Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson. Pic: Getty Images/ PGA Tour
Aug 31: Less than 20 minutes after Dustin Johnson drained an unbelievable 42-footer double-breaking birdie putt to force a play-off with Jon Rahm in the final round of the BMW Championships, the Spaniard answered with an even bigger 66-footer birdie to grab the Trophy at Olympia Fields.
Johnson, who led or shared lead for a good part of the day, was less than half that distance away, but failed to hole his birdie putt to extend the play-off.
It was a battle of magical birdie putts – first one in the regulation play by Johnson and the second by Rahm in the extra hole and Rahm walked away the winner. The battle continues next week at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
It was a dramatic day as a good number of players were in the running, including Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who settled for joint third place for the second successive year at the BMW Championship. Matsuyama, tied with Joaquin Nieman, finished two shots behind winner Rahm and Johnson.
Johnson remained No. 1 in the FedExCup standings while Rahm moved up to No. 2 as the TOUR Championship begins this week. Johnson will start at 10-under, while Rahm begins at eight-under in the staggered start at the Grand Finale. No. 3 in the FedExCup standings, Justin Thomas will start at seven-under.
What of Tiger Woods? He shot his fourth straight over par round. Woods made a double bogey on his 17th hole for a 71, making this the first time he was over par in all four rounds of a tournament since the Bridgestone Invitational in 2010.
It also meant Woods failed to reach the TOUR Championship for the second straight year. He now gets two weeks off before the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, and Olympia Fields proved to be a good test for that.
If Rahm had lost the play-off he would have been left ruing his third round blunder, when he picked up his ball on the fifth green without marking it. That led to a one-shot penalty which was also his only bogey of the weekend.
On Sunday, Rahm blitzed through the final round in six-under 64, the lowest round of the week on way to 4-under 276.
Johnson, who led after 54 holes for his third straight tournament, birdied three of his opening four holes to open a three-shot lead. He dropped shots on eighth and tenth but a birdie on 15th brought him back into the picture even as Rahm, playing ahead of him, set the target at 4-under.
Johnson needed a birdie on one of his last three holes to catch up with Rahm, but that eluded him on 16 and 17. On the 18th, he was left facing a curling 42 foot three inch putt which would force a play-off with Rahm, who was warming up at the range.
As the ball took off on its nearly 15-second journey over a double break before dropping into the cup, the sparse crowd comprising players, caddies and officials, broke into a roar that reached Rahm, who immediately understood its meaning. Johnson’s 67 as against Rahm’s 64 meant a tie at 4-under.
In the play-off, as Rahm put his second shot on the far end of the green, some 66 feet from the cup and a two-putt was what looked likely. Yet he found the ridge perfectly and the drop from there took the ball on its journey into the cup. Johnson missed his putt and Rahm was the champion.
Niemann, 21, from Chile, also made a spirited run with a 67 and was in the lead until a bogey on the 14th. He tied for third with Hideki Matsuyama, who had a 69.
Tony Finau closed with a 65 to finish three behind. They were the only five players under par at Olympia Fields.
Matsuyama entered the final day tied for the overnight lead with Johnson but a closing 1-under 69 in the penultimate FedExCup Playoffs event left him frustrated in third place.
Rahm said, “I knew how good DJ has been playing. I was expecting nothing else,” Rahm said. “I was fully confident it was going to come into a playoff and hoped to win it. Never did I think I would make another 50-, 60-footer, a couple of breaks in there, to end up winning it.”
“I would have rather not be in the playoff, but no, given that, yeah, probably the closest, best thing. I certainly don’t want the stress that goes along with seeing DJ’s ball in the fairway and then my ball in the rough and he hits it to 30 feet, I hit it to 60 and what’s going on in my mind, but if you’re going to tell me I’m going to make a 66 footer to win a tournament I’ll take that any day. I think we all want the flashy finish, maybe not the stress that comes with it, but I set out with myself to enjoy even the uncomfortable moments we had out there today, and man, it was fun. Pretty close to the best way to finish it.”
Johnson was disappointed to miss out on a second straight victory after a dominating 11-shot triumph at THE NORTHERN TRUST last week. “Yeah, obviously the goal was to be No. 1 going into East Lake, and I am still No. 1. Yeah, I mean, I like my position. I feel like the game is in really good form right now. I’m really, really pleased with all aspects of the game. I’m really looking forward to next week and a chance to win the FedExCup.”
Reaching the Tour Championship brings its own benefits – the top 30 are assured spots in at least three majors next year, along with the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to start the year. The winners-only event is taking the top 30 in the FedExCup from having lost three months of the season to the COVID-19 pandemic.