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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the BMW Championship

Round three of the FedExCup Playoffs follows rapidly in this short week with the BMW Championship. The event returns to Crooked Stick in Indiana, where John Daly first became a major winner -- and legend -- in 1991 and where Rory McIlroy won in 2012, the last time the BMW was held there.

Dustin Johnson

Things are beginning to get tight now. We're down to 70 players this week, each fighting for one of the 30 spots at the Tour Championship. It's desperation time for many of them! And this is a track that can expose every fear a player has.

Crooked Stick is by far the longest of the Playoff tracks, with listing it at 7516 yards. However, the course was toughened up after McIlroy decimated it last time, with more length AND more hazards added. While the length automatically seems to favor the bombers, those new hazards could level the playing field for the shorter hitters. We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I'm taking a mix of long and short hitters in my picks this week.
  • I'd have to be an idiot not to include Rory McIlroy in my list, and it's not just because he won here in 2012. It's the apparent return of his putter that makes him a required pick this week. If he can just putt reasonably well, his driving should give him a real advantage this week.
  • Likewise, Dustin Johnson is still playing well, even if he isn't dominating fields as he did in June. His wedge play is better than Rory's at this point so if he can just drive and putt with some success, he should be in contention Sunday afternoon.
  • Ryan Moore continues to make his case for a Ryder Cup spot. Any course that requires strategy and accuracy should favor him right now, and unless the weather turns bad I don't expect the extra length of the course to hurt him. Hard and fast courses can play into a precision player's hand.
  • Patrick Reed is still playing well after that win in the first Playoff event. Reports say he met up with his swing coach as soon as he got to Crooked Stick, so he might be able to score better this week. Any improvement that he sees -- or just thinks he sees -- in his game can only raise his confidence level.
  • And as my flier, I'm taking Paul Casey. I've been waiting for Paul's play to pick up for months now, and last week may be what I've been looking for. Had the bad weather not come in on Sunday, Paul might have been able to close at Deutsche Bank. Given how upbeat he sounded after the tournament -- my gosh, he had an off-day and still came in solo 2nd after Rory made the biggest comeback of his career -- he may bring some extra confidence into this week.
To me, some of the top players just seem a bit off their games right now, so I can't pick guys like Jason Day or Jordan Spieth. Even though I think they'll play well at Crooked Stick, I just don't think they'll win this week.

But if I have to narrow it to one guy, I'm doing something I haven't done in months. I'm taking Rory McIlroy to pull off the TPC Boston-Crooked Stick double, just as he did in 2012. It's not just because of Rory's putting, though that certainly plays a part. Rather, I was pleased to see him finally playing freely last week -- shrugging off the poor start on Thursday and even laughing at some of his bad shots. A Rory McIlroy who simply doesn't care how he's playing (so long as he's playing) is a Rory McIlroy who can rip up a field like it was so much wrapping paper.

And that could mean the BMW will be his latest present to rip open.

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