It is time for the penultimate FedEx Cup play-off event, the BMW Championship which will once again be hosted by Conway Farms, where the players visited in both 2013 and 2015.
The top-70 in the FedEx Cup made it this far but now it is the real crunch time as the field will be trimmed by a further 40 here, in order to leave 30 players for the FedEx finale, the Tour Championship.
Whilst there is nowhere near as much pressure on those near the top of the rankings as there is those trying to make the jump into the top-30, you really do want to be in pole position when you arrive at East Lake.
Not since Bill Haas in 2011 (25th) has a player ranked outside the top-5 in the FedEx Cup standings before the Tour Championship and then gone on to win the FedEx Cup. Each of the 30 players are given a chance to lift the FedEx Cup if they win the Tour Championship but a lot has to happen for those outside the top half-a-dozen players for them to lift both trophies. As such, being inside the top-10 in then FedEx Cup standings at the start of the Tour Championship is highly advantageous and has to be aim for most. Some players will just be happy to make it to East Lake, with anything else on top of that a bonus, but that isn’t the case for the best players in the world. With over $10m up for grabs at the end of the play-offs, you can bet most will be pushing for those top spots this week.
The Course and what it will take to win the BMW Championship
Conway Farms Golf Course, 7,208 Yards, Par 71
Conway Farms is a Tom Fazio designed course, which models itself on “the traditions of Scottish links golf”. The course has yearned two very different winners in Zach Johnson (2013) and Jason Day (2015), with the top-5 in 2013 and 2015 looking completely different skill-set wise.
Day shot -22 here in 2015, one shot shy of the record score in this event (Dustin Johnson -23 in 2016), whilst Zach Johnson also went -16 when these players were visiting this course for the first time.
Despite featuring some fescue, therefore putting an emphasis on finding fairways, the course is clearly setup fairly in order to see some low scores at the end of the week.
All other stats aside, by the time it gets round to playing this event, no matter what course is playing host that year, current form proves essential.
Of all the winners of the BMW Championship, only Zach Johnson has done so without positing a top-9 or better finish in one of the two previous play-off events.
Six of the winners had a top-3 or better in either The Barclays or the Deutsche Bank (Dell Technologies) Championship before their win here, with Day and Rory McIlroy both winning one of the events also.
Zach Johnson wasn’t out of form heading into the event either. Despite skipping The Barclays and finishing T27 the week before at the Deutsche Bank, he had posted top-8 finishes in each of his last five starts heading into the play-offs. These top-8 finishes included a runner-up finish at the John Deere, T6 at the Open Championship, T4 at the WGC Bridgestone and a T8 at the PGA Championship, so he was playing some great stuff in the build-up. The week off at The Barclays obviously halted his momentum, leading to the T27 at TPC Boston where he blew off a bit rust before getting straight back to the top of the leaderboard the next week to win.
With this in mind, if a player has just scraped into the top-70 due to his early-season exploits and has so far failed to impress in the play-offs you may want to look elsewhere. There will be value on those near the bottom of the rankings and the promise of East Lake will no doubt galvanize someone and lead to a big week, but the outright winner should come from near the top, should history repeat itself.
In terms of vital statistics, here are where the top-5 ranked in each Strokes Gained area in both 2015 and 2013.
SG: T2G SG: APP SG: ATG SG: PUTT SG: OTT
Jason Day (1st) 1st 8th 6th 8th 2nd
Daniel Berger (2nd) 11th 1st 64th 6th 33rd
Scott Piercy (3rd) 8th 16th 24th 11th 11th
Rickie Fowler (T4th) 6th 3rd 45th 23rd 27th
Rory McIlroy (T4th) 3rd 3rd 5th 48th 3rd
J.B. Holmes (T4th) 32nd 45th 4th 1st 54th
As you can tell in 2015 the top-5 was littered with bombers, which was a stark contrast to the top-5 of the 2013 leaderboard. A solid ball-striking week was what everyone but J.B. Holmes relied on that week. Holmes instead got into contention thanks to a razor-sharp short game and had he of struck the ball any better that week, he surely would have been nearer to Day come Sunday.
SG: T2G SG: APP SG: ATG SG: PUTT SG: OTT
Zach Johnson (1st) 7th 12th 13th 2nd 22nd
Nick Watney (2nd) 15th 2nd 42nd 1st 66th
Jim Furyk (3rd) 6th 3rd 39th 8th 27th
Luke Donald (T4th) 1st 1st 5th 45th 43rd
Hunter Mahan (T4th) 5th 18th 30th 21st 1st
Steve Stricker (T4th) 19th 39th 23rd 5th 5th
Jason Day (T4th) 13th 26th 17th 7th 14th
As you can see from the numbers, the 2013 renewal of this event favored the best putters on the week, but just like 2015 the Tee-to-Green and Approach numbers really stood out once again. Donald had an exceptional ball-striking week but was uncharacteristically poor on the greens, which left him adrift of Johnson who was solid-to-excellent in every department.
To summarise then, we are looking for players who have shown form in terms of Tee-to-Green and Approach in recent weeks, whilst also having posted a top-10 or similar during the first two play-off events. No matter what the odds, it will pay to look away from those struggling for form and clinging on to the top-70 for dear life when looking for the winner.
Here are my selections for the 2017 BMW Championship.
Justin Rose 33/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:
Justin Rose has not had the best of season’s by his own high standards, but it is important to remember the Englishman was runner-up to Sergio Garcia at the Masters back in April and has contended again since as well.
Since Augusta, a couple of missed cuts and three finishes of T54 or worse have clouded the year for Rose. Despite some clear struggles, he has still posted five top-5’s in 2017 and a further five top-15’s.
Importantly, two of those top-15’s have come in his last two starts, finishing T10 at both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, getting hot at the very best time.
Tee-to-green, Rose has stood out in the last couple starts, particularly at The Northern Trust, where he ranked 4th in that department. He also led the field in SG: Approach that week and although he struggled with his approaches on his last start (48th), he still looked superb Tee-to-Green ranking inside the top-10 (9th) once again.
In two starts at Conway Farms, Rose has finished 33rd (2013) and 13th (2015) and I expect him to better both results this week.
When finishing 13th in 2015, Rose ranked 6th in SG: Approach and 9th in SG: Tee-to-Green so he struck the ball extremely well and it was just his short game that let him down that week. Rose ranked 43rd in SG: Putting and 57th in SG: Around-the-Green, which was the difference between him contending.
In his last two starts, Rose has ranked 29th (Northern Trust) and 3rd (Dell Tech) in SG: Around-the-Green, so his play around the greens seems to coming round at the right time. Where he does still seem to be struggling is on the greens, ranking 61st (Northern Trust) and 23rd (Dell Tech) in SG: Putting. It was a huge improvement last week, and that combined with his efforts around the green as well, it looks like he is ready for an even better week here.
If Rose can keep up his play Tee-to-Green and put his short game together, which is normally the difference between him contending and winning, he could claim his 2nd BMW Championship win and 8th PGA Tour title in total.
Bill Haas 125/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:
Former FedEx Cup winner Bill Haas comes into this week off the back of a top-10 last time out, his first since his 5th place finish at the U.S. Open in June.
After missing the cut at the Northern Trust, Haas fell to 39th in the FedEx Cup standings and after finishing 10th last week now sits right on the bubble at #30. A big week here will ensure he gets to East Lake, after missing out in 2016.
That T10 finish last week was just his second top-10 in the FedEx Cup play-offs since winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup overall in 2011. The other came at the Deutsche Bank in 2014, and he will look to double his top-10 tally in FedEx Cup both this year and overall.
In 2015, when finishing 19th here, Haas put up some impressive numbers. He ranked 1st in SG: Around-the-Green, 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green, 13th in SG: Approach and 13th in SG: Off-the-Tee. As you can see, there is one category absent from that list, putting. Haas ranked a dissapointing 67th out of a total 69 players in SG: Putting, which put to sword any chances of him contending.
The positive news is that last time out at the Dell Tech Championship, Haas ranked 10th in SG: Putting, as well as inside the top-15 for SG: Tee-to-Green, Approach and Around-the-Green. If he can putt as he did at TPC Boston here at Conway Farms, there’s a good chance he builds on that 19th here last time out and the 10th on his last start. If he can get in contention this week, he would could well find himself in a position to make a run at a second FedEx Cup title.
At 125/1 it is worth taking a chance on a player who has won six times on the PGA Tour and also been on the losing end of three other play-offs. Considering he already has six wins and would be nearer 10, if other play-offs went his way, the 35-year old is clearly more than capable of winning at the top level. Haas has also now posted top-10’s at both the Open Championship and U.S. Open, something he hadn’t done in major championships until last season, adding to his big event pedigree.
These are my two early picks and whilst I may add one or two in the next couple of days, I really like the chances of both Rose and Haas this week.