Patrick Cantlay has come a long way at Pebble Beach in three years

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA (AP) — Patrick Cantlay had a different set of expectations when he played the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am three years ago.

“In a weird way, it was an accomplishment to finish a golf tournament,” he said.

Cantlay had been away from golf for nearly three years because of a spinal stress fracture that made him wonder if he would ever be able to play golf without pain. So it was satisfying to have made the cut and thrilling to not hurt doing it. Never mind that he tied for 48th, 16 shots behind the winner.

“When you’re out that long, it’s reasonable to have doubts about your game or how you’re going to hold up,” Cantlay said yesterday. “Yeah, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted and I felt like I could have played better. But I was happy about making the cut and playing as well as I did, and it gave me confidence going forward that I hadn’t really lost much and I was still the player that I used to be.”

That now seems like a long time ago. Cantlay still considers Pebble Beach the start of his comeback, but that phase ended when he reached the Tour Championship that year despite playing only 11 tournaments — only one of them a major (PGA Championship) and no World Golf Championships.

File photo shows Patrick Cantlay hitting from the second tee during the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii. PHOTO: AP

Now he is eighth in the world and rarely satisfied if he’s not contending.

“That first year felt like kind of a comeback and then after that, I felt really confident and comfortable playing out on tour and I didn’t really associate the next two years with a comeback, more a resumption of just me playing tournament golf,” he said.

Cantlay is playing with Kelly Slater. Cantlay grew up in Long Beach and never really took to the waves, except for once. And that was enough.

“I try everything once, twice if you like it. But I didn’t like it,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at it. And for me to keep doing things that I’m not very good at takes a lot of will power.”

His other sports were baseball and basketball, but not for long.

“I was good enough to make the All-Star team and pitch and play shortstop when I was about eight or 10,” he said. “And by the time I was 13, I was playing right field. So I figured it was my time to exit.”

CHINA CHANGE

The PGA Tour Series-China is the latest tour to cancel an event in China because of the coronavirus.

The tour is moving its global qualifying tournament from Haikou, China, to just outside Singapore. Laguna Golf Bintan will host the qualifer on February 25-28, which determines membership for the 2020 season. Players were notified yesterday.

“We felt this change was the best course of action considering what’s happening in China right now,” said Executive Director of the China tour Greg Carlson.

The China tour already held the first of its three qualifying tournaments a month ago in Guangzhou, which was for Chinese passport holders. The other two qualifiers are for players outside mainland China. Along with the next one in Singapore, the other is scheduled for March 3-6 in Thailand.

The China series is to begin on March 26-29 in Sanya, China. The tour said it was monitoring the situation to see how it would affect the start of the season.

GMAC IN THE TOP 50

Graeme McDowell is back in the top 50 for the first time since early summer in 2015, and it felt like a long road back.

He reached 47th with his victory in the Saudi International against a field that featured Dustin Johnson (the runner-up), Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry and Henrik Stenson.

A year ago, McDowell was 262nd in the world. He ended last year ranked 121st.

“It feels unbelievably far away. It really does,” McDowell said. “I think I was in the top 50 for five, six years. And when you’re on the outside looking in, it feels like an awfully long way away.”

Making it feel even longer is that McDowell wasn’t in any of the World Golf Championships since Match Play in 2016.