Patrick Cantlay wasn’t supposed to even have a chance at the end of the BMW Championship.
With the crowd at its critical mass as he and Bryson DeChambeau reached the 17th tee at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., Cantlay’s back was already against the wall. He trailed by one after DeChambeau’s birdie at the 16th and needed to make something happen. Instead, his approach at the par-3 came up short and dribbled back into the water. Fans released a collective shout of disbelief; all Cantlay could do was saunter to the drop zone. It seemed like he had blown his chance.
But the roller coaster was just beginning. Cantlay stuffed his recovery shot from the drop zone to 8 feet, then DeChambeau stubbed his chip from the rough short of the green. Both players made bogey and the margin remained at one. Cantlay holed a 22-foot birdie putt on the 18th and watched as DeChambeau’s 13-footer for the win missed wide.
Then came a roller coaster of a playoff — DeChambeau missed three different putts to win, including a 6-footer, then he saved a par on 18 after a tee shot in the water, then both players stuffed their approaches on the 17th to match birdies on the fifth hole of sudden death.
On the sixth playoff hole, Cantlay drained his birdie putt from 17 feet, 6 inches, putting the pressure on DeChambeau to match him. And when DeChambeau’s 8-foot, 9-inch putt slid past the hole on the low side, Cantlay was suddenly the BMW Championship winner and the new No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings with one playoff event remaining.
“I’m a little tired but very happy,” Cantlay said. “I played really well all week. At the beginning of the week I didn’t realize it would take that many under par to just force a playoff. But I hit a lot of good shots today, and it was just enough.”
Cantlay and DeChambeau, who began the day three shots clear of third place, kept their distance from the chasers all day. Sungjae Im finished solo third at 23-under par, four shots behind, while Rory McIlroy took fourth at 22-under and Erik van Rooyen placed fifth at minus-21.
DeChambeau’s 27-under showing, highlighted by a scorching 60 in Round 2, is the best performance in relation to par ever by a non-winner in PGA Tour history.
This was a two-horse race from the start. The final pairing stretched the margin over the field by taking advantage of the early holes — Cantlay birdied Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5, while DeChambeau scored on 1, 4 and 6. Cantlay bogeyed the ninth to fall into a tie at 24-under, then DeChambeau took the lead at the 10th before the pair matched birdies at 11 and 12. Cantlay rolled in a 22-footer at the 14th and the pair was tied again, now at 27-under.
The dramatic ride began in earnest at the par-5 16th, as Cantlay missed the fairway with his drive and layup and ultimately left himself a 9-foot par putt. After DeChambeau slipped in a 13-foot downhiller for birdie, Cantlay was in serious danger of losing two shots in one fell swoop. His putt lipped in, giving him extra life headed to the 17th. It looked like the tournament was over as the players walked off that tee box. Instead, they played for nearly two more hours and Cantlay snagged the trophy.
Of the chasers, only Sergio Garcia made a serious run early, starting birdie-eagle to get within one at 20-under and adding a birdie at the fourth. His work was undone quickly with a double-bogey at the reachable par-4 fifth, though, and he finished tied for sixth place on the final leaderboard with Dustin Johnson at minus-20.
Cantlay is now the only player with three wins in this PGA Tour season — he won the Zozo Championship last October and captured the Memorial Tournament in a playoff in June (although that tournament is most notable for the withdrawal of Jon Rahm, the commanding 54-hole leader, to a positive COVID-19 test). He’s taken down plenty of big names in his victories, and now he’ll stand above everyone to start next week’s Tour Championship.
He did it with the putter, gaining 14.58 strokes on the field with the flat stick this week. That’s the most ever since the inception of ShotLink Data in 2004. Cantlay made 498 feet, 9 inches of putts across the 72 holes of regulation; per Justin Ray, that’s less than 50 feet short of the all-time record. It was somehow enough to make up for a relatively pedestrian ball-striking week, as Cantlay merely gained 1.24 strokes tee-to-green.
A win in this fashion, however, requires plenty more than a hot putter. This took guts, fortitude and patience. And Cantlay, as ever-stoic as he may seem, delivered.
“I’m as focused as I can be on every single shot, and I try not to let my mind get past the moment that I’m in, and maybe that’s why I come across a little sedated out there,” Cantlay said. “But I’m locked in, and I’m as focused as I can be. Then I kind of let the chips fall where they do. I try not to get caught up in being out-driven 45 yards or whatever it is.
“I just try and lock in and do my absolute best in that moment, and my best is pretty good.”
Three Final Things
1. Every single player finished under par this week, an incredibly rare circumstance on the Tour. It’s happened once this season, but that was in the 42-man Tournament of Champions in January; this is the first time nobody’s been over par in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Caves Valley played incredibly soft all week thanks to heavy doses of rain in the leadup to the tournament, and on the PGA Tour, soft means scorable — the field average was 3.55 under par in the final round and 2.80 under for the tournament. Championship golf certainly isn’t quite the same when bogeys are so few and far between, and many believe the playoffs should prioritize tougher tests than this. Even critics of the course, though, had plenty of reason to enjoy the finish.
2. Cantlay is officially on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with this victory, although he had certainly done enough to secure one of the six captain’s picks even had he not pulled out the win. He joins DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas as automatic qualifiers.
Captain Steve Stricker will make his six picks after the Tour Championship. Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth seem like virtual locks, and Daniel Berger and Harris English are the next two in the points standings. Patrick Reed — who’s the 30th man in next week’s field but was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia this week — is the wild card here; if he’s not the last pick, options like Webb Simpson, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns or Jason Kokrak make sense at Whistling Straits. (Phil Mickelson doesn’t make sense, but he’s also the PGA Champion from this year, somehow.)
With a deep talent pool, plenty of deserving players find themselves on the bubble. With this win, Cantlay won’t have to sweat that anymore.
3. Garcia and van Rooyen played their way into next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta on the strength of their finishes this week. Charley Hoffman and Max Homa, who entered the week 29th and 30th in the FedEx Cup standings, fell out with lackluster showings.
It’s been a multi-week run from van Rooyen, who was 139th in the standings before winning the alternate-field Barracuda Championship in August and finishing solo seventh at last week’s Northern Trust. He rose from 76th to 45th with that result, but still needed another great week and was projected to come up short entering Sunday. All he did, then, was birdie five of his first seven holes and two of his last three for a bogey-free 65 — just enough for solo fifth and for a spot in next week’s field.
Garcia needed a similarly great week, but was much closer to the lead entering the final round and at one point seemed like a threat to the final pairing. Ultimately, even after playing his last 14 holes Sunday in 1-over, he did enough to jump 16 spots to 28th in the standings.
Both K.H. Lee and Alex Noren came to Caves Valley’s 18th hole with chances to punch their tickets to East Lake, but Lee’s second shot found the penalty area and Noren couldn’t scramble out of a greenside bunker. The two finished 31st and 33rd, respectively. That means Reed hangs on to the last spot, and if he can’t go, next week’s field will be just 29 players.
Photo Credit: Charles Cherney/Western Golf Association