It was a strange week at the Northern Trust with the arrival of Hurricane Henri over the weekend dominating proceedings and threatening to wipe out the fourth round completely.
In the end after the idea of play on Sunday was abandoned the final round went ahead on Monday without any spectators on site.
Once all thoughts of the hurricane were behind us with world number one Jon Rahm stalling down the stretch the event came down to a play off between Cameron Smith and Tony Finau, and it was perennial bridesmaid Finau who got over the line to finally add his second tour title to his CV to go with his lone previous success in Puerto Rico some five years ago.
From our point of view the first two rounds had offered very little and it looked like we were headed for a blank week. This all changed on Saturday though as Corey Conners charged through the field for us with a 62 to get in to the mix.
Unfortunately in the end the Canadian bogeyed his 72nd hole to fall from bringing us a full place return to a three way share of the place spoils, however allowing for how the first 36 holes had gone for us it was still a welcome result.
So onwards we go to the second week of the Fedex Cup Play Off’s, The BMW Championship.
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, Cog Hill GC, which was the host of the historical Western Open and last years venue Olympia Fields.
Every few years however as part of their mission to grow the game the Western Golf Association looks to move the event away from Illinois such as when it has headed to Crooked Stick in Indiana, Cherry Hills in Colorado, or more recently Arnomink in Pennsylvania, and this is the case again this year as the event will head to Ownings Mills a suburb of the Baltimore region of Maryland and the Caves Valley Golf Club.
The tournament will mark the first time that the PGA Tour have held an event in Baltimore since 1964.
The field as would naturally be expected is a stellar one this week with only Patrick Reed absent as he recovers from a bout of pneumonia.
Despite his inability to get the job done at the Northern Trust defending champion Jon Rahm quite understandably maintains his position as the clear market leader.
Rahm is then followed in the market by Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
The Caves Valley Club will play as a par 72 measuring 7542 yards.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was designed by Tom Fazio and was opened for play in 1991.
Other Fazio designs used on Tour include Quail Hollow the home of the Wells Fargo Championship and shadow Creek, which hosted last years CJ Cup.
Whilst the course has not hosted a PGA Tour event before it hosted the US Senior Open in 2002 and the Senior Players in 2017.
Obviously with any new course there is a large amount of speculation involved however the word coming out is that with four par fives to go out low scoring can again be expected and this is something Jordan Spieth who has played the course ten times or more has also hinted at.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the BMW Championship since 2010.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2020 J Rahm
2019 J Thomas
2018 K Bradley
2017 M Leishman
2016 D Johnson
2015 J Day
2014 B Horschel
2013 Z Johnson
2012 R McIlroy
2011 J Rose
To me the key to the Fedex Cup Play Offs has always been momentum. From that point of view I thought I’d take a look at how the past winners here had faired in the previous Play Off events that year and you can see this in the table below.
Dell Tech Finish Northern Trust Finish
2020 J Rahm 6th
2019 J Thomas 12th
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
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 kick in and until Bradley’s win in 2018 all of the previous eight winners had posted a top 10 in their previous two starts coming in to the week.
In 2019 things changed slightly as we only had one Play Off event proceeding this week however Justin Thomas had played strongly at the Northern Trust the week before his victory here finishing twelfth and it is also worth mentioning he finished twelfth in his previous start as well at the WGC Fedex St Jude.
Last year meanwhile Jon Rahm built on a sixth place finish the previous week at the Northern Trust to bag the trophy in Illinois.
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.
We look set for a warm, sticky week in the Baltimore area with temperatures hitting the high 90s. Unfortunately with these temperatures though comes the potential for storms with the possibility showing across all four days.
Wind however does not look to be too much of an issue with nothing more than 10-15mph called for across the week.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS –20/1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 1st 7 - FINISHED 22nd
Lets be honest a combination of a Monday finish at the Northern Trust to limit players preparation time and a brand new course to focus on this week means there is undoubtedly a fair degree of speculation involved.
With that in mind lets look at what we do know and what we can hang our hat on with a fair degree of certainty.
Firstly as highlighted earlier the play off’s have developed a clear pattern over the years of demonstrating that ‘momentum’ is the key word. Players winning two events is not uncommon and players triumphing in this particular tournament after building on strong finishes in the previous week is something we have often seen. As noted above eight of the previous ten winners of the BMW had posted a top twelve finish in one of the previous play-off events.
Secondly we have a par 72 track designed by Tom Fazio which by all accounts will reward low aggressive scoring meaning we should be looking at players who have a good track record on similar type low scoring par 72 layouts and potentially of course a good previous history on Fazio designs.
With all of this mind there is only one place for me to start this week and that is with Justin Thomas.
Thomas’ lone win this season came at comparable odds when we were onboard at TPC Sawgrass, another par 72 of course.
Since then it has undoubtedly been a bit of a struggle for Justin and he had been unable to add a further top ten to the resume until last weekend at the Northern Trust where despite not being a 100% on his A game he landed a fourth place finish, thus giving us the recent play off high finish we are looking for.
At Liberty National despite some erratic driving over the first couple of days, something which improved over the final 36 holes, Thomas’ all round stats were really solid and significantly his putter, which has been the root of many of his issues of late warmed up enough to the extent he ranked 11th on the greens for the week as he gained strokes with the flat stick every day.
Thomas as we know has built himself a reputation as a serial winner and he has proved particularly adept at taking apart low scoring par 72 courses over the years. Four of his past five wins have come on par 72s [or a par 73 at Kapalua] and he has posted winning totals like -20 at the CJ Cup and -25 in this very event two years ago.
Finally, with regards to form on Fazio designs and further encouragement can be found on this front in that the 28yr old’s lone Major success to date came at Quail Hollow, which is Fazio’s main design used on the PGA Tour.
All in all as I say we are heading somewhat in to the unknown this week however with Thomas clearly tending back in the right direction and with plenty pointing to this being his kind of set up I am keen to have him onside.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE –18/1 – 2pts E/W 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 49th
With Tony Finau and Abraham Ancer getting over the line in recent weeks attention will now turn to Xander Schauffele, who although he recently grabbed the gold medal in Tokyo, remains winless on the PGA Tour in over 30 months with his last triumph coming at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2019.
This season has seen Xander post a further six top five finishes on the tour including three second place finishes however that fourth PGA Tour victory continues to elude him.
Last week Xander produced three solid rounds alongside one spectacular one of 62 at Liberty National to get back in the swing of things after a lacklustre effort in Memphis directly following on from his Olympic triumph, which brings us to this week and a track, which, with the obvious degree of speculation involved, I am hoping will be right up his alley.
Firstly on any par 72 with four par fives in play you want someone on side who is proficient at par five scoring and in Schauffele we have the man who sits at the top of this seasons PGA Tour par five scoring averages.
Secondly, similarly to our first pick Justin Thomas, Xander has turned his strong par five play in to strong performances on low scoring par 72 layouts over the recent years. This season he has posted a -21 total at Kapalua, a venue he has a tremendous record at and significantly for this week he was runner up at the Fazio designed Shadow Creek in the CJ Cup with a -18 total.
If we then go back further and some of his best performances over the recent years have come in the low scoring HSBC Champions event held on a par 72 track in China, whilst he has also made his par five proficiency count over the years at Augusta.
Basically whenever they tee it up on this type of anticipated test Xander appears to raise his game.
Moving on and another type of test the Olympic Champion seems to raise his game for is ones, which involve no cut events with limited fields.
Whether coincidence or not his record in this type of event is superb with three of his four tour wins coming in no cut events alongside numerous high finishes such as the one I mentioned at the CJ Cup last Fall.
With Finau having finally bagged that second win it may well be that Schauffele can now take some inspiration from this alongside the confidence gained from his Olympic triumph and finally bag tour win number five and this test looks a perfect opportunity for him to do so.
PATRICK CANTLAY – 25/1 – 2pts E/W 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 1st!!!
Continuing with my theme of players who perform well on low scoring par 72 tracks next cab off the rank this week is Patrick Cantlay.
Cantlay landed his most recent PGA Tour title at the Memorial event in June on another par 72 track and this was of course the second time he had triumphed at Muirfield Village. Furthermore this success followed on from him blitzing Sherwood CC, another par 72 layout, with a total of -23 last fall to take home the Zozo Championship.
Going back further in Cantlay’s history we also see he was runner up to Justin Thomas in this event with a -22 total in 2019 showing once again his liking for a low scoring par 72.
Last week at Liberty National Patrick performed solidly if unspectacularly on his way to an 11th place finish giving us the high finish in the play off’s we are looking.
In New Jersey Patrick had an up and down week with his long game however he saved his best till last statistics wise as he had positive strokes gained in all long game areas on Sunday. In addition his putter had its most co-operative day in round four, which will hopefully stand him in good stead going in to this week.
Cantlay arrives Arriving this week in Baltimore in fourth place in the Fedex Cup standings meaning that a win this week would put him in pole position to take home the Fedex Cup spoils at East Lake next week and I expect a really strong showing from him this time out.
AARON WISE – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 17th
Finally away from the top end of the market I cant resist a roll of the dice on Aaron Wise.
Wise as regular readers will know featured in my ‘six to follow for 2021’ piece at the beginning of the year and while like others in that line up he is yet to deliver us a win there have been several positive signs that a second tour title for him may be around the corner.
After a sluggish few weeks Aaron really caught the eye last week at Liberty National with a 21st place finish, which saw him post some really solid log game numbers of ninth in strokes-gained-off-the-tee and eighth in strokes-gained-tee-to-green.
This on its own would be enough to bring Wise on to the radar but what makes him really interesting this week is in keeping with my other three picks his history on the type of test I am anticipating the players will face.
Firstly the 25yr old has shown a real liking for Fazio’s Quail Hollow finishing runner up there in 2018 as well as 18th and ninth this year in his two subsequent visits. Furthermore he posted a ninth place finish at Muirfield Village earlier this year, which as already noted should correlate well here. Finally Aaron also took a liking to Augusta on his only visit to date finishing 17th there in 2019.
Wise has popped up on the leaderboard of several low scoring events this season however the main club that has held him back from adding another tour title is the putter and in an effort to remedy this problem he has now turned to the ‘not quite anchored’ long putter method. While I am not a fan of this putting technique, nor the fact to be honest that it is still allowed, this may well give Wise the boost he needs on the greens and as we know if a good ball striker can suddenly find a strong putting performance the sky’s the limit.
A win in this company for Wise would naturally be a big ask however he does undoubtedly have the pedigree that will see him challenging in big events again in due course and of course at the odds on offer we would happily settle for a place.
On that basis I am happy to round things of this week by chancing the talented Wise and I am hopeful of a big run.