The FedEx Cup playoffs got underway last week with Dustin Johnson winning the Northern Trust by 11 strokes, the largest margin of victory in a PGA event in 14 years. It also gave this column a 20-1 winner, and while we might not have seen this coming in such a dominant fashion, Johnson played well enough and did nothing wrong at the PGA: He just got beat. Johnson became the third player in PGA Tour history to shoot 30 under for a 72-hole event, and his score of 254 fell one short of the all-time record of 253 by Justin Thomas in the 2017 Sony Open. Johnson’s 187 score (60-64-63) in Rounds 2-4 is the lowest for 54 holes in PGA Tour history. He also had the most eagles in a PGA Tour win with five and the most Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green (18.14) by a tour winner since 2007. Johnson also regained the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Johnson, favored this week at 9-1, is a two-time BMW Championship winner, having won in 2010 at Cog Hill and in 2016 at Crooked Stick. Jon Rahm follows at 10-1 off a T-6th finish last week. He does have experience on this course, having played it in college and making the quarterfinals at Olympia Fields in the 2015 U.S. Amateur. Justin Thomas (12-1) won this event last year, shooting 25 under at Medinah to win by three strokes. Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) missed the cut last week but won the last important event at Olympia Fields, the 2015 U.S. Amateur. Xander Schauffele (16-1) has been a popular choice among early tipsters and has a great track record in top events with shorter fields (just 70 players this week). Then there’s Rory McIlroy at 18-1. He has been slow to get going on the restart and the lack of spectators bothers him, but the bottom line is that he just hasn’t played well enough. McIlroy has failed to post a top-10 finish since the restart in early June. Does water eventually find its level as it pertains to McIlroy?
The BMW Championship is the penultimate event of the FedEx Cup playoffs, with the top 70 in the point standings playing this week. This event started in 2007, but its history dates back a long way. The event originated as the Western Open in 1889 and ran until 2006. The Western was usually played in the Chicago area at venues such as Cog Hill in Lemont and Butler National in Oak Brook. The Western Golf Association still serves as an organizer for this event, and Chicago is still its most regular stop, but the BMW now rotates around the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. There is no 36-hole cut, and the top 30 after this event move on to The Tour Championship next week in Atlanta.
Olympia Fields Country Club will be the venue of this year’s BMW Championship for the first time. It’s in Olympia Fields, a suburb about 25 miles south of downtown Chicago. The North Course has hosted numerous major championships: 1925 and 1961 PGA, 1928 and 2003 U.S. Open, 1997 U.S. Senior Open, 2015 U.S. Amateur and 2017 Women’s PGA Championship. It also annually hosts one of the most competitive collegiate events, the Fighting Illini Invitational. Olympia Fields was founded in 1915. The first club president was Hall of Fame football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, who was the head coach at the University of Chicago. Two-time Open champion (1887, ’89) Willie Park Jr. of Scotland is the original course designer. The layout has received numerous toughening renovations, the latest in 2014. The track plays as a par-70 of 7,366 yards. It is a tight, classic parklands with medium-sized undulating greens. The fairways are Bentgrass/Poa Annua, while the rough is a 4- to 5-inch Kentucky Bluegrass. The greens are of medium speed (11.5 Stimpmeter) and are Bentgrass/Poa Annua. Seven of the par-4s are 450 yards or longer. Two par-3s are 200 yards or longer, and both par-5s are longer than 600 yards, so players will need to be good with the longer irons. Of course, driving distance can help turn second shots into middle irons on these longer par-4s. GIR, Scrambling and Par 4 Scoring are also key stats to examine this week.
BMW Championship Recent History
2019: Justin Thomas (-25/263), Medinah 16-1
2018: Keegan Bradley (-20/260), Aronimink 140-1*
2017: Marc Leishman (-23/261), Conway Farms 45-1
2016: Dustin Johnson (-23/265), Crooked Stick 10-1
2015: Jason Day (-22/262), Conway Farms 15-2
2014: Billy Horschel (-14/266), Cherry Hills 66-1
2013: Zach Johnson (-16/268), Conway Farms 40-1
2012: Rory McIlroy (-20/268), Crooked Stick 7-1
2011: Justin Rose (-13/271), Cog Hill 66-1
2010: Dustin Johnson (-9/275), Cog Hill 33-1
* - playoff win over Justin Rose
Olympia Fields Course Angles
We don’t have traditional course form at Olympia Fields since the last tournament in which the top PGA Tour players appeared was the 2003 U.S. Open, won by Jim Furyk. But Olympia Fields has hosted numerous amateur and collegiate events in recent years, and some players in this week’s field have made multiple appearances on the course. Here is how they fared:
— 2015 U.S. Amateur: Bryson DeChambeau, champion; Jon Rahm, quarterfinals; Robby Shelton and Maverick McNealy, round of 16.
— 2012 Junior Ryder Cup: Cameron Champ, Robby Shelton and Scottie Scheffler.
— Fighting Illini Invitational:
o 2018: Matthew Wolff (Oklahoma State) first, Collin Morikawa (Cal) second, Viktor Hovland (Oklahoma State) T-sixth.
o 2017: Matthew Wolff (Oklahoma State) T-13th, Collin Morikawa (Cal) T-13th, Scottie Scheffler (Texas) T-23rd.
o 2016: Cameron Champ (Texas A&M) T-first.
o 2015: Maverick McNealy (Stanford) first, Jon Rahm (Arizona State) T-ninth, Robby Shelton (Alabama) T-13th, Cameron Champ (Texas A&M) T-22nd, Scottie Scheffler (Texas) T-22nd.
o 2014: Maverick McNealy (Stanford) T-first, Robby Shelton (Alabama) T-sixth, Scottie Scheffler (Texas) T-42nd.
o 2013: Robby Shelton (Alabama) T-first, Bryson DeChambeau (SMU) third, Talor Gooch (Oklahoma State) T-12th, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Northwestern) T-53rd, Harry Higgs (SMU) T-61st.
o 2012: Daniel Berger (Florida State) T-second, Bryson DeChambeau (SMU) T-28th, Harry Higgs (SMU) T-39th.
o 2011: Dylan Frittelli (Texas) second, Justin Thomas (Alabama) 22nd.
o 2010: Patrick Reed (Augusta State) T-third, Max Homa (Cal) T-11th, Dylan Frittelli (Texas) T-16th, Tyler Duncan (Purdue) T-41st, Talor Gooch (Oklahoma State) T-51st.
Ball striking, especially with longer irons, will be important, and these greens aren’t very big. So here’s a look at the current PGA Tour leaders in this week’s field for Greens In Regulation:
1. Russell Henley (3) 72.50%
2. Corey Conners (5) 71.90%
3. Xander Schauffele (6) 71.77%
4. Webb Simpson (8) 71.64%
5. Paul Casey (11) 71.47%
6. Harris English (12) 71.41%
7. Jon Rahm (18) 70.33%
8. Justin Thomas (19) 70.31%
9. Bryson DeChambeau (20) 70.27%
10. Tyrrell Hatton (T29) 69.93%
There are only two par-5s here this week and both are over 600 yards, so they’ll play as three-shot holes for most golfers. But some of the bombers may be able to reach them in two:
1. Bryson DeChambeau (1) 324.0
2. Cameron Champ (2) 321.2
3. Rory McIlroy (6) 312.5
4. Jason Kokrak (8) 311.8
5. Matthew Wolff (9) 311.5
6. Bubba Watson (10) 311.0
7. Scottie Scheffler (T14) 308.8
8. Dustin Johnson (17) 308.3
9. Tony Finau (T18) 308.0
10. Adam Scott (21) 307.3
There are 12 par-4s on the track, and most are longer than 450 yards, so par-4 scoring average could give us a good gauge of who might be able to take advantage:
1. Webb Simpson 3.88
2. Bryson DeChambeau 3.89
3. Justin Thomas 3.92
4. Daniel Berger 3.93
5. Xander Schauffele 3.94
6. Harris English 3.94
7. Patrick Reed 3.94
8. Tyrrell Hatton 3.94
9. Dustin Johnson 3.94
10. Jon Rahm 3.95
11. Scottie Scheffler 3.95
This track should be scorable, but the rough can be thick not only in the fairways but around the greens as well, so scrambling could also be important:
1. Daniel Berger (1) 68.13%
2. Brendon Todd (2) 67.73%
3. Harris English (3) 67.14%
4. Xander Schauffele (4) 66.98%
5. Kevin Na (6) 66.34%
6. Abraham Ancer (7) 65.72%
7. Brian Harman (8) 65.49%
8. Webb Simpson (9) 65.31%
9. Russell Henley (13) 65.07%
10. Kevin Kisner (14) 64.91%
(Parentheses indicate the overall PGA Tour ranking within a given statistical category)
Xander Schauffele 16-1
Schauffele made the cut on the number last week and then shot 67-67 on the weekend. He rates third for GIR, fourth in Scrambling and fifth in Par 4 Scoring Average, all of which should matter this week. Schauffele’s tee-to-green game should also be a good match here, where he rates fifth in the category and seventh in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.
Collin Morikawa 20-1
While not a big hitter, the PGA champion’s accuracy and ball striking more than compensate for any lacking distance. Before last weekend’s MC at the Northern Trust, which is excusable coming off winning his first major, Morikawa rated ninth, fourth, second and first in the respective fields for Driving Accuracy. Although he’s still just 23, Morikawa has already shown he can respond to adversity. He missed his first cut as a professional at the Travelers and won the Workday two weeks later.
Jason Day 30-1
After four straight top-seven finishes, last week looked like a good spot for Day to get his first win in 27 months. However, too many of us got in the boat and it tipped over with the MC. He had been striping the irons for weeks but ranked second to last in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach in Boston. Everyone else has abandoned ship, but I’m going to stay on for another go-around as he will likely be off everyone’s radar this week.
Matthew Wolff 43-1
Why not take the most recent winner in the field on this course? Wolff won at Olympia Fields in 2018 in the fall season before winning the 2019 NCAA Division I championship. Granted, the competition at the 2018 Fighting Illini Invitational is just a bit below what the 2020 BMW Championship will be, but Wolff is one of the bigger hitters on tour and should have shorter yardages on the two par-5s and the long par-4s than most of the field.
Cameron Champ 89-1
Like Wolff, Champ won the Fighting Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields, doing so in 2016 while playing for Texas A&M. A couple of PGA Championship contenders from three weeks ago went on to have great weeks at last week’s Northern Trust in Dustin Johnson and Scottie Scheffler. Perhaps Champ (T-10th) is ready for one this week.
Maverick McNealy 250-1
Long bombs don’t typically win these events, but I like a good narrative play sometimes. Last week McNealy only tied for 61st at the Northern Trust, but he led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting — and that’s the best part of his game, as he is 10th on tour. The narrative here is that he won twice on this course as a college player at Stanford. Also, the last major pro event at Olympia Fields was the 2017 Women’s PGA Championship, and that was won by Danielle Kang, who is McNealy’s girlfriend. He’s probably a better first-round leader or prop play (T10, T20) than an outright pick.
ISPS Handa UK Championship
Frenchman Romain Langasque (66-1) earned his first European Tour victory with a bogey-free 65 to win by two strokes over Finland’s Sami Valimaki, whom we tipped last week. For the second week in a row, we had Connor Syme with the outright or a share of the 54-hole lead. But he again faltered Sunday. Langasque’s win trimmed his odds to 40-1 this week.
This week’s field has a bit more quality at the top with Danny Willett, Matt Wallace, Bernd Wiesberger and Matthias Schwab failing to advance in the FedEx Cup playoffs and returning to Europe. Wallace shares co-favoritism with Dane Rasmus Hojgaard, 19, who comes in with form of 3-6-2-3 in his last four events over a nine-week span. Schwab and Haotong Li, who returned to Europe last week in Wales, share a price of 16-1. Andy Sullivan won this month at the English Championship and is priced at 18-1 along with fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, who hasn’t gone stateside during the restart.
The ISPS Handa UK Championship is the final event of the six-week UK swing, finishing in England after two weeks at Celtic Manor in Wales. Last week’s Wales Open was the cutoff point for spots in the U.S. Open next month at Winged Foot. The 10 players who earned spots were Sam Horsfield, Thomas Detry, Andy Sullivan, Rasmus Hojgaard, Renato Paratore, Romain Langasque, Sami Valimaki, Adrian Otaegui, Connor Syme and Justin Harding.
The Brabazon Course at the Belfry plays host this week. The Belfry won the award for best hotel at the World Golf Awards in Abu Dhabi last year. It is full of history, as it has hosted more Ryder Cups than any other venue (1985, ’89, ’93 and 2002). It has also been the stage for several European Tour events, including the British Masters and the Benson and Hedges International Open, but hasn’t hosted a European Tour event since 2008. The property has three courses, but the Brabazon, designed by Peter Alliss in 1977 and redesigned by Dave Thomas in 1990, will be used this week. The Belfry is a parklands with water in play on half the holes. The track measures 7,233 yards and is a par-72. It is distinguished in that it has 12 par-4s instead of the more typical 10, which means there are just three par-3s and par-5s. The fairways are narrower than average but should be soft with recent rain.
Haotong Li 16-1
Li was in Saturday’s final pairing three weeks ago at the PGA Championship. A double bogey cost him a top-10 finish. After a week off for travel, he finished a surprising T-8th last week in Wales, where he led the field with 19 birdies. Li also was second for Strokes Gained: Approach and first for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green last week in Wales.
Victor Perez 30-1
Perez returns to Europe after spending most of his summer stateside. He finished a respectable 22nd at the PGA Championship. In the PGA, Perez rated fourth in both Total Driving and Ball Striking.
Callum Shinkwin 80-1
Shinkwin finished T-8th last week in Wales and would’ve been in the mix if not for an unfortunate 75 Friday to take him out of contention. Back-to-back finishes of eighth and 11th at Celtic Manor indicate improving form.
Calum Hill 80-1
The Scot has made three of four cuts since the restart and tied for eighth last week at Celtic Manor. Hill rated No. 1 in the field last week for GIR, hitting 88.8%.
Laurie Canter 100-1
Canter finished 13th on this course at the Matchroom Championship in a EuroPro Tour (the Class AA baseball of European golf). He has a 10th and a fifth over the last month, including last week’s top-5 at Celtic Manor. He rated seventh in Driving Distance and sixth in Putting there last week.