Hadwin made a brave par on the 72nd hole at the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course to defeat Cantlay by one shot after the 24-year-old American was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker and eventually took outright second.
Hadwin is a Web.com Tour graduate who shot 59 earlier this year while Cantlay was a ‘can’t miss’ contemporary of Jordan Spieth whose short career has been plagued by injury and personal tragedy.
Cantlay is playing this season on a medical exemption after turning professional in 2012 but has played just 22 events in the five years since as he recovered from back injuries.
Last February, he also witnessed his best friend and long-time caddie, Chris Roth, die in a hit and run accident just metres away as the pair walked to a local restaurant for dinner.
The California native is no stranger to success having won at every level of the game but after competing in just one tournament since 2015, this was an extremely impressive performance.
Cantlay received a sponsor’s invite to play the tournament at the Innisbrook Resort and made the most of the opportunity, collecting 300 of the 389 FedEx Cup points he requires to regain full PGA Tour status.
But while the young American rightly attracted the bulk of the attention Sunday, it was overnight leader Hadwin who quietly went about his business in the final round to eke out a hard-fought victory.
Having amassed a comfortable four-stroke lead early in the back nine, the tournament looked to be over but Cantlay’s tenacity, and a rare mistake from Hadwin, quickly turned that around.
An ugly double-bogey at the 16th from Hadwin, the first of the infamous ‘Snake Pit’ closing stretch at the Copperhead Course, saw the pair tied for the lead with two holes to play.
Having sliced his drive into water at the 16th, Hadwin overcorrected with his iron off the tee at the par-3 17th but found the left edge of the putting surface and both he and Cantlay made par.
With two good drives at the difficult 18th, it came down to the approach shots and it was Cantlay who blinked with a mishit into the front bunker.
Hadwin’s second nestled against the collar at the back of the green but he had, by far, the easier third.
The Canadian put the result all but beyond doubt when, after Cantlay had splashed out to 15 feet, he bellied a wedge to tap-in range and the win.
“I fully expected Patrick to make that putt,” Hadwin told the television broadcast just moments after the win.
“I said yesterday, I just wanted a chance to win coming up the last and I had that chance. I thought we were going to have to make birdies to win it.
“But I’m just lucky that one-footer wasn’t one and a half feet, that’s all I know.”
The win was Hadwin’s first on the PGA Tour and he will now earn a start at next month’s Masters at Augusta.
While Hadwin was all smiles, it was a less than stellar week for the Australian contingent in Florida.
Queenslanders Rod Pampling and Cameron Smith were the only two to make the cut with Pampling taking top honours at T41.
Smith shot weekend rounds of 72-72 to finish T49 while John Senden, Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers, Steven Bowditch and Geoff Ogilvy all missed the cut.
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