BMW Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
AND then there were 70, and the serious business is really under way at the BMW Championship, after which 30 men will head to East Lake for the Tour Championship, at the end of which somebody is going to end their PGA Tour season with a $10m bonus. Nice work if you can get it, and very few do.
Dustin Johnson, whose victory in the Northern Trust Open got his FedEx Cup Playoff campaign off to a winning start, will arrive with positive feelings, having won this tournament in 2010 and again last year – by a remarkable coincidence, Paul Casey was runner-up on both occasions. It was won in 2011 by Justin Rose, by Rory McIlroy in 2012, Zach Johnson in 2013, Billy Horschel in 2014, and Jason Day in 2015.
Johnson is in a strong to win the whole shooting match, but he was in a similar position 12 months ago before McIlroy snatched it away from him. After struggling with his game for months following his injury on the eve of The Masters, Johnson held off the challenge of Jordan Spieth to win in New York and he is going to take some beating now.
You get the impression that McIlroy cannot wait for it all to be over. He has announced that after the Playoffs are over he will play in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at St. Andrews and will then call it a day for 2017. It has been a bitterly disappointing year for the Northern Irishman, who desperately needs a big finish if he is to make it to East Lake. The same can be said of Jason Day. The Australian's pace of play seems to grow ever slower as he tries harder and harder to rediscover the form that took him to the top of the world rankings.
His slump has been alarming. Yes, there have been flashes of brilliance, but they have been few and far between. Day has already said that he is bitterly disappointed to have slipped down the rankings. During 2015 and 2016, the two stand-out parts of his game were his driving and his putting. A huge driver of the golf ball, he consistently put himself in position to score well by finding the middle of fairways. And his putting was on a par with Jordan Spieth's. This year has seen his driving go seriously awry. Obviously he still hits the ball a mile, but he has missed far too many fairways, and the cause seems pretty obvious - he tries to hit the ball too hard. Time after time.
Day's woes with the driver have meant that he has been unable to get his approach shots as close as he had been doing and that has put additional pressure on his wonderful putting stroke. The inevitable outcome has been that his putting statistics have also suffered. And the harder he tries, the worse it seems to get.
Watching Day is one of the most frustrating experiences in golf. Why, oh why, doesn't he just get on with it? Playing with him must be agony, but it is scarcely credible that he could miss out on East Lake.
Casey has no such worries, but wouldn't it be good to see him actually winning a tournament? In recent seasons he has rivalled Matt Kuchar when it comes to churning out top-10 finishes and week after week he plays himself into contention without being able to finish things off. Casey hits the ball a long, long way and is a fabulous iron player, so why can't he win?
He has had seven top-10 finishes in 2017, and did precisely the same in 2016. He has won more than $3m in each season. Incredibly, Casey has just one PGA Tour victory to his name. He is no longer a member of the European Tour, which means he is not eligible for Europe's Ryder Cup team in 2018. There is a sense that if only he could find a way to win once then there may be no stopping him. However, it is a big "if".
He is not the only Englishman looking for a big week. Justin Rose may have played better than anybody else in the field in the Northern Trust Open. You may look at the leaderboard and, given his finishing position, ask how that is possible. He drove the ball magnificently for four days, he struck some glorious fairway woods and his iron play was imperious.
How then, is it possible that he did not contend? The harsh truth is that Rose simply could not buy a putt to save his life. To see so many putts slip agonisingly past the hole was agony. But Rose takes it all in his stride. It must be killing him inside to know that he is playing so well and not winning. Remember, however, that this is a man who went through all sorts of agonies at the start of his career and learnt how to be patient. He will work out a way to get the job done again, and don't be too surprised if it happens this week.
A look at the FedEx Cup standings is educational. Johnson has four victories, with Justin Thomas sitting on five after an incredible season to date. Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama have three victories. That is a total of 15 tournament wins in a season when nobody else has managed more than one. By the way, according to the PGA Tour stats, Spieth is the 36th-best putter in America. If that is true, it makes you wonder just how good the 35 ahead of him are. Either that or it proves that statistics actually prove nothing at all. The 36th-best putter? They are having a laugh!
I have a feeling that Jon Rahm will continue his sensational form before the Playoffs are over, and that he is the man to beat at the BMW.
Jon Rahm. A year to remember
Paul Casey. Come on Paul, you CAN do it
Justin Thomas. Has high hopes of winning the big prize
Jon Rahm. Due another win
Paul Casey. Time to deliver
Justin Thomas. Brilliant young American
Dustin Johnson. Looking for a third BMW title
Daniel Berger. Has all the shots
Jordan Spieth. Class act
Matt Kuchar. Another week, another good finish
Rory McIlroy. Needs a huge week
Jhonattan Vegas. Has found something recently
Hideki Matsuyama. Japanese superstar
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