The best of the best
August 31, 2020

Ranking the biggest shot from every PGA Tour event since the restart

From left to right: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas

Last weekend’s BMW Championship was lucky number 13 for tournaments played since the PGA Tour’s restart, counting the PGA Championship. To cap off a wild final round at Olympia Fields, Jon Rahm buried a 66-foot putt for birdie on the first extra hole, ending the hopes of back-to-back FedEx Cup Playoff wins for Dustin Johnson, who holed a long putt of his own to get to overtime. Rahm’s bomb, no doubt, was one of the great shots of the year. But was it the greatest?

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To figure that out, we identified the biggest shot of each tournament since the restart, and then ranked them from 13 down to 1. For our purposes, these are shots that (mostly) combined high skill (or luck) with overall impact on the tournament itself. Almost all of them belong to the eventual winners. Let’s start with the exception and work our way down to the best of them all:

13. Ryan Palmer’s opening tee shot, Charles Schwab Challenge

Don’t call us hokey! At the time, when Palmer hit the first shot of the restart at the Colonial, nobody had a clue whether any of this would work. We had high hopes for an extended run, of course, but it seemed just as likely that a COVID-19 nightmare could strike and send us back into the golf-less abyss. Returning at all was a bold move, symbolized by Palmer’s first strike that Thursday, and not just for golf. In some ways, it symbolically took back some momentum for every sport and served as a blueprint for how this could work.

The only other really memorable shot of this tournament was Collin Morikawa’s missed putt on 18, and we’re not going negative here. Plus, you might see his name again before we’re done.

12. Dustin Johnson’s putt for 59, The Northern Trust

Oh, did I say we’re not going negative? Welllll … this one comes close. But it’s negative for a positive reason, which is that Dustin Johnson decimated the field to such an insane degree at at TPC Boston that it would be impossible to pinpoint any single shot as critically important. The fact is, what we’ll remember most about this tournament is Johnson’s unbelievable start to Friday’s round, 11 under through 11 holes, inspiring lunatic tweets like this one. At that point, 59 seemed almost like the worstpossible score he could shoot. Unfortunately, the par-fest began on the 12th, and by the 18th, a misplayed hole left him with a very difficult birdie putt to avoid a “disappointing” 60. Check it out at the 5:10 mark:

11. Webb Simpson’s birdie on 17, RBC Heritage

I was on hand to witness Simpson’s Sunday putting clinic at Hilton Head, when he holed putts of 10, 22, and 14 feet on the back nine alone before he even reached the 17th hole. It was an impressive display, and also necessary—without the spring winds to defend the course, Harbour Town had been a putting contest from the beginning. The man who got hot last was likely going to win, and Simpson was that man. On 17, with Abraham Ancer just a short distance away and threatening to stage a late rally, Simpson lined up a last 17-footer to take a two-shot lead and put Ancer away:

10. Jim Herman’s approach on 18, Wyndham Championship

Herman took the lead with a perfect tee shot to three feet on the par-3 17th, but with a charging Billy Horschel behind him, the pressure was arguably greater—and the shot most definitely harder—when he found himself 214 yards away on the 18th at Sedgefield C.C. (Not to mention the fact that the final hole is one of the few true challenges on a course that played very easy.) Herman took a shockingly bold line, and it paid off. At that point, it almost didn’t matter that he missed the birdie putt—he put all the pressure on Horschel. Watch the shot that made Jim Nantz exclaim, “what a daring shot this is!” at the 7:26 mark:

9. Bryson’s drives, Rocket Mortgage Classic

It became clear very early in the final round at Detroit C.C. that it was not going to be Matthew Wolff’s day, despite his three-shot lead, and that Bryson DeChambeau had something special in store. Rather than pick out a single shot—such as his important 30-foot birdie at 16—we’ll break the rules and focus on what has been one of the biggest stories of the season. We’re talking about his power bulk, of course. The tour’s Twitter account summed up his efforts on that important Sunday better than anyone: massive drive after massive drive after massive drive. On his way to a 65 and a three-shot win, the length made the man.

8. Michael Thompson’s sand brilliance, 3M Open

Seeking his second PGA Tour win in a long journeyman’s career, Thompson faced a tough second shot from the greenside bunker on the drivable par-4 16th at TPC Twin Cities. He was tied for the lead at the time, and an up-and-down would put him ahead of Adam Long and the rest of the chase pack. He was a long way from the hole with an “ugly visual” and water lurking, but none of that mattered:

7. Dustin Johnson’s final drive, Travelers Championship

One of the few golf shots I’ll never forget was Dustin Johnson’s drive over the water in the playoff against Jordan Spieth at the Northern Trust in 2017. It was the most overt display of physical dominance in a head-to-head situation I’ve ever seen in golf, and let me preface this by saying that I am definitely not putting what happened at the Travelers in 2020 on the same level. However … there were at least echoes of that moment. With a one-shot lead heading into the 72nd hole, DJ knew a par would secure the win. Would he play it safe? NOPE. Instead, he picked that moment to unleash the longest drive of the week on the hole, by anyone. Watch at the 13:55 mark:

Thanks, everybody. Drive home safely.

6. Richy Werenski’s eagle surge, Barracuda Championship

In the modified Stableford scoring used at the Barracuda, an eagle is worth five points (compared to two for a birdie). That makes it even more valuable than it would be using normal scoring, and when Werenski came to the 16th hole at Tahoe Mountain Club trailing Troy Merritt by six shots, he needed the five-pointer to have a faint prayer of winning. Unfortunately, he failed to reach the green in two. Fortunately ... roll to the 35-second mark:

Werenski went on to win, and if this wasn’t an opposite-field event, it would have to be ranked even higher.

5. Justin Thomas’ fluke off the 15th tee, WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational

There are tournaments that turn into routs, as we saw at The Northern Trust, but beyond those exceptions, most winners on tour need some good luck along the way. One of the most jaw-dropping pieces of fortune went to Justin Thomas at the par-4 15th hole in Memphis, when an errant tee shot somehow flew through the trees and over a creek and maybe even hit a cart path to end up 51 yards from the hole—closer by far than anyone had hit it all day. The video doesn’t quite do it justice:

Instead of a disaster, Thomas had a birdie, and he was off to the races.

4. Jon Rahm’s chip-in, Memorial

Muirfield Village, the second time around. Rahm dominated under a much tougher setup than players had seen a week earlier when the course hosted the one-off Workday Charity Open, and seemed poised to coast to victory on Sunday. Then everything went sideways on the back nine. Unexpectedly, there was at least the possibility of drama. Stuck in the thick rough at 16, Rahm was already four over since the turn, and really needed to turn things around. That’s when he did this:

Oddly, he was later assessed a penalty since his ball moved before the shot. Didn’t matter—the confidence from that make fueled him to a couple of closing pars, a victory anyway and the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking. It was the best shot he’d make all season, not to be equaled by him again.

[Cue dramatic music]

Or was it?

3. Collin Morikawa’s playoff-extending putt, Workday Charity Open

At Muirfield Village, the first time around, Morikawa seemed to be drawing dead in the playoff against Justin Thomas. JT had just buried a 50-foot putt (and added quite a war cry, for good measure), and now Morikawa, who moments earlier thought he held the advantage, needed to make his own 24-footer just to reach the second playoff hole. The result:

After that survival act, Morikawa went on to win two holes later. It was the greatest shot of his season, not to be equaled by him again.

[Cue dramatic music]

Or was it?

2. Jon Rahm’s birdie bomb, BMW Championship

Watch it again, love it again:

1. Collin Morikawa’s drive on 16, PGA Championship

It immediately became one of the most memorable, if not greatest, shots in the history of the PGA Championship. You can read a fuller breakdown here, but you already know the story: It was a brilliant fade into the green at the drivable par-4 16th, setting up a monumental eagle. With it, Morikawa seized control of a crowded tournament and won the first major of his very young career. When you consider the stakes, it’s one of the most stunning pressure shots we’ll ever see. As jaw-dropping as Rahm’s putt on Sunday was, the magnitude of Morikawa’s drive made this one an easy choice.