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Genesis Open co-leader Patrick Cantlay has game back on (familiar) course

Patrick Cantlay watches his tee shot on the 18th hole in the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on Thursday.
(Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

Patrick Cantlay has endured a difficult and painful journey to the top level of professional golf since his days at UCLA as the top-ranked amateur in the world.

Only a year after turning professional in 2012, a back injury that erupted on the driving range ended up costing him three years of play. And two years ago, his caddie and longtime close friend Chris Roth was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Newport Beach. It wasn’t until a year ago that Cantlay, 25, returned to the tour at Pebble Beach.

With a victory in November at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, he’s proving to be the kind of player many expected him to be after holding the No. 1 spot in amateur golf for a record 55 weeks.

He has not missed a cut in 18 PGA Tour events and Thursday at Riviera Country Club, a course he knows well from his days playing for the Bruins, he’s tied for the lead with Tony Finau after a five-under-par 66.

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“It’s been basically a year since I took up playing again, and I’m just happy to feel really healthy and feel strong and feel like I can practice all the time. And my game feels good.”

Cantlay made six birdies with one bogey.

“I’m pretty familiar with the golf course and you’ve just got to hit a lot of smart shots over and over and over again and not get too greedy.”

Johnson struggles

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They have 47 PGA Tour victories to their credit, and they’re the top four players in the world golf rankings in the field this week. Each had his troubles during the first round.

Dustin Johnson, the world No. 1 and the defending champion, took five shots to reach the green on the 434-yard fifth hole and wound up with a triple-bogey seven. That was bracketed by two bogeys on his way to a 38 on the front nine. He finished at three-over 74, eight strokes higher than the first round in his five-shot victory a year ago, and tied for 107th.

Rory McIlroy, No. 10 in the world, needed an eagle on the par-five first hole, his 10th, to shoot a 71.

“I bogeyed the two par fives on the back nine, which usually is my bread and butter,” McIlroy said. “I’m happy with where my game is tee to green; I just need to get a few putts to drop.”

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Justin Thomas, No. 4, made five birdies but nearly offset those with three bogeys on his way to a 69.

“I hit some really, really quality shots and then hit a couple squirrelly shots,” Thomas said. “The wind was going everywhere. The pins are tough, and it’s really hard to make putts on these greens. Even this morning, they’re still … pretty bumpy.”

Jordan Spieth, No. 2, finished at even par.

Mickelson’s solid start

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Phil Mickelson turned in a respectable 70 that had a chance to be substantially better. He had four birdies and three bogeys.

“I probably didn’t score as well as I played,” he said. “I missed a few too many short ones. I had two three putts from just off the edge…

“But it’s a good, solid start. I feel like I’m playing well, and if I shoot something in the mid- to high-60s tomorrow, I’ll be right in it for the weekend.”

Mickelson, who won this tournament in 2008 and 2009, is trying to win on tour for the first time since the 2013 British Open.

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sports@latimes.com


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