With two tournaments down, the FedEx Cup playoffs are at the halfway point. Now, the fields get smaller and tougher as the elite talent is concentrated. A long, arduous season has led to these final two events, with this week’s tournament, the BMW Championship, being the last obstacle players have to conquer before the 30-man Tour Championship.
It is an absolutely brutal test, and 40 of the 70 golfers remaining in the playoffs will see their 12-month ride come to a bitter, dejecting end.
With roots tracing all the way back to 1899, the BMW Championship is the longest-running non-major on tour, and third longest running overall (U.S. Open, Open Championship). From 1899 to 2006, the tournament that is now the BMW was called the Western Open, the name given to it by the WGA (Western Golf Association).
WGA still runs the tournament, which was given a new name in 2007, the year the FedEx Cup playoffs were first played. From 1899-1973, the BMW was been rotated between different Chicago-area courses. From 1974-1990, it was played at Butler National Golf Club, and from 1991-2007 it was played at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club.
Since then, it has returned to being rotated among different courses, all at least a reasonable distance from Chicago. The first champion of the event was Willie Smith. Other notable winners of the tournament include Willie Anderson, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods. With five victories, Hagen has won the event more than anyone.
Crooked Stick Golf Club, the location of this year’s version, was founded in 1964 and is a Pete Dye design. The club was hosted one PGA major: the 1991 PGA Championship, won by John Daly, who got into the tournament as a ninth alternate.
A note of interest, legendary NFL quarterback Peyton Manning is a member of Crooked Stick, an exclusive club where membership is by invitation only.
Name: Crooked Stick Golf Club
Where: Carmel, IN
Distance: 7516 yards
Architect: Pete Dye
Winning Share: $1,530,000
FedEx Cup Points: 2000
The defending Champion is Jason Day. To simply say he won the tournament would be a massive understatement.
Day absolutely shellacked the field, getting through his first two rounds at an unbelievable 61-63. He posted matching 69s over the weekend to win by six strokes over Daniel Berger. The win, which was Day’s 4th in a stretch of just six events, was his fifth of the season. The victory also vaulted Day into the world #1 spot for the first time, a spot he still holds.
The last time the BMW Championship was held at Crooked Stick was in 2012, which was won by Rory McIlroy.
Other Recent Champions
2014: Billy Horschel
2013: Zach Johnson
2012: Rory McIlroy
2011: Justin Rose
2010: Dustin Johnson
11:09 AM Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na, Sergio Garcia
11:36 AM Russell Knox, Emiliano Grillo, Jimmy Walker
11:47 AM Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson
1:09 PM William McGirt, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar
1:31 PM Kevin Chappell, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson
1:53 PM Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth
Lowest Final Score: 262, 2 times (Tiger Woods in 2007, Jason Day in 2015)
Lowest Round: 59 (Jim Furyk)
Round 1: Golf Channel, 3-7:00 PM
Round 2: Golf Channel, 3-7:00 PM
Round 3: Golf Channel, 12-3:30 PM; NBC, 3:30-6:30 PM
Round 4: Golf Channel, 12-2:00 PM; NBC, 2:00-6:00 PM
1. FedEx Cup Playoff Movement
Upon the completion of the BMW Championship, 57% (40 of 70) of the golfers will be eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoffs. The remaining thirty will move on to the Tour Championship at East Lake two weeks later.
Being in that top 30 is not just necessary for moving on and potentially winning the Fed Ex Cup’s prodigious $10 million prize, but it also provides exemptions for all four majors next season. That is going to be of special interest to those players who have not yet qualified for them all.
Right now, the last five in at East Lake would be as follows:
#26 William McGirt
#27 Bubba Watson
#28 Matt Kuchar
#29 Jhonattan Vegas
#30 Brooks Koepka
On the negative side of the bubble, we have:
#31 Daniel Berger
#32 Fabian Gomez
#33 Smylie Kaufman
#34 Jason Kokrak
#35 Scott Piercy
Anyone under #30 will automatically be eliminated if they miss the cut, so those on the bubble will likely have a bigger sense of urgency.
It is not just the bubble and lower-ranked players who will be feeling the pressure. Going into East Lake, FedEx Cup points are re-set, and under the new points, anyone in the top 5 automatically wins the FedEx Cup if they win the Tour Championship.
With $10 million dollars on the line, everyone will want to get in one of those spots. Right now the top five are: (1) Patrick Reed, (2) Jason Day, (3) Dustin Johnson, (4) Rory McIlroy, and (5) Adam Scott. Players just outside that top five, such as #6 Jordan Spieth, #7 Russell Knox, and #9 Jimmy Walker will not be suffering a lack of motivation.
Among those currently NOT in the top 30, here are a few to watch closely:
Smylie Kaufman (#33)
Smylie has been a very streaky player this year. He has had great stretches, like when he followed up a T10 at the Frys.com Open with a victory at The Shriners Hospitals For Children Open, and a four event stretch in March-April where he finished T8 and T12 at tough events (the WGC-Cadillac and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, respectively) and played well enough at The Masters to make the final Sunday pairing.
He has also had very poor stretches, three times missing multiple cuts in a row. He had missed four cuts in a row coming into the Deutsche Bank, but played his first three rounds 68, 66, 68 to again, force himself into the final Sunday pairing. Unfortunately, Smylie shot a final round 76 to drop to T24. The question now is, which Smylie will show up at Crooked Stick?
Tony Finau (#38)
The long-hitting Finau, who is third on tour in driving distance (312.1 yards, trailing only Dustin Johnson and J.B. Holmes), has become a bit of a fan favorite since exploding onto the season at the 2015 PGA Championship.
Since the U.S. Open, Finau has only missed one cut, posting a T18 at The Open Championship, and has top 25s in the first two FedEx Cup events. He had his first career victory at the Puerto Rico Open in March.
Justin Rose (#50)
This one seems obvious since Rose was the gold medalist at the Rio Olympics, but it still warrants attention. Rose was the 2011 BMW winner, although that was not at Crooked Stick.
With that gold medal in hand, Rose’s season will be considered a resounding success regardless of what he does at the BMW, and that lack of pressure makes him very dangerous to the rest of the field.
Billy Hurley III (#51)
Hurley III made one of the biggest moves of the week, jumping from #77 in the standings all the way to #51. The surprise winner at the Quicken Loans National said going into the week that he did not want to be a one-hit wonder, and subsequently posted a T8 at the Deutsche Bank, his second top-10 of the year.
Moving from outside the FedEx Top 70 cutoff to inside will likely give him plenty of confidence to do it for a second straight week. As a Navy grad, Hurley has shown that he can stare down anything and keep his composure.
Daniel Summerhays (#55)
Summerhays is not in top form, with three consecutive missed cuts going into this tournament, but as several players have shown us this year (namely James Hahn and Si Woo Kim), recent missed cuts are not always an accurate indicator of how a player will perform at any given tournament.
Prior to his missed cuts streak, Summerhays posted a solo-third at the PGA Championship and T11 at the following week’s Travelers Championship. He also finished T8 at the U.S. Open, showing a penchant for big-time events. Players who can putt can compete anywhere, and Summerhays ranks #7 on tour in strokes gained: putting.
2. Ryder Cup Captain’s Picks
Eight of the 12 American Ryder Cup positions have already been filled. Those eight players, who qualified automatically via the Ryder Cup points list, are (in order) Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker, and Zach Johnson. U.S.
Captain David Love III will be filling three of those four spots after the BMW, so those on the Ryder Cup bubble will want to leave a good impression. Among the serious contenders for those spots, only Jim Furyk is missing from the field, falling short of the top 70 after the Deutsche Bank. Had Furyk not missed three months of the season recovering from wrist surgery, he likely would have qualified, but not being at Crooked Stick puts him at a large disadvantage. He will have to hope that his experience and his recent success are enough.
Here are the serious contenders who will be at the BMW Championship:
Bubba Watson – At ninth in the Ryder Cup standings, Watson had the highest total of anyone who did not qualify automatically. He looked like a lock for most of the season, but after five months of mostly unimpressive results (nothing higher than a T13 since the WGC-Cadillac in early March), his inclusion is far from guaranteed. A missed cut at the Deutsche Bank, his only missed cut of the season, came at the worst possible time. His length and moxie would be a great asset to the team.
J.B. Holmes – Holmes is another long-hitter who has struggled as of late. He looked to be in great position after top-5 finishes at both The Masters (T4) and The Open Championship (3), but missed his next three cuts after that solo-third, and has posted two unimpressive results at the first two playoff events (T41, T33). He does not quite provide the name recognition of the other major contenders, which might make it easier for Davis Love III to overlook him. Holmes finished T4 at last year’s BMW, and may need a similar week to show that this recent stretch of poor results is behind him.
Rickie Fowler – 11th in the Ryder Cup Standings, Fowler’s position has been debated more than anyone’s. He is a charismatic young player who would likely draw a lot of positive attention to the team and the event, but based on recent finishes, he could be on the outside looking in. He fared great over the first half of the season, but has not really impressed at the big events, with missed cuts at The Masters, The Players, and The U.S. Open, and weak finishes at The Open Championship (T46) and The PGA Championship (T33). Fowler nearly qualified automatically at The Barclays, the last week of automatic qualifying, but stumbled on Sunday to miss out.
Matt Kuchar – The Olympic bronze medalist has been racking up top-10s like we are used to seeing from him, but in the bigger events, Kuchar has been a dud more often than not. His T24 at The Masters was his only top-40 of the majors season, and in the first two playoff events, he has not been a factor (T64, T36). If Kuchar struggles again this week, he will have to hope his nine top-10 finishes and his bronze medal outweigh his failures. He finished 12th in the Ryder Cup standings.
3. Day Defending
Jason Day, the defending champion of this event and the #1 ranked golfer in the world, has not won since his Players victory in mid-May, although his results have still been impressive. At #2 in the FedEx Cup standings, Day is a lock for East Lake, but as a player who seems to be especially driven by momentum, he will want another win to strike fear into his opponents at The Tour Championship.
Day has been by far the best putter on tour this season, leading the tour in strokes gained: putting. He has three victories in 2016, which looks very good on his Player of the Year resume, but his biggest competition for that prestigious award, Dustin Johnson, may have an even better resume.
DJ has one fewer victory than Day, but one of those wins was a major, something Day does not have this season, and those tend to count much more in the minds of the voters.
4. What About Rory?
Until his win at last week’s Deutsche Bank Classic Rory McIlroy’s PGA season had been pretty pedestrian by his lofty standards. He had zero victories, did not contend at any majors (and missed the cut in two of them), and his putting had been a categorical disaster.
The Deutsche however, may have flipped his entire season around: he now has a win, he jumped up to #3 in the world rankings, and his putting at TPC Boston was phenomenal, the main reason he was able to come back from a six-stroke deficit to start the final round. If that putting performance is Rory’s new normal, rather than an aberration, the four-time major winner is going to be nearly impossible to beat.
Other Notables in the Field
Patrick Reed – With a win at The Barclays and a T5 at TPC Boston, Reed is playing better than anyone on tour at the moment. Reed is the current leader on the FedEx Cup standings, and it would take an extremely unlikely scenario for him to fall out of the top 5.
Phil Mickelson – While he still has not won since the 2013 Open Championship, Mickelson is having a resurgent season with six finishes of 4th place or better. The 46-year-old is second on tour in strokes gained: putting, and third in scoring average. For now, he is still a player who is a threat to win every week.
Ryan Moore – Moore has been red-hot as of late, with three finishes of T8 or better in his past four events, including a win at The John Deere Classic. A win would also put him into the Ryder Cup conversation.
Jimmy Walker – Possibly having a bit of a hangover from his first major victory, the PGA Champion missed the cut at the first two events after his breakthrough win. However, after a solo-third place finish at TPC Boston, Walker’s major form may be back.
Notable Not in the Field
Henrik Stenson – Stenson, the Open Championship winner, is the only man in the top 70 not at Crooked Stick. He is resting a knee injury that caused him to withdraw from The Barclays. Despite the injury, the Olympic silver medalist was still competitive at the Deutsche Bank, shooting 4-under for the week. At #19 in the FedEx Cup standings, Stenson’s spot at East Lake is almost definitely safe. Falling out of the top 30 is mathematically possible, but very unlikely to happen.