Rahm, Johnson put on a spectacle in advance of Tour Championship

Jon Rahm reacts accordingly after making a putt longer than "War and Peace" on the first playoff hole at the BMW Championship Sunday.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

Combined ShapeCaption
Jon Rahm reacts accordingly after making a putt longer than "War and Peace" on the first playoff hole at the BMW Championship Sunday.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

Sunday evening, they posted the marquee for the upcoming Tour Championship at East Lake and the names were custom made for big lettering and bright lights. How’s this for a wonderful symmetry of stardom at work:

World’s No. 1 Dustin Johnson will come in the top seed for the season-ending event that is scheduled for a Friday start and Monday finish. With the staggered scoring system implemented a year ago, he’ll start the Tour Championship at 10 under.

World’s No. 2 Jon Rahm will likewise be the second seed in the chase for the FedEx Cup championship and the mere $15 million that goes with it. Rahm wrapped up that very comfortable position — he’ll start 8 under Friday at East Lake — by canning a 66-foot putt in the first hole of sudden death to beat Johnson in Sunday’s playoff semifinal, the BMW Championship near Chicago. He may not require a ticket to fly to Atlanta, preferring to float all the way here after a finish that was just this side of breathtaking.

Between Johnson and Rahm, there’ll be more swagger in town than in any three given Quentin Tarantino movies.

(Oh, and by the way, the world’s No. 3, Justin Thomas, also will be the third seed this upcoming week, starting at 7 under. Each of the world’s top 10 will be invited to attend at East Lake. And for good measure, Billy Horschel, who endeared himself to the Georgia audience by doing the Florida Gator chomp after winning in 2014 got in as the 30th and final player in the field.)

As an appetizer to the final, Rahm and Johnson staged a marvelous duel Sunday where putts of great distance fell like the summer rain. If the action in Atlanta is nearly as intriguing, then it’s going to be must-see TV.

Such a shame no gallery will be admitted to the course that served as Bobby Jones’ golf incubator to see what comes next. Blasted coronavirus.

Rahm would have won outright if not for the momentary brain freeze that seized him in Saturday’s third round, when he suddenly thought he was playing a practice round at a muni course. He picked up his ball on the fifth green without first marking it and incurred a one-stroke penalty.

He began Sunday three shots off the lead, and put himself in the playoff with a final-round 64, the lowest round of the week on a sadistically tough layout at Olympia Fields.

And Rahm would have won outright if someone other than Johnson stood over the double-breaking 42-foot birdie putt on No. 18. His make there forced the playoff.

“I made an unbelievable putt, got in the playoff and then Jon made an even more ridiculous putt on top of me,” Johnson said afterward.

Leading the way to Atlanta is the world’s most relaxed runaway train, upon which they serve cocktails and canapes even as it barrels through the station. When playing as Johnson has for the past month — winning a week ago by 11 strokes — he conveys this unusual combination of expressionless calm and killer intent. He is a quiet stampede. A tranquil tsunami.

That seemingly irresistible force is bearing down on Atlanta next, the clear and present favorite to win something he very much desires — a FedEx Cup/Tour Championship title. Get between him and the playoff finale at your own peril.

No one has won more playoff events than Johnson — he and 2019 and 2016 FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy both have five each — yet Johnson never has claimed the big prize at the end. He finished second to McIlroy in ‘16, doomed by a final-round 73 that year.

Nor has he won a Tour Championship, having played in 10 of them, dating to a time when the tournament title was separate of the FedEx championship. East Lake has slapped him around a bit — last year, for instance, Johnson finished 10 over and tied for last in the 30-man field. He best finish there was a third in 2018.

As for the defending champion McIlroy, he finished Sunday tied for 12th at the BMW Championship and likewise 12th in FedEx Cup points.

Nothing is guaranteed Johnson, Mr. 10 Under. Ask Thomas, who came to last year’s Tour Championship with that advantage and wound up finishing third. McIlroy won it all last year having started fifth in points and 5 under.

Also, it’s quite official now that Tiger Woods will be missing out on the Tour Championship money harvest for a second straight year. He saved his best round of the BMW Championship for Sunday, and that was a modest 1-over 71. He finished 11 over for the week.

“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to the first couple days,” he said. “(Sunday) was nice. I hit the ball really well and made only a couple putts, but today was more indicative of how I want to play in a couple weeks.”

The array of stars coming to town for the week will more than make up for his absence.

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