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Posted August 31, 2020 10:08 am
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Rahm channels frustrations into big win at BMW Championship

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    Jon Rahm, left, reacts after making his putt on the first playoff hole next to caddie Adam Hayes during the final round of the BMW Championship golf tournament at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Jon Rahm is no stranger to wild shifts in emotions, whether it was irritation from an absent-minded penalty that led to his only bogey of the weekend or his 65-foot birdie putt that capped an amazing victory at the BMW Championship.

The difference now is he enjoyed it.

All of it.

The shot that will be remembered at Olympia Fields was a putt in the playoff Sunday that was just over 65 feet from the hole and had to travel even farther to get there, across the 18th green toward a ridge and then down the slope toward the cup, 11 seconds of watching, hoping and celebrating.

Rahm wonders how different it might have been if not for his mental blunder.

That happened on the fifth hole Saturday, when he was five shots behind. He might never be able to explain how he could walk up to his golf ball on the green, pick it up and freeze upon realizing he never marked it. He feared even after a 66 to get back in the mix that one shot could cost him.

“I just hope I don't lose by one,” Rahm said that day. “I'm just going to say that. I just hope. And if I do, well, my fault.”

He allowed his mind to think back to the penalty while on the range Sunday afternoon after a 64, the best score of the week, and hearing that Dustin Johnson was one shot behind facing a birdie putt just inside 45 feet.

“I was like, that extra-shot cushion would be extremely nice right now, I'm not going to lie,” Rahm said. "But at the same time, it happened. I don't know if I would have won had it not happened. It kind of made me mad at myself, and I just went on with my focus after that and was able to play amazing golf.

“I can tell you after making that 6-footer for bogey, I was like, ‘OK, that’s it. No playing around. Go.' That's kind of what mentally did it for me.”

Rahm has always said he needs time to process success and failure, and this one could take a while. Even after it was over, and he posed with the BMW Championship and Western Golf Association trophies, part of him still felt like he was on the golf course in a playoff.

He looked like a winner when his tee shot on the par-5 15th sailed into the trees and ricocheted out into the rough, avoiding a penalty, and his third shot was a 6-iron from 218 yards to 10 feet for birdie. He followed that with a 30-foot birdie putt across the 16th green for a two-shot lead.

He feared for the worse when Johnson, down to his last shot, rolled in his improbable birdie putt down the slope on the 18th green for a 67 to force the playoff. That penalty shot looked as though it might be the difference when Johnson's drive on the 18th in the playoff hit a tree and came back to the fairway, and Rahm's shot from deep rough rolled out to the back of the green, leaving a putt so difficult that Rahm was hopeful of making par.

“Honestly, I hoped it would be a decent putt for par coming back and have a chance to keep the playoff going,” he said.

It was better than decent. It was perfect.

The heart rate never eased up as Rahm watched Johnson's 30-foot birdie putt track toward the cup until it peeled away by inches and Rahm was the winner.

“I still can’t believe what just happened,” Rahm said. "That stretch of waiting for DJ, him making the putt, going in the playoff, me making the putt, then trying to stay mentally in it just in case he made the last putt, it’s been a roller coaster. But so much fun. ... I set out to enjoy even the uncomfortable moments we had out there.

“And man, it was fun.”

Johnson took plenty away, too. He twice beat Rahm in 2017 in the span of a month at World Golf Championships, holding off a Rahm rally in the Mexico Championship and withstanding another ferocious comeback attempt in the Match Play.

For Johnson, it was his third straight tournament with the 54-hole lead. He shot 68 in the PGA Championship and was beaten by a 65 from Collin Morikawa, which featured the driver onto the 16th green at Harding Park for eagle. Johnson shot 67 at the BMW Championship and lost to a 65-foot birdie putt in a playoff.

Johnson held onto No. 1 in the world ranking and in the FedEx Cup, the latter meaning he will start the Tour Championship with a two-shot advantage.

Rahm now has multiple victories worldwide for the fourth straight year. What stands out from this year is winning on the two toughest tests — Memorial, where the greens were allowed to bake out because they were being replaced after the tournament, and Olympia Fields, which played as hard as a U.S. Open.

Rahm will get another U.S. Open test in three weeks at Winged Foot. The U.S. Open is billed as the ultimate test, most of that between the ears. Rahm looks more capable of that with each victory.