Ranking PGA Tour’s best finishes in 2021 after Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau duel at BMW Championship

Written by on August 30, 2021

The final round of the BMW Championship on Sunday at Caves Valley Golf Club felt like a tournament unto itself. The best ones always do. Heck, the six-hole playoff between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau — which Cantlay won with an 18-foot putt on the 18th hole (and which they were playing for the fifth time that day) — certainly felt that way. It was reminiscent of last year’s BMW Championship, which included two of the greatest putts of the last decade from two of its best players, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm.

But it’s always easy in the moment to run with hyperbole and make declarations about what we’ve just seen. With a day to step back and really look at the calendar year, I wanted to see if the Cantlay-DeChambeau thriller really was the best finish of the season or if I was simply a prisoner of the moment. So I went back and ranked the very best finishes of 2021 — not the best tournaments, but the best finishes — to see where this one stacked up (spoiler: it is, indeed, very high).

Rick Gehman is joined by Greg DuCharme, Kyle Porter and Mark Immelman to break down and react to Patrick Cantlay’s victory over Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

 1. Jon Rahm’s U.S. Open one-two punch

This gets docked a bit because Jon Rahm was not in the final pairing, but his birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 were the back-to-back putts of the year. All the ingredients were there, too. We had a generational talent looking for his first major championship a few weeks after having to withdraw at the Memorial with COVID-19 and a diamond-encrusted leaderboard that made the OWGR look paltry. A tug-of-war day that was begging for somebody to create some history. Rahm did, and it’s a very easy No. 1 on this list.

2. Phil Mickelson’s improbable PGA Championship

Hear me out. This was not a great finish by any traditional definition. However, it was the most surreal ending to a tournament since Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters. From the moment Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot on the 17th hole until Jim Nantz hollered the now-famous “Phil defeats Father Time” line, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. 

I watched nearly every second of it happen, and I still could not fathom that it was happening. Maybe it was the drone shot over the Atlantic Ocean with so many fans surrounding the finish line at Kiawah. Maybe it was the double fist pump from Lefty when he finally allowed himself to think about what he had just done on the walk up No. 18. Maybe it was that entire week combined, but that was probably the least dramatic truly memorable finish I’ve seen in the last five years.

3. Cantlay-DeChambeau duel at Caves Valley

There were several great components of this finish, but here are the two that really stood out. First, it became quite clear early on the back nine that nobody else was going to make a run at either of these players. When DeChambeau told Cantlay to stop walking on the 14th, we pretty much knew one of those two golfers was going to win the event. That matters.

The second is that, stylistically, DeChambeau and Cantlay could not be more different. On the course, yes, but their personalities as well. DeChambeau gesticulates like a mime whose tights are on fire. Sloths emote more than Cantlay, who generated more fist pumps on his winning putt than perhaps he has in the rest of his career combined. Maybe this played into their very clear distaste for one another and a pair of handshakes that made DeChambeau’s relationship with Brooks Koepka look like a touchstone.

Add all that up, throw in some meme-able moments from DeChambeau, some truly preposterous putts from Cantlay and (on the 17th hole) one of the great dartboard scenes of the year, and this one has to rank just behind the major championships.

4. Homa takes hometown event

Max Homa’s victory in The Genesis Invitational at Riviera was perhaps the most meaningful one on this list outside of the major championships. From the iron Homa hit into No. 18 to missing the short putt that would have won it in regulation to nearly getting stymied behind a tree in the playoff to joyfully celebrating the one he always wanted to win the most, this was tremendous. Throw in the fact that Tony Finau came in second and could have won it early in the playoff, and this was easily the most memorable finish of the first part of the year.

5. Justin Thomas burning down TPC Sawgrass

It probably matters that this was Justin Thomas and not, say, Charley Hoffman. And it definitely matters that this was the Players Championship. However, I’ll never forget that closing run from J.T. He eagled the 11th to hit the top of the board, and then he hit that nasty slider off the tee on No. 16 that led to birdie. He capped it all off with a hooking runner on No. 18 that more or less ran along the bulkhead for about 50 yards before exiting the freeway and setting him up for a win. He beat Lee Westwood and DeChambeau, who bookended his final round with a topped drive on the fourth hole and a filthy eagle on the 16th.

6. English-Hickok eight-hole playoff

It wasn’t for everyone, but I thought the insanity at the Travelers Championship in June was fun. Neither guy could miss in the playoff. Sam Burns came out to watch and at one point was holding a CBS Sports camera so he could see what was happening with galleries in the way. Harris English was playing for the Ryder Cup. Kramer Hickok was playing for so many exemptions and the win of his life. The entire thing was as absurd as it was fun, and a somewhat sleepy finale at TPC River Highlands delivered at the very end (like it almost always does).

7. Brooks Koepka wins again in Phoenix

This one gets a little lost, but I’ll never forget that shot from Brooks Koepka on the 17th hole that won it. Throw in Xander Schauffele trying to claw his way toward his first win in two years, Jordan Spieth’s first true step outside of the desert he’d been wandering in for a long time and Koepka talking openly and emotionally about how hard he’s worked toward getting his body healthy and his game right again, and this one will age very well in future years.

Other considerations: Abraham Ancer-Burns at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Collin Morikawa at The Open, Morikawa-Cantlay at the Memorial, DeChambeau beating Lee Westwood at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Spieth takes Texas and Fianu’s win at The Northern Trust.

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