Tour Confidential: Rahm’s clutch putt, Tiger’s U.S. Open chances and Phil’s senior moment
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Jon Rahm’s 66-foot putt to win the BMW Championship, Tiger Woods, Sophia Popov and more.
1. Jon Rahm dropped a 66-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a playoff with Dustin Johnson to claim the BMW Championship on Sunday. Where does Rahm bomb rank among the all-time great putts, non-major division?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Similar territory to Rahm’s eagle bomb on the last at Torrey. Reminiscent of Tiger’s “better than most” at Sawgrass. Rahm got robbed in the sense that there were no fans. For the first time all year, I found myself missing spectators. Those last 25 minutes would have been good, loud fun.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Just ahead of Collin Morikawa’s putt at the Workday, I suppose, given it was double the length and difficulty! And ahead of Justin Thomas’ putt at the same event, given he didn’t win. One stat I saw declared that Rahm was 20 times as likely to three-putt as one-putt from there. That’s a solid make.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Tiger, 18, Sunday, Bay Hill, 2008, packed house, Arnold watching, four majors coming.
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): It’s up there, for sure. My favorite is a personal one. A few years back, I was 2-over through seven holes. On the 8th, a par-5, I hit a drive down the middle, then a 5-wood to maybe somewhere around 120 feet away. I putted the third. It went up a ridge and down a ridge, and then my buddy’s hands went up. Eagle. I parred 9. First and only time I shot even-par for nine holes. The all-time great putt, non-major division, TBH.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@alanshipnuck): Just slightly ahead of DJ’s crazy bender to force sudden death!
2. The 30-player field is set for the Tour Championship at East Lake next week. Several notables are on the outside looking in, including Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay and Adam Scott. Who are you most surprised didn’t make the cut?
Sens: Cantlay. Both Tiger and Scott had played such limited schedules heading into the playoffs. Tiger had battled back issues. Scott always battles the putter. Cantlay was the one with no obvious vulnerabilities.
Dethier: Ditto. Cantlay has seemed more or less rock-solid the past couple years, his results held together by elite ball-striking. Woods and Scott have played incomplete schedules and have plenty of excuses, but Cantlay feels like he should be there, without question.
Bamberger: Tiger. He’d like to get that Sam Snead record out of the way. Winning events on courses he knows with small fields is the best way to get that done. #letthelegendgrow #Clapton: let it grow, let it grow, let it blossom, let flow. If Tiger gets to East Lake, he has about a 10 percent chance of winning. But he had to get there.
Piastowski: Tiger, Cantlay and Scott are all surprising. They just didn’t play enough. Gary Woodland is also a bit of a surprise – six top 10s this year, the most of any player to not make Atlanta, and more than some who did.
Shipnuck: After Scott won at Riv, I thought he was going to have a renaissance. Alas, he never refound his mojo after the restart.
3. Does missing out on East Lake and having more time to rest improve Tiger’s chances at his next start, the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, or would he have benefited from four more rounds to work out the kinks?
Sens: At this point, I would think the time off is more likely to do him good than harm. Does he really need more reps at this point? Don’t think so.
Bamberger: At this point, I would think the time off is more likely to do him harm than good. Does he really need more reps at this point? I think so.
Dethier: How do you heal a wounded putter? Witchcraft and wizardry? To have a chance at Winged Foot, Woods needs to drive it in the fairway and he needs to putt it better. Maybe reps would help, but those both feel more metaphysical. He needs good vibes. Good juju. Maybe the familiar feel of his yacht bed at Winged Foot will help? East Lake or not feels irrelevant.
Piastowski: Only he knows for sure, right, so I’m believing it hurts him – he obviously wanted to play in the event and he has said repeatedly he needs the competition.
Shipnuck: Playing three weeks in a row is a non-starter for Tiger at this point so I’m glad he’s getting a week off. But I’d love to see him peg it at Silverado to straighten out his putting.
4. Sophia Popov won last week’s Women’s Open, but did not win the five-year LPGA exemption typically awarded to major winners, as she did not have full-time LPGA status entering the event. After some pushback on social media, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan defended the policy and said it would be reassessed after the season. Rules are rules, but in this case should an exception be made?
Sens: The decision doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s either worth an exemption, or it’s not. Her status heading in would seem irrelevant
Dethier: The rule doesn’t make sense! The enforcement of it makes slightly more. Whan’s explanation was clear-cut, rational and delivered without pretense, which seems simple once you see it but is so rarely done from league leaders. Hopefully he revisits in the offseason and makes an exception for all who qualify from recent years.
Bamberger: The rule does not make sense but neither does changing it retroactively.
Piastowski: Yes, the rule is there. But, I mean, is there really anyone out there who would protest this? She earned it. Popov won the LPGA’s biggest tournament of the year so far. it’s one of golf’s feel-good stories (right next to my answer in question 1). An exception here would make it feel better.
Shipnuck: I guess I’m getting old because I found Whan’s get-off-my-lawn/rules-are-rules monologue to be quite persuasive.
5. Phil Mickelson debuted on the Champions Tour and destroyed the Champions PGA Tour, shooting 22-under over three rounds and winning by four shots. (Tiger Woods speculated at the BMW Championship that Mickelson could win every event on the Champions.) With an eye on Winged Foot and Augusta, how much can you read into Mickelson’s form by his play on the senior circuit?
Sens: Not much. Mickelson had played some pretty strong golf on the regular Tour already this year. It’s pretty common for just-turned 50 stars to dominate when they debut on the senior circuit. The surprise would have been for him to show up in the Ozarks and NOT do well.
Bamberger: Absolutely agree with you, Josh. You can’t compare a wide-open short course with slow greens and easy pins against a field that is not at your level with Winged Foot for a U.S. Open or Augusta National for a Masters against the best players in the world. Plus, 54 holes. You gotta play 72 in majors. You have to get to the house. That’s HARD. I recall Bernhard winning a senior event by eight in a winter event in Florida. I was there. I asked Craig Stadler what, if anything, it said about Bernhard’s chances for the Masters. “Not a thing,” Stadler said.
Dethier: Disagree. You could play the easiest course in the world, and I would still be impressed if you shot 61 — so for Mickelson to do it with all that added pressure was super impressive. It was a reminder that when Phil’s feeling himself, he can still do something very special on the course. Winged Foot? I don’t see it. But I could see him making some noise at Augusta. …
Piastowski: Golf is a game of confidence. Winning, anywhere, was better than sitting at home, or getting pulverized by Olympia Fields.
Shipnuck: Phil driving it 350 yards and straight is a dangerous fellow. I can see him using the Senior Tour to rejuvenate his confidence and then take that with him to the flat-bellies.
6. Jon Rahm was assessed a bizarre penalty during Saturday’s third round of the BMW Championship when he accidentally picked up his ball on the 4th green before putting. What’s the worst mental lapse you’ve witnessed on a golf course?
Sens: Hmm. I’ve seen guys space out and drive carts into ponds. And a friend once took a practice swing without looking around him. Smashed his driver into the ankle of another player in the group. How that didn’t end in surgery, I’m not sure.
Dethier: On the course? Monsieur van de Velde comes to mind. Off the course, I’m obligated as a Massachusetts man to point out sitting Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon at the 2012 Ryder Cup. A damn shame!
Bamberger: Now that you live in Washington State, Dylan, I hope you will show the same allegiance to Ryan Moore and Kirk Triplett. I recall Phil Mickelson stopped a rolling putt with his putter head while playing in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2018. I believe that was a mental lapse, but maybe it was something else. Tom Watson thought it was funny.
Piastowski: Van de Velde. Man, that still hurts. And yet, whenever it’s replayed, I watch. The car crash effect, I guess.
Shipnuck: I was standing right there when Ian Woosnam teed off on Sunday at the Open with a chance to win … but had 15 clubs in his bag. D’oh!
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