After a week's break we enter the BMW Championship which is the traditional 3rd leg of the 4-event FedEx Cup Playoffs. The Western Golf Association organises this tournament and the BMW tours a number of the Mid-West's very best golf courses. 2017 sees the BMW hosted at the now familiar setting of Conway Farms Golf Club in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Punters this week can't complain with 5 places each-way across a short-field of the last 70 players standing in the FEC Playoffs, although 6 places each-way is also available with a few select firms.
With the see-saw battle for 2017 Player of the Year and FedEx Cup Champion raging between Justin Thomas (1 Major + 4 PGA Tour victories), Dustin Johnson (2 WGCs and 2 PGA Tour victories) and Jordan Spieth (1 Major + 2 PGA Tour victories), it's easy to forget the bigger picture of the Playoffs. The BMW Championship will see those in attendance fight it out to grab a golden ticket to the prestigious Tour Championship at East Lake. The top 30 will make it through to next week's finale and whilst every player in that final field will have a theoretical chance to secure the overall title and the $10m that it brings, only the top 5 will truly have their destiny in their own hands following the points reset after the conclusion of this week's competition. Currently Spieth leads from Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Matsuyama and Rahm.
70 into 30 doesn't divide easily; it's even trickier when you consider that the top 20 are pretty much guaranteed their place at East Lake having already accumulated sufficient points on their season-long quest. But those ranked 21st to 30th certainly can't take in the scenery in Illinois this week - just ask Rickie Fowler, who missed out on a Tour Championship spot in 2016 falling from 22nd to 31st at Crooked Stick. Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Russell Henley, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Dufner, Henrik Stenson, Brendan Steele, Jason Day, Gary Woodland and Bill Haas currently round out the top 30.
Qualifying for the Tour Championship is always a massive deal for plenty of players who don't reside in the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 - all qualifiers for East Lake will play across next season's WGC-Mexico Championship, Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the KLM Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Conway Farms Golf Club hosted the BMW Championship for the first time in 2013, won by Zach Johnson. In a rain-affected tournament with a Monday finish, Johnson shot a -6/65 to catch and defeat 54-hole leader Jim Furyk who had produced a magical 59 in Round 2. The FedEx Cup Playoffs revisited 2 years later when Jason Day started with an incredible opening round -10/61 in 20+ mph winds and dominated both the course and the field to capture the title at -22/262. The Tom Fazio creation has been welcomed positively by the PGA Tour elite and after 2013 the course was renovated under the supervision of Dennis Wise. An additional 59 yards has been added to the course with Conway now stretching to a 7,209 yard, par 71. Visually the course features masses of undulation, uneven fairways, severe bunkering, small green complexes and eye-catching tall fescue rough.
Conway Farms Golf Club, Lake Forest, Illinois: Designer: Tom Fazio 1991 with Dennis Wise 2014 renovation; Course Type: Up-State, Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,208 yards; Water Hazards: 4; Fairways: Bentgrass; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass 3.5"; Greens: 5,000 sq.ft average featuring 007 Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 12.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2011: 70.81 (-0.19), Difficulty Rank 27 of 43 courses. 2015: 69.49 (-1.51), Difficulty Rank of 44 of 52 courses.
Conway Farms Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Conway Farms and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:
Fazio has also had re-design input into:
Course Overview: Conway Farms Golf Club is a true second shot venue. Fairways are generous and relatively easy to hit, but the real test comes in the form of the small, 5,000 sq.ft. average Bentgrass green complexes where Fazio has incorporated severe undulations and defined quadrants. In the guise of course winners Zach Johnson and Jason Day we have 2 of the very best putters on the PGA Tour and it was noticeable before the course became soaking wet on our last visit back in 2015 that the top 5 after 36 holes here were Day, Berger, Todd, Na and Spieth - a great set of players with the flat stick.
A number of key statistics jump from the page when you look at Conway Farms over the past 2 renewals, which we should note have been played in soft conditions in the main. Par-4s here are more than attackable, with the 11 4-shot holes at Conway playing as the 4th easiest on Tour last year. Opportunities with wedge in hand are numerous. Conversely the 12 looks at the par-5s over the course of 2013 and 2015 were no pushover. With a distinct lack of wind this week and firmer ground conditions in-play, the par-5s though should become far more accessible to all.
Winners: 2016: Dustin Johnson (-23); 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's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published 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 Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Greenbrier Classic / Irish Open and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: D Johnson 10/1; 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; Average: 33/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Lake Forest, Illinois is here. In general I think we can expect firmer ground conditions and low wind across the 4 days of the BMW Championship. Little rain in the build-up should see the course play as firm as we saw on the Thursday of 2015, but the wind looks light across all bar Sunday, where there could also be some rain in the latter stages of the tournament. Pretty perfect conditions overall with temperatures approaching 27 degrees Celsius.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 2 winners here across 2013 and 2015 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Conway Farms has played in recent years and what specific skills it requires:
Zach Johnson: "I think the fairways are pretty easy to hit for the most part, and that's not good for me, and the rough isn't exactly treacherous. Given that, I think the greens are the defence here and you've got to stay below the hole. You've got to hit it in the right quadrant. I expected low numbers coming into the week. But if the wind stays this potent and potentially out of this direction, you know, it's not going to be that easy. But if we had 90 degree weather and minimum winds, we'd be way under par after four days. It's going to be temperature and wind driven, but yeah, you're going to see low numbers. That's just the way this course sets-up. I think the fairways are pretty generous overall. If we get any rain, it's going to make it even easier because it's going to get a little softer."
Jason Day: "Being able to be aggressive, more aggressive with my drives off the tee boxes here has definitely paid off coming in with shorter clubs, so yeah, I'm just rolling with it right now, and it's worked out because you can play this golf course in so many different ways by hitting irons and 3-woods off tee boxes because there are some carries out there, but if you want to be aggressive and try and get it down closer to the green, even if you are in the rough, it is kind of thick, but you're still coming out with a wedge. For me personally I'm just trying to get it down there as far as possible."
Jordan Spieth: "Yeah, it's a beautiful place here. It's a bit of a quirky golf course but in a good way. It's got some point A to point B, some holes it's not - more holes than on a lot of places we play you don't hit driver off the tee. I like the course a lot. The greens are in unbelievable shape. They're putting incredibly well on the golf course. I got in nine holes today, and it looks to be a test."
Jim Furyk: "I play a Fazio course at home. It reminded me of a very typical Fazio. You know, generous off the fairway I will say, which when it was firm and fast you still had to pay mind, but you should be I think I had a streak of like 32 fairways in a row. You should be able to hit a lot of fairways out here. It's really a second shot golf course in that the greens are very severe. I think the one thing that they have that's difficult here is it's difficult on our staff to set this place up in that there's a lot of greens that are very big that don't have four flat hole locations. Overall I thought it was a good golf course. The severity, though, and the difficulty of this golf course is the greens, and if they were rolling at a pace of 10 and kind of soft, someone is going to tear it up because you can get the ball on the fairway and control it, and it makes it difficult to make it real firm and fast."
Nick Watney: "Out of 70 guys, there's kind of...there's a big gap between guys playing really well, like you said, and guys struggling. I think maybe if you're on, it's a course you can go out and get, and if you're off, it's pretty penalising, I guess. There's no in between, really."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave (where applicable) and winning score since 2010. For full first round leader stats click here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass 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 intriguing. 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 are split down the middle when it comes to FEC starting position. 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 4 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. And 12 months ago U.S. Open and Bridgestone Invitational champion Dustin Johnson won the title at 10/1 when ranked 3rd in the FEC standings.
Every one of the previous BMW winners in the Playoff era have had a top 10 within their past 2 Tour outings and this really highlights the comment made by Nick Watney above back here in 2013. Punters looking for Tom Fazio designs on the PGA Tour need to look at Atunyote GC (Turning Stone 2007-2010), the Raptor Course at Greyhawk GC (Frys.com Open 2007-2009) and from this season Eagle Point Golf Course which hosted the Wells Fargo Championship. Fazio renovations on the Tour include Riviera and Quail Hollow where Justin Thomas won the PGA Championship last month.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
We always underestimate Jordan Spieth at our peril and despite being beaten in his last two head-to-head back-nine clashes with Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, I fancy the Texan this week to finally take his 4th PGA Tour title of the season which his current level of play deserves. I always think that the 3-time Major Champion and 2015 FedEx Cup Champion is at his best when directly challenged by the very best players. When looking back at his momentous 2015 campaign which saw him win the Valspar Championship, The Masters, U.S. Open and the Tour Championship, plus finish 2nd at the PGA Championship, he was pushed all year by the likes of Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and latterly Jason Day who had the audacity to capture the World Number 1 crown with his PGA Championship win plus a brace of victories in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. When push came to shove though, Spieth timed his run at East Lake to perfection, capturing his 5th title of the year and snatching back the World Number 1 mantle whilst winning the 2015 PGA Tour Player of the Year award into the bargain.
2017 sees Spieth again playing some exceptional stuff, with 3 wins in the bag across Pebble Beach, TPC River Highlands and naturally the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. But, as he readily admits, he currently finds himself in the shadows of both DJ and close friend Justin Thomas and that must be a huge motivating factor for the 24 year-old who has shot -27 across his last 2 appearances and failed to win. The short and very scoreable Conway Farms set-up will suit Jordan perfectly this week whose wins at Augusta National, Colonial and Deere Run (x2) mirror those of 2013 Conway Farms winner Zach Johnson perfectly. 16th and 9th here on his first 2 appearances in Chicago, Spieth's tee-to-green game is on a different level to when he arrived here across both 2013 and 2015. At a tournament where a fast start is essential, Spieth was first round leader of the BMW Championship when hosted at Cherry Hills in 2014 and was 2nd here after Round 1 in 2015. The Predictor Model No.1 Selection is noticeably nigh-on 500 points clear of his nearest rival this week.
I will leave Jordan to articulate where he is, summarising his situation after TPC Boston: "I'm hitting the ball as good or better consistently as I've ever hit it. And my putter, it's starting to come around. I've putted so much better from inside ten feet this week than I have this entire year. It's a big confidence boost for me, so it's very close. I'm very close to the level I played in 2015. These two weeks I just had were way better than 2015. I went home early both weeks. When I'm comparing it to my best year, I'm on a very similar level to the way I was playing, but accolade-wise, there's just no way to get to that at this point." I'm sure a win this week, leaving a tilt at the FedEx Cup, 2017 Player of the Year and World Number 1 spot in Atlanta next week, will be a huge motivator. RESULT: T7
We have seen lesser names surprise at this stage with Billy Horschel doing amazingly well at TPC Boston in 2014, before ultimately losing a title he probably should have won. He then went on to win the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills at 66/1 and then lift the Tour Championship and win the FedEx Cup to boot! Marc Leishman was giving both Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth all they could handle at TPC Boston last Monday, but ultimately - with a 2-shot lead on the 10th tee - the pressure got to him. However from adversity we've seen players blossom and Leishman, who sits 7th in the FedEx Cup standings, has the kind of result CV that links beautifully to previous winners here Zach Johnson and Jason Day. 5th at Waialae in 2014 (Johnson was winner there in 2009), 2nd at Torrey Pines in both 2010 and 2014 (Day was a winner there in 2015), 1st at Bay Hill this year (Day won there in 2016), 4th at Augusta in 2013 (Johnson won there in 2007, Day 2nd in 2011), 3rd at TPC Four Seasons in both 2012 and 2014 (Day won there in 2010), 2nd at St Andrews in 2015 (Johnson won the title, with Day 4th a single shot out of the Playoff), plus 3rd at Firestone in 2014 (Johnson was 2nd there this year), highlight that Leishman can circulate in very high echelons when he plays his very best golf. Leishman has hit the ball sweetly since the end of June - he sits 5th in my 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker - but the putter undoubtedly fired on his favourite pure Bentgrass greens in Boston. Marc has a definite association with the BMW Championship having finished 2nd to Tiger Woods at Cog Hill in his rookie season in 2009 and, with an East Lake place now assured, if he continues to focus he could well sneak into the FedEx Cup top 5 after another successful week in Chicago. RESULT: Winner
Patrick Cantlay has impressed all through 2017 and his first ever FedEx Cup Playoff campaign has also been excellent to date. Entering The Northern Trust at Glen Oaks in 78th spot in the FedEx Cup, 10th in New York and 12th at TPC Boston has launched the Californian towards a coveted top-30 spot. At 41st in the standings he will need a top-5 finish this week to guarantee a spot at East Lake and the 2018 top-level tournament entries that would bring. That's a huge carrot for the 25 year-old Californian who had an excellent amateur career. He shot an amazing -11/60 still as an amateur in 2011 at TPC River Highlands and his web.com career in 2013 showed that he can score low numbers when required. 2nd at Copperhead, 3rd at Harbour Town and 13th last time out at TPC Boston (he was 9th after 54 holes) were all on Par 71 layouts, as was his Colombia Championship win on the web.com Tour back in 2013 where he beat one Jordan Spieth. Spieth played with Patrick last Sunday in Boston shooting -5/66 to Cantlay's -3/68 and afterwards said, "If Patrick had the full year this year, I would imagine he'd have been on The Presidents Cup team, no question. He's extremely talented and he's going to work his way up into the top 10 in the world in my opinion." Praise indeed and as Patrick sits a trending 12th in my 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker, I'm giving him a follow this week. RESULT: T9
With form of 6(TPC Boston)-29(Glen Oaks)-4(Sedgefield), Kevin Na is playing some nice stuff and for an each-way cover bet he's ideal this week. Finding enough greens in regulation to be competitive, Na is putting beautifully right now and that makes him a danger on a short layout where strong putting is required. An undoubted talent, Na might not trouble the winner's interviewer nearly enough, but at 64th in the OWGR and 40th in the FedEx Cup series, the Las Vegas man will be gunning for a top 5 finish this week to grab a coveted East Lake spot. He has previous with this back in 2015 when he travelled to Chicago in 34th spot in the FEC standings. Rounds of -6/65 and -5/66 got him into 4th spot after 36 holes and eventually he held on for a top-10 after the course became a bomber's paradise over the weekend, qualifying for East Lake by the skin of his teeth. With momentum on his side I can see Na being right in the mix again 2 years down the line. RESULT: T53
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