After a long, wet week overlooking the Manhattan skyline, the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup playoffs caravan travel to Maryland this week for the BMW Championship.
It’s the PGA Tour’s first stop in Baltimore in 60 years and the host course is Caves Valley, yet another Tom Fazio layout, that measures more than 7,500 yards but is expected to yield ample birdie opportunities.
Early reports favor the bombers on a course that’s played host to Champions Tour majors, NCAA Championships and a marquee LPGA event. The course was renovated and lengthened in recent years, featuring upgraded bunkers and improved drainage.
Sizzling temperatures, light winds and a slight chance for a thunderstorm is the typical late August forecast. With four reachable par 5s and three driveable par 4s, aggressive play will be rewarded as the field fights for the top 30 in the standings and a coveted spot in next week’s Tour Championship. In addition to a fat stack of bonus cash, the perks for the top 30 include an invitation to all four major championships in 2022.
What seems important this week, besides distance off the tee? Par-3 acumen. Three of the four par 3s at Caves are longer than 200 yards. Bentgrass putting factored into our model and creating birdie and eagle opportunities on longer golf courses. While the doglegs can be overpowered, the thick rough and well-bunkered fairways also put a premium on playing from the fairway. It’s a second-shot course, like most of Fazio’s, and angles are important.
The consensus is 16-20 under par as a winning score. There’s no cut.
It’s also wise to ride the hot hand this time of the year. We’ve seen players get hot and charge from the playoff fringe to Atlanta in the past, so don’t be surprised if the scenario is repeated.
Tip of the cap to Tony Finau, one of the best humans playing professional golf, for closing in 30 at Liberty National and handling Cam Smith in a sudden-death playoff. Winning a tournament is never easy and Finau let his share slip away in recent years. Now, he’s the FedEx Cup leader.
Cam Davis, Lucas Glover, Talor Gooch, Marc Leishman, Charl Schwartzel, Aaron Wise.
As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
20. Charley Hoffman – He’s 12th in the field in SG: Total on courses longer than 7,400 yards and was solid in every area other than around-the-green in a T-21 last week at Liberty National.
19. Joaquin Niemann – Short game has been a sore spot for Niemann most of the season, so encouraged that he gained 1.4 shots around the greens last week (T-47). Routinely gains shots off the tee (2 per last five tournaments) and ranks 10th in SG: Ballstriking on longer courses. Not afraid to go low.
18. Hideki Matsuyama – Endured a rare off week with his irons at Liberty National but gained strokes on the greens and enjoys another week on his favorite surface, bentgrass. He’s seventh in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds on longer courses and second in SG: Around-the-Green.
17. Louis Oosthuizen – Skipped last week because he’s already locked up a tee time at East Lake in an outstanding season. Has six top 10s in his last 10 starts, including a trio of top 3s in the major championships.
16. Corey Conners – Iron game returned to form last week (6.4 shots gained on approach) and tied for eighth at Liberty National despite putting worse than the field average. Leads the field in Good Drives Gained and GIR’s Gained in the last 50 rounds on courses longer than 7,400 yards.
15. Tony Finau – Gained 5.7 shots on approach and four shots on the green last week to secure his second PGA Tour title. It was his best effort with the irons since a runner-up at Riviera. He’s 13th in Birdies or Better Gained over the last 50 rounds on longer courses.
14. Patrick Cantlay – Loves bentgrass greens, in general, and had a good week off the tee and on the greens last week in a T-11 at Northern Trust, losing 1.7 shots on approach. Solid all-around game is why he’s ninth in SG: Total on longer courses. Has six top 25s in his last seven starts, including a win at Memorial.
13. Sungjae Im – We’re all waiting for Sungjae to make some putts. His long game is dialed, gaining 4.1 strokes off the tee and 2.8 strokes on approach at Northern Trust in a T-16, his third top 25 in the last five starts.
12. Webb Simpson – He’ll take more traditional lines off the tee but he should feel comfortable at Caves Valley, considering he’s a member at two other Fazio courses that have played host to PGA Tour events (Quail Hollow, Eagle Point). Somewhat surprised he is sixth in SG: Total on longer courses and his T-47 last week included 2.8 SG: Approach. At 52nd in the FEC needs a strong week.
11. Paul Casey – Comically poor putting (-6.5 SG) doomed the Englishman to a T-64 at the Northern Trust. We’ll focus instead on how he gained at least four shots on approach for the sixth consecutive measured tournament. Has a low ceiling in a shootout but his ability to put the ball on the fairway and near the hole should play well at Caves.
10. Jordan Spieth – Because of his ties to Under Armour, has spent some time at Caves Valley but it’s unclear whether he’s spent much time there since the renovations. Worst ballstriking (driving) week of the year at Liberty National halted his string of five consecutive top 20s. Should have more room to swing freely this week.
9. Sam Burns – Always a bit of a wildcard but love his upside because of his par-5 prowess (+1.8 on the 550-600 yarders last week) and his recent form (T-2 at Memphis, T-21 at Northern Trust). Like him in a no-cut format.
8. Jon Rahm – Well, that finish in Jersey had to sting. And his overall stats on longer courses aren’t great. Still, expect him to bounce back on a course that some feel favors a fade and where his missed tee shots may be slightly less penal. Nobody is hitting their irons better at the moment (8.5 shots gained on approach last week).
7. Brooks Koepka – Was worse than the field average in iron play and putting last week yet still managed a T-31. Expect him to tighten up both areas and his fade should play well here also. He’s third in the field in SG: Total on 7,400-plus courses over the last 36 rounds.
6. Dustin Johnson – Hanging with the faders, although DJ had no idea where his ball was going at Liberty National, losing 4.2 shots tee-to-green, his worst effort since the 2020 Memorial. Blame it on the Big Apple. Finished runner-up in the 2017 Wells Fargo at Eagle Point, letting it rip off the tee.
5. Viktor Hovland – If the Norwegian Forest Cat’s putter had nine lives, they all expired upon colliding with his golf bag Monday afternoon at Liberty National. Sometimes, these things must happen. Sad day on the greens aside, he gained 2.2 shots on approach for the week. Finished T-3 at Quail Hollow earlier this year.
4. Bryson DeChambeau – The Twitter punters love the bomber this week and his strength on long par 3s, coming off the second consecutive week where he gained at least three shots on approach are valid reasons. He should have excellent looks at birdie on at least half the holes each day at Caves Valley.
3. Xander Schauffele – Leads the field on SG: Total over 7,400 yards. Putts great on bentgrass. Remains my pick to win the FedEx Cup because of his love affair with East Lake and needs a great week to have a realistic chance.
2. Justin Thomas – Liked the move back to his old putter, which produced his best effort on the greens (4.5 shots gained) in nearly a year. Thrives on longer courses, and would’ve finished higher than fourth last week if not for an uncharacteristic loss of 2.6 shots around the greens. He’s one of the best pitchers of the ball in golf. He’ll tighten that up around Caves’ exquisite short game area.
1. Rory McIlroy – He loves the FedEx Cup and he’s a bargain in your average fantasy format and gambling board this week. The win at Quail Hollow should give him confidence. After a strong five-tournament run with his iron play he took a step back in a T-43 at Liberty National but the putter was strong and he loves this time of the year.