It looked for a while like Bryson DeChambeau was going to run away with the 2021 BMW Championship on Saturday afternoon at Caves Valley Golf Club, but his cruise control at the second FedEx Cup Playoffs event got flipped off as soon as he started the second nine. DeChambeau finished with a 5-under 67 and is joined in a tie for first by Patrick Cantlay, who shot a 6-under 66 to match DeChambeau at 21 under for the week.
Both golfers are going for their third wins of the season; either would become No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings going into next week's Tour Championship. And while Cantlay had the steadier round, it was DeChambeau who had the more fun day to follow in Round 3 as he tried to get his big early lead to the house.
Let's take a closer look at both of their rounds and dive into who can catch them on Sunday afternoon at Caves Valley.
T1. Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau (-21): Saturday was an absolute ride for DeChambeau. He shot 30 on the front nine, and it started to look like win No. 9 on the PGA Tour was inevitable. However, he hit two balls in the water within 20 minutes of each other on the back nine, the latter of which came on the par-3 13th and led to double bogey. He labored over the remaining holes (two more birdies and a bogey), and the 70% chance he had to win (according to Data Golf) fell down to 40% by the time the round was over.
The interesting part of this dynamic will be how DeChambeau handles crowds that could be against him Sunday. When he hit his shot in the water on No. 13, the noise wasn't quite a cheer, but it wasn't quite not a cheer, either. DeChambeau ran into something similar at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic a few weeks ago, and surely he'll hear as many "Brooksie!" jeers this Sunday as he did that one when contention on the front nine in the final round turned into a score in the 40s on the back. I've written about how psychologically taxing it can be to hear from galleries that are against you, especially when you desire to be beloved. DeChambeau could handle that -- and he's historically a good closer -- but whether he will handle it could determine who wins this event.
As far as Cantlay, well, I was wrong about him. After he shot 66 on Thursday, I thought the play was to fade him the rest of the week, even more so when his putting numbers were twice as good as the next-best golfer in this field after Round 2. Normally, that's not a recipe for success on the PGA Tour, but Cantlay is not a normal golfer. Where the putter has fallen off a bit, his ball-striking has picked up the slack. This is why Cantlay can be such a problem. He has no holes, and even if he's not hitting it well for a day or two, that can change more quickly than it can with most other players. He has just two bogeys in his last two rounds (which he played in 15 under), and he'll be tough to put away on Sunday both because he's having maybe the best putting week of his life and because he's good when he starts final rounds in the top three. This is his 11th time doing so since the start of 2014, and he has two prior wins while raising his expected win value in the process.
3. Sungjae Im (-18): Im has had a pretty quiet summer. He has just one top 10 worldwide since the Honda Classic in February, and that came at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which cannot touch this even in strength of field. Im is flushing it, though (sixth in iron play, fourth from tee to green), and he absolutely has the firepower to get into the mix with a few holes to go on Sunday.
T7. Sergio Garcia, Sam Burns, Abraham Ancer, Rory McIlroy (-17): McIlroy is quietly not hitting his irons all that well (see Dustin Johnson below as well). That's not an issue on the leaderboard when you're rolling the putter like Rory, but it doesn't give me a ton of confidence on Sunday. McIlroy, like Cantlay did on Saturday in Round 3, could click everything into place and it would surprise exactly zero people, but the numbers are at least worth considering. He is in a really great spot to go shoot something stupid on Sunday ahead of the last pairing so it should be fun to see him try to chase that 5 under thru five holes number that Bryson posted in both Rounds 2 and 3. Burns, by the way, might be playing for a Ryder Cup spot on Sunday.
8. Jon Rahm (-16): It was a tough back nine for Rahm and reminiscent of what happened to him on Monday at The Northern Trust. He played the last six in 3 over and fell five back of the leaders, which is not an insurmountable number but should be a lot closer. Those last six holes were playing slightly under par, which means that Rahm lost over three strokes to the field (not the leaders, but the field average) by playing them in 3 over. It was not a very Rahm-ian stretch, but he's been so good for the last few months that I would not be surprised to see a 65 on Sunday. That still would not likely be enough.
9. Hudson Swafford (-15): Swafford is one of the few at the top of this board playing just to get into the Tour Championship. He started the week at No. 40, and if the tournament ended right now, he would be No. 31, one spot out of playing at East Lake next week where the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings advance. He needs a good run on Sunday to get in.
T10. Dustin Johnson, Erik van Rooyen (-14): D.J. has been quiet this week, but he's starting to work himself into the mix a bit. He won't win on Sunday (unless he shoots something in the 50s), but he can set himself up for a second straight FedEx Cup victory next weekend at the Tour Championship by running up this board and getting as many strokes as possible from his starting position at East Lake. One interesting thing to note here is that he has continued to struggle with his approach shots (outside the top 40 this week), which is an area where he's really struggled for most of 2021.