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.
The format of the Playoff Series changed last year with only three events instead of four. Following the Northern Trust at TPC Boston last week, the BMW Championship is restricted to the top-70 in the FedEx Cup standings only. 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.
There will be no 36-hole cut this week so all 70 players will play all four rounds.
The North Course, Olympia Fields Country Club, Olympia Fields, Illinois
Par 70 - 7, 366 yards
The North Course hasn't seen any action on the PGA Tour since Jim Furyk coasted to his sole major success in the US Open here back in 2003. More recently, Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S Amateur here in 2015 and it was also the host course for the Women's PGA Championship in 2017.
Olympia Fields North will be the longest par 70 used on the PGA Tour in a non-major since the final edition of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club's South Course. At 7,400 yards, Firestone measured 34 yards longer.
Back in 2003, in order to accommodate all the fans, holes 11 to 18 were played as holes 2 to 9, resulting in the two par fives being played in the first six but with no galleries this week, the course layout is how it should be and the two (very long) par fives are the first and the 15th.
One of the Olympia Fields members kindly informed on Twitter that the bluegrass rough was brutal on the last day the course was open to the members so the PGA Tour have the option to make it a very tough test and to make finding fairways key. But I've read that the rough will be cut to around four inches.
The fairways were very narrow in 2003 but again, I suspect they won't be so slender this time around and the average sized Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens are severely contoured. They'll be set to run fast at around 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.
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Last Five BMW Winners with Pre-Event Exchange Odds
2019 - Justin Thomas -25 16.015/1
2018 - Keegan Bradley -20 (playoff) 210.0209/1
2017 - Marc Leishman -23 55.054/1
2016 - Dustin Johnson -23 11.010/1
2015 - Jason Day -22 9.617/2
What Will it Take to Win the BMW Championship?
I'd like to think finding fairways will be at a premium this week but looking at the list of recent winners above, the PGA Tour has set up previous courses to allow the players to go low.
The BMW is a nomadic event and the last four editions have been staged at Medinah, Aronimink, Conway Farms and Crooked Stick. Conway Farms was new to us when first used in 2013 but the other three have all been major championship venues and they all played quite a bit easier when set up for this event. I suspect we'll see much the same this week.
Jim Furyk managed to get to eight-under-par to win the 2003 US Open but only four players broke par that week and the leaderboard was dominated by accurate players. Furyk ranked second for Driving Accuracy and first for Greens In Regulation and with talk of tough rough, it looks highly likely that accuracy is going to be the key to success this week but I'm not convinced we can be bullish about that given the record of low scoring in previous renewals at tough tracks.
Is There an Angle In?
It may make sense to side with players that have found form very recently. Justin Thomas had finished inside the top-12 in each of his previous four starts and all in big events. And in the old format, when this event was the third of four FedEx Cup Playoff Series events, up until 2018, all the winners had been in really good form.
Keegan Bradley took the title in 2018 having finished 42nd at the USPGA, 34th in the Northern Trust and 49th at the now defunct, Dell Technologies, in his three previous starts but he'd been fourth at the Canadian Open before that so his win didn't come entirely out of the blue, and he's very much the outlier and in addition to Thomas last year, the first 11 winners of this event had all shown something recently.
Incredibly, 10 of the 11 had finished inside the top-ten in either of the first two FedEx Cup Series events. The only exception had been Zach Johnson at Conway farms in 2013 but he'd been in fine fettle before the series began and prior to finishing 27th in the Dell Technologies, after skipping the Northern Trust, he'd finished fifth in the Wyndham.
If you want to nail that down further, the 2017 winner, Marc Leishman, was the seventh winner in 11 years to have finished inside the top-three in one of the first two Playoff events, although interestingly, nobody ever won the BMW having finished inside the top-ten in both previous Playoff events.
Here's a look at how the first 11 tournament winners (since it became a FedEx Cup event) did in the first two FedEx Cup Playoff events and how they'd fared before the series began.
Marc Leishman 2017 - The Aussie had traded at odds-on the week before in the Dell Technologies before a late collapse which saw him finish third. He'd missed the cut in the first FedEx Cup Series event but prior to that he'd finished fifth at the Quicken Loans National, six at the Open Championship, 41st at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational and 13th at the US PGA Championship.
Dustin Johnson 2016 - 18th at The Northern Trust and eighth at the Dell Technologies Championship but before the Series had begun, 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.
Being in fair recent form has been essential and the first 11 tournament winners had all finished inside the top-ten in one of their two previous starts. That run ended in 2018 but given Thomas had finished ninth in the Scottish Open and Bradley fourth in Canada, every single winner of this event has recorded a top-ten in one of their four previous starts.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Keegan Bradley was very much a surprise winner two years ago. He came into the event ranking 52nd in the FedEx Cup standings and he was a 210.00209/1 chance before the off but he's the only big outsider to take the title so far.
Looking back over the events history, with the possible exception of Camilo Villegas 12 years ago, whose price I can't recall or find, we hadn't seen any wild outsiders before Bradley and three of the last five winners have been very prominent in the market. Leishman was matched at 55.054/1 before the off three years ago but the two winners before him were first and second favourites and Thomas was the third favourite before the off last year.
We only have the 2003 US Open to look at so we can't give it too much credence but for what it's worth, the first and second, Furyk and Stephen Leaney, were up with the pace throughout.
The two both sat tied for fifth and just two off the lead after round one then Furyk was tied for the lead with Vijay Singh at halfway and Leaney sat two adrift in a tie for third. After round three, Furyk was three clear of Leaney and he was two in front of the eventual fifth, Nick Price, and the halfway co-leader, Singh, who went on to finish tied for 20th. Leaney finished on -5, three behind Furyk and four clear of Mike Weir and Kenny Perry in a tie for third.
After his demolition job at TPC Boston last week, it's absolutely no surprise to see Dustin Johnson firmly fixed at the head of the market.
That was his fifth FedEx Cup Playoff success so he enjoys these events and as highlighted in yesterday's De-brief, back-to-back FedEx winners have been fairly common.
DJ has also won back-to-back tournaments before so that shouldn't be of any concern to his backers. He won the aforementioned WGC-Bridgestone after he'd won the US Open in 2016 and he won three in-a-row in early 2017 before a tumble down the stairs on the eve of the US Masters denied him a chance to make at four on the trot at Augusta.
I had a tiny bet yesterday at 11.010/1 and given how incredibly well he played last week he's a fair price still at around 10.09/1 but if the rough is up, his recent Driving Accuracy stats suggest that could be an issue.
After a poor effort at the WGC FedEx St Jude following his impressive victory in the Memorial Tournament, Jon Rahm, who lost his position at the top of the world rankings to DJ on Sunday, has been creeping back into form with a 13th placed finish in the US PGA Championship and sixth on Sunday.
Rahm's long and straight driving should be an asset and it would be no surprise to see him bag his first FedEx Playoff event this week.
Defending champion, Justin Thomas, is incredibly prolific and can never be discounted but he's been putting well of late. Since winning the WGC - FedEx St Jude, where he won despite the putter and not because of it, he's finished 37th in the US PGA and 49th last week and he's the easiest of the market leaders to dismiss.
Having been a model of consistency before he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Bryson DeChambeau has form figures reading MC-30-4-MC since, although I wouldn't read too much into the missed cuts. The first followed the win and the second came after the disappointment of missing out at the US PGA, where he finished fourth.
He'll have plenty of good vibes on arrival given he won the US Amateur here but will he be able to find the short grass off the tee enough to seriously contend?
In addition to my small play on DJ, my only other selection is the recent US PGA Championship winner, Collin Morikawa.
I could be wrong about the importance of finding fairways but if straight driving is essential, nobody's hitting it straighter of the tee than Morikawa of late. In his four starts since his missed cut in the Travelers Championship and prior to last week's weekend off, he'd ranked ninth, fourth, second and first for Driving Accuracy.
He won the Workday Charity Open after his first ever missed cut and he's value to repeat the feat here. Last week's missed cut is perfectly understandable given it came in his first start after winning his first major and I thought 28.027/1 was more than fair.
Dustin Johnson @ 11.010/1
Collin Morikawa @ 28.027/1
I'll be back later in the week with the In-Play Blog
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