The PGA TOUR heads to Chicago for the second leg of a three-event tiebreaker race.
This week’s BMW Championship will feature the top 50 FedExCup golfers with the top 30 ranked golfers advancing to play the TOUR Championship in Eastlake.
As expected with limited room, you don’t have to worry about it this week. All 50 golfers will score a working 72 hole.
The North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club will stage the show this week. It is 70 feet long and extends 7,366 yards from the ends.
This Willie Park design is set in the 1920s and was renovated in 2013 (Mark Mungeam). Recently seen at the 2020 BMW Championship, Jon Rahm won fourth under this week, edging out Dustin Johnson. Before that, it hosted the 2015 US Amateur which was won by Bresson Dechambeau and the 2003 US Open (won by Jim Furyk).
Classic front-facing features force you to hit golf with high quality golf swings. This is the narrative you will hear when you listen to any of the previous presses on the course. There is nothing tricky about it. It’s a course where you need to keep it under the hole or the bogey will build up quickly.
As Robbie Shelton said in 2015 during the USA Championships, “It’s golf for strikers. You can’t really make your way around the course.”
Off the tee, golfers see narrow driving fairways surrounded by jagged Kentucky bluegrass rough.
With such a long, aggressive and difficult bunker, there are a lot of options as to what to hit in the tee boxes. Big putter Tony Finau said this about the challenge, “I think mostly off the tee, just trying to figure out how to get to the fairway. You don’t really have to hit it hard on this golf course to compete. You have to get to the fairway, if you’re going to give yourself a chance to start the hole.
During the 2020 BMW Championship the steady lanes really made it hard to find lanes. The field averaged only 48 percent of the passes hit at Olympia Fields that year, just below the typical run rate of close to 60 percent.
Although Finau didn’t feel he had the advantage in height, the leaderboard painted a different story. This is often the case when you get on a trail with hard-to-reach fairways and thick rough. It focuses on carrying distance and the ability to get it out of thick ore.
Speaking of turf, we’ll see fairways bent and greened with 4 inches of jagged Kentucky bluegrass. The greens are set up to run on the fast side, about 12.5 feet on alert.
The 2020 BMW Championship featured steady, fast conditions with occasional winds as well, resulting in a field scoring average of 71.82 (+1.82 RTP). When asked about corporate courses in 2020, Justin Thomas pointed to Muirfield Village and Bethpage. In addition, I believe that Riviera CC, Colonial CC, and East Lake also have many crossover characteristics. We’re looking at courses with tight driving fairways but not a lot of penalty areas to worry about, with classic layout elements and bonus points for curved turf.
Golfers to watch
It opened as the pre-tournament betting best. This was a slot reserved for Scotty Scheffler most weeks, but McIlroy changed the narrative thanks to an impressive run of results this summer. McIlroy finished T-9 or better in eight consecutive events. While many are heading blind in terms of experience of course, McElroy shared a piece of the 36-hole lead (along with Patrick Cantlay) during the 2020 BMW Championship. The bad news? McIlroy faded over the weekend to settle for the T-12.
Sneak through 47th in the FedExCup standings. Matsuyama will need to make a huge jump to make his way to the TOUR Championship (Top 30 FedEx Cups). For Matsuyama, he arrived with some good vibes as he was the leader in the first round during the 2020 BMW Championship. He also participated in a 54-hole slide that week.
The Spaniard retains his FedExCup pole position but is now just 148 points ahead of Scotty Scheffler. Ram settled for a 37th-place finish in Memphis, but should easily improve on that result when he heads to Olympia Fields Country Club, site of his 2020 BMW Championship win. Ram also played his way to the quarter-finals during the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields.
Back in 2020, it was a common topic for golfers to talk about this course being similar to the US Open setup. Tiger Woods said the following, “This golf course was basically a US Open, with the rough as high as it gets and the fairways a bit tight.” If that’s the case again, should we turn our attention towards this year’s US Open winner Windham Clark? He missed cutting five of his last six starts of the 2020 campaign so he didn’t have a chance to play in the 2020 BMW, after being eliminated from a qualifying match. He’s playing better this time around, even though he lost 11.5 putts from the tee to the Memphis green.
Sticking to the theme of US Open winners, Fitzpatrick pulled off a T-6 finish during the 2020 BMW Championships at Olympia Fields. Similar to Clark, he came to a rough end in Memphis. Fitzpatrick and Clark shared a slice of 66th (out of 70 golfers) at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Can one or both of them rebound in Chicago? As for Fitzpatrick, he has a history on the course that suggests the big finish could easily be in the results range.
1. Scottie Scheffler
2. Rory McElroy
3. Jon Rahm
4. Patrick Cantlay
5. Xander Schavelli
6. Victor Hofland
7. Terrell Hatton
8. Colleen Morikawa
9. Max Homa
10. Tommy Fleetwood
11. Ricky Fowler
12. Jordan Spieth
13. Russell Henley
14. Sungjae Im
15. Windham Clark
16. Jason Day
17. Tony Finau
18. Matt Fitzpatrick
19. Hideki Matsuyama
20. Lucas Glover