An Absent Friend Casts a Shadow Over a Rookie’s Tour Milestone

“He’s extremely talented, and he’s going to work his way up into the top 10 in the world, in my opinion,” Spieth told reporters after being paired with Cantlay for the third round of the second PGA Tour playoff event.

When Cantlay, 25, won his first pro event in March 2013, at the Colombia Championship on the Web.com Tour, he finished seven strokes ahead of Spieth, who tied for fourth. But by the time Spieth won back-to-back major titles in 2015, Cantlay was dealing with a back injury, later diagnosed as a stress fracture, that would restrict him to six Tour starts between June 2013 and January 2017.

In February 2016, within weeks of being advised by his doctor to stop playing golf for the year, Cantlay was walking across an intersection in Newport Beach, Calif., around 1 a.m. He was a few feet behind Roth when his friend was struck by a car. Cantlay summoned the police and then supported Roth, who was unconscious, in his arms until an ambulance arrived. Roth, 24, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

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Cantlay on the third hole during the second round of the BMW Championship on Friday.

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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The driver, who had fled the area, was arrested several hours later. She pleaded guilty to felony hit and run, according to Roth’s mother, Michelle, and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Cantlay said he would never be able to shake the image of the accident. But he is trying to move on. “It sounds silly because it wasn’t that long ago,” Cantlay said, “but I’ve had some time to reflect on it and I have fond memories of Chris, obviously.”

He paused, as if thoughts were forming like cumulus clouds in his head. “Yeah,” he added, softly.

The BMW Championship was Cantlay’s 12th start of the season, and he has abbreviated his schedule to preserve his back. The Tour Championship, which begins Thursday, will be just the second time this season that Cantlay has played in consecutive weeks. But he has been efficient, making the cut in every tournament he entered. In his second start back, he finished second, and in his fourth, he tied for third place.

“I feel like taking a more limited schedule allows you to really bring it and give it your fullest attention when you do play,” he said.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year was Cantlay’s first tournament since…

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