DUBLIN, Ohio — The emotion and intensity felt the same to Patrick Cantlay, whether it was his clutch 25-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead or his 12-foot par putt in a playoff that made him a winner again Sunday in the Memorial.
The handshake with Jack Nicklaus? As special as it was two years ago.
That was as far as normalcy was allowed to go at a tournament that was as much about the guy who won as the guy who didn’t play.
Plenty of drama. A little rain. No sign of Jon Rahm.
Some 24 hours earlier, as Rahm pulled away with a 64 to build a six-shot lead, Cantlay already was trying to figure out how low he would need to score to have a chance. And then Rahm was told off the 18th green Saturday evening that his COVID-19 test came back positive, knocking him out of the tournament.
“I would much rather have faced him down today and shot an extremely low round and beat him that way,” Cantlay said after closing with a 1-under 71 and beating Collin Morikawa (71) with a par on the first playoff hole.
“But unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “I did everything I could with the cards I was dealt, and I really did a good job of focusing today on the task at hand and staying present. And that’s all you can do in this game.”
He did it one putt better than Morikawa, who missed a 6-foot par putt to extend the playoff.
The tour said Rahm had been in contact with a COVID-19 positive and was in its contact tracing program, subjected to tests every day since Monday. Every test was negative until Saturday, after his rain-delayed second round.
He was informed after tying the 54-hole record at 18-under 198. His six-shot lead tied the Memorial record set by Tiger Woods. And then he was out of the tournament.
“We’re all devastated,” Nicklaus said earlier Sunday. “I wish we could figure out how to give Jon three-fourths of the trophy.”
Nicklaus also figured it would add another element for Cantlay and Morikawa to confront, having gone from a six-shot deficit to a share of the lead.
They both handled it fine, and the lead was exchanged among Cantlay, Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler, who bogeyed the final hole for a 70 to finish two shots out of the playoff.
“All I had to do was focus on my game and go out and play golf. There’s nothing else I could really change,” Morikawa said. “I can’t dictate anyone else’s future or how they play or what’s going on. So waking up this morning I felt great. I was ready to go play golf and see if I could win the tournament.”
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 them at 13-under 275.
Rahm reached 13 under on the 11th hole Saturday and kept going. How would he have fared Sunday is unknown. No one has ever lost a lead that large in the final round at Muirfield Village, though it has happened seven times on the PGA Tour, most recently by Dustin Johnson in Shanghai in 2017.
“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 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 sliver 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.
“There’s a little something that I can’t quite put my finger on that make it’s feel a little different,” Cantlay said. “But I really hit a lot of clutch, solid shots today. And so I think I’ll remember that mostly.”