For the penultimate event of its season, the PGA Tour takes the top 70 players in the Fedex Cup standings through to Conway Farms in Illinois for the no-cut BMW Championship.
The Tom Fazio designed 7,208 yard par 71 plays host to this event for the third time in five years, with Zach Johnson and Jason Day triumphing in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The bentgrass layout was also famously the scene of second round 59 from Jim Furyk last time out, as the rain softened course offered up some target practice for the game’s best. Those three names stand out as players who not only hit a lot of greens in regulation but also who exhibit great touch around the greens so immediately we get a pointer that this is a second shot course where scrambling is of paramount importance.
In the absence of significant inclement weather this week, we should see a return to scoring more closely aligned to the 2013 edition of the tournament (2015 played a full shot and a half easier per round on average), when Johnson’s -16 total of 268 was enough to secure the title.
With a tough par 5 finisher, players will be looking to have done their damage earlier in the round and given the record shows Johnson took advantage of the par 4s in 2015, playing them in -9 for the week, I’ll be looking at the par 4 scoring averages as a further guide this week.
How things stand
The fact that this is the penultimate event of the year adds a little nuance to the betting heat, as just 19 players are already mathematically certain to reach the Fedex Cup finale at East Lake next week, with 11 additional spots up for grabs.
Players are granted some very favourable exceptions for being one of the elite 30, such as free passage to the following year’s Majors and WGCs plus carte-blanche acceptance to any event on the standard PGA slate (very handy for schedule setting), so there are some big names on the bubble with a little-added incentive to play well. The fact it’s a no-cut event will add a little extra spice to that race to beat the bubble down the stretch but a fast start has been paramount here previously with Johnson shooting 64 in Round 1 in 2013 and Day blitzing the course for an opening 61 in 2015.
The current golf landscape makes handicapping a tournament extremely tough as the depth of true superstar talent is seemingly expanding on a yearly basis. If you were to look at the world ranking positions of the world’s current top five just three years ago, Jordan Spieth was highest at 13th whilst Justin Thomas hadn’t cracked the top 200 and Jon Rahm did not yet even have pro status.
This has created a situation whereby the top 10-15 names in the world are essentially interchangeable and if you review the results of the game’s big events (Majors, WGCs and FedEx Cup playoffs) it is only the Players Championship which has seen a winner outside of these 15 names this season
As a result, picking runners from the top of the market makes sense but finding the right one is frustratingly difficult. As with anything gambling related, we are seeking long term value and then hoping the laws of variance play their part so I’ll be continuing to take a statistically lead, priced based approach and hoping the cards fall the right way.
With that in mind, my first bet this week is Hideki Matsuyama. The Japanese world number three came into the Fedex Cup playoffs leading the standings and went off as short as 11/1 for the PGA Championship on the back of his WGC Bridgestone victory in his previous start. He finished 5th that week, which was certainly no disgrace, but subsequently missed the cut at The Northern Trust and then finished 23rd last time out at the Dell Technologies which has seen his price pushed out to a now enticing 19.0.
We have seen the 25-year-old go through small periods of middling form previously but he has always bounced back in short order and of his five Tour wins, two have come in WGC events so he is comfortable in the best fields.
His statistical profile looks ideal for this challenge, ranking 9th in GIR, 3rd in par 4 scoring and 21st in scrambling plus he ranks 10th in strokes gained on bentgrass tracks.
Taking all this into account, alongside his 7th place finish here on debut in 2015, I’m backing him to bounce back into contention this week and expect a good showing.
Henrik Stenson (34.0) is one of those players previously mentioned who has not yet secured his spot inside the top 30 as he is precariously positioned at number 26.
He skipped the Dell Technologies week to rest a knee that had felt sore and that additional rest should serve him well as he looks to reach East Lake again, scene of his Fedex Cup win in 2013. Prior to that break, the world number seven had won his penultimate start at the Wyndham and had finished no worse than 26th in his last seven starts so his game is clearly in good nick. He finished 10th at Conway Farms in 2015, including a second round 63, so clearly the course suits his eye and he is somewhat of a bentgrass specialist ranking 4th in strokes gained on such courses.
The Swede has always been a ball striking machine who thrives on second shot courses and though he’s still one event shy of officially registering in the PGA Tours stats lists this season, the Fantasy National website has him ranked second in the field in strokes gained: approach and seventh in strokes gained: total.
If he has a good week around the greens, he will be right in the mix and he looks a value bet at the price.
- Hideki Matsuyama, 2 points @ 19.0 (lay set at 4.5)
- Henrik Stenson, 1 point @ 34.0 (lay set at 7.0)