Stoic Cantlay storms to lead at halftime of 2022 RBC Heritage
The man dressed in all black was not intimidated by the tough Saturday conditions and strategically attacked a windy Harbour Town Golf Links in round 2 of the 2022 RBC Heritage presented by Boeing.
Former UCLA Bruin Patrick Cantlay carded seven birdies to only three bogeys, peaking with four straight birdies to finish his stellar round and take a two-shot lead into what should be a wild weekend.
During a blustery afternoon session which saw coastal winds gusting over 20 miles per hour, Cantlay and tour veteran Robert Streb broke from the massive group of golfers at 6-under to place themselves in Saturday’s final pairing as the lead horses heading into the weekend.
2022 RBC Heritage Coverage
Of course, it is no shocker to see the number six player in the world at the top of a world-class leaderboard, but it is a bit of an eye opener to see the 35-year-old Streb in solo second. While the Oklahoma native did have a top-10 finish at the Valspar in March, the two-time tour winner was not exactly in prime form coming into the Heritage. He has missed six cuts dating back to January, but found his mojo in the second round at Harbour Town.
Streb matched Cantlay’s 4-under 67, mainly choosing his putter as his weapon of choice. He gained nearly three strokes against the field in putting, highlighted by a bending 38-footer for birdie on the second most difficult hole on the course, the par-3 14th hole. He will need to keep a hot putter going Saturday to keep up with the pace setter Cantlay.
The methodical Cantlay quietly waited for his times to pounce on Pete and Alice Dye’s classic course. On the 11th hole, after a wayward tee shot, the 2021 PGA Tour Golfer of the Year chose to simply pitch out instead of forcing a heroic cut shot off of the unpredictable crushed seashells and sand. While he watched his par putt slide by on the low side of the cup, the seasoned 30-year-old avoided a disastrous hole by playing smart and choosing his battles. He then positioned himself perfectly on each of the last four holes and capitalized with birdies on all four to take a two-shot lead into the third round.
The current Fed-Ex Cup champion, Cantlay gained more than three shots with his approach play and more than two shots with his trusted Scotty Cameron putter. Overall, Cantlay and Streb gained more than five total shots against the field with their scorching 67s to separate themselves from the pack. While the tournament seems to be in the hands of the six-time winner Cantlay, the chase for the tartan jacket is far from over.
At the halfway point, there are 25 golfers within five shots of the lead, which opens the door to all types of drama this weekend. Lurking at 5-under you will find several worthy opponents to Cantlay, including superstar Jordan Speith and versatile Chilean Joaquin Niemann. Speith duct-taped together a gritty 3-under 68 in Saturday’s final group out. The former No. 1 player in the world gained nearly three strokes on the field on approach shots and a jaw-dropping five strokes tee-to-green. But Speith, one of the game’s most prolific putters, lost over a half a stroke to the field on the Harbour Town greens.
Nearly the same goes for the young Genesis Open champion, Niemann, who is striking the ball well enough to gain shots in all categories and is marginally positive on the greens with his putter but lost over half a stroke to the field around the fairly flat bermuda greens of Harbour Town. Like Spieth with his putter, Niemann is usually a magician around the greens, scrambling and gaining shots against the field in that category nearly every week. This year, the 23-year-old is sixth on tour in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. Losing shots to field in his scrambling efforts is an outlier and will likely not continue throughout the weekend.
Will Cantlay put one arm in the tartan jacket after Saturday’s third round? Maybe. But look for Speith to rediscover his magic with his putter blade and Niemann to regain his domination and touch around the greens.If anyone is going to catch the stoic 30-year-old Californian, I believe it has to start with Spieth and/or Niemann.