So much about the Memorial felt like golf was back to normal.
Countless fans surrounded the 18th hole, with championship founder Jack Nicklaus sitting behind the green as he waited to greet the winner. Patrick Cantlay had a firm grip on the crystal trophy, like he did two years past the last time audiences roamed Muirfield Village.
It rained, although not for very long.
But so much about Cantlay’s playoff victory Sunday over Collin Morikawa made this Memorial unlike any of the previous 45 editions.
This was about who won as who didn’t play.
Cantlay, like everybody else at Muirfield Village, felt horrible than Jon Rahm went from tying tournament documents — a 54-hole score of 18-under par and also a six-shot guide — to being advised of a positive COVID-19 evaluation that knocked him from the last round.
What would have happened?
“Such a bizarre circumstance and so unlucky because — me included — everyone knows it’d have been a completely different day had that not occurred,” Cantlay said. “But there’s nothing that I could do about it.”
Cantlay walked off the 18th green Saturday day facing a six-shot deficit and trying to determine how low he would have to go in the last round to have a chance. Morikawa had finished in the group beforehand.
“I went downstairs to examine the TV and you see what happened to Jon and it is awful,” Morikawa explained. The rules are rules and you need to follow instructions ”
Padraig Harrington suffered a fate like Rahm. He had a five-shot lead in the Benson & Hedges International Open on the European Tour in 2000 if the club asked for scorecards of the winner to post in the clubhouse. That is when it was discovered Harrington never signed his card in the initial round. The punishment was disqualification.
Rahm was in the contact tracing program from having come in contact with someone who had been COVID-19 positive, meaning he had to test each day to have the ability to play. Every test since Monday was negative before Saturday following the rain-delayed minute round.
His 64 on Saturday was among the best rounds in history, almost nine shots better than the score. He’s No. 3 in the world.
And he was gone.
“We are all devastated,” Nicklaus said Sunday before the last round. “I wish we can work out how to give Jon three-fourths of the trophy.”
Nicklaus also wondered how much his absence would weigh on the players made to contend, though that was not an issue for either. This was out of their hands. All they could do was perform with.
“I did whatever I could with all the cards that I was dealt,” Cantlay said. “And I really did a good job of focusing today on the task at hand and staying current, and that’s all you can do in this sport ”
He did it a bit better than everybody else.
Morikawa fought to hit greens early, and then it cost him overdue. Cantlay dropped six putts from 10 feet or nearer — three for diploma, three for birdie — and believed it’d cost him.
The tournament without Rahm did not lack for drama.
Morikawa needed a one-shot guide with two holes to play if Cantlay poured into a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to catch him. Both struck bad tee shots on the 18th and made par, each posting a 1-under 71 to finish in 13-under 275.
Rahm reached 13 under on the 11th hole Saturday. What would have happened? Cantlay reported a 71 mostly probably would not have done the trick when Rahm were still enjoying. However he wasn’t.
Cantlay gouged an 8-iron from the deep rough to the bunker.
That happens a whole lot in golf. It’s everything else in this Memorial that has been unprecedented.
“He (Rahm) played so amazing the first three rounds that the way I felt Sunday morning was obviously a lot different than I sensed walking off the 18th green Saturday,” Cantlay said. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do anyhow reset and just take the new paradigm and operate with this.”
It took him to his fourth career victory, his second at the Memorial, and yet another handshake with Nicklaus off the 18th green. This was satisfying. It was special. And it was distinct.
“There’s maybe a little sign of something that I can not really put my finger on,” Cantlay said. “But I mean, the feelings I felt out there along with the focus that it took today was just as any other tournament.”