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BMW Championship: In-form favourites to contend again

Jason Day winning at Conway Farms two years ago
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The PGA Tour is back after a week off with the third leg of the FedEx Cup Final Series. Read what our man thinks it will take to win the BMW Championship in Illinois here...

"Seven of the last eight winners have been major champions and three of the last five had won a major earlier in the season."

Tournament History

The BMW Championship was introduced to the PGA Tour 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 all the way back to 1899 and only the Open Championship and US Open date back further.

Following the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies 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.


Venue

Conway Farms Golf Course, Lake Forest, Illinois


Course Details

Par 71, 7,198 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 69.49

Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1991, Conway Farms, which is described as a course "designed around the traditions of Scottish links golf", has been used for this event twice before.

Zach Johnson won by two strokes in 2013 and Jason Day won easily by six shots two years ago.

Veteran pro, Mark Wilson, has plenty of experience of the course and prior to the 2013 renewal he had this to say about it: "Whenever I play there, the wind's blowing and it makes it pretty tough."

And Luke Donald, a longstanding member at Conway Farms, said to be instrumental in getting the event here initially four years ago, had this to say about the venue 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."

The fairways and greens are both bentgrass.

Expect some low scores if the wind doesn't get up - and it isn't in the forecast. Jason Day opened up with a 61 two years ago and Jim Furyk fired 59 in the second round in 2013.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2016 - Dustin Johnson -23
2015 - Jason Day -22
2014 - Billy Horschel -14
2013 - Zach Johnson -16
2012 - Rory McIlroy -20


What Will it Take to Win the BMW Championship?

We've only got two sets of course stats to ponder and they're certainly not conclusive! Accuracy from the tee was key in 2013 but in 2015 it was power over precision.

At the 2013 edition, only two players inside the top-30 ranked inside the top-10 for Driving Distance and four of the first seven home ranked inside the top-six for Driving Accuracy but it was all change two years ago.

Nobody hit it further than the winner, Day, and six of the first nine home ranked inside the top-ten for DD but 11 of the top 12 ranked 15th or worse for DA. Day ranked 50th and the runner-up, Daniel Berger, ranked 68th so it's probably best to just ignore the driving indicators.

Greens In Regulation and Scrambling looked the most important stats to ponder after 2013 given six of the first seven home ranked inside the top-13 for both those stats and accurate iron play was again important in 2015 with the players ranking first, fourth, fifth, sixth, 10th and 13th for GIR, all finishing inside the top-nine places, and all bar two of the top-12 ranked inside the top-20 for Scrambling too. The big hitters, J.B Holmes, who finished tied fourth, and Bubba Watson, who was tied 10th, being the two exceptions.

As you'd expect, both course winners putted really well but I'm not sure I'd get too hung up on the stats. Current form looks far more important...


Is There an Angle In?

We've had ten editions of this event since it became the third leg of the FedEx Cup Series and all ten winners have been in really good form. Nine of the ten had finished inside the top-ten in either of the first two FedEx Cup Series events and the only exception was Zach Johnson. He was in fine fettle before the series began though (see below) and the last winner here, Day, was in the form of his life - winning his fourth event in six starts to top the world rankings.

Here's a look at how all ten tournament winners (since it became a FedEx Cup event) have done in the first two FedEx Cup Playoff events and how they'd fared before the series began.

Dustin Johnson 2016 - 18th at The Northern Trust (then known as The Barclays) and eighth at the Dell Technologies Championship (then known as the Deutsche Bank Championship) but before the series began he'd won the US Open and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and he'd finished runner-up in Canada.

Jason Day 2015 - first in the Northern Trust and 12th in the Dell Technologies, Day had already won the US PGA Championship and the Canadian Open.

Billy Horschel 2014 - MC at the Northern Trust but runner-up at the Dell Technologies Championship.

Zach Johnson 2013 - Sat out the Northern Trust and 27th at the Dell Technologies Championship but Zach had finished inside the top-eight in his previous five starts.

Rory McIlroy 2012 - Made it back-to back wins after success at the Dell Technologies Championship, which had followed a 24th at the Northern Trust and victory in the USPGA Championship.

Justin Rose 2011 - Sixth at the Northern Trust and 68th at the Dell Technologies Championship.

Dustin Johnson 2010 - Ninth at the Northern Trust, having finished fifth in the USPGA Championship in his previous start, and 57th at the Dell Technologies.

Tiger Woods 2009- Runner-up at the Northern Trust and 11th in the Dell Technologies and prior to that he'd finished second in the USPGA Championship after back-to-back wins at the Buick Open and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

Camilo Villegas 2008 - MC at The Northern Trust, having finished fourth in the USPGA Championship in his previous start, and third at the Dell Technologies Championship.

Tiger Woods 2007 - Sat out The Northern Trust and runner-up in the Dell Technologies Championship, having won his two previous starts at the USPGA Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational.

Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas won two of the four FedEx Cup Series events in 2007 and 2008 and in the last five years we've seen someone win two of the four. Some of them have won back-to-back but we've also seen players win the first and third, and the second and fourth.

Interestingly, nobody has yet won the first and fourth but we'll worry about that next week. For now, extra consideration needs to be given to the first two Playoff Series event winners - Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas. Thomas is particularly interesting as he's looking to become the fourth man in 11 years to win this after winning the USPGA and he's also looking to emulate Rory exactly, who won both the USPGA and the Dell Technologies before winning this event.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Seven of the last eight winners have been major champions and three of the last five had won a major earlier in the season.

Given the winners have all been in good form, it makes sense that we've never had a triple-figure price winner and that nine of the ten winners have ranked inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings coming into the event.

Dustin Johnson was a well-backed 9/1 shot at the off 12 months ago and both Day in 2015 and Rory McIlroy, in 2012, went off favourites. Tiger Woods was also the jolly on the two occasions he won this event so fancied players tend to fare well in this one.


In-Play Tactics

I'm not sure how much credence we can give just two results but for what it's worth, Day led from flag-fall and he won very easily two years ago. And Zach was always on the premises too.

Day was four clear after the first round, five in front after round two and six clear after rounds three and four, whereas Zach, having opened with a 64, sat second after the opening round before sitting third at halfway and fourth after round three. A final round 65 saw him go from three back to two clear.

We've haven't witnessed any late drama here yet but the finish to the course suggest we might. The par five 14th is a fairly easy par five, the par four 15th is drivable and the finishing hole is described as reachable in two but with water in play, very few take it on. Never-the-less, it still played as the easiest hole on the course two years ago and anyone needing to make up a few shots coming in is offered up the chance to do so.


Market Leaders

With a slight twist of fate, Jordan Spieth would be lining up looking to win his third FedEx Cup Series event in-a-row. He hit a low of just [1.08] towards the end of the Northern Trust, before getting beat by Dustin Johnson in extra time, and [1.68] late on at the Dell Technologies Championship before Justin Thomas edged ahead at the Dell.

Spieth ranked first for all round ranking last time out and second at the NT so he's in fine fettle and there's no reason to think he won't contend again on bentgrass greens - a surface he tends to putt well on.

Spieth's course form figures aren't brilliant, reading 16-13 but he was inside the top-five at halfway two years ago and probably lost a bit of interest with Day so far clear.

Dustin Johnson's course form reads 62-7 so with one good effort and one poor it's hard to know what to expect. He shot 62 in round two in 2015 and 68 in round three but his other six spins around Conway Farms produced rounds in the 70s and, of the front three in the betting, he's the weakest.

It's impossible to crab his win at the Northern Trust but he was disappointing in Boston after a fast start in the Dell Technologies where his stats weren't anywhere near as smart. Obviously, he could bounce back here but his overall course form is enough of a negative to put me off.

With five wins already in the bag this season, including a major and a FedEx Cup playoff event, Justin Thomas has probably wrapped up the Player of the Season Award already too but I wouldn't bet against him winning more titles yet.

It's impossible to fault his current form and he's clearly matured in to a player who isn't remotely frightened to win. The stats show USPGA winners have a great record in this tournament and I can see him emulating Rory and winning this after winning both the USPGA and the Dell Technologies in the same season. Thomas finished 13th here in 2015.


Selections

Previous results suggest concentrating on the market leaders is the way to go here and I'm kicking off the event with both Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas onside. They're numbers one and two in the FedEx Cup rankings, they're both playing really well and I'll be surprised if at least one of them doesn't have another great week.


Selections:
Jordan Spieth @ [8.6]
Justin Thomas @ [13.0]


I'll be back tomorrow with my KLM Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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