Now that we’ve all had time to recover from watching Dustin Johnson obliterate the field outside Boston, the FedEx Cup playoffs roll to the Midwest for the second event, the BMW Championship.
Olympia Fields is the site of this week’s 70-man tournament. The field is playing for $9.5 million with $1.7 million to the winner, and of course, a coveted spot in the top 30 which earns a tee time at East Lake next week and an invitation to all four major championships in 2021.
If you faintly remember Olympia Fields, that’s understandable. The last significant professional event played on the 7,343-yard par-70 layout occurred in 2003 when Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open with a sparkling score of 272. The tree-lined course features small bentgrass greens and rather generous fairways.
Willie Park Jr., who won The Open Championship in 1887 and 1889, designed the golf course. “A man who can putt is a match for anyone,” Park Jr. once said and the mallets and blades will indeed be important instruments on a course that relies on its greens to test the modern bomber.
Willie Park Sr. won the inaugural Open Championship at Prestwick in 1860 while uncle Mungo claimed the Challenge Belt in 1870. The Claret Jug came around a couple years later.
Willie Jr. probably could’ve never imagined that golfers would come through his course, fighting to put themselves in position to win the $15 million to be awarded next week at East Lake.
Only a handful of the 70 players in this year’s BMW field have competed at Olympia Fields so we’re relying on recent performance as the guiding light for this week’s projections. A good short game will come in handy, just like Willie Jr. wanted.
Here’s a look at this week’s power rankings, current FedEx Cup standing in parentheses.
5 Ready To Charge
Alex Noren (47) – With top 10s sandwiched around a T-19 at the PGA in his last three starts, one of the tour’s ultimate grinders is trying to sneak into the Tour Championship field. He’s absolutely sizzling on the greens right now, gaining more than five strokes per week in this three-tournament run. A man with a hot putter fears no one.
Patrick Cantlay (37) – Feel certain Cantlay is disappointed by one top-10 finish in six tournaments since the restart. His short game has been the culprit. He’s lost strokes on the greens two of the last three weeks and he’s saved par less frequently than he did a year ago. But he has a chance to salvage his season and the Fantasy National metrics point toward a good week.
Matthew Wolff (33) – He loves the Midwest, winning the 3M Open last year and contending at the Rocket Mortgage in July. His other two ‘classmates’ Hovland and Morikawa are packing their bags for Atlanta. He doesn’t want to miss the trip and is the most capable of dismantling the course with his tee-to-green game.
Jason Day (50) – Last week’s missed cut, on the heels of four consecutive top-7 finishes, was surprising. Day entered the week as a popular pick to claim the title. Maybe we were all a week early in the prediction. His irons and putter misfired at the same time, which is a lethal combo in pro golf. Blame it on a hangover from his near-miss at Harding Park, nothing more.
Joel Dahmen (41) – Already a fan favorite, Dahmen won even more friends over the weekend when he went to Twitter in search of a money game last weekend in Boston. He came out on the losing end, however, his ballstriking acumen puts him in fantastic position to storm toward Atlanta this week in the Chicago suburbs.
15. Billy Horschel (30) – The Florida Gator starts the week perched squarely on the Tour Championship cutline and other than missing the cut last week at the Northern Trust, he’s been in good form since mid-July. He finished runner-up at the Wyndham and in his last five starts, has gained an average of 1.7 strokes Tee-to-Green and 3 strokes Putting.
14. Ryan Palmer (22) – Palmer’s strong game tee-to-green has kept him on my radar throughout the season and he’s delivered with his best season since he finished 14th in the FedEx Cup in 2014. Last week he gained 4.9 strokes on the green and landed in the top 10 for the third time since the restart.
13. Hideki Matsuyama (18) – I can’t quit you, Hideki. Not after you gained 2.7 strokes on the greens last week and posted a fifth top 30 in the last six weeks. And it’s all been done without the usual supreme ballstriking we’ve grown accustomed to from Japan’s best player. He leads the field, per Fantasy National, in Strokes Gained: Total in the past 24 rounds played in conditions like those expected this week.
12. Harris English (6) – After a string of solid weeks (all season, really), English cashed in and confirmed his spot in the Tour Championship last week by winning the Northern Trust Open “B” Flight with an otherwise outstanding 19-under effort. Not an elite driver but is among the Tour’s best in every other area and riding a hot putter.
11. Viktor Hovland (24) – He’s offset mediocre iron play with hot putting the last two weeks and climbed into excellent position to compete in the Tour Championship in his first full season as a PGA Tour member. He hasn’t missed a cut since the Honda – which was the week after his first professional victory. Short game is the obvious weakness in his game and it may be exposed around the small greens at Olympia Fields.
10. Justin Thomas (2) – Golf is hard. Even for someone blessed with his skill set. He’s looked lost on the greens in his last two starts and his stellar iron game slipped last week. The putter has been an issue all year (123rd SG) yet he still leads the PGA Tour with nine top 10s. Seems unlikely that he and Bones will have three disappointing tournaments in a row.
9. Adam Scott (38) – In need of an excellent week to extend his season, Olympia Fields feels like the kind of precision demanding layout that suits his strengths and gets his full attention. He chipped and putted poorly last week and finished 58th but he’s fifth in the field in SG: Total over the last 24 rounds on bentgrass greens.
8. Patrick Reed (10) – As we know by now, the mercurial former Masters champion is also quite unpredictable because, more-so than other premier pros, he needs a hot putter to produce high finishes. If I could predict which pros were going to putt the best each week, I’d be filing this column from my estate in Bora Bora. So, after a dismal effort on the greens in Boston, play a hunch on Mr. Reed and expect the 15 footers to drop at Olympia Fields.
7. Tony Finau (29) – Don’t let last week’s missed cut distract you. In his precarious position in the playoff standings, Finau understands what’s at stake this week and I fully expect him to flash the form he showed for four days at Harding Park. He leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green and is second in SG: Approach shots on bentgrass when birdies are available.
6. Bryson DeChambeau (6) – After a surprising missed cut last week, Dechambeau will enjoy all the good vibes this week as he returns to Olympia Fields, site of his decisive romp to victory in the 2015 U.S. Amateur. He gained 4.8 strokes on the green in a top 10 at the PGA Championship.
5. Jon Rahm (9) – He found the touch on the greens last week, gaining 4.5 strokes on the field, and cracked the top 10 at TPC Boston. The tremendous touch he put on display in winning Memorial will be an asset this week navigating around Olympia Fields’ small greens and his driver is always a weapon. A very good year could become great with a strong two-week run.
4. Daniel Berger (4) – Dear Fred Ridley: Invite this man to the 2020 Masters. I understand the qualifications and such are based on a player’s performance prior to last April, however, Berger has been the best golfer in the world since the June restart. He’s finished in the top 10 in seven of the last nine events (13th at PGA, MC at Memorial). Hard to find a weakness in his game because there hasn’t been one.
3. Xander Schauffele (11) – Quietly consistent since the restart, I still believe in Schauffele to contend in and perhaps win one of the playoff events. Time is running short. Despite a chilly putter, he recorded a sixth consecutive top-25 finish (and 11th in last 12 starts) last week. His short game has been sharp for the last month and he’s on the verge, waiting for all areas of his game to click.
2. Collin Morikawa (5) – Becoming a major champion is a life-changing event and the weeks afterward can be a blur, even for a mature 24-year-old. Still, the PGA champion is second on the PGA Tour in SG: Approach-the-Green and putted great on smooth bentgrass at Harding Park. He also played in the University of Illinois’ tournament at Olympia Fields twice while in college at Cal, opening with 67, 66 and finishing second in fall 2018. The FedEx Cup is within reach and he won’t squander the opportunity.
1. Dustin Johnson (1) – With his fifth FedEx Cup playoffs victory and second tournament title since the restart coming in record fashion, DJ looks like the best player in the world again. The numbers from last week are just silly – 18.1 strokes gained tee-to-green – but the putting stats make me believe this hot streak will continue, indefinitely. In his last two starts on bentgrass, he gained 6.8 shots at Harding Park and 5.4 at TPC Boston.