by Jeff Skinner
It wasn’t Arnie versus Jack or Tiger versus Phil at the Frys.com Open but the pre-round buzz with amateur Patrick Cantlay playing with Tiger Woods was “who’s going to shoot lower, Woods or Cantlay?” Well, chalk one up for the kid as he beat Woods by four strokes.
Cantlay was able to better Woods in fairways hit (8 to 7) greens in regulation (14 to 9) and even out drove Tiger by half a dozen yards. At the end of the day Cantlay was four under and tied for eleventh and Woods was two over and tied at 86th.
It wasn’t that Tiger played poorly he just looked a bit rusty. That’s to be expected of a golfer who hasn’t played all summer and is coming back from an injury. But this is Tiger and the expectations are always different for him. Even Tiger says he was here to win but he’ll need to tighten his game if he wants to be there on Sunday.
Woods wasn’t as wild off the tee as earlier this year and he hit plenty of his irons crisply. He played like it was his first tournament in a long time and it was. If you were to grade his game: the driver would be a C, his irons a B and his putter would flunk out with an F. He missed at least four makeable putts and on a few he didn’t even touch the hole. He was off on his speed and direction but he still only used 27 putts for the round. Compare that to Cantlay who used 30 for the day. If Tiger could have made a few putts he would have been near the top of the leaderboard.
The pressure was on Cantlay in the opening round as playing with Tiger can be a chore but the UCLA sophomore took everything in stride and showed no signs of nerves at all. As a matter of fact he topped Woods in another category: the stone face. This kid looks the same whether he has plunked one in a pond or drained a 40 foot birdie, he shows no emotion. He walks from shot to shot with a “terminator stare” that is reminiscent of Woods at his most intimidating.
Cantlay has had an amazing summer season and is the top ranked amateur in America but these first two rounds have given him a chance to do something else. This pairing with Woods has put him in a different kind of spotlight and so far the kid hasn’t wilted under the strain of the bright lights that follow Tiger.
We learned two things from the first round: Tiger’s game is a little better but still rusty and Patrick Cantlay doesn’t care who he plays with. He’ll handle himself just fine with anyone and plays against the course. It’s like Bobby Jones said; “it’s you versus old man par” and no one else.