I was rooting for Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson to halve the first playoff hole at the BMW Championship Sunday, mosey on to the next playoff hole, and play into the night at the most compelling golf tournament since the 2019 Masters (I think Tiger Woods won that).
Rahm buried an improbable 66-foot snake, Johnson missed a difficult but shorter putt, and the fight was stopped after one hole. Johnson forced the playoff with an improbable 43-foot, double-breaking bomb of his own on the 72nd hole.
Johnson is No. 1 in the world. Rahm is No. 2. How often do we get to see the two best golfers go head-to-head with a huge tournament on the line? Not often enough.
At the peak of his powers, Woods was rarely challenged. Phil Mickelson didn’t come close. Before Woods crashed his SUV into that fire hydrant in 2009 and the sordid details of his infidelity were revealed, he had won 14 (of his 15) majors to Mickelson’s three (of his five).
Vijay Singh won nine events in 2004 and held the top spot in the world rankings for 32 weeks in 2004-05 — while Woods was undergoing his third swing change since turning pro in 1997. Too bad they didn’t go head to head more often; they despised each other.
Sergio Garcia and Woods had plenty of battles, but it was mostly off the golf course, and Garcia usually came off as petulant in every war of words. Remember the 2006 British Open? Woods and Garcia were in the final pairing in the fourth round, Garcia dressed top to bottom in canary yellow. After a thorough dismantling of Garcia (67 to 73), Tiger tweeted to a friend, “I just bludgeoned Tweety Bird.”
Golf needs more rivalries and more Nos. 1 vs. 2. I could have watched Johnson and Rahm hit monster drives and bury incredible putts all night.
Other takeaways from the BMW Championship:
▪ TaylorMade was the other big winner Sunday. Rahm and Johnson are among the stars in its stable. Bet the equipment company wished the playoff went a little longer, too.
▪ I wouldn’t mind having Hideki Matsuyama’s short game for a weekend. Matsuyama hit just 22 of 56 fairways and just 37 of 72 greens in regulation and still managed a 2-under total and a tie for third. He got up and down from everywhere and was tops in strokes gained around the green. He was one of only five players under par for the week.
▪ Woods checked out with a 1-over-par 71 in the final round, 11 over for the tournament (T-51), and he looked lost. He was 62nd (out of 69 players) in strokes gained off the tee and 63rd in putting. With those numbers, he could have finished last. He was no match for the tight confines of Olympia Fields, and the US Open at Winged Foot (Sept. 17-20) might even be a tougher test.
▪ Third-biggest putt of Sunday belonged to Mackenzie Hughes, who needed a slippery 5-footer for par to make it to next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. More than the money, the perks for being among the top 30 include exemptions to all the majors and World Golf Championship events. “That putt was the greasiest, slimiest putt you ever want to have,” he said.
▪ Joaquin Niemann of Chile is about the size of your average high school sophomore and he was pounding drives well over 300 yards. His longest drive of the week was 376 yards (in the second round). He’s only 21 and he had the lead briefly Sunday at 4 under. He was No. 1 for the week in strokes gained tee to green.
▪ Joel Dahmen made it to the weekend and shot 66 Sunday for a T-20. Last weekend he was playing in a friendly money match at Thorny Lea in Brockton.
▪ Rory McIlroy and his wife are expecting their first child. McIlroy didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d withdraw from the lucrative Tour Championship if he got the call. “I’m going to play in many more Tour Championships, and it’s only going to be the birth of your first child once,” he said. “That trumps anything else.”
Jim Hoban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.