East Lake, the golf course, is about as straightforward as you can get, a cross between an English garden and the runways at Hartsfield-Jackson. It is a place that keeps its history well, representing the basic values of the well-considered shot, just as Bobby Jones would have it.

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Patrick Cantlay, the golfer, is the cleated minimalist, a competitor who long ago seized upon the truth of his game, which is to get through a day in as few strokes and as few heartbeats as possible. In approach, he is a forensic scientist. In emotional range, he is an aspiring Keanu Reeves.

Square peg met square hole this week, and you know how that goes.

As it was at the beginning of the Tour Championship, Cantlay led at the end Sunday. He rode the small advantage he was spotted as the FedEx Cup points leader like it was a ski lift. At the summit awaited the $15 million bonus for winning the PGA Tour playoffs, as well as affirmation that just a little bit later than scheduled, he is a made star.

Finishing off with a simple two-putt birdie from 11 feet, Cantlay posted a 69 Sunday and finished at 21 under with the help of the head start he inherited under the Tour Championship’s staggered scoring system. By any traditional measure Jon Rahm had the better week – take out the stagger, he shot a gross 14 under this week compared to Cantlay’s 11 under. But it was Rahm’s lot because of his lesser points standing to begin the week four back of Cantlay before the first shot was struck. Do the math: That left him one shy of victory, and in possession of a substantial consolation prize of $5 million.

Rahm wasn’t interested in sponsoring any “Stop the FedEx Cup Steal” campaigns.

Caption
Jon Rahm (left) congratulates Patrick Cantlay after he won the PGA Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Ben Gray/For the AJC)

Credit: Ben Gray

Jon Rahm (left) congratulates Patrick Cantlay after he won the PGA Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Ben Gray/For the AJC)
Caption
Jon Rahm (left) congratulates Patrick Cantlay after he won the PGA Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Ben Gray/For the AJC)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

“I think you can say (Cantlay) won this. He played amazing golf,” he said.

And added, “It felt really weird to have this feeling of disappointment of not winning on a day you are making $5 million.”

In the B Flight — for Sunday quickly turned into a two-man show — the battle for the third-place prize of $4 million was won by Kevin Na. He very quietly put together a splendid week, matching Rahm for the lowest gross score of 14 under (with rounds of 66-67-66-67). At an adjusted 16 under for week, he finished one better than Justin Thomas.

Starting the day two back of Cantlay, Rahm would shoot a quite useful and bogey-free 68. But not quite enough to melt Cantlay’s cool. Once more he earned the “Patty Ice” nickname given him a week earlier when he outlasted Bryson DeChambeau in a six-hole playoff at the BMW Championship.

How cool? Stepping to the tee at the par 5 18th with a 1-shot lead, Cantlay striped his longest drive of the week, 361 yards as straight and true as a Hemingway sentence. The birdie to follow was almost a formality.

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No sign whatsoever that Cantlay had just come off a traumatic 17th. He had to move so many cables to get to his ball — in both the rough off the fairway and beyond the green — that he almost had to join the electricians union. Then trying to flop ball back onto the green, he came up short, requiring him to get up and down from deep Bermuda just to save a bogey. That he did, making a 6-footer that he deemed the most consequential putt of his day. That preserved a 1-stroke lead going to the last hole.

On 18, Cantlay was thinking he had to play for eagle, fully expecting Rahm to get a 3 there (his short chip from the back of the green for eagle just skittered past the hole). “I hit a great drive, right in the middle of the fairway and I hit a great 6-iron, the perfect number. And under the gun to hit your irons the number that you want to is really indicative of being in control of your game,” said a proud Cantlay.

At the close of it all, Sunday was about Cantlay — a five-time PGA Tour winner, three of those coming this season — taking another long stride toward his long-deferred destiny. Leaving UCLA two years early in 2012, Cantlay was as can’t-miss as they come, the world’s top-ranked amateur for nearly a year with a game and a disposition that seemed machine-tooled for success.

Caption
Patrick Cantlay walks past the crowd on 15 during the final round of the PGA Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Ben Gray/For the AJC)

Credit: Ben Gray

Patrick Cantlay walks past the crowd on 15 during the final round of the PGA Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Ben Gray/For the AJC)
Caption
Patrick Cantlay walks past the crowd on 15 during the final round of the PGA Tour Championship Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (Ben Gray/For the AJC)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Then he was asked to run a gauntlet of physical and personal duress. A back injury suffered while grinding on the practice tee set him back not months, but years. He thought about going back to school and completing his history major. And just as he was reclaiming his swing, in 2016, he witnessed the horror of his best friend being killed by a hit-and-run driver as he crossed the street.

After all that, Cantlay said, “I think the biggest thing is it’s given me great perspective. I think for a long time, everything just went great. Growing up, I felt like I got better and better in golf and life got better and better. And then it got as bad as it could have been. I felt as low as it could have been for a little while.

“Coming out on the other side of that, I feel like I am a better person having gone through those dark days. But it gives me great perspective and it makes me very grateful to be in the position I’m in today, because it wasn’t always a sure thing.”

Also among the treasures Cantlay received Sunday was a No. 2 Falcons jersey with “Patty Ice” stitched across the shoulders. A knock-off, of course, of “Matty Ice,” as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is sometimes known. Asked in jest last week if he was thinking about suing Cantlay for trademark infringement, Ryan laughed and said that no lawyers have been contacted.

Any association with the latest Tour Championship winner is a compliment.

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