BMW Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
AND then there were just 70 left standing, following Patrick Reed's win in New Jersey. The new-look FedEx Cup Playoffs arrive at Medinah for the BMW Championship, at the end of which the top 30 players will head off to East Lake for the season-ending Tour Championship, where Tiger Woods enjoyed such an emotional comeback victory last year. And the man who wins the whole shooting match will find himself walking away with a cool $15m bonus.
Keegan Bradley’s victory in the BMW last year remains fresh in the memory. He won three times in his first two seasons on the PGA Tour, but then it all went wrong for him when the belly putter was banned. He had used it to help him win the US PGA Championship, and he struggled horribly as he tried to come to terms with using a normal putter. The belly putter was banned on January 1, 2016, which coincided with the worst season of Bradley’s career. It was no coincidence.
However, that wasn’t his only problem. Bradley has always been a player who fidgets with his swing. Truth be told, he fidgets with just about everything, taking an age to hit golf shots and infuriating many of his fellow professionals over the length of time he takes to play. There are times when he makes Kevin Na look rapid.
“I had missed more than 10 cuts in 2016 and was in serious jeopardy of not making the Playoffs. I was really struggling,” he said. He finished outside the top 100 in the FedExCup for the first time in 2016. “I wasn't really aware of how far off I was. I had to really get serious and put a lot of work in.”
But Bradley is nothing if not a fighter. His strong will allowed him to make the PGA Tour despite growing up in the cold weather of Vermont and playing college golf at a school, St. John’s, located in the midst of New York City. He used that same determination to fight out of this lengthy slump.
His victory at the BMW Championship, where he beat Justin Rose in a playoff, was his first in more than six years. He jumped to sixth in the FedExCup standings to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. It was quite a turnaround.
“A lot has happened to me over these six years,” he said. “The belly putter was a tougher transition than I thought, and I kind of fell off the radar there for a little while. It's tough to go from being on Ryder Cup teams, being on Presidents Cup teams to outside the top 100 in the world. That was difficult. I had to really sit down with my coach Darren May, and we put a schedule together.”
Bradley finally got his swing right. It took a little longer to find a method that worked for him on the greens. He finally settled on the arm-lock method used by Matt Kuchar and another player impacted by the anchoring ban, Webb Simpson. It may not look pretty, but it is effective, even though some purists continue to question the legality of his method, arguing that it is still a form of anchoring.
Watching Simpson hole puts from all over the place at the 2018 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass only convinced Bradley that he was on the right track, and he stuck with it. Like Bradley, Simpson had won a major (the US Open) with the belly putter but struggled after that club was made illegal. The Players Championship was Simpson’s first win in more than four years.
“When I used the belly, I just putted,” Bradley said. “There was no thought process. And I had to really sit down and focus in on my putting stroke, which was something I had never done.”
The reality is that Bradley remains near the bottom of the Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting but has enough good weeks on the greens to contend. His runner-up finish in his second event of last season, the CIMB Classic, was his best since 2014. He also finished fourth at the 2018 Canadian Open with the sixth-best Strokes Gained: Putting performance of his career.
His strong long game takes the pressure off his putting. He can still have a solid week with mediocre putting and contend when he gets hot on the greens. And that’s what happened at Aronimink last year. Bradley led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, holing 11 putts outside 10 feet.
He almost didn’t have the opportunity to win. Constant rain forced the final round to be pushed back a day. But, with one eye on the FedExCup standings, Bradley sank crucial seven-footers for par on Saturday’s final two holes to grab the 30th spot in the projected standings. Those putts increased his confidence entering the final round. On the Monday, when the final round was played, he sank five putts outside 10 feet, including birdie putts of 17 feet and 10 feet on the back nine’s two par-3s.
“It’s scary when I look back because I didn't know I needed this much improvement,” Bradley said. “But to put it all together, especially with the putter the way it was this week and the way it's becoming, is so gratifying, because for a little while, I didn't know if I was going to be able to get back to this spot, and today I did it.”
Although he has been unable to find another victory this season, there have been six top-20 finishes, including a tie for second at the Travelers Championship and he comfortable made the cut for the BMW. But he will need another big week if he is to progress to East Lake.
For the likes of Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay, it is all about jockeying for position. All the smart money will be on Koepka, but if any one of that group wins here they will head to the Tour Championship in buoyant mood, knowing they only have to beat 29 rivals. And if anybody wins two of the three Playoffs they will be going home with the trophy and the loot.
Your correspondent’s money is on McIlroy, purely and simply because he is playing for pride after another disappointing season in the majors. He was devastated not to make the cut in The Open at Royal Portrush and it would have been all too easy for him to have thrown his toys out of the pram. Thankfuly, he is better than that. Much better than that. It still defies belief that the most recent of his major victories came five years ago, but he surely isn’t finished yet. And it would do wonders for his confidence (not to mention his already bulging bank balance) to win the FedEx Cup.
Rory McIlroy. Simply the best
Xander Schauffele. Beautiful ball striker
Brooks Koepka. A man for the big occasion
Rory McIlroy. Still has a point to prove
Xander Schauffele. Class act
Brooks Koepka. Believes he can win every week
Jon Rahm. Will really fancy the job here
Patrick Cantlay. Finally starting to live up to his huge promise
Dustin Johnson. If he putts well he will be difficult to beat
Tony Finau. Hugely entertaining to watch
Justin Rose. Just keeps grinding it out
Matt Kuchar. What a season
Tommy Fleetwood. On cruise control
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