No cuts. No excuses. Just one last opportunity to position yourself into Atlanta next week for the Tour Championship and the chance to win a massive FedEx Cup Playoffs $10M season-ending prize. That’s what’s at stake this week at Conway Farms Golf Club for the BMW Championship as the playoff field of 70 players gets whittled down to 30, and some marquee names will have to play their best golf of the year if they plan to move on.
FedEx Cup points leaders Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Dustin Johnson have already punched their golden ticket to Atlanta by virtue of accumulating enough FedEx Cup points to lock in top-5 spots heading into the final event no matter how they play this week. Others like World No. 6 Rory McIlroy, Masters champion and World No. 8 Sergio Garcia, and five-time major champion Phil Mickelson, however, are on the outside looking in, and nothing short of four spectacular rounds at Lake Forest will get them to the finale.
Teebox view of No.15 on Conway Farms
Conway Farms is a 7,198 yard, par-71 Tom Fazio designed track that’s as straightforward a course as you’ll find on Tour. You don’t have to drive it long here, but you have to drive it accurately. The rough is very thick and can completely swallow up balls, making it a considerable challenge to escape let alone find the green on approach. Narrow fairways, scattered trouble spots, and a number of hazards put a premium on controlling your ball tee to green, and key statistics this week will be Driving Accuracy, SG: Approach-The-Green, and Proximity To Hole. The greens are fast, and some are deceptively difficult to see from the fairway. Missing on the wrong side will leave virtually no chance at an up and down. The simplicity of Conway Farms will undoubtedly lull some players to sleep (it always does), so you can expect to see a significant disparity in scoring at the top and bottom of the leaderboard.
The toughest stretch of three holes on the front side begins with the 505-yard, par-4, No. 4. The ideal tee shot will favor the left side as oak trees down the right at about 315 yards out won’t allow a good angle into the green on approach. The green slopes right-to-left and front-to-back, and any shot that flies left will funnel into a run-off area. A worrisome water hazard lurks behind the green making the approach that much more difficult.
18Birdies GPS view of the 505-yd Par-4 4th hole at Conway Farms
Anything from eagle to double-bogey is in play on the risk-reward 345-yard, par-4, No.7. Expect to see huge momentum shifts here with so much on the line, and some players undoubtedly will take their rips on this potentially drivable hole. Most players will opt for long-iron off the tee and wedge into the green, careful to avoid two bunkers in the center of the fairway and on the right at 225-yards and 238-yards out respectively. More aggressive players looking to go full-bore off the tee will have to contend with three bunkers protecting the front of the green. The elevated putting surface is one of the smallest on the course, making spin control crucial on approach. And for anyone who flies over the green, a bunker guarding the back makes for a very tough recovery.
The 600-yard, par-5 No. 8 can be reached in two for players hugging the left side of the fairway off the tee, but the risk is an expansive pond that’s in play on that side down the entire length of the hole. The more cautious approach off the tee is down the right side, but that also lengthens the hole and takes eagle out of the equation. Five protective bunkers at the entrance of the shallow green are much more demanding than the run-off behind the green, particularly one bunker that’s so deep it’s seemingly a bottomless pit.
No.15 is another risk-reward, short par-4 playing to only 334 yards. It should be a birdie hole for most, but can quickly turn into a bogey hole. The margin of error is small for those who go for it in one, as any tee shot pulled even slightly left will find a lake that runs along the entire left side. Players who opt to use iron from the tee will need to avoid the rough on the right side, which is extremely gnarly and situated on a sidehill lie making for a dangerous second shot. Bunkers protect the front and right side of the green that slopes right-to-left and back towards the water. Finding the front bunkers is preferable to the right-side bunker as that will leave players with a delicate and potentially disastrous recovery shot.
Jordan Spieth is the first player in the 10-year FedEx Cup Playoff history to lead the playoffs heading into the third leg without having won either of the previous two events. And don’t expect him to win this week either. There’s nothing Spieth can do at the BMW Championship to improve his position moving into Atlanta as he’s already locked down a top-5 spot in the Tour Championship (which is important because the top five players in Atlanta all control their own destiny with a win that week). Spieth’s been on a roll in recent weeks, and he’s in as good of form as he’s been all year, but with other top players in the field coming in with a sense of urgency to move on, I just don’t expect Spieth to display that same kind of fire. Look for Spieth to finish between 10 and 20.
A player like Rickie Fowler, on the other hand, is going to be absolutely hell-bent to move up into one of those top-5 spots, and Fowler’s trending in a positive direction in the FedEx Cup Playoffs with a T-20 finish at the Northern Trust and a T-13 finish two weeks ago at the Dell Technology Championship. There are at least 20 players in the field better than Rickie in SG: Approach-The-Green and Proximity To Hole this year, but Rickie would love nothing more than to join his pals Spieth and Thomas as multiple-winners on Tour this season. Call this one a gut feeling, but I like Fowler to contend on Sunday and finish inside the top-3.
To say Jason Day’s season has been disappointing so far would be an incredible understatement. The former No. 1 Player in the World hasn’t won yet this season and has picked up only four top-10 finishes in 18 events. Compare that to eight victories and top-10s in more than 50-percent of the tournaments he played in 2015 and 2016. Day’s precariously inside the top-30 in the FedEx Cup standings at No. 28 coming into this week, but he’s played very well at Conway Farms in the past, winning in 2015, and finishing T-4 in 2013. A win this week could even move Jason into the top-5 heading into Atlanta, and don’t for a second think he doesn’t know this. It’s not the season Day was hoping for when it started back in January at the Tournament of Champions, but adding another BMW Championship victory to his resume would go a long way towards salvaging the season, and even put him on track to win it all next week. Jason Day 2017 FedEx Cup Champion? Don’t rule it out. Day’s your horse for the course this week and also your winner.