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Why the Rory McIlroy-Patrick Cantlay US Open pairing has an extra dash of spice

Patrick Cantlay, left, and Rory McIlroy at the 2023 Ryder Cup.

getty photos

PINEHURST, NC – Yes, of course Rory McIlroy wanted to be in Sunday’s final round of the 124th US Open. What player wouldn’t want to play next to Bryson DeChambeau in the marquee game of this megawatt tournament? Earning that kind of privilege and pressure is what playing, practicing, and grinding is all about. However, McIlroy noted on Saturday evening, the final pairing is not without its own merits. “The pros and cons of being in the last team,” he said. “Maybe playing one team ahead might not be such a bad thing.”

McIlroy was aiming for himself, on a strategic level, but this time, he may have been speaking for an army of golf fans on Twitter, eager to see if McIlroy, after a third-round 69 at Pinehurst No. 2, where was he. hit the sunday sheet: 2:10 pm…Patrick Cantlay.

Oh, the drama!

If you are a close watcher of professional sports, you know that these two have some history. If not, hop on our time machine. First stop: the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome.

Ryder Cups are usually heated but the second day of team competition in the Italian edition was bittersweet. Exacerbating that tension: an early morning report that Cantlay refused to wear a team hat during games because of complaints that American players were not paid for their work. As word of the report spread through the already-charged galleries following Cantlay’s fourth-ball match with Wyndham Clark and McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, European fans immediately lashed out at Cantlay. By the time the players reached the 18th, the game had reached its climax. Then things got very difficult.

When Cantlay drained a clutch birdie putt to put the Americans on top, his coach, Joe LaCava, cheered — much to the eyes of McIlroy, who was still trying to sink his birdie to tie the game. McIlroy missed. As did Fitzpatrick. Americans win, 1 up.

“Here’s what pissed me off,” McIlroy said later in a lengthy interview with Irish golf writer Paul Kimmage. “My relationship with Cantlay is very good. We don’t have a ton of similarities and we see the world very differently. But when I saw that he had received a cane on the 17th and 18th, I tried to calm him down. And I don’t think Fitz and I were given the same opportunity to try to cover those putts to slow the game down. “

McIlroy’s anger did not go away quickly. Before leaving the building, he criticized Jim “Bones” Mackay from the US, a moment that was caught on camera and made famous around the world. Soon after, when McIlroy returned to his hotel, he met with Ricky Elliott and Claude Harmon, Brooks Koepka’s swing coach, respectively. “They’re trying to defuse the situation,” McIlroy told Kimmage, “but I’m starting to look at them: ‘Joe LaCava was a good guy when he played for Tiger, and now he’s asking for that dk. He’s turned into…’

McIlroy didn’t finish the thought.

Cantlay has never tweeted at McIlroy, at least not publicly, but it wouldn’t be a leap to suggest he would agree with McIlroy’s comments about how the two golfers see the world – or at least the world of professional men’s golf, each of them has an important role or plays an important role in shaping it.

rory mcilroy stares open us wearing a navy shirt and hat

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McIlroy joined the PGA Tour Policy Board in 2022, and Cantlay in ’23. During McIlroy’s tenure, which ended when he resigned in November last year, his views were widely known, because he aired them regularly: in press conferences and podcasts and everywhere in between. In the early days of the PGA Tour’s battle with LIV, he was a staunch critic of the new league, its structure and everything it stood for. He became complacent in fighting, so much so that he burned himself and stepped down from his position.

As McIlroy stepped down, Cantlay took on an increasing board role. “I care a lot about the PGA Tour,” he told his partner, Dylan Dethier, late last year. “I grew up loving playing on the PGA Tour and winning tournaments on the PGA Tour, and I’ve been fortunate enough to do that. So when I joined the board, I saw that as a responsibility. It was important for me to take that very seriously and take that seriously.”

In that same interview, Cantlay said of the PGA Tour-PIF negotiations, which continue today: “If the best option for the tour is the PIF, then I’m all for that. A guiding light for the player directors and the entire board to do the best on the PGA Tour.”

McIlroy’s situation at LIV and PIF has softened. Like Cantlay and Tiger Woods and other Tour directors, McIlroy has acknowledged that finding a middle ground with golf’s new powerbrokers is the only way forward. But he has also been more vocal than some of his peers about the importance of internationalizing the men’s game. “My dream situation is world travel, with the principle that an American company should always be a big part of everything. Saudi Arabia, too. That’s just the basis of the economy,” he told John Huggan. Golf Digest in January. “PGA Tour earnings are currently estimated at $2.3 billion. So how do we get that number to four or six? For me, it’s from the outside. They need to think internationally and spread their wings a little. I’ve been beating that drum for a while.”

Cantlay and other player directors haven’t been beating their drums much, so it’s unclear how they feel about the prospect of the world circuit. What is clear is that when McIlroy tried to rejoin the Policy Board in the spring, replacing Webb Simpson, the move was blocked. “There’s been a lot of discussion,” McIlroy said at Wells Fargo. “It partly reminded me why I didn’t do that [stay on the board]. So, I think it’s very complicated and messy.

“I think about the way it happened, I think it opened old wounds and scars from things that have happened before. I think there was a group of people on the board who were probably uncomfortable with my return for some reason. “

That subset, according to a report by Joel Beall of the Golf Digestincluding Cantlay, Woods and Jordan Spieth.

Cantlay chooses his words carefully, and he did so when he spoke to Dethier last year. When asked about his relationship with McIlroy, Cantlay said: “I think we’re both very competitive and we’re both trying to be the best. I think we both love that part of each other. As for the Policy Board, we worked closely together and had a really good working relationship during my year on the board.

“Look, I talked to him after the Ryder Cup and, you know, everything was fine and dandy.”

And the “d–k” comment?

“Yes, I saw that. I think it was taken out of context. And that’s the kind of world we live in, where the story drives the story,” Cantlay said.

Which brings us back to Cantlay and McIlroy’s pairing on Sunday at the US Open, which marks the first time they will play on the same team since their fiery fourth-ball match at Marco Simone – but only the sixth time in their careers together in stroke play. A month before the Ryder Cup, in fact, McIlroy and Cantlay were paired in the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Cantlay shot 64, one better than McIlroy, to advance to the playoff, where he lost to Lucas Glover. In their eight rounds of stroke play combined since 2020, Cantlay has an average score of 68.75 to McIlroy’s 69.13.

However, rest assured that for now, there is only one thing on their mind: what they will need to shoot on Sunday to become the 124th US Open champion.

Alan Bastable Editor

As editor-in-chief of, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and heavily trafficked news and services outlets. He wears many hats – editing, writing, imagining, developing, dreaming up one day he breaks 80 – and feels privileged to work with an insanely smart and hard-working team of writers, editors and producers. Before taking over, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

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