The thought of Lucas Glover making his Ryder Cup debut for the US Team this year at the age of 43 would’ve seemed ludicrous just two months ago, but after he won for the second week in succession – on our first stop in the FedEx Cup Playoffs last week at TPC Southwind – that now looks a real possibility.
Glover’s form has been outstanding since making the switch to a long putter in the Rocket Mortgage Classic six starts ago, helping him to a 4th-place finish there. He then finished 6th in the John Deere Classic, 4th in the Barbasol and has produced a breathtaking response to his missed cut at the 3M Open three starts ago, by winning those last two events; first at the Wyndham Championship two weeks ago and followed up with a ballsy playoff win at last week’s St Jude Championship against Patrick Cantlay. As a leaderboard full of superstars tried to chase him down in the final round.
With him looking over the putting woes – for the time being at least – that have plagued much of his career, this timelessly impressive ball-striker now looks a serious Ryder Cup contender. Sport needs feel-good stories and there’s no doubt in my mind that providing his form doesn’t fall off a cliff in these final two FedExCup Playoff events, that Glover absolutely deserves to make a special Ryder Cup debut in Italy in a months’ time.
He gets another chance to impress – as do other hopefuls who have not secured their spot as yet – this week, as we move on to the second leg of the 2023 FedExCup Playoffs, with the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields’ North Course in Illinois.
The BMW Championship debuted on the PGA Tour as part of the inaugural FedExCup Playoffs in 2007 and has been played in this position on the schedule – directly before the season-ending Tour Championship – on every occasion.
Much like last week’s St Jude Championship, the BMW Championship has had its field cut. Previously, the top 70 in the FedExCup standings would gain entry into the event but it is now only open to that privileged top 50, who secured their place at the completion of play at TPC Southwind yesterday. A top 50 spot that not only gets them into this week but into all of those high-value Signature Events next year.
As well as a PGA Tour trophy being up for grabs, this tournament gives one final chance for players to position themselves inside the top 30 and in a place to challenge for the whopping $18million FedExCup winning prize at East Lake next week, in the Tour Championship.
Tiger Woods won the first edition of the event in 2007, doubling his tally two years later. Dustin Johnson has also won the tournament twice, in 2010 and 2016 and last year, Patrick Cantlay equalled their achievement by winning his second BMW Championship on the spin. Having previously set the tournament scoring record with his -27 winning score in 2021.
Cantlay has comfortably qualified for his title defence this week – sitting inside the top 5 in the FedExCup standings – as he goes for the threepeat in Illinois.
The BMW Championship has routinely moved around different courses annually in its most recent history and this week returns to the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club for the second time.
Olympia Fields previously hosted the event for the in 2020. In the toughest renewal of the event to date – with a score of -4 leading at the end of the week – Jon Rahm got the better of Dustin Johnson in a playoff; in a final round that will be most remembered for two incredible putts holed by each man.
With Rahm sat in the clubhouse on -4, Johnson holed an outstanding 45ft birdie putt on his final hole in regulation to tie and force a playoff with the Spaniard. Rahm then got his own back on the first playoff hole, as he holed an even longer, twisting 66ft putt for birdie to take the championship.
This Willie Park Jnr. design was established in 1915 and has a rich, major championship history. It has twice hosted both the US Open (1928, 2003) and PGA Championship (1925, 1961); along with the Women’s PGA Championship (2017) and the prestigious US Amateur (2015). Whilst it also hosted five editions of the Western Open – which is essentially a previous version of this tournament.
The tree-lined, parkland course will this week play as a 7366-yard par 70 – the same yardage as in 2020 – and has twelve par 4s (389-510 yards), four par 3s (168-251 yards) and two lengthy par 5s (606-626 yards).
In that 2020 renewal, every aspect of play here ranked amongst the most challenging on the PGA Tour that year. With the -4 winning score proof of the major-like test that awaits players this week.
The fairways are tight, with many gentle doglegs and elevation changes. They get even narrower in the landing areas due to the abundance of strategically placed bunkers littered alongside them; bunkers that are difficult to play out of and present the primary defence of the course.
There is further defence in the shape of 4-inch thick Kentucky bluegrass rough, while on many holes the trees encroach closely on the line of play and will be troublesome to play out of if spraying the ball about too much.
The bent/poa mixed greens are a little below average in size and very speedy at 12.5 on the stimpmeter. They have some severe undulations and slopes – many which come from back-to-front – and with bunkers once again strategically placed at the front of the putting surfaces, precision and distance control into them is key. With some run offs leading to collection areas and more of that thick rough, they’re tough to scramble around and ranked as the second toughest to putt on in 2020.
Water provides an additional defence; in-play on eight holes. The majority of which comes courtesy of the creek that winds through the course.
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- Driving Distance
- SG: Approach
- Proximity 125-175
- Par 4 Scoring
Despite the all-round test this course poses, there’s no doubt that the long game has to be in good shape this week. As the 2020 leaderboard was full of elite ball-strikers.
With narrow, strategic and well-protected fairways, it’s not a shock to find the driver looking particularly important. Each of the top 4 in 2020 ranked inside the top 10 off-the-tee, with winner Jon Rahm ranking 7th and runner-up, Dustin Johnson ranking 2nd.
It was also noticeable how the top of the leaderboard was bomber heavy. Rahm and DJ are very much of that ilk and ranked 6th and 8th respectively for driving distance that week; Hideki Matsuyama and Joaquin Niemann in 3rd, along with Tony Finau in 5th all tick the same box and ranked no lower than 11th.
Strong iron play also featured heavily. The top 2 ranked top 10 in approach – with DJ leading the field – and additionally ranked inside the top 5 in greens-in-regulation; a stat that Niemann led the field in.
Further to that, approach shots between 125-175 yards appear most frequently and with the volume and variety of the par 4s, scoring on those holes should hold the most significance this week.
- SG: Putting (Bent/Poa)
The all-round game will be tested and it’s sensible to weight in some level of short-game skills around a course where the greens are tough and easily missed.
Rahm ranked 6th in putting and 12th in scrambling when winning, whilst DJ was also top 10 on the greens; Niemann, Finau and Matsuyama ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd for scrambling.
With just the one recent event here to call on for clues, form-ties aren’t plentiful but there are some clear routes to go down.
The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club stands out in particular, as a major-like challenge on a traditional tree-lined course; with elevation changes and tight fairways. Jon Rahm won there earlier this year, whilst Dustin Johnson and Joaquin Niemann are also past champions. Tony Finau has twice finished 2nd and Jason Kokrak – who was 6th here in 2020 – has finished 2nd there too.
Two other courses that can often be a good guide to the majors are the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines (a US Open venue) and the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. Both are tough all-round tests that have been won by Jon Rahm.
Hideki Matsuyama has won the Memorial and finished 3rd at Torrey Pines; Joaquin Niemann has finished 3rd and 6th at the Memorial and has a top 10 in the Farmers; Tony Finau has finishes of 2nd and 4th at the Farmers to go with two top 10s at Muirfield Village.
Finally, there are some strong form-ties with the Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course; a venue that provides a solid test of golf right across your game. Tony Finau and Jason Kokrak have both won there; Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama have finished 2nd.
We’re set for another warm, dry and humid week on the PGA Tour with a small chance of thunderstorms.
After some potentially strong, gusty winds on Thursday, the rest of the week doesn’t look too bad, with nothing more than a modest breeze currently forecast.
The top 50 in the FedExCup standings now advance to this week at Olympia Fields. We of course have another strong field, with what seems like the same constant top 3 in the world all once again in attendance, including #3 Jon Rahm, who returns to the scene of the that 2020 victory; 17 from the top 20 in the world in total shows the elite nature of this event.
Two players advanced into the top 50 for this week after their performances at TPC Southwind. An excellent 6th-place finish from Cam Davis saw him jump from 62nd in the standings to 45th and Hideki Matsuyama produced a fine final-round display to move from #57 to #47, as they took the spots of the unfortunate duo of Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Hardy. Patrick Rodgers and Harris English can count themselves particularly fortunate as despite poor weeks, they just about maintained their spots in the top 50 at numbers 50 and 49 respectively.
Those players, along with the likes of Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick now need a good week to move inside the top 30 to get to East Lake. Other big names, such as Jordan Spieth at #27 and Sam Burns at #30, will also need to perform well or else have those spots in the season-ending event snatched from their grasp.
Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are closely matched at the top of the betting at 7/1 and 15/2 respectively, with Jon Rahm completing that world-leading trio at 9/1.
Rory would be my pick of the top bunch, due to Scheffler’s continued poor putting and Rahm’s generally underwhelming play of late, despite his 2nd at The Open. However, I’m happy enough to leave the Northern Irishman alone at the prices.
Instead, I’m going to start with a player who has the type of strong ball-striking game to handle this test and barring the odd mishap – mainly on 18 – last week, looked very good in Memphis, Norway’s Viktor Hovland.
3 pts Viktor Hovland each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 14/1
Starting with last week, Hovland finished 10th at TPC Southwind after opening his tournament with a 2-over 72 in round one. As he went on to fire rounds of 64, 65 and 69 over the next three days.
His week could’ve been a whole lot better but it was ultimately defined by how poorly he drove the ball on the final hole. Barring a birdie in the second round on that closing hole, he found the water off-the-tee on every other day, leading to two doubles and a bogey; drives which went a long way towards him producing the worst driving performance, statistically, of his pro career.
If he’d have parred those three holes, he’d have been in the playoff with Cantlay and Glover on -15. I know it’s a big if but it at least shows that he wasn’t all that far away in Memphis, with the rest of his game looking good throughout the week. Particularly his approach play, where he ranked 2nd.
Those driving mishaps are even easier to forgive when we consider Hovland is simply one of the best drivers of the ball on the planet. He ranks as the 6th-best player on tour overall with driver since turning pro and this year ranks 8th; typically able to combine length with a great level of accuracy.
His strong ball-striking profile is enhanced by a ranking of 13th this year in approach, whilst he sits 7th in proximity from 125-175 yards and as the 8th-ranked par 4 scorer he has an excellent profile for this contest. This without taking into account the improvements he’s made around-the-greens this year.
He didn’t necessarily show that when 40th here in 2020, though he is now a much more experienced and mature golfer. A win at the Memorial this year, along with a runner-up finish in the Farmers Insurance Open and multiple top 5s at the Genesis Invitational all suggest he has the game for the challenge.
That win at Memorial was the biggest one to date of the Norwegian’s career in what has been an ultra-consistent year, where he hasn’t missed a cut; recording thirteen top 25s and five top 10s. If able to shake off that uncharacteristically poor round with the driver last week he should be a big danger here..
2 pts Max Homa each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 25/1
Max Homa didn’t quite fire in the final round yesterday but his 6th-place finish at TPC Southwind was another positive result in a nicely trending recent run. Looking particularly good with the driver at the moment, he can improve his results again this week and record a third victory of the season.
Much like Hovland, Homa’s fate was decided on a small number of holes last week, as he made two double bogeys within three holes on his back nine, to finish four shots off the two tied at the top.
However, his performance throughout the rest of the week offered great promise, as he gradually worked his way into contention. He opened with a 68 and followed with rounds of 66 and 65 in rounds two and three to sit just three behind entering Sunday’s final round, eventually finishing 6th.
As mentioned, this was the latest effort in an attractive recent run of form. Homa finished 21st in the Rocket Mortgage Classic four starts ago and followed with finishes of 12th in the Scottish Open and 10th in The Open before that further improvement last week.
Ranking 2nd in the field OTT there, the driver was the star of the show and it was his sixth consecutive positive strokes-gained performance with the club. He was a little off with the irons, though has generally been strong in approach this year, ranking 23rd and is 30th in approaches from 125-175 yards.
Homa compliments his strong ball-striking with an excellent short game, as he ranks 9th on the greens and 14th in scrambling. All of which allows him to rank inside the top 25 in par 4 scoring and presents a player with another strong profile for the test.
He only managed to finish 59th here on debut in 2020, though he had been in largely poor form leading into that and wasn’t the prolific winner he has now become.
Homa’s wins in the Genesis Invitational and this year at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open are evidence of what he is capable of at Olympia Fields and with the way his form is trending, I expect him to be a firm feature near the top of the leaderboard this week.
1 pt Cam Davis each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1
Cam Davis has made his way to this stage of the FedExCup Playoffs with some quality performances over recent weeks and with his game looking in good shape across the board, I’m taking him to put up a top performance here and advance to the Tour Championship for the first time next week.
Following his excellent 4th-place finish in the PGA Championship back in May, Davis slipped out of form but has come back strong over his last five starts.
He started to turn it around with a 17th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and following a missed cut on his next start in the Scottish Open, he has gone on to record three top 10s on the spin: a 10th at the 3M Open, 7th at the Wyndham Championship and a 6th last week in the St Jude – which threw him into that all-important top 50 and onto this week.
Davis has gained strokes throughout his bag in those two previous top 10s and that was almost the case again last week, before a subpar putting round sent him marginally into negative numbers overall with the flat stick. Though nothing to be concerned about. There, he looked particularly strong around-the-greens, ranking 7th and was also positive OTT, ranking 15th.
Ranking 9th on tour this year, the driver has indeed been the star of the show in 2023, and he’s one of the longest too, ranking 18th in driving distance. The irons have also been solid and he looks particularly good in that 125-175 yard range, ranking 17th.
The Australian is a solid all-rounder and barring a little trouble with the putter earlier this year, he rarely goes through a prolonged period of struggle with any club.
This should fare Davis well on his first trip to Olympia Fields and if able to finish 4th in a tricky PGA Championship at Oak Hill earlier this year, he certainly has enough about him to mix it near the top here this week.
1 pt Keegan Bradley each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 70/1
My selections are rounded off by 2018 BMW Championship winner, Keegan Bradley. He hasn’t played much in recent weeks, though this tough ball-striking test is the type that often brings about the best in him and he can play with little pressure, with his place in next week’s Tour Championship already sewn up following his win in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands four starts ago.
Bradley’s starts since his win in the Travelers have been few and far between, though he did look good next-time-out in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, finishing 21st and then only narrowly missed the cut by 1 at The Open on his next start.
He finished 43rd last week and struggled a little for consistency but there were enough in the way of positive signs, as he shot two rounds of 67 and looked particularly good with his irons, ranking 13th in GIR and 15th in approach.
This has been the story of his most recent performances, as he led the field in approach when winning at TPC River Highlands and was top 10 for greens his in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The driver has largely been solid too and he ranks top 50 overall for the season OTT and in approach, just outside the top 50 in proximity from 125-175 yards and is useful on the par 4s, ranking 23rd.
Bradley didn’t play here in 2020 but his correlating form was a particular standout this week. He finished 2nd in the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year and finished 2nd at Riviera back in 2012; possessing further top 5s in both of those events over the years. Two top 10s in the Memorial are an added positive.
As a past PGA Champion and with several top 10s in the US Open, Bradley is a proven performer in major conditions and can use that experience to produce a competitive performance this week.