicklaus-designed Sycamore Hills – all 71 players who made the cut are under par – that there could be a real show today.
“It’s not like the U.S. Open. You can’t hang on and make par,” said Kisner, who equaled the course record shot by Michael Putnam in the second round and was one shot better than Scott McCarron’s record from the first round.
Things were particularly exciting Saturday because of the optimal weather conditions.
“They were perfect scoring conditions,” Kisner said. “It was a little overcast and there was hardly any wind at all.”
Kisner, 29, knew something was afoot when he looked at the leader board for the first time on the 7th hole, was 3 under for the day but had made no headway.
“Then, I kind of put my head down and tried to make birdie on every hole and I made a lot of putts,” Kisner said, adding the best came on the par-4 6th.
“I made a huge bomb … from about 35 feet,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff you do when you shoot 9 under. If we could do it every day, we’d all love this game. But the goal was to get back into the hunt. Once I saw the (leader board), I knew I was going to have to get it going and I was happy to do it.”
Five strokes off the lead and tied for third at 14 under are Immelman, Putnam, Bobby Gates, Scott Gardiner, Arron Oberholser and Bud Cauley. Gates had a 64, as did Seung-Yul Noh, who is tied for ninth place with Will Claxton at 13 under.