THE BMW CHAMPIONSHIP
Winner's Share: $1.575M
FedEx Cup Points: 2,000 to the Winner
Location: Lake Forest, Ill.
Course: Conway Farms Golf Club
2016 champion: Dustin Johnson
After a one-week break to let everyone get the NFL and college football out of their system (we kid), golf is back. A field of 70 is on hand for the penultimate event of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season. There is no weekend cut, but there are two other critical "cutoffs." First, there's the race to finish in the top-30 in the FedEx Cup point standings to get into next week's season-ending Tour Championship. Second, the top golfers will be vying to finish the tournament among the top-5 in points, as those five get to control their own fate. A win at East Lake for any of them would secure the FedEx Cup championship and the $10 million that goes with it. So there is potential for some real drama in multiple spots on the Sunday leaderboard. For those trying to get into the top-30, there's a lot more at stake than the oodles of cash that come with a berth in the Tour Championship. Those 30 also gain entry into all four majors next season. But if a golfer isn't in the top-30 already, it's not easy to get there. Four guys made the jump each of the past two years, but in the three previous years it was only two each time.
The rotating courses that constitute the BMW Championship take us back to Conway Farms, where we have only two previous tournaments to look back on. Zach Johnson won in 2013 at 16-under and Jason Day did so in 2015 at 22-under. They were two completely different tournaments. In '13, it was cold, windy and rainy leading to a Monday finish, and precision shot-makers ruled; in '15, rain resulted in preferred lies for the middle two rounds and long hitters dominated the leaderboard. This year, it is not forecast to be cold, windy or especially rainy, so both short and long hitters could be part of a successful lineup.
Conway Farms is not long. The Tom Fazio design turns to uneven fairways, strategically placed bunkers and small, undulating greens as its defense. Some golfers will hit short of the perils of the fairway (bunkers, etc.) and others will bomb over them. Either way, the second shot will be paramount, putting a premium on greens in regulation and proximity. More on that in the key stats and Champion's Profile below. The hardest holes on the course are generally the long par-4s, but there are also six par-4s inside of 420 yards, and we simply don't see that very often anymore. Really, wedges could decide this tournament. The golfers won't use driver all that much, but they will on the three par-5s. They are pretty much the easiest three holes on the course despite all of them being 575 yards or longer.
Weather-wise, the forecast says there's virtually no chance of rain until ... Sunday afternoon. A lot can change between now and then. Otherwise, temps will be mild with little wind.
Lastly, we always like to point out that the tournament has roots to the old Western Open, which dates back to 1899. That makes it the world's third oldest tournament behind only the Open Championship (1860) and U.S. Open (1885).
Key Stats to winning at Conway Farms (in order of importance)
• Stroke gained tee to green with an emphasis on greens in regulation
• Proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards
• Scrambling/strokes gained around the green
• Putting average/strokes gained putting
2016 - Dustin Johnson
2015 - Jason Day
2014 - Billy Horschel
2013 - Zach Johnson
2012 - Rory McIlroy
2011 - Justin Rose
2010 - Dustin Johnson
2009 - Tiger Woods
2008 - Camilo Villegas
2007 - Tiger Woods
The first page of the 2013 and '15 leaderboards were dominated by golfers who excelled in greens in regulation. It stands to reason that on a short course, if you can't hit greens in regulation, you are really playing from behind. Of course, on a shorter course, GIR should be easier. There will be a lot of shots from the 150-yard range, so not only should golfers be able to get the ball on the green from that distance, they should be able to get it close. That's where proximity comes into play, and it was a tough call whether to focus on 125-150 or 150-175, but we chose the latter because there was a larger percentage of approach shots attempted from that range in both years. The greens are small and greens will be missed, so scrambling comes into play. Smaller greens generally neutralize the top putters. Putting is still important this week; it's just that on smaller greens, bad putters can become better putters.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Jordan Spieth - $11,800 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 6-1)
There are five golfers whom DraftKings has pegged at over $10K and a case could be made for each of them. We're picking three, starting with the top guy on the board. Spieth has been rolling all summer, and is atop the FedEx Cup point standings after runners-up in each of the first two events. He was T16 at Conway Farms in 2013 and T13 in '15. There's no need to start spewing stats where Spieth is concerned, but if you need one, here goes: Spieth is first on Tour in proximity 150-175.
Rickie Fowler - $10,700 (12-1)
Fowler has become a bit of a forgotten guy, with fellow Brocationers Spieth and Justin Thomas having otherworldly summers. Fowler has run off top-25s in his past seven starts -- not too shabby -- but of course far short of those two. Still, Fowler has danced on the fringes of contention all along, and this course may suit him best of all. Fowler tied for fourth in 2015. He's eighth in scrambling, fourth in proximity 150-175 and second in strokes gained putting.
Justin Thomas - $10,300 (10-1)
Hard to believe this guy is the No. 5 choice on the DraftKings board (Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm also cost more). He's among the best bargains in the field, even costing five figures. If there's one knock on Thomas, it's fairway accuracy, but even that has been improving rapidly and shouldn't be an issue this week. He's still behind Spieth in the point standings, so he has that to shoot for. Thomas was T13 in his lone Conway Farms visit in 2015.
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,900 (12-1)
How do you say, "Hi, my name is Hideki Matsuyama, remember me?" in Japanese? After a superb four-tournament run in the final three majors and WGC-Bridgestone, Matsuyama has been a dud in the playoffs, first missing the cut and then tying for 23rd at TPC Boston. And that was even a back-door top-25. But the third-ranked golfer in the world is still in the mix for the FedEx Cup Championship and currently fourth in the point standings. He's fifth in proximity 150-175, ninth in GIR and his so-so putting should be masked this week. He tied for seventh in 2015 while finishing 26th in the field in strokes gained putting.
Tier 2 Values
Paul Casey - $9,200 (15-1)
The big concern about Casey was not whether he would play well at Conway Farms, but whether he would play. Well, now all systems are go after Casey's wife gave birth on Monday night, clearing the way for him to continue a remarkable run. Casey has cashed top-5 in the past five playoff events, including the first two this season. He's eighth in the point standings, still outside the top-5 needed to control his fate at East Lake, so there's plenty of incentive this week. Casey was T23 in 2015, his lone visit to Conway Farms.
Henrik Stenson - $8,900 (25-1)
En route to winning the FedEx Cup in 2013, Stenson was nicknamed "Mr. September." He won twice in those playoffs, though a T33 at Conway Farms was sandwiched in between. Let's chalk that up to: It's hard to win every dang week. This course perfectly suits Stenson's machine-like ball-striking. He tied for 10th upon returning here in 2015. Stenson's awful two-thirds of a season is long forgotten now that he's ripped off five straight top-20s, including a win at the Wyndham.
Patrick Cantlay - $8,600 (50-1)
We've reached the third of the four playoff events and Cantlay still doesn't have enough rounds played to qualify for the statistical rankings. Of course, his most important stats are zero missed cuts and six top-25s in 11 starts, including T10 and T13 in the first two playoff events. Cantlay is 41st in points, and would likely need a top-9 finish to advance to the Tour Championship. It's unlikely, but not out of the question. If Cantlay did have enough rounds, he'd be 13th in both greens in regulation and strokes gained tee to green.
Justin Rose - $8,500 (25-1)
When you try to think of what Rose has done this season, nothing superb readily comes to mind. He hasn't won since last summer's Olympics, but yet he's 17th in the point standings, a lock for East Lake. Rose disappeared after his Masters runner-up, but has resurfaced with twin T10s in the first two playoff events. And that was in back-to-back weeks, which he hasn't done all that much to save his balky back. Rose was T13 at Conway Farms in 2015.
Tier 3 Values
Patrick Reed - $8,000 (25-1)
Reed has to be the best bargain on the DraftKings board. He's a steal at $8,000. After a down year, Reed has salvaged his season and ensured a berth in the Tour Championship with a runner-up to Thomas at the PGA Championship and a T6 last week at TPC Boston. He has 14 top-25s, but only four top-10s -- and two of them were so recent they were in the previous sentence. Reed is still woeful with greens in regulation, around 62 percent for the season and it did not get better during his recent run. But his shorter game -- proximity, scrambling, putting -- has improved markedly. Reed was T28 in 2015, T59 in 2013.
Kevin Na - $7,900 (60-1)
We're not sure where Na came from the past few weeks, but he's surely here now. Na has mostly erased a terrible season with a pair of top-6s in his past three starts, including T6 at TPC Boston -- a course at which he had largely been awful in years past. But the surge has vaulted Na to 40th in the point standings. He still has a lot of work to do to get to East Lake, but Na can begin the week with confidence, having tied for 10th at Conway Farms in 2015.
Charl Schwartzel - $7,600 (80-1)
Schwartzel has only 17 PGA Tour starts, but he's got a second and a third (Masters) among six top-25s. This from a golfer who is a horrid 185th in greens in regulation. Really, if you looked at all of Schwartzel's stats, you could reasonably believe they belong to an awful golfer and not No. 26 in the OWGR. Schwartzel has gone T29 and T25 in the first two playoff events, moving him to 43rd in the point standings. He would likely need a top-6 finish to reach East Lake -- something along the lines of the T8 he recorded at Conway Farms in 2013.
Kyle Stanley - $7,400 (100-1)
Stanley endured a rough patch over the summer, but has come out of it with twin T25s in the first two playoff events. On a course where putting acumen isn't paramount, it wouldn't surprise us to see a better finish for Stanley, who now has 11 top-25s in his breakthrough season. Stanley remains tops on Tour in greens in regulation, fourth in proximity (12th in 150-175) and eighth in strokes tee to green. At 19th in the point standings, he should be able to play pressure free, his trip to East Lake assured. This is his first start at Conway Farms.
Gary Woodland - $7,100 (80-1)
Woodland has a lot to play for this week and, fortunately for him, he's playing pretty well. He's played his way inside the top-30, but at No. 29 is quite vulnerable. He tied for 22nd at TPC Boston, missed the cut at the playoff-opening Northern Trust and was T22 before that in the PGA Championship. He's been more proficient of late in strokes gained tee to green and greens in regulation. Woodland was T60 in 2015 at Conway Farms but T18 in 2013.
Rafael Cabrera Bello - $7,100 (125-1)
If the No. 18 golfer in the world is available at a long-shot price, we'll take him. Cabrera Bello put on a late charge on Sunday at TPC Boston to climb into the top-70. He's now in 60th place, so it would likely take a top-3 finish to advance to East Lake. Outside of a top-10 in strokes gained putting, Cabrera Bello does not have the greatest stats, but he's done enough to finish top-25 in almost half his PGA Tour starts this season (8-of-18).
Robert Streb - $7,100 (200-1)
In the past two months, Streb has had a pair of top-10s along with three cashes outside the top-70. Well, we know for sure that Streb can't possibly finish outside the top-70 this week. Kidding aside, Streb's season did a U-turn in early July, when he was the Greenbrier runner-up at the Old White, a course drawing some comparisons to Conway Farms, where Streb tied for 23rd two years ago. He also registered a T10 in this season's playoff opener. Streb is middle of the road (or mediocre) in all the key stats, ranking somewhere near 100th in most of them.
Xander Schauffele - $6,900 (100-1)
A month ago after the WGC-Bridgestone, the rookie stood inside the top-30. He's taken a bit of a stumble, missing the cut at the PGA Championship and tying for 53rd at Boston, but he also tied for 17th at the Northern Trust. Add it all up and Schauffele sits 32nd in the point standings -- nothing a good finish couldn't cure. He's 24th in greens in regulation.
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