BMW CHAMPIONSHIP: The FedEx Cup Playoffs roll on to their second leg this week, as the top-70 in the points standings prepare to battle it out at the BMW Championship with a trip to next week’s Tour Championship on the line.
This event is generally held in the Midwest, as it replaced the old Western Open, and with no regular Tour stop in the Chicago area, it’s no surprise that one of the Windy City’s true gems has been selected this year– Medinah’s No. 3 course, where five major championships and a Ryder Cup have been held.
Medinah is a classically-designed tree-lined course that dates back to the 1920s but has been modernized to fit today’s game. It now measures an eye-popping 7,613 yards from the tips, and since many of the par-4s are doglegs that take driver out of a player’s hand, we won’t be seeing nearly as many wedges as usual this week. Also, three of the par-5s approach or exceed 600 yards in length, so two-putt birdies will be few and far between. Medinah makes you earn it.
Speaking of earning it, Patrick Reed did just that at The Northern Trust last week, fighting off a pack of challengers on Sunday to pull out a 1-shot victory. It was Reed’s first win since last year’s Masters and it vaulted him all the way to No. 2 in the latest FEC point standings, putting him in excellent position in the race for the $10 million first prize. He’s currently trading at 37.0 at BETDAQ and back-to-back winners have become somewhat of a trend in the brief history of these Playoffs, so Reed may be one to consider. That said, I think I’ll be taking my chances with these three:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Justin Rose (21.0)- While he finished a pedestrian T41 in the 2006 PGA Championship held at Medinah, that came at the tail end of a bad stretch of golf for Rose, who had not recorded a single top-10 in his previous 13 starts. His last memory of the course is certainly a good one, however, as he and his European teammates pulled off a historic comeback at the 2012 Ryder Cup, with Rose’s singles win over Phil Mickelson and his undefeated record in foursomes proving pivotal to the final outcome. So Rose has as much experience at Medinah as just about anyone in the field this week, and he’s in excellent form, with top-20 finishes in each of his past five starts, including a T10 at The Northern Trust last week, where he opened with a 65. It feels like he’s somewhat lost in the shuffle amongst all the other big names, but the 2018 FedEx Cup champion has as good a chance as anybody in the field this week, making him a nice value at a price like 21.0.
Paul Casey (52.0)- Casey made news last week by being the only player in the top-10 of the points standings to skip The Northern Trust, but he believes it’s a strategy that will serve him well at next week’s Tour Championship, where he feels he needs as much energy as possible. Given his ball-striking ability, he certainly profiles as a good fit for Medinah, where avoiding the thick rough and keeping it on the correct side of the smaller-than-usual greens is the name of the game. Casey has had a fantastic year, racking up six top-10 finishes and a victory at the Valspar Championship, and though some would categorize his summer as “quiet”, he’s actually been playing quite well, with top-30 finishes in 6 of his last 7 starts, a stretch that includes a pair of top-5s and a T13 last time out at the Wyndham Championship, where he posted four consecutive sub-70 rounds. He should be fresh and ready after resting last week, and at better than 50/1 he just may be the best value on the board.
Marc Leishman (106.0)- Though he missed the cut at The Northern Trust last week, Leishman is just two starts removed from a T3 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude, so I don’t think we should be too concerned about the state of his game. He’s always been somewhat of a feast-or-famine type, anyway– he’s posted six top-5s and a victory this season, but has also missed four cuts in his past 10 starts. So he may lose interest when he’s not in the mix, but if you give him a sniff of contention, he’s pretty difficult to dislodge from the leaderboard. Never was that more apparent than in this event two years ago, when he pulled off a wire-to-wire victory at Conway Farms and set a tournament scoring record in the process (-23, 261). Considering Conway Farms is only about 20 miles up the road from Medinah and the courses are very similar stylistically– bentgrass, thick rough, doglegs, long unreachable par-5s– you would think that Leishman would have some level of comfort this week, despite the fact that he doesn’t have as much in-competition experience at Medinah as many in the field. Bottom line: Leishman has proven he has what it takes to swim with the big fish, and there’s nothing about Medinah that suggests it would be a poor fit for his game. At better than 100/1, he’s the definition of a live longshot.