We're off to Illinois this week on the PGA Tour for the third of four FedEx Cup playoff events - the BMW Championship. Read Steve's comprehensive preview here...
“Zach has a habit of playing well at the same venues and this one fits his eye perfectly. The Open Champion hasn’t putted brilliantly since winning at St Andrews so he’ll need to improve a bit in that department but the rest of his game is razor sharp and I thought he was too big at 32.031/1.”
The BMW Championship was introduced to the schedule in 2007 when it replaced the Western Open to become the third leg of the brand new FedEx Cup playoff series. The Western Open dated right back to 1899 and only the Open Championship and US Open date back further.
Following The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship, the BMW Championship is restricted to the top-70 in the FedEx Cup standings only and following this event, the standings are recalculated again and only the top-30 advance to the series deciding Tour Championship at East Lake next week.
Conway Farms Golf Course, Lake Forest, Illinois
Par 71, 7251 yards
Stroke Index in 2013 - 70.81
Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1991, Conway Farms, which is described as a course "designed around the traditions of Scottish links golf", was used for this event two years ago when Zach Johnson won by two strokes over Nick Watney with Jim Furyk, who shot 59 in round two, back in third.
Accuracy emphatically triumphed over power two years ago but for the best steer we should listen to the two pros that know the place best.
Mark Wilson, who isn't playing this week, has plenty of experience of the course and he states.
"Whenever I play there, the wind's blowing and it makes it pretty tough."
Luke Donald, a longstanding member said to be instrumental in getting the event here two years ago is also absent this time around but he's probably the best person to describe the venue and this is what he told Amanda Balionis prior to the 2013 edition.
"Aesthetically stunning, with a great variety of holes, it's a prairieland course with a lot of fescue so keep it straight. If you're in the fescue, you're probably not going to find your ball, but like any golf course, hit fairways, hit greens and make putts. That's usually a pretty good recipe for success."
I've analysed the stats from the 2013 edition in detail - see below for details.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2014 - Billy Horschel -14
2013 - Zach Johnson -16
2012 - Rory McIlroy -20
2011 - Justin Rose -13
2010 - Dustin Johnson -9
What Will it Take to Win The BMW Championship?
It's not easy when we only have one year's worth of form to evaluate - especially when scores ranged from Jim Furyk's 59 to Scott Stallings' 83 - but given six of the first seven home ranked inside the top-13 for both Greens In Regulation and Scrambling and that the top-ten was crammed with quality ball strikers, I think we can assume it's not a track for the bombers. The fact that only two of the top-ten ranked inside the top-30 for Driving Distance confirms that.
The winner two years ago, Zach Johnson, had a Putting Average Ranking of fifth and Nick Watney and Jim Furyk, who finished second and third, were tied at the top of the PA stats. The first three home also played the par 4s better than anyone else suggesting this looks like a venue suiting the neat and tidy players.
Is There an Angle In?
As a demonstration of how important strong current form is in these playoff events, since the FedEx Cup playoffs began, in 2007, we've seen six men win two of the four playoff events in the same season. Henrik Stenson, successful in the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship, in 2013, is the only one of the six not to record back-to-back wins but Rory McIlroy is the only man to win this event after winning either of the first two events so I wouldn't automatically steam in to either Jason Day or Rickie Fowler. Look to those who are hot and riding a wave of momentum though - take a look at the form of all eight winners since 2007 and you'll see that they were all on-song.
Billy Horschel 2014 - MC at The Barclays but runner-up at the Deutsche Bank Championship
Zach Johnson 2013 - Sat out The Barclays and 27th at the Deutsche Bank Championship but had finished inside the top-eight in his previous five starts
Rory McIlroy 2012 - 24th at The Barclays, having won the USPGA Championship in his previous start, and winner of the Deutsche Bank Championship
Justin Rose 2011 - Sixth at The Barclays and 68th at the Deutsche Bank Championship
Dustin Johnson 2010 - Ninth at The Barclays, having finished fifth in the USPGA Championship in his previous start, and 57th at the Deutsche Bank Championship
Tiger Woods 2009- Runner-up at The Barclays and 11th in the Deutsche Bank Championship. Prior to that he'd finished second in the USPGA Championship after back-to-back wins at the Buick Open and the Bridgestone Invitational
Camilo Villegas 2008 - MC at The Barclays, having finished fourth in the USPGA Championship in his previous start, and third at the Deutsche Bank Championship
Tiger Woods 2007 - Sat out The Barclays and runner-up in the Deutsche Bank Championship, having won his two previous starts at the USPGA Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational
Zach Johnson, who didn't play in The Barclays, is the only winner in the last eight years not to record a top ten finish in either of the first two playoff events - The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship - so concentrating on those who have recorded a top-ten at -at least one of those two events makes sense. And it also looks as though we should be concentrating on those who are already high up in the FedEx Cup standings.
Last year, seven of the top-ten began the week ranked inside the top-20 on the FedEx Cup standings and in 2013 seven of the top-ten on the final leaderboard had begun the week inside the top-30 of the standings. It's quite tempting to put a line through those ranked between 31 and 70 given seven of the eight winners to date all started inside the top-30 in the standings.
If you want to follow those trends rigidly, the 13 players inside the top-30 of the standings who have finished inside the top-10 at - at least one of the first two playoff events are listed below.
Note the two big absentees - world number one, Jordan Spieth, and world number two, Rory McIlroy.
The day one morning starters enjoyed a big advantage last time, averaging 1.57 strokes better than the opening day's latter starters over the first two rounds and at this early stage, the windiest day looks like being Thursday so keeping an eye on the weather may make sense.
If you're betting in-running, the course can be split in to three sections. The first six holes are the toughest and the par four third was the only one of the six to average under-par two years ago. Holes seven to 12 ranked 15th, 16th, 11th, 10th, seventh and 12th in terms of difficulty so can be classed as the easiest of the three sections and the players face a real mix bag on the run to the clubhouse.
The par five 14th hole and the drivable par four 15th were the easiest holes on the course in 2013 and the par five finishing hole averaged under-par but the 13th, 16th and 17th were all tough and they ranked first, third and fifth hardest.
It would be ridiculous to make assumptions on just one year's form but for the record, Johnson was never outside the front four and the first three home were all inside the front four at halfway. Furyk, who eventually finished third, had trailed by fully nine strokes after round one but was tied at the top through 36 holes following his incredible 59 and he led by one with a round to go but he was easily passed when he recorded a lacklustre 71 in round four.
Jason Day looked understandably jaded at the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago but after a week off, I can see him bouncing back in style here. Day didn't putt especially well in 2013 but still finished tied for fourth and he could very easily improve on that this time around.
The world number three currently ranks sixth for Scrambling and second for Putting Average so he's a great fit statistically and he ticks another trends box given he's already won one of the first two playoff events. He's the worthy favourite and the one they all have to beat.
Rory McIlroy shot 66 in the final round at TPC Boston but still finished only tied for 29th at the Deutsche Bank Championship last time out so he hasn't yet reproduced his pre-injury form. He could bounce back this week but given he only finished 59th here two years I'm more than happy to leave him out and the same can be said of third favourite, Jordan Spieth.
The world number one finished tied for 16th here in 2013 but after missed cuts at the first two playoff events he makes no appeal at all. He's had a quite brilliant season, winning the first two majors and finishing fourth in the Open Championship and second at the USPGA Championship, but he's looked badly off since chasing home Day at Whistling Straights and can't possibly be backed here with any degree of confidence.
Compelling cases can be made for Jason Day and for the Deutsche Bank winner, Rickie Fowler, and so I've had savers on that pair at 9.417/2 and 19.018/1 but the one I really like this week is the 2013 winner, Zach Johnson.
Zach has a habit of playing well at the same venues and this one fits his eye perfectly. The Open Champion hasn't putted brilliantly since winning at St Andrews so he'll need to improve a bit in that department but the rest of his game is razor sharp and I thought he was too big at 32.031/1.
My only other selection is Jason Bohn, who currently ranks 35th on the PGA Tour for Scrambling and third for Putting Average. The 42-year-old veteran has just two PGA Tour titles to his name so he can hardly be described as prolific and he missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship last time out but this sort of test looks much more his cup of tea and he's too big at 170.0169/1 given he finished ninth in The Barclays in his penultimate start.
Jason Day @ 9.417/2 (saver only)
Rickie Fowler @ 19.018/1 (saver only)
Zach Johnson @ 32.031/1
Jason Bohn @ 170.0169/1
There's also action on the European Tour this week - here's my preview of the Open D'Italia.
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