LOS ANGELES: Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele first competed at cards on the long flight to Australia for the Presidents Cup. They became partners in team events, roommates on the road, close friends who take vacations together with their wives, and more practice rounds than they can count.
Sunday at Riviera will have some familiarity to it with one exception: They have never competed against each other with $4 million on the line.
Cantlay was solid as ever Saturday in the Genesis Invitational until a soft bogey toward the end of the round that effectively cut his lead in half. He was leading by four shots most of the back nine until his mistake on the par-5 17th and strong finishes by Schauffele and Will Zalatoris.
Cantlay settled for a 1-under 70, giving him a two-shot lead over Schauffele and Zalatoris, who each birdied the 16th and 17th holes for 65s.
For a tournament in which host Tiger Woods withdrew with the flu and Jordan Spieth was disqualified for signing an incorrect card amidst his own stomach issues, the final round of this signature event has some appeal.
Zalatoris missed most of last year after back surgery, and now he has a chance to show he’s all the way back. “Being in contention, that’s how you find out where you’re at,” he said.
The final group is Cantlay and Schauffele, a pair of Californians who are now neighbors in Florida. They don’t do everything together, it just seems that way.
“We play most practice rounds together and we play a lot at home. It won’t be anything out of the usual,” Cantlay said.
They have been in the final group twice and it’s a draw — Cantlay got the best of him at the BMW Championship in 2022 at Wilmington Country Club, while Schauffele won earlier that summer at the Travelers Championship.
This will be their 21st time playing together on the PGA Tour, to go along with 13 times they have been partners in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and 12 rounds they played together as partners in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, winning in 2022.
Cantlay, a UCLA alum who grew up 30 miles down the coast at Virginia Country Club, was at 14-under 199.
The Genesis Invitational has a $20 million purse like other signature events, but it awards $4 million (up from $3.6 million) as a player-hosted event. Woods might not be around to present the trophy, confirming on X he had influenza, the cause of him withdrawing Friday.
“When we play on Mondays and Tuesdays we’re trying to beat each other,” Schauffele said. “I think the only time we’re really rooting hard for each other is when we’re playing team events. I’m rooting for myself harder than anyone else and same goes for him. But of course I’d like to see him do well, but when we’re in the final group together it’s pretty obvious what we’re trying to do.”
Cantlay finally missed a putt inside 10 feet, this one for par on the third hole, but was otherwise solid on an overcast afternoon at Riviera. He saved a tough par on the 10th when his chip rolled off the green and added birdies at the 11th and 13th.
“I played solid golf today,” Cantlay said. “I didn’t make any long putts or anything. Didn’t really give myself too many chances, but all in all a solid day and in good position for tomorrow.”
But he lost a little of his cushion, particularly on the par-5 17th, the second-easiest hole at Riviera that yielded only two bogeys among the 51 players who reached the weekend.
Cantlay found a fairway bunker to the right off the tee, blasted out to wedge range and his shot to a front pin came off the green. He chipped weakly to 15 feet and missed the par putt.
Schauffele opened with a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 first and was relatively quiet until taking care of the par 5s on the back and adding birdies at the short par-4 10th and a tee shot to 7 feet on the par-3 16th.
Zalatoris, who missed most of last year recovering from back surgery, already has one highlight this week with his hole-in-one Friday on the 14th that resulted in a car for him and his caddie. He zoomed into contention with five birdies over his 10 holes for a 65.
Luke List (68) was three shots behind, while Harris English (65) and Jason Day (69) were another shot back going into the final round.
No one else was closer than five.
Cantlay is trying to join Max Homa (2021) and John Merrick (2013) as players from the greater Los Angeles area trying to win what amounts to a hometown event. Cantlay won the Zozo Championship at Sherwood in Thousand Oaks, about 35 miles to the north, when the tournament was moved to California during the pandemic.
But Riviera is special.
“Being from southern California, it’s one of the tournaments on the list that I’d like to win the most,” Cantlay said.