The American Express: Patrick Cantlay leads into the weekend

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Cantlay battled through gusty winds on his back nine on Friday to take a one-shot lead in the American Express to win for the third time in four starts.

Leading after a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club with Lee Hodges in the first round, Cantlay shot a 68 at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course to finish 14-under 130.

“I putted really well today and didn’t do anything,” Cantlay said. “The greens were a bit chipped and it was difficult to make putts. But I rolled it really well and I rolled it the way I wanted, I just couldn’t get any to get in.

Tom Hoge finished second after a 66 on PGA West’s Stadium Course.

“I was really lucky that we got through 17 holes without the wind really picking up,” said Hoge. “Only our last hole, it got gusty.”

Joseph Bramlett, playing in the last group before the 10th tee at La Quinta, bogeyed the last two holes in high winds for a 67 to fall at 12 under in a five-man tie for third place.

“We bet on the entire back nine and I got a few of them right and a few of them wrong,” Bramlett said. “It’s just a kind of golf.”

Will Zalatoris shagged his last seven holes on the Nicklaus layout for a 61 to join Cameron Young (68), Lanto Griffin (65) and Greyson Sigg (67) at 12 under. Young played with Nicklaus and Griffin and Sigg at the stadium.

Fourth-placed Cantlay won the BMW Championship and Tour Championship in his last two starts last year to win the FedEx Cup, then opened this year with a fourth-place finish – at 26 under – in the Sentry tournament in Hawaii two weeks ago by master.

Last year in the desert, the 29-year-old former UCLA player finished with a stadium-record 61 to end a shot behind winner Si Woo Kim. Cantlay will play at the stadium for the last two days, with more wind expected on Saturday.

“It’s a course that suits my game,” Cantlay said. “We’ll see how it plays tomorrow with the stronger wind. …Control of your golf ball will be a premium tomorrow and keeping your golf ball in the right spot will be really crucial to scoring well.”

Hoge will play at the tree-lined La Quinta on Saturday.

“I feel better when I play La Quinta,” Hoge said. “Slightly more sheltered over there in the trees, slightly shorter golf course. You can play a little more conservatively from tee shots and just bring it into play and go from there.

Zulatoris finished the par 4 in ninth place with a birdie off the wrong fairway. The PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is making its debut this year.

“I just gave myself chances,” said Zatoris. “I was close hitting a lot and taking a few 20, 30 foot shots to keep the round going and of course the birdie on 9 from the wrong fairway is kind of the icing on the cake.”

The wind, which picked up when he was done, didn’t worry him.

“I live in Texas, so I’m used to it,” Zatoris said. “Actually, playing golf in the last few days without much wind was a bit unusual for me, so I’m looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”

Hodges stayed on 10 under after a 72 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Top finisher Jon Rahm was 8 under after a 70 in the Nicklaus layout. He won the tournament in 2018.

Kim was 4 under in his title defense after a 68 at Nicklaus.

Tournament host Phil Mickelson finished 155th in the 156-man field with 7 overs. He shot a 73 at Nicklaus after opening with a 78 at La Quinta.

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