5 Storylines Ahead of the BMW Championship

Dustin Johnson BMW Championship
Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the 17th tee during the final round of the BMW Championship on the North Course at Olympia Fields CC on Aug 30, 2020 in Olympia Fields, IL. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Given the trend of the past several months, it seemed appropriate that the first round of the FedExCup playoffs – The Northern Trust – was decided in overtime, with Tony Finau triumphing over Cameron Smith on the first extra hole.

Finau now leads the extremely-lucrative FedExCup standings, and will attempt to go back-to-back at this week’s BMW Championship, the second leg of the playoffs. This year’s event is being held in Maryland, with Caves Valley Golf Club making it’s PGA Tour debut.

An unfamiliar course should make things extra challenging for the 70 players still alive to win the $15 million FedExCup. Here are some of the more intriguing storylines in the stacked field:


1. Top 30 Advance to East Lake

Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm
Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm on the 12th green during day one of the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, North Berwick. (Photo by Jane Barlow PA Images via Getty Images)

Of the 125 golfers who qualified for last week’s The Northern Trust, only the top 70 players in the standings are in the field for this week’s BMW Championship.

Surprisingly, 51-year-old PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson was the last player to sneak into the BMW field. Among the notables who saw their seasons end were Matthew Wolff, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, and Jason Day.

Another 40 players will be finished this upcoming Sunday, as only the top 30 players remaining in the FedExCup standings will advance to the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

Here is a look at the current bubble:

26. Patrick Reed
27. Billy Horschel
28. Rory McIlroy
29. Charley Hoffman
30. Max Homa
———————
31. Kevin Kisner
32. Keegan Bradley
33. Si Woo Kim
34. Cameron Tringale
35. Marc Leishman

Those near the bottom of the top 70, such as Mickelson, will need a tremendous week in Baltimore to advance. Fortunately for them, there are a lot of points up for grabs.

And it’s not just the bubble guys who are jockeying for position: the points leader after this week gets to start the Tour Championship at 10-under, with other players getting similar advantages due to their position.


2. Rahm Defends BMW

Jon Rahm Wins BMW Championship
Jon Rahm reacts to his putt on the 18th hole in a playoff during the final round of the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields CC (North) on Aug 30, 2020 in Olympia Fields, IL. Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

Going into last year’s BMW Championship, the 70-man field was reeling from the knockout punch delivered by Dustin Johnson at the previous week’s The Northern Trust, which he won by a stunning 11 strokes. It was absolute, sheer dominance, and really set Johnson as the Cup favorite.

And it very nearly would have been back-to-back victories for DJ, if it weren’t for Jon Rahm, the No. 2 golfer in the world rankings at the time. In scoring reminiscent of a U.S. Open, Johnson held the 54-hole lead at 1-under.

Surprisingly, a 3-under 67 at Olympia Fields near Chicago was not enough to stay out front. Rahm shot a bogey-free 6-under 64, using four back-nine birdies to reach 4-under for the week. Johnson had to sink a 43-foot birdie putt on 18 to even force the playoff.

The playoff, comprising world No. 1 vs world No. 2 was won by Rahm when he hit the putt of the year: a mammoth 66-footer, taking a series of twists and turns.

A year later, Johnson is playing nowhere near as amazing coming into the second playoff event, but Rahm is arguably playing better. Rahm did, however, struggle at the close of last week’s The Northern Trust, playing the last five holes in 2-over to finish solo-third.

Still, it was a third straight top 3 finish, the first of which was a breakthrough win at the U.S. Open. For the season, Rahm has a jaw-dropping 13 top-10s in just 20 starts. If he manages to stay COVID-free – he has tested positive twice in the last three months – it feels almost impossible that he will not be in the mix again this week.

Rahm currently leads the Tour in scoring average, strokes gained: tee-to-green, and strokes gained: total.

Rahm’s 2021 Season

FedExCup: 2,763 (2nd)
Money: $7,449,433 (1st)
Starts: 18
Cuts Made: 17
Wins: 1 (U.S. Open)
Top 10s: 12
World Ranking: 1st


3. DJ’s FedExCup Defense

Dustin Johnson Wins FedExCup Tour Championship
Dustin Johnson poses with the FedEx Cup Trophy after winning the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Sep 7, 2020 in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

While Rahm got the better of Dustin Johnson at Olympia Fields, DJ ended up with the last laugh, finishing atop the final cup standings and $15 million richer. If Johnson is going to become just the third player to win a second FedExCup (Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy), and the first to win in back-to-back seasons, he will need to play much better than he has in 2021.

Currently, DJ ranks 22nd in the FedExCup standings, largely off the strength of the last three events of the 2020 calendar year, which are lumped into the 2021 season. The highlight was a dominant four-stroke victory at November’s The Masters.

The 2021 calendar year has seen a sharp decline in his results, however. He has just four top 10s in 16 starts, with nothing better than the T8 he had at both The Genesis Invitational and The Open Championship. He missed the cut at last week’s The Northern Trust by one stroke, missing a 14-foot putt on 18 that would have gotten him into the weekend.

The world No. 2 does sport the Tour’s third-best scoring average, but has surprisingly struggled while in contention in 2021.

DJ’s 2021 Season

FedExCup: 2,763 (2nd)
Money: $7,449,433 (1st)
Starts: 19
Cuts Made: 15
Wins: 1 (Masters ’20)
Top 10s: 7
World Ranking: 2nd


4. Finau Finally Wins!

Tony Finau Wins The 2021 Northern Trust
Tony Finau poses with the trophy after winning THE NORTHERN TRUST in a playoff during the weather delayed final round at Liberty National Golf Club on Aug 23, 2021 in Jersey City, NJ. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox / PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Currently atop the FedExCup standings is 31-year-old Tony Finau, who exploded on the back nine at last week’s The Northern Trust, reaching a playoff where he needed just one hole to oust Cameron Smith.

The win was more than a long time coming for Finau. The Salt Lake City native had just one victory on Tour coming into the week, which came at the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open in 2016. He had posted an incredible 39 top 10s without a win since.

At one point earlier this year, Finau finished runner-up in three consecutive tournaments, two in the U.S. and one in Europe.

Now that Finau has finally captured that elusive first victory on American soil, the new world No. 9, has fans and competitors wondering if the flood gates will open. Finau finished solo-fifth at least year’s BMW Championship, rocketing ten spots up the leaderboard after a final round 5-under 65 that was eclipsed only by Rahm. It was Finau’s fourth consecutive top 10 at the BMW.

His iron game is hot enough to contend again this week. At The Northern Trust, he gained at least two strokes on the field tee-to-green in each round, finishing second in that statistic for the week. He was also second in the field in greens in regulation.

Finau’s 2021 Season

FedExCup: 2,763 (2nd)
Money: $7,449,433 (1st)
Starts: 24
Cuts Made: 19
Wins: 1 (TNT)
Top 10s: 8
World Ranking: 9th


5. Is Louis Next?

Louis Oosthuizen Leads 149th Open Championship St Georges
Louis Oosthuizen watches his drive from the 18th tee during his first round on day one of The 149th British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s, Sandwich, England on July 15, 2021. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Finau’s drought-busting win in New Jersey came just two weeks after Mexico’s Abraham Ancer won the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational, his first career victory amidst many close calls in recent years. The season also saw Jordan Spieth end an agonizing four-year winless drought. It has been a theme in a thrilling season.

So, is there another Tony Finau story in this week’s field? Arguably the most compelling would be if Lee Westwood triumphs in Maryland. The 48-year-old from England has not won on Tour since 2010, and has 19 career top 10s in majors without a win, including 12 top 5s. Westwood sits at 46th in the standings, largely off the strength of back-to-back runner-up starts in March.

The best bet could be 38-year-old South African Louis Oosthuizen. In 203 career PGA Tour starts, Oosthuizen has just one victory: a seven-stroke romp at the 2010 Open Championship, meaning he has never won on American soil.

Oosthuizen is in the best form of his career, though: in his last eight starts, he has four runner-ups – two of those coming in majors – and an additional T3. He sat out last week’s The Northern Trust, the only notable omission in the field.

He currently leads the tour in strokes gained: putting, and is second in both scoring average and strokes gained: total.

Oosthuizen’s 2021 Season

FedExCup: 1,877 (11th)
Money: $6,268,679 (6th)
Starts: 18
Cuts Made: 17
Wins: 0
Majors: 3, 2, 2, 26, 23, 3
Top 10s: 7
World Ranking: 9th

2 COMMENTS

  1. You forgot to mention that Captain America is out with Double Pneumonia (I’m surprised his condition wasn’t listed as Covid). I wonder if Reed’s illness is a result of playing in the extreme heat of Japan as a last minute replacement.

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