Amateur Cantlay shoots 60 to take Travelers lead

Posted June 24, 2011, at 9:32 p.m.
Last modified June 24, 2011, at 11:18 p.m.

CROMWELL, Conn. — Patrick Cantlay showed up at the Travelers Championship with no intentions of turning pro until he finishes his last three years at UCLA.

A record round Friday on the PGA Tour — just one week after he was low amateur at the U.S. Open — makes that a tougher decision.

In what already has been a month to remember, the 19-year-old Cantlay turned in his most inspiring moment yet by breaking the course record at TPC River Highlands with a 10-under 60 for the lowest round ever on tour by an amateur.

Last week, the sophomore-to-be at UCLA said the earliest he would turn pro would be “after I get my degree.” But after two strong rounds put him atop the leaderboard in the rain-suspended second round, he was starting to soften.

“I’m going to stay amateur definitely for the Walker Cup,” Cantlay said of the premier amateur event in September at Royal Aberdeen. “And my plan is to stay amateur until I finish college.”

Taking advantage of soft conditions and preferred lies on the soggy TPC River Highlands, Cantlay tied the tournament record set by Tommy Bolt in 1954 when it was played in Wethersfield.

Cantlay birdied the final two holes to reach 13 under. After shooting a 67 on Friday morning in the rain-delayed first round, he had eight birdies and an eagle in the afternoon. It was his second eagle of the day on the par-5 13th.

He said he had no idea that he was setting an amateur record.

“I knew where I was. I knew I needed to make eagle on 18 for 59,” he said. “It’s tough to hole it from 152.”

But he came close. His approach landed just above the hole and rolled back to just over 2 feet below the pin.

“I thought it had a chance, it was covering the flag pretty good,” he said. “It takes some luck.”

The way his month has been going, he might have expected it to go in. Cantlay received the Jack Nicklaus Award from the Golden Bear himself on June 5 at the Memorial, and the next day qualified for the U.S. Open at a sectional site filled with PGA Tour players. Then after opening with a 75 at Congressional, he followed with rounds of 67-70-72 to be low amateur, finishing in a tie for 21st.

Despite his youth, he has been around the game long enough to realize he still is only halfway there — and some players have yet to even finish their second round. Cantlay was at 13-under 127.

D.J. Trahan (62), Webb Simpson (65) Alexandre Rocha (66) and Vaughn Taylor (66) were tied for second at 9-under 131, while Andres Romero was 9 under through five holes of his second round.

Play was suspended because of darkness just after 8 p.m. Seventy-seven players are scheduled to complete the second round Saturday.

Players had perfect scoring conditions Friday with rain-softened greens and little wind. And because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls hit in the fairway, another big advantage. The projected cut line was 3-under par.

“A day like today, play good in the first round, you just kind of keep it going,” Taylor said. Generally, your swing feels the same and your game feels the same, so you just kind of stay in it and just keep playing.”

An amateur hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson in the 1991 Northern Telecom Open in Arizona. If Cantlay wins, he would have 60 days to decide whether to accept a spot on the tour and the two-year exemption that goes with it.

Four players have shot 61s at the TPC River Highlands course. The last was Kenny Perry in 2009.

Tour rookie Jim Renner shot 29 on his first nine holes and finished his first round with a 63, good enough for a one-stroke lead heading into the afternoon.

But he started his second round with a bogey, a par and a double bogey and finished the day at 3-under.

Renner had played in just one Tour event before this season and earned his card though qualifying school. He grew up in Plainville, Mass., and said this tournament was the first PGA Tour event he ever attended.

“I think I walked about four holes and realized I was ready to go home,” he said. “I was 14.”

The shot of the day came from Heath Slocum, who holed a 160-yard shot across the water to eagle the signature 17th hole. He finished his two rounds at 7 under.

But Cantlay stole the show, and received a standing ovation from the sparse crowd as he walked up the 18th fairway.

“It’s just one round,” he said. “It was a good round, and I played really well. Nothing bad happened. I’m really proud of it, but I’ve got a couple more rounds to play.”

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