Patrick Cantlay reappears in the majors with a 65 for the early lead at the US Open

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Patrick Cantlay watched his best friend in golf finally win a major last month. His start Thursday in the U.S. Open was enough to at least wonder if his time is coming next.

Cantlay handled Pinehurst No. 2 in the same methodical manner he handles endless PGA Tour board meetings that consume a lot of his time these days. With only one bogey and a pair of birdie putts from the 20-foot range, Cantlay opened with a 5-under 65.

He had a one-shot lead over Ludvig Aberg of Sweden and set a daunting target for Scottie Scheffler and the rest of the field taking on the notorious domed greens of Pinehurst No. 2.

In hot weather with barely a breeze, only nine players managed to break par from the morning wave, a list that did not include Tiger Woods or five-time major champion Brooks Koepka.

Competing in his first U.S. Open since 2020, Woods had five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch around the turn and opened with a 74. Koepka was atop the leaderboard for much of the morning, looking very much like the player who brings his best game to the biggest events, until three bogeys over the last six holes dropped him back to 70.

Phil Mickelson, needing the U.S. Open for the career Grand Slam and at age 53 looking more and more incapable of that, shot 79.

Cantlay holed a bunker shot on No. 11, his second hole of the day, and was equally pleased with a collection of par putts that kept his round going.

“I've been working really hard on my game,” Cantlay said. “And usually when you make just a couple changes and you're working really hard, it's just a matter of time.”

The timing couldn't have been better. For a player like Cantlay, who has no glaring weakness in his game, his record in the majors has stood out for all the wrong reasons. He has had only one good chance — the 2019 Masters — and four top 10s in 26 majors since returning from a severe back injury in 2017.

His most recent major was a tie for 53rd in the PGA Championship, allowing him to get back home in south Florida in time to watch Xander Schauffele win at Valhalla.

“We're working on it,” is all he has said when the topic has come up about his performance in the majors the last two years. Cantlay isn't known to be verbose on many subjects, particularly when it comes to his performance in golf's most important championships.

He also has rejected notions that his time on the PGA Tour board during the divide with LIV Golf and negotiations with the Saudi backers of the rival league has been a distraction.

Whatever the case, this was a good day of work.

His 65 matched the lowest start at Pinehurst No. 2 in the previous three U.S. Opens, with Martin Kaymer posting that score in 2014 in soft, wet conditions.

Aberg, who a year ago had just graduated from Texas Tech and already is considered among the elite in golf, managed six birdies in his round of 66. Matthieu Pavon of France reached 5 under with an eagle on the par-5 10th only to drop two shots coming in.

Pinehurst No. 2 created plenty of stress for so many others.

Koepka was sailing along by using strength to get through the native plants in a sandy area to set up a two-putt birdie on the par-5 fifth, taking on an accessible pin at the sixth hole for a short birdie and dropping a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-5 10th.

And then he gave it all back by misjudging the speed and break on a 35-foot putt that went 15 feet by the hole. He missed the green just enough to see it roll off a slope on the 15th, and he got out of position into the sandy landscape on the next hole for another bogey.

Colin Morikawa, who has played in the final group at the first two majors of the year, hit what he thought was a good bunker shot on the par-3 ninth, but it rolled by the cup 2 feet and then took a slope and stopped rolling 80 feet away, leading to double bogey.

He took another double bogey on the par-3 15th when it took two shots — one from the wiregrass bush, another with his putter — to get on the green.

He still managed a 70 by holing a bunker shot on the par-3 17th for birdie and finishing with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th.

Among those who broke par was Sergio Garcia, who got in as alternate from his 36-hole qualifying site to keep alive his streak of playing every U.S. Open dating to 2000. He shot 69.

Those 25 straight years playing the toughest test in golf have taught Garcia the value of par, and not to be alarmed by the hot start Cantlay produced.

“There's always going to be someone that hits the ball great, everything goes his way, makes a couple of bombs, and you can shoot it,” Garcia said. “Are we going to see it consistently? If it doesn’t rain, I don’t think so. You might see someone shooting another 66 or 65 or something like that. I think as the course gets even firmer, even faster, a tiny bit of breeze comes up here and there, it’s going to be difficult to shoot those kind of scores.”


AP golf:

06/13/2024 19:18 -0400

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