Tour Confidential: Did we just watch the greatest PGA Tour finish ever?

Patrick Cantlay salutes the crowd at Caves Valley after winning the BMW Championship.

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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 the the six-hole playoff between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, the Solheim Cup, the Ryder Cup and more. 

1. Patrick Cantlay edged Bryson DeChambeau on the sixth (!) hole of a sudden-death playoff at the BMW Championship to become the first player to win three times on the PGA Tour in the 2020-21 season. Lots to unpack, but we’ll start here: Given the stature of the players involved, the stakes (the top spot in the FedEx race heading into the Tour Championship) and the number of shots and putts both players needed to convert down the stretch (and did), where does this Sunday rank among PGA Tour finishes (non-major division) in the modern era?

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Sheesh, that is a lot to unpack. We’ve had epic fist-pumping putts from guys like Jon Rahm (this event last year) and Collin Morikawa (last year’s Memorial), but the way these guys traded blows for hours today made it the best duel in recent memory. The contrast in playing styles, the relentless runs of great shots interrupted only by occasional intriguing chinks in the armor … I’m having a hard time naming a recent showdown that was better. Tiger at the 2019 Tour championship seems like a different category, after all. This was good.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): That was ridiculously fun entertainment, especially with the fire-and-ice contrast and the tensions that were surely there after Bryson barked at Cantlay for walking while he was in pre-shot prep. It wasn’t Reed vs. McIlroy at the Ryder Cup. Not even close. Does any fan really really care who goes to East Lake with more points? But it sure made for great Sunday TV. 

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): I think it was the best sudden-death playoff the Tour has ever seen. Two players getting in trouble, hitting it tight, dropping putts in on top of each other. The only thing that could have made it better is if they were allowed to play other holes (though the finishing two were at least interesting). The best part was that it really wasn’t sudden death. They had been competing mostly against only each other the entire weekend. 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: It was outstanding. So was the 1968 playoff between Lee Elder, a 34-year-old Tour rookie in his, and Jack Nicklaus, a rising god in the game. Jack won on the fifth hole. Jack was a child of privilege, and Elder learned the game as a caddie and playing on baked-out courses. But this was good on Sunday at Caves. This was way up there.

2. If there were any lingering questions about Cantlay’s Ryder Cup credentials, he put them to rest at Caves Valley, where he gained a stunning 16.431 strokes on the field in putting for the week, including a torrid stretch late on Sunday (in regulation and the playoff) where he drained five consecutive do-or-dies. What did you observe or learn about Cantlay this week that he hadn’t seen or known before?

Dethier: This week served as a reminder that Cantlay loves being under the gun. He gets plenty of grief for his inscrutable flatline persona in big spots, but it’s clear he loves having that “Patty Ice” identity. In other words: The dude loves the moment.

Sens: Exactly. That putt on 18 to get himself into the playoff conveyed everything you need to know. 

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Zak: Definitely loves the moment. We will soon forget his three very (or even below) average approach shots — two in regulation and the first in the playoff — that made things appear like he had no chance to win. Great players rebound from bad shots with better shots. It was damn impressive.

Bamberger: I never realized how near-perfect his putting mechanics are. It gives me hope, to think that putting can be improved. I’ve seldom seen anybody make more straight putts. Other great putters — Seve, Jordan Spieth, Crenshaw — look like they’re doing some magical thing. Tiger, the best of them all, looks both like an engineer and an artist. But Cantlay on those soft Caves Valley greens looked like Vladimir Horowitz on a Steinway: every position, technical perfection.

3. We’ve seen (and discussed!) plenty of DeChambeau this year, but not so much in a match-play environment, which is, in effect, what the BMW became on Sunday with playing partners DeChambeau and Cantlay taking a commanding lead on the field. What jumped out at you about how DeChambeau managed his game in the decisive moments against his soon-to-be Ryder Cup teammate?

Bryson DeChambeau
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Dethier: (First, it’s easy to fall into the “match play” line of thinking and/or commentating, but it was truly still stroke play until the playoff, which can be an important difference.) DeChambeau obviously played spectacularly well all week, but his chipping — which had been middling — and his putting — which had been excellent — each faltered once the lights shone brightest. The good news is he’s clearly driving the ball very well. The intrigue will come when his short game is under pressure in front of the watchful eyes of rabid fans at Whistling Straits. …

Bamberger: I agree through 72 and then some. Cantlay had to maintain a stroke-play mindset because at match play it wasn’t a fair fight. So Cantlay had to keep doing his thing, knowing that his thing was good enough to stand right in there and maybe win. Meanwhile. Bryson showed, as Azinger said and said well, that he can bully the course. Especially when he has the honor. It takes a very strong mind not to be put off by that. Few have it.

Sens: Bryson’s power was a spectacle, per usual. But it was hard not to notice how wildly off he was on some of his distances. That 6-iron approach on 16 in regulation came up amateur-distance short. That’s obviously nitpicking the performance of a guy who shot 27-under for the week. But it will be something worth watching at Whistling Straits. 

Zak: The driving was so good, it makes you wonder if Steve Stricker can get Kerry Haigh to set up the Ryder Cup to play to DeChambeau’s strength, literally, which seemingly cannot be matched by anyone in the world. Caves Valley in the rainy heat is not windy Whistling Straits in September in Wisconsin, but it sure makes you think about the thin margins that lead to matches won. 

4. In the second round of the BMW, DeChambeau shot a 12-under 60 — but missed a chance at a magical 59 when he missed a 6-footer left of the hole on 18. On the third-round broadcast, analyst Justin Leonard described how he had never felt more nerves than he did while once putting for that score. To most players, how do you suppose the pressure of a 59 putt stacks up against other big-pressure moments?

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Dethier: Uniquely difficult because you’re thinking about your score — like, the actual number — rather than merely trying to beat the rest of the field and post a low number. So I can see how you’d get out of sequence there. My approach is to stay far, far away from putts for 59 to avoid the potential embarrassment of missing them.

Sens: If it’s anything like the pressure I’ve felt putting for a 79, then it must be paralyzing. 

Zak: It has to be pretty darn high. You probably don’t think about 59 until about 3-4 hours into your round. And you tell yourself not to think about it until you reach the 18th hole. And then probably not until you’re on the green … and suddenly that moment hits you. It has to. No other putt, for most pros, has ever felt uniquely like a putt for 59. So I get it … I think?

Bamberger: It’s not just the putt, it’s the two or three shots leading to the putt. I caddied some for Al Geiberger, years after he became the first player to break 60 on Tour. First of all, what a gent and what a swing. As he described the round, typically to pro-am playing partners, all 59 shots came out of a dream. Like he was on auto-pilot. Like the ball was 12 feet from the hole, hook putt, easy read, before he got over the approach shot. I never had the feeling, listening to Al, that he felt pressure, per se. He was going low and whatever it would be it would be. I’d like to ask him that exact question sometime.

5. This week, the Solheim Cup kicks off at Inverness in Ohio. The U.S. side will feature eight of the top 30 players in the world, headlined by No. 1 Nelly Korda, and are the betting favorites (-200, according to BetMGM). But if we’ve learned anything from Solheim and Ryder Cups past, the odds don’t mean much. Two questions: Who ya got, and who is primed to be the breakout star of the event?

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Dethier: Team USA is going to roll. On paper, they’re a top-heavy squad, but I like young stars like Yealimi Noh to introduce herself to the team golf world. And watch out for Leona Maguire on Team Europe — she’s coming in with a hot hand.

Sens: Maguire is a great call for a break-out star. But yeah — on paper, the U.S. is rightly the big favorite. 

Zak: Team USA is NOT going to roll. Don’t be silly, Dylan. Team Europe has shown better form of late, so they’ll keep it close. I think Madelene Sagstrom is the breakout star. She’s been really, really good of late. Ultimately, the Americans win from one of the final three singles matches.

Bamberger: Completely agree, Sean. Don’t see either team winning by much over a point. As for Sagstrom, she looks to be a star on the rise. She looks strong and athletic and confident through the bag. 

6. We haven’t seen much of Tiger Woods since his car accident six months ago, but this week — which marks the 25th anniversary of Woods turning pro at the Greater Milwaukee Open — will bring reminders of where his professional greatness began. From that quarter-century stretch of mind-bending golf from Woods, which single shot/putt most sticks with you?

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Dethier: The putt to force the playoff at Torrey Pines in the ‘08 U.S. Open. It nearly missed. It was so close to missing. And yet there was never any chance that it would. Tiger became a myth. And then he kept becoming one again, over and over.

Sens: It’s a bit like trying to pick a favorite Beatles tune. Torrey, of course. That hang-on-the-lip chip-in on 16 Augusta. His point at the putt as it dropped for birdie against Bob May at Valhalla. Or maybe that iron from the fairway bunker at the Canadian Open. And on. And on. 

Zak: I think it’s the chip on 16 at Augusta. I struggle to imagine a more famous golf shot. TV viewing at its zenith. And cable TV at that. The most famous athlete on the planet getting himself into trouble and creating a freaking commercial out of one shot. The millions of dollars of supposed ad revenue on a Masters broadcast. A 50-foot chip that lasts 16 seconds? It’s Hollywood fiction type stuff!

Bamberger: I’m not holding myself to this forever because I have a 100 in mind, but for sheer talent and audacity, try out this. Mexico, 2019.

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