This week’s News Sentinel Open marks the end of a nearly three-month layoff for Patrick Cantlay, though it comes with a hint of reluctance.
The former No. 1 amateur still isn’t fully healed from a stress fracture in his back, but 11 weeks of inactivity have left him on the brink of sliding out of the Web.com Tour’s top 25 – and the first batch of PGA TOUR cards to be handed out next week at the Cox Classic Presented by Lexus of Omaha.
“I just don’t see another option,” Cantlay said before an opening 1-under 71 left him facing a Friday dancing around the cut line. “I figure I’ve got to play and give myself a chance to get my card.”
Cantlay appeared in prime position after winning the Colombia Championship in the season’s second week. But without a competitive round since Memorial Day, he came to Knoxville at No. 23 on the money list – separated from No. 26 Wes Roach by a little more than $7,000.
The former UCLA standout – whose portfolio includes low-amateur honors at the 2011 U.S. Open and a 60 one week later in Hartford – had been sidelined with a hairline fracture on the left side of his L5 vertebrae. His last start before this week was at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, where he withdrew after an opening 75.
“It’s just [a matter of] rest and don’t stress it out,” Cantlay said. “Don’t do anything taxing on it.”
Of course, that’s not easy to do when you’re making 40-plus swings with something more than a putter. Cantlay is taking an anti-inflammatory this week, but “it doesn’t feel good.”
“I’m obviously stressing it a little bit,” he concluded.