The FedEx Cup playoffs bring the curtain down on the PGA Tour season and, as the penultimate event of the playoffs, the BMW Championship is a hugely important tournament. The elite field who contest the BMW Championship every year is made up of only the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup standings, each of whom is jostling for position ahead of the decisive Tour Championship the following week.
This event is a relatively new one to the golfing schedule and for most of its history since being introduced in 2007, the BMW Championship has led a nomadic existence. Olympia Fields, Medinah and Crooked Stick are just three of the high class venues to play host, having held multiple majors and huge events over the years between them. Wherever the BMW Championship is taking place, it always requires a world class display of golf to win and provides fans with a brilliant spectacle as the best, most in-form players slug it out on iconic courses.
2022: Patrick Cantlay
In winning the BMW Championship for the second time in as many years Patrick Cantlay became the first player to successfully defend a FedEx Cup playoff event. To make Cantlay’s feat even more impressive, his wins came at different golf courses as the 2022 BMW Championship took place at Wilmington Country Club for the first time.
The history books will only mark that this was Cantlay’s eighth PGA Tour title. Those watching on will know that this was no straightforward win though. Wilmington Country Club was a very challenging test all week long, as players struggled to deal with the distance balls were travelling along the ground and some unpredictable bounces. Cantlay somehow benefited from a good bounce just when he needed it on the 17th hole on Sunday. That slice of luck set up a birdie chance which he duly took before a regulation par on the final hole saw him beat Scott Stallings by one shot.
Cantlay didn’t hide from the fact that luck played a part in his win but he clearly felt as though the quality of his play meant he was deserving of some good fortune. “I played a lot of great golf this week,” said Cantlay in his post-round media duties. “I hit a lot of solid shots then I got a couple of breaks.”
2021: Patrick Cantlay
It’s always intriguing when a new course is used by the PGA Tour. Players, pundits and fans alike were unsure what to expect when the BMW Championship moved to Caves Valley Golf Club but it became clear that this was far from a tough test for the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup rankings. Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau could not be separated after 72 holes having both reached a remarkable score of -27.
Despite a clash of personalities between these two with neither being the choice of the other to spend an afternoon of golf with, they had to play 18 tetchy holes side by side on Sunday. While Cantlay had one of the best rounds of putting ever seen on the PGA Tour, DeChambeau missed four putts that would have allowed him to win the tournament. Cantlay almost inevitably holed another putt from 15 feet on the sixth playoff hole for birdie which DeChambeau could not match despite hitting a better approach shot yet again.
This was a win for accuracy and consistency over power. For all that DeChambeau can rightly feel he deserved to win, world-class putters are always difficult to beat in matchplay scenarios. Cantlay’s performance sets him up nicely for the Tour Championship and the upcoming Ryder Cup.
2020: Jon Rahm
Golf fans who want to silence critics of the sport who claim that it is boring need only to show the closing stages of the 2020 BMW Championship. Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson were playing in different groups in the final round of the tournament but were locked in a battle for the win on Sunday. When Johnson’s approach shot finished 45 feet away from the hole on the 18th green it looked for all the world as though Rahm’s one shot advantage would prove enough for the win. However, Johnson somehow managed to hole the putt, forcing a playoff.
The noise that came from Johnson and his caddie when the putt dropped in almost made it sound as though fans weren’t absent from Olympia Fields. It was certainly loud enough for Rahm to know exactly what had happened. The Spaniard didn’t allow himself to be deflated by having victory potentially stolen from him. Instead, he gathered himself for the playoff and only a short while later it was he who was celebrating after a holing a seemingly impossible putt.
Rahm’s putt was 20 foot longer than Johnson’s and had at least two changes in direction but unbelievably he was able to judge the line and pace to perfection to win the BMW Championship at the first playoff hole. As well as delight, Rahm also felt more than a little bit of relief as he sealed the win despite being penalised one shot on Saturday for picking up his ball on the green without marking it.
2019: Justin Thomas
A playoff event is not a bad place to earn your 10th PGA Tour title. Just ask Justin Thomas. He played some stunning golf – including a round of 61 on Saturday – to win the BMW Championship by three shots and put himself in pole position to win the FedEx Cup at East Lake.
Despite the quality of his golf and a rapidly growing trophy cabinet which includes some of the most highly coveted trophies in the sport, Thomas admitted to nerves on Sunday. “I was really nervous today,” he said after the round. “It’s hard to play with a lead.” Moreover, there is the old adage about the difficulty of following up a brilliant round of golf with another of the same quality and although he had to scrap more than on Saturday, Thomas’ closing round of 68 was nothing to be sniffed at (only eight players fared better) and proved good enough for a three shot victory over Patrick Cantlay.
A couple of Thomas missteps coincided with Cantlay putting his foot on the accelerator around the same time saw the difference between the two men go from six to two shots. The tournament could have gone one of two ways at that point and it is to Thomas’ great credit that he dug in, found some birdies and put the BMW Championship to bed.
2018: Keegan Bradley
Perhaps the only thing tougher in golf than working your way up to the top of the sport is doing it all again after things have gone bad. There must have been times when Keegan Bradley doubted if he would ever again be competitive at the top level given the various problems he suffered with his game. However, he showed tremendous perseverance and dedication alongside his coach Darren May to work on his golf swing and putting technique and it all paid off at Aronimink Golf Club with this victory in the 2018 BMW Championship where he edged past Justin Rose in a playoff.
Chief among Bradley’s problems over the years is the forced transition away from using a belly putter. As he put it in Pennsylvania, “I had to really sit down and focus on my putting stroke, which was something I had never done.” That focus paid off spectacularly at Aronimink where Bradley topped the field for strokes gained putting. His long game is of such high quality that any time Bradley has a good week on the greens he can be expected to contend and when everything clicks the 2011 PGA Championship winner showed that he is a serious threat even to the very best players in the world.
2017: Marc Leishman
If you are going to find form at any time of the season, the PGA Tour playoffs is the time to do it. The riches available at each of the playoff events and especially at the Tour Championship mean that a good stretch of golf in these few weeks can set players up for life and although Marc Leishman is not exactly struggling for money, he would have been delighted to head to East Lake with a chance of winning the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus courtesy of his win in the 2017 BMW Championship.
This was not just any win for the affable Australian. He kicked off his week in superb style with a 62 on Thursday which was three shots better than the next best Rickie Fowler. Leishman’s lead at the top of the leaderboard was to remain throughout the tournament in what is known as a wire to wire win.
Justin Rose was the only player to come close to challenging Leishman on Sunday. The Englishman was never better than two shots back though as Leishman showed no sign of cracking. The nature of this win was all the more impressive given that Leishman had thrown away a two-shot lead in the closing stages of the Dell Technologies Championship. Afterwards, he admitted that there were scars from that disappointment but that it had only increased his determination to win.