BMW CHAMPIONSHIP: The long race to crown this year’s FedExCup champion is nearing an end, and a favorite has emerged: with back-to-back wins in the first two Playoff events, Bryson DeChambeau now has a commanding 2,300-point lead in the standings and will look to continue his white-hot play at this week’s BMW Championship.
The field this week consists only of the top-70 in the FedExCup standings, minus Daniel Berger, who withdrew with a wrist injury. That means 69 players will tee it up at the Donald Ross-designed Aronimink Golf Club on Thursday, with the top-30 in the standings at the conclusion of the week’s play advancing to the season’s final event, the Tour Championship.
Aronimink is a 7,250-yard par-70 that has played host to several prestigious events over the years, but it was last seen on the PGA Tour in 2011, when it hosted the AT&T National. Nick Watney reached 13-under that week and won by two shots, but the course played tough overall, as 3-over par was the cut and only 14 players finished at 5-under or better. With only two par-5s and three of the par-3s playing at 220 yards or longer, we definitely shouldn’t expect a birdie-fest this week, and Aronimink has the potential be a major championship-like test. As a matter of fact, it is slated to host the PGA Championship in 2027.
Like most Donald Ross courses, the greens at Aronimink are smallish and slope off severely in some places. The bunkers and thick bentgrass rough are the course’s primary defense, and if the greens get firm things could really get interesting. Because we haven’t seen Aronimink on the schedule in so long, it’s a bit more difficult than usual to pin down which types of players or which specific players the course really fits, but we should probably give a slight edge to guys who traditionally excel on old, classic-style courses, particularly those designed by Ross (East Lake, Pinehurst No. 2, Oak Hill, Sedgefield CC, etc.).
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Brooks Koepka (18.0)- There have been all sorts of theories thrown about recently as to why Koepka already has three majors under his belt but has won just one non-major in 102 PGA Tour starts. Most of the explanations center on some combination of effort, motivation, and focus, but allow me to put forward another possibility– maybe Koepka just excels on long, straightforward, classic-style courses, the type that are commonly used in U.S. Opens and PGA Championships but are somewhat rare on the regular PGA Tour schedule. Aronimink is certainly such a course, the type of place where Koepka can use his prodigious length to his advantage even in the tight spots, as he’ll be hacking it out of the rough 40 yards closer to the green than where many others are hacking it out of the same rough. There’s been a lot of grumbling about the young, strong players just totally overpowering courses and taking some of the skill out of the game, with most of the blame being placed on the equipment and the ball. Koepka is the prototype of such a player– he just dominates these old courses and brings them to their knees. Don’t be surprised if he does it again this week– after all, he’s just three starts removed from his PGA Championship victory and since then has finished 8th at The Northern Trust and 12th in last week’s Dell Technologies Championship. I’m fairly enthusiastic about him at a price like 18.0.
Patrick Cantlay (50.0)- Cantlay has been on a nice run lately, finishing 27th or better in 7 of his past 8 starts and finding the top-15 five times in that span. He took a couple of weeks off after the PGA Championship but has picked up right where he left off in these Playoffs, finishing 8th at the Northern Trust and 24th at TPC Boston last week despite a poor opening round, as he closed with rounds of 69-67-68. He’s an extraordinarily talented ball striker who should be well-suited for a demanding course like Aronimink, and indeed he played quite well here back in 2011, finishing 20th in the AT&T National despite being a 19-year old amateur at the time. Now 26 and playing the best golf of his career, Cantlay is one to watch this week and a great value at nearly 50/1.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (94.0)- Though I doubt he needed it, Cabrera Bello received some extra motivation this week when Thomas Bjorn announced his four captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup and neglected to include the unflappable Spaniard who ranks 29th in the world and currently sits 12th on Europe’s Ryder Cup points list. A Cabrera Bello victory this week wouldn’t be a great look for Bjorn, especially if Europe were to lose the Cup in a few weeks and someone like Sergio Garcia, who was essentially selected on reputation alone, were to struggle. And based on what we’ve seen lately out of Rafa, that scenario is not out of the realm of possibility. His 7th-place finish at TPC Boston last week was his fourth top-20 in his past five starts, and one of those came at a Donald Ross course– Sedgefield CC– where he closed with rounds of 65-64 and finished 14-under par for the week. A tremendous ball-striker, Cabrera Bello ranks 7th on Tour in GIR percentage and 19th in driving accuracy, so he should be just fine at a straightforward track like Aronimink that prioritizes fairway-and-green consistency. If his putter gets hot, Cabrera Bello has as good a chance to win as anybody, making him a tremendous value at better than 90/1.