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Rory McIlroy in full flow is a sight to behold and his -15/198 across the final 54 holes of the Deutsche Bank Championship was poetry in motion. The performance on Monday was all the more impressive as McIlroy tamed strong winds from the tail-end of Hurricane Hermine - his final round 65 being matched only by Adam Scott. McIlroy moves to Number 4 in the FedEx Cup standings behind Reed, Day and Dustin Johnson, with Scott rounding off the top 5.
We enter the BMW Championship, which is the traditional 3rd leg of the 4 event FedEx Cup PlayOffs, with both Ryder Cup selection and FedEx Cup top 30 questions yet to be answered. The Western Golf Association organises this tournament and the BMW tours a number of the Mid-West's very best golf courses. 2016 sees the tournament return to Indianapolis and the Pete Dye-designed Crooked Stick. This is the course where Rory McIlroy won in 2012 from Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods - with Robert Garrigus thrown in for good measure.
The US Ryder Cup situation is interesting with nobody in Boston putting their hand up for a Captain's Pick. You would assume that Bubba, Rickie and Matt are as good as selected leaving a final spot up for grabs across the BMW and Tour Championships. As we stand Kevin Chappell, Ryan Moore, Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Jason Dufner, Sean O'Hair, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Na are all assured outings at both tournaments. Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar at 27th and 28th in the standings are not guaranteed an East Lake start. Other luminaries such as Daniel Berger (31st), Branden Grace (37th), Louis Oosthuizen (40th), J.B. Holmes (42nd), Charl Schwartzel (43rd), Bill Haas (46th), Justin Rose (50th) and Zach Johnson (56th) all sit outside the Tour Championship spots.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams tackles the KLM Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Crooked Stick is a 7,500 yard par 72 which features lots of tree-lined fairways. Landing areas are wide with rough length at around 3 inches, so in reality the set-up is not overly penal. Greens feature Bentgrass with poa annua grass mix and smallish green complexes feature complex multi-level routing making longer putting tricky and 3-putts easy. Rory McIlroy took the course apart in 2012 when he shot -20/268 in soft conditions and since then Pete Dye has directed a $3 million re-design to increase course difficulty. 70 yards has been added to the scorecard, a lake has been added on the left-hand side of the 17th, with 90 bunkers being overhauled and new bunkers added to numerous 300 yard drive landing areas. Crooked Stick hosted the 1991 PGA Championship won by John Daly; the course also hosted the 1993 U.S. Women's Open, 2005 Solheim Cup and 2009 U.S. Senior Open.
Crooked Stick, Carmel, Indiana: Designer: Pete Dye 1964; Course Type: Up-State, Classical, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,567 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bentgrass, Rye with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass Fescue 3"; Greens: 4,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.54 (-1.46), Rank 43 of 49 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Crooked Stick and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: Crooked Stick 2012-style put up very little resistance when it came to the level of challenge it presented the world's very best. What must be borne in mind though is that Indianapolis had been hit by a tremendous storm in the build-up to the event and the course was as soft and receptive as it possibly could be. No surprise then that McIlroy won from Westwood and another soft course specialist Phil Mickelson. We should see faster conditions in 2016 - across Thursday at the very least - and the course has received some Pete Dye inspired work in 2014. Strong breeze is also likely to play a part across the opening 54 holes.
The course has been lengthened slightly with new tees on the 3rd, 10th and 13th holes making scorecard yardage for this week 7,567 yards. 90 bunkers have been overhauled and additional fairway bunkers placed on the par-4 7th and 10th holes. A lake has also been added along the left side of the par-3 17th hole. Organisers want the course to play 'firm and fast' with Crooked Stick showing more of its teeth 4 years on. However forecasted heavy rain across Friday won't help with their goal.
Winners: 2015: Jason Day (-22); 2014: Billy Horschel (-15); 2013: Zach Johnson (-16); 2012: Rory McIlroy (-20); 2011: Justin Rose (-13); 2010: Dustin Johnson (-9).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published BMW Championship predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Rory McIlroy (Predictor Number 1), Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Bridgestone Invitational/Barracuda Championship /Open de France and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Day 15/2; 2014: Horschel 66/1; 2013: Z Johnson 40/1; 2012: McIlroy 7/1; 2011: Rose 66/1; 2010: D Johnson 33/1; 2009: Woods 2/1. Average: 32/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Carmel is here. Carmel has seen a drier build-up than 2012, but the weather again looks to be a real factor after TPC Boston last week. Up to 20mm of rain from thunderstorms is forecast to fall on Friday, with gusty breezes set for Thursday and Saturday. Sunday though looks tranquil, so expect a real low scoring shootout as players scramble for vital FEC points.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the top 3 finishers at Crooked Stick in 2012 gives us a little insight into the requirements for this test.
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Crooked Stick played in 2012 and what specific skills it requires:
Justin Rose: "I think the way is course is set up, the rain, that softened things, and that benefits the long hitter, and there's a few bunkers and a few corners that if you can carry the ball 300 yards, which there's not many guys in the field that can do that, but the few that can will have an advantage. But they have an advantage pretty much every week. So it's about keeping the ball in play. The rough is pretty thick. You know, you think the greens are so good, as well, that it will suit pretty much anybody who has a good putting week."
Jimmy Walker: "We just did our normal preparation for any golf course we go to. Nothing changed, really. Really relied on the yardage book, find the lines, and my caddie did a good job of getting prepared for the tee shots because there's a lot of kind of awkward tee shots where you're hitting off. Pete Dye does a great job of putting a bunker somewhere that it doesn't need to be, and it kind of tricks your mind up a little bit. Only 200 yards off the tee, but it looks like it's 300 something yards off the tee. So there's a lot of that.
Pete does a lot of visual stuff ‑ he likes to make you put something in your head, and really a lot of times it has nothing to do with the hole. You step out on the hole the first time, and you're like, wow, that bunker, can I carry that? It's only like 230 and you can blow right over it. There's a lot of that."
Ryan Moore: "The golf course is not an easy golf course by any means, but the conditions make it more scoreable. We haven't had much wind with soft fairways so your ball is not chasing through corners and angles, and then softer greens that you can throw a ball in there with a 5‑iron and actually stop it. And on top of that, honestly, the greens are fantastic, and they roll really pure. They're not too fast. They've been a really nice make speed for the past couple days. All that just adds up to good scoring, and the fact that you've got the top 70 people playing this week that have been playing well and earned their way here. All that put together, it's good golf."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
The BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, has a number of trends that are interesting. In an event where the focus of the media and watching public is as to who will make it to the Tour Championship, recent champions have in the main arrived from FEC standing positions outside of the Top 5. Horschel (20th), Zach Johnson (27th), Justin Rose (34th) and Dustin Johnson (16th) all arrived at the BMW with decent enough immediate form, however it didn't directly translate to a high FEC position. However the other 3 BMW champions since the current PlayOff structure was put in place back in 2009 have all been elite, in hot form and high in the FEC standings. Tiger Woods in 2009 won his fifth title of the season when ranked 2nd in the FEC standings. Jason Day and Rory McIlroy were both Number 1 in the FEC standings and had won previous PlayOff tournaments at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank prior to winning the BMW at 15/2 and 7/1 respectively.
Every one of the previous BMW winners in the PlayOff era have had a top-10 within their past 2 Tour outings. For those looking for Pete Dye course specialists check out results at:
My selections are as follows:
I know it's not rocket science, but I can't see past Rory McIlroy this week. His performance last week at TPC Boston was exemplary and may well intimidate plenty of his closest rivals. Stokes Gained Numbers read like this: 15th - Off the Tee, 10th Approach the Green, 3rd Tee to Green - and here is the key statistic - 7th in Putting. Those rivals reading his Putting Average number of 1.604 (1st in field) will not be amused either. Strong statistics and we know how Rory works from past seasons - when he's confident and at the top of his game he strings wins together. Note 2012 - 3 wins in 4 appearances across Kiawah Island, TPC Boston and here at Crooked Stick. Note 2014: 3 wins in 3 appearances - Royal Liverpool, Firestone and Valhalla. Seems like the even years bring the best out of him.
Long par 72s will always favour the World Number 3 who would jump to FedEx Cup Number 1 and World Number 2 with a second consecutive win this week. The weather forecast looks ideal for the Northern Irishman with heavy rain forecast on Friday. Even if that doesn't materialise, he clearly likes the longer Pete Dye designs as he's garnered 2 wins and a 3rd across Kiawah Island, Crooked Stick and Whistling Straits. RESULT: T42
At 22nd in the FEC standings, Rickie Fowler is pretty much safe when it comes to participation at East Lake, but Fowler has unfinished business - not only qualification for Davis Love III's team, but building vital momentum towards Hazletine. Yes we know he will be announced on Monday as a Captain's pick, but Fowler will want to do that fresh off a strong performance at Crooked Stick and you can be sure that his back-9 capitulation at Bethpage Black - which cost him an automatic spot - will motivate him. With wins at Quail Hollow (2012) and TPC Boston (2015), it's clear that Fowler thrives on bomber's courses where power counts and the 40/1 price point is pretty perfect when it comes to Fowler wins which read 50/1 Quail Hollow, 60/1 TPC Sawgrass and 40/1 TPC Boston. He showed at Bethpage Black that his game is solid and that his putter is warming. His win at TPC Sawgrass was on a Pete Dye design and we know that he favours par 72 set-ups. RESULT: T59
Branden Grace is another who likes Pete Dye designs and will go to Crooked Stick knowing that he needs to perform well to book his ticket to the Tour Championship. At 37th in the FEC, it's now or never for Branden who has performed poorly at Bethpage and 45th at TPC Boston hardly inspires either, but he closed with a lovely 66 in gnarly conditions yesterday which featured 5 birdies and no bogeys. He split 10 of 14 fairways and for the second round running found 15 of 18 greens. That, for me, makes him a real danger this week as we know that Grace loves Bentgrass putting surfaces and that he also putts well if they contain Poa Annua. 5th at the Oakmont-hosted U.S. Open (Poa Annua greens), 10th at Firestone (Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens) and 4th at the Baltusrol hosted PGA Championship (Bentgrass/Poa Annua Greens) tells you all you need to know about his recent ability. Baltusrol was long and very soft so if the rain materialises on Friday expect the World Number 13 to go well. His Pete Dye record also catches the eye: he captured his maiden PGA Tour win this year at Harbour Town (7th in 2015) and was 3rd last year at Whistling Straits. RESULT: T32
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