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Patrick Cantlay down, but not out

CROMWELL, Conn. -- "The amateur is coming."

That's what fans around the 8th green at TPC River Highlands said Saturday about UCLA's Patrick Cantlay. What they got to see was a 19-year-old earn valuable experience on the professional stage.

Granted, his 2-over-par 72 on a course that was playing soft with lift, clean and place conditions might not instill high hopes for becoming the first amateur winner on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in 1991. That didn't deter his father, Steve Cantlay, from being optimistic Saturday evening, despite his son trailing 54-hole leader Fredrik Jacobson by 5 shots.

"There's another good round out here for him," Steve Cantlay said. "... no one will really be focusing on him hopefully [on Sunday] and if he gets off to a good start, anything can happen."

One just has to look to last year, when Bubba Watson came from 6 strokes back through three rounds to claim his first PGA Tour title.

After making the turn at even with the birdie on the par-4 ninth hole, Cantlay took some lumps down the stretch.

The 2011 Jack Nicklaus award winner for the nation's top collegiate golfer found the water twice from the tee -- on the par-5 13th and par-4 17th -- just a day after shooting a course-record 60. Those two swings cost him more than the two bogeys he carded, especially since he eagled No. 13 in both of the first two rounds.

The golf axiom goes, one of the hardest things to do is back up a great round with another great round. Toss in the fact that it was done by a youngster who will have the golf ball, scorecard and pin flag from his Friday 60 enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and it gets exponentially more difficult.

Even after that challenging third round where he stands tied for 10th, his confidence was still high.

"I'm in a good position and I probably would have taken it at the beginning of the week," Cantlay said. "So I'm in a good spot and I'm going to play well tomorrow."

He'll tee off at 1 p.m. ET with D.J. Trahan.

As for what the UCLA standout learned from playing in the final group on Saturday in a PGA Tour event, he said he didn't glean anything in particular from the round.

His father, on the other hand, thought he might.

"I'm sure he'll come away with something to know it's not that big a deal to come out here and play on Saturday," Steve Cantlay said.

Although Patrick Cantlay won't be playing for the cash -- if he were to win, the second-place finisher would get first-place money -- he still said Saturday that turning pro, no matter what the outcome this week, is not part of the plan.

"We'll see what happens in the future, but as of now, I'm planning on staying amateur for four years [of college]," he said.

So how will the low amateur from last week's U.S. Open handle playing amid the pros in the final round when there are serious stakes on the line?

According to UCLA coach Derek Freeman, one of the UCLA sophomore-to-be's biggest strengths is between the ears.

"He's got a 30-year-old golfing mind," Freeman said Saturday. "... Strategy-wise like that, he's extremely well versed and mature."

Cantlay will need to harness all that mental toughness Sunday if he wants to get his name into the record book again.

Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.