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Even for the understated Patrick Cantlay, his account of his recent play on the PGA Tour was quite the understatement.
“I’m really confident in my game right now,” Cantlay said Thursday after posting a 4-under-par 67 in the first round of the Genesis Invitational at revered Rivera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.
Who wouldn’t be?
Cantlay has finished second in the American Express and in a tie for third in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in his last two starts and won his third Tour title last fall at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood.
In his last nine rounds, he’s 41 strokes to the better of par.
And he’s ranked No. 8 in the world.
Cantlay’s confidence certainly won’t crack this week, especially at Riviera, which he calls the best course on Tour. So even when he started with a bogey in frigid temperatures, he wound up on the first page of the leaderboard. Among the early leaders, Cantlay trails Matthew Fitzpatrick by one shot. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson came home with a 68, defending champion Adam Scott a 69.
“There’s no tricks or anything,” Cantlay said of Riviera. “There’s a lot of holes out here that are just how far and how straight can you hit your driver and then hit your golf ball in the right spot, but you can hit any shape you want.
“I don’t think you necessarily have to shape the golf ball, but you definitely have to be cognizant of where you’re leaving the golf ball even off the tee. I thought the golf course is incredible, I think it’s the best on Tour.”
He didn’t change his mind even after starting his round on the drivable par-4 10th at a quarter past 7 a.m. local. He drove over the green, chipped to 50 feet (on purpose) and then three-putted.
“I made a great swing and, opposed to landing it short of the green, I landed it two yards on the green and I was dead,” he said. “I had to play to 50 feet. Hit a good shot to 50 feet, like an actual good shot, and then three‑putted. And didn’t feel like I did anything wrong except the hole is really, really hard when it’s blowing 15 miles an hour downwind.
“I could have tried to flop it and I just thought I’m still going to have 20 feet for birdie even if I hit a great shot, so I didn’t think it was worth it, especially first hole of the day, 7:00 in the morning and cold and windy.”
Cantlay followed his opening bogey with two birdies. He had another bout of frustration on the par-5 first hole, the easiest hole on the course. He walked off a par but then birdied four of his last eight holes.
“I hit the ball really well all day and was able to score on one side of the golf course,” he said.
Cantlay is more encouraged than disheartened by his close calls the past two weeks. Like he does on the golf course, he just methodically moves forward.
“I think you want to learn from it and then discard it after you’ve learned whatever you need to learn from it,” Cantlay said about his last two starts. “Definitely by the time the next week rolls around, the last week is gone because you’re so focused on the task at hand that that’s all that matters.
“Definitely take the things I’m working on in my swing and the things that are going well in my game and carry them over to this week. I’m really confident in my game right now. Even though I bogeyed the 10th hole, which you feel you shouldn’t bogey because it’s so short, I felt like my game’s in such a good spot that it was only a matter of time before I turned around and made some birdies.
“Definitely taking that confidence with me.”