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Pebble played an important role in Cantlay's comeback from injury

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Patrick Cantlay played Pebble Beach Golf Links for the first time with his father when he was 12.

It was a special memory.

So was his tie for ninth at the AT&T Pebble Beach in 2013, his first top 10 as a professional.

Even his tie for 48th in this tournament was memorable three years ago, because he proved something to himself in making his return from a back injury that derailed his career for almost three years.

“In a weird way, it was an accomplishment to finish a golf tournament, just because I hadn’t played in one for so long,” Cantlay, 27, said. “I was just happy to play a whole golf tournament and not have any serious pain.

“It gave me confidence going forward that I hadn’t really lost much, and I was still the player that I used to be.”

A California kid who starred at UCLA, Cantlay looks poised for big things again. At No. 8 in the world, he continues to impress the most discerning eyes with his rebuilt game.

“By the end of 2020, he’ll be No. 1,” NBC and Golf Channel analyst Paul Azinger predicted at year’s start.

Chances to make the Ryder Cup and Olympics ride with Cantlay’s profile soaring again. He sees  his comeback at Pebble Beach as a foundation for those possibilities.

“There are so many big events between now and those two events,” he said. “The way to get there is to focus on all of the events between now and then. Those would be big honors and they’re definitely big things I would like to do. They’re goals of mine, to make those teams.”

If Azinger is right, those won’t be all that end up as highlights for Cantlay this year.