It was a frustrating week for us at the Northern Trust as all five members of our team performed well finishing between 12th – 30th place but, despite several of them threatening to do so, not well enough to make the frame…
So, we dust ourselves down and onwards we go to the second week of the Fedex Cup Play Off’s, The BMW Championship.
As noted last week it’s all change now in the Fedex Cup Play Off’s compared to previous years as the historical second Play Off event, the Dell Technologies, has gone from the calendar and instead the field has been whittled straight down to 70 players and for these 70 all eyes will now be firmly focused on making the top 30 who go on to the Tour Championship at East Lake next week.
Those ensconced at the top end of the current rankings already have their place at East Lake assured but for those outside of the current top 30 rankings there is work to be done.
The good news for these players though is that due to the far higher amount of points on offer for big finishes in these Play Off events even the guy currently ranked 70th going in to the BMW Championship can punch a ticket to East Lake with a win this week.
The BMW Championship was first introduced on to the PGA Tour in its current format in 2007.
The tournament is run by the Western Golf Association who had also historically run the BMW Championship’s predecessor the Western Open.
Since the event became one of the Fedex Cup Play Off events it has rotated around several courses predominantly in the Illinois area including Conway Farms, Crooked Stick and Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, which was the host of the historical Western Open.
This year the event is to be held for the first time at Medinah CC in Medinah, Illinois, a suburb North West of Chicago.
While this is the first time this event has been held here Medinah is no stranger to big time golf as it has hosted three US Opens and two PGA Championships over the years, most recently playing host to the 1999 & 2006 editions of the PGA, both of which were won by Tiger Woods.
The event that perhaps most of us will associate to Medinah though, [certainly us younger Europeans anyway!] is the 2012 Ryder Cup, which became known as The Miracle of Medinah].
I am sure there will be a lot of talk of that famous week over the next seven days and it is certainly something that I’ll never forget watching, however for younger readers who perhaps wont remember it so well it is worth briefly recapping what happened.
In essence Europe went in to the Sunday singles trailing by 10-6 meaning that team USA only needed 4 ½ pts to regain the Ryder Cup. What then unfolded on that famous Sunday though was the stuff of legend, as the European Team captained by Jose Maria Olazabal and inspired by the memory of the late, great Seve Ballesteros who had passed away just under 18 months previous, produced a famous comeback to win 8 ½ of the 12 points on offer to close out an improbable 14 ½ - 13 ½ victory.
Three of that victorious European team are on display this week, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter and it will be interesting to see how the three who won a respective 3, 3 & 4 points that week perform on their return here.
The field as would naturally be expected is a stellar one this week and at the time of writing the market is finding it hard to separate Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. Behind these two then comes the inform Jon Rahm followed by Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.
Medinah No 3 is a par 72 measuring 7657yards.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was designed by Tom Bendelow and was opened for play in 1930. A redesign was then undertaken by Roger Packard in 1986 before a further redesign extending the length of the course to 7561yds was carried out under the supervision of Rees Jones in the build up to the 2006 PGA Championship
Other courses, which have been subject to Rees Jones redesigns over the years include Bethpage Black host of this year’s PGA Championship, Bellerive the host of the 2017 PGA Championship. The Golf Club of Houston [Houston Open], Torrey Pines South [Farmers Ins Open], East Lake CC the host of next week’s Tour Championship] & Cog Hill home of the 2009, 10 & 11 BMW Championship.
The course is described as having smaller than average green complexes, which would lead me to think that accurate Iron play will be key this week.
The rough is expected to be at 4 ½” and the greens running at 12-13 on the stimpmeter weather allowing.
While the length of the course is sure to mean that distance of the tee will be an advantage this week it is worth noting that at the 2006 PGA Championship when the course played to over 7500yds shorter hitters Shaun Micheel and Luke Donald chased Tiger home and Mike Weir, Ian Poulter and Ryan Moore all finished in the top ten. Let us not automatically assume then that this week will purely be the domain of the bombers.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the BMW Championship since 2009.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2018 K Bradley
2017 M Leishman
2016 D Johnson
2015 J Day
2014 B Horschel
2013 Z Johnson
2012 R McIlroy
2011 J Rose
2010 D Johnson
2009 T Woods
Similarly to last week let’s take a look at how the winner of this event had performed in the first two Fedex Cup Play Off events.
Dell Tech Finish Barclays Finish
2018 K Bradley 49th 34th
2017 M Leishman 3rd MC
2016 D Johnson 8th 18th
2015 J Day 12th 1st
2014 B Horschel 2nd MC
2013 Z Johnson 27th DNP [5th at Wyndham prior start]
2012 R McIlroy 1st 24th
2011 J Rose 68th 6th
2010 D Johnson 57th 9th
2009 T Woods 11th 2nd
As we can see from the table above this event is historically where the momentum of the Play Off’s and recent form has really started to really kick in and until Bradley’s win last year all of the previous nine winners had posted a top 10 in their previous two starts coming in to the week.
This year of course we need to add the caveat that we have only had one Play Off event proceeding this week however I am still inclined to expect that momentum carried forward from last week in New Jersey will be key.
In addition as you would expect from an event that is made up of a limited field of elite players shock winners in the BMW Championship are few and far between.
At the time of writing there is a strong likely hood of storms in the days leading up to the tournament, which if they materialize will lead to a soft golf course greeting the players on Thursday.
Once the tournament gets underway touch wood as things stand we appear to be set for four dry days, which will mean the course will dry out as the week progresses. Again though there are no guarantees here!
Temperatures are forecast to be in the mid to high 70s for the first two days of tournament play before peaking in the 90s over the weekend.
Finally, all four days are showing the potential of wind gusts of 15mph so this could also be a factor.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS –16-1 – 4pts Win - FINISHED 1st!!!
At this time of year when you find yourself focusing on elite players it is fairly inevitable that you will end up going back to the well with the same player you were on recently and for that reason I will make no excuses for starting this week with one of last weeks [& indeed the week before’s] ‘nearly men’ Justin Thomas.
JT must be one of the most frustrated players on the circuit at the moment as basically his iron game is spot on but his putter has been killing him.
The hope last week [as it had been in memphis] was that Justin would find the missing ingredient on the greens however once again this didn’t happen as he finished the week first for GIR, fourth for SGAPTG, 20th for SGOTT but 56th in putting.
As a result JT posted his fourth consecutive top 15 finish across both tours where he hasn’t seriously threatened to win.
Moving on to this week and of course there is a fair degree of speculation involved about what will be key at Medinah however based on the fact that the course features smaller than average greens my thought is that JT’s current razor sharp iron game will be key here.
The next factor that leads me to the Kentucky native this week is par 5 scoring.
The logic here is that with four Par 5s in play this week on a course, which features several longer par 4s and in principal a tough set of par 3s, taking advantage of the Par 5s will be key and therefore the fact that Justin currently sits at the top of the PGA Tour’s Par 5 scoring average is a huge factor for me.
In summary it goes without saying that any of the elite players could get ‘hot’ this week and take home the trophy, however in JT I feel that based on his recent play he is a player who has pretty much all areas of his game working well at the moment bar one and if he can get this one area, the putter, to click then surely a huge performance will come and on this basis I am happy to give Justin the benefit of the doubt and side with him again this week.
BILLY HORSCHEL –50-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 37th
The second player I feel compelled this week to give another chance to from last weeks team is Billy Horschel.
In a complete polar opposite to Thomas the club that has been doing the damage for Billy over the last couple of weeks is the putter. This can be evidenced by the fact that after a really slow start on the greens at the Wyndham Billy finished the week ranked ninth SGP and he then backed this up last week in New Jersey by ranking first for the week in SGP.
Moving away from Billy’s performance with the flatstick if we then look at his long game showing at Liberty National we will see that he struggled in that department, finishing the week 79th in SGATG and 75th SGTTG, however if we go back a couple of weeks to the WGC Fedex St Jude we will see that he ranked 12th for the week in SGTTG and only 19th in putting.
The point I am making here of course is that, rather like last weeks winner Patrick Reed coming in to the week, Billy is close to putting it all together however to date just hasn’t quite had a week where everything works at once, and it is surely just a matter of time until it does.
Away from current form the other attraction to the Florida Gator, which in all honesty probably doesn’t need repeating again, is of course how he comes to life at this time of year, something which is rubberstamped by finishes of 3 10 and 1 in the last five years in this event.
As is the case with pretty much all of the field this week there is nothing to go on with Billy in relation to course form at Medinah itself however it must be seen as a positive that he has such a strong pedigree at the home of the Tour Championship, East Lake, which is another course which has been subject to a Rees Jones redesign over recent years.
Finally and in relation to East Lake it is worth noting that Billy currently sits at 39th in the Fedex Cup standings and therefore outside of the top 30 spots that he needs to be in, to a return to one of his favourite venues next week, and I can see this being a big incentive for Billy to produce the goods for us this week.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 200-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 31st
For my final two selections this week I am happy to roll the dice with a couple of big priced players that I feel will be suited to this weeks test and the first of these is Wyndham Clark.
25yr old Clark has had a hugely promising debut season on the PGA Tour and courtesy of an 18th place finish at Liberty National he finds himself in Illinois this week sitting at 68th place in the Fedex Cup standings and with an outside chance of making the Tour Championship.
On this basis other than perhaps posting a victory you would have to think that Clark has achieved all of the goals he set for himself this season and will tee it up this week feeling like he is playing with house money.
If Clark is to progress even further and make it to East Lake then he will need a huge finish this week and looking at the course that awaits him there are grounds to think he may just be capable of producing that.
The first positive is that Wyndham currently sits fourth on tour in Driving Distance and this should naturally be of huge benefit on a course that measures over 7600yds and in addition could well play long if the anticipated storms arrive in the early part of the week.
Moving on from there and with par 5 performance potentially being key this week we see that Clark sits third in the season long Par 5 scoring averages, again another big plus for me.
Finally, with smaller than average greens facing the players this week I cant help but wonder if the fact that with the weakest part of Clark’s game this season being his approach play may actually prove a positive this week, my logic being that if most of the players are missing more greens than normal this will give an opportunity for his stellar short game to come in to play.
All in all of course there is plenty of speculation involved here however at the prices on offer I am happy to take a chance on this hugely talented player getting in the frame this week.
CAMERON CHAMP – 250-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 61st
For my final selection this week I am going to start things off with the phrase that ten months is a long time in golf….
The reason for this is that our man in question Cameron Champ comes in to this week to me at fairly unfathomable odds of 250-1, when last fall on the back of his win at the Sanderson Farms you could barely get a fifth of those odds for him to win this years Masters!
Now of course the odds flying around for Champ to win at Augusta at the end of last were ridiculous however I cant help thinking that this weeks odds are ridiculous at the other end of the scale.
The reason naturally that these odds are on offer is that Champ has basically had a horrendous 2019 and in fact his 21st place finish at Liberty National last week is his best finish since his 11th place at Kapalua way back in January.
In Cameron’s defence however it has to be noted that he has struggled with injury issues through a large chunk of this season and has only recently returned to full health.
Champ’s 21st place finish in New Jersey came on the back of three missed cuts, however it should be noted that prior to this he lead the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the halfway stage before he fell away badly over the weekend. Interestingly though this was the last time that Champ played a par 72 where he can eat up the Par 5s and this is something, along with his length in general, I’m expecting to be a huge advantage for him this week on this 7600yds+ track.
If we look at Cameron’s showing at Liberty National I am also hugely encouraged by his stats for the week where he finished fourth for greens in regulation and perhaps even more positively where he finished the week gaining over four strokes on the field on Sunday with the putter having started the week putting very poorly.
Finally with a set of Par 3s in play this week, which all measure of 190yds and with two of them measuring well over 200yds, another stat that I was drawn to this week is GIR from 200yds+ and I was therefore interested to see Champ ranking sixth in this category for the season.
As with Clark there is of course a fair bit of speculation involved with this pick however it is not often you see a 250-1 shot who you feel has the talent to win in this company if everything clicks and there was enough in his play last week for me to feel happy to roll the dice at those odds.