Original article published 18 August 2022
The penultimate event in the FedExCup is upon us where Wilmington Country Club (South Course) in Delaware hosts the BMW Championship – the first PGA Tour event ever held in the state.
It’s the last chance to not only book a spot to the Tour Championship in Atlanta next week, but to also set up your starting position for the final leg in the chase for the FedExCup.
When it comes to figuring out an edge in this week’s 72-hole match ups we are without historical data to lean on given the only player with competitive experience in the field is Justin Thomas – and that came nearly a decade ago in a Palmer Cup!
At 7,534 yards this par-71 has some long holes and the event defending champion Patrick Cantlay was pretty upfront about the test ahead. He won at Caves Valley a little over an hour down the road in Maryland a year ago.
“This golf course is definitely just like last year, extremely distance biased. You've got to hit it as far as you can and hit a lot of fairways,” Cantlay believes. “This course is a little narrower than last year, and I think most times you see when guys win, they just got hot with the putter, which I did last year.
“A good recipe is top of the way in driving and top of the way in putting. These greens are in really good shape, and if you get the ball online and read it right, it should go in almost every time.”
So, with that in mind we will dive into Driving Distance, Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Putting as staples.
To combat the bombers the rough is extremely lush this week and the greens are huge. Let’s get crazy and check 3-Putt Avoidance and all approach shots from 50-125 yards. As an extra we will pull out the same distance from the rough.
On the other end of the scale, we see three of the four par 3s are over 200 yards and two par 5s are over 600 yards so we can also key into approaches outside 200 yards.
“This place, it's bizarre. It has a very huge mixture of holes. I feel like it has your fair share of holes where if you get the right wind conditions, you can drive it in front of the green. You can have 30, 40 yards,” Thomas said.
“But that isn't necessarily great. If the pins are in certain places, you can't get it close. Then you have a hole that I'm hitting driver, 4- or driver, 5-iron into. So, you have a big variety.”
This is a battle between two former BMW Championship winners with McIlroy claiming this title in 2012 at Crooked Stick and Cantlay saluting last year at Caves Valley.
McIlroy provided a shock missed cut last week at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, ending a run of eight straight top 20s that included a win in Canada as well as top 10s in all four majors.
The silver lining was an early reconnaissance mission to Wilmington.
“It's a golf course that's a little more up my alley compared to last week in Memphis. I was a little rusty last week, as well, but a lot more drivers off the tee, a lot of room off the tee, a lot more scope to hit driver. Length is an advantage here, where in Memphis it's not really. Sort of just my sort of golf course that I feel like I can excel on,” McIlroy said.
“It's been good to have some early looks at it. I got here Friday night after the missed cut and I've been on the course every day since Saturday. It's nice to get back out and prepare and get to know a new golf course, get a little bit of a head start on everyone else. I like the track. It's a good setup.”
Cantlay has 10 top 10s this season, including a win with Xander Schauffele at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but a T57 last week was his first result outside the top 15 since missing the cut in May’s PGA Championship.
The defending event and FedExCup champ can see enough similarities to a year ago to be confident.
“I've played really consistently all year and just need to get hot with the putter and see if I can knock off a few wins to end the year,” he said. “This course is pretty right in front of you and similar to last year. The venues between last year and this year are actually really similar, I think, in style of golf.”
Key Stat Ranks (PGA Tour)
Driving Distance: McIlroy 2nd; Cantlay 48th
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: McIlroy 5th; Cantlay 21st
Strokes Gained: Putting: McIlroy 11th; Cantlay 12th
3-Putt Avoidance: McIlroy 108th; Cantlay 165th
Approach outside 200 yards: McIlroy 14th; Cantlay 46th
Approach 50-125 yards: McIlroy 31st; Cantlay 100th
Approach 50-125 yards from the rough: McIlroy 126th; Cantlay 159th
The stats say it all! McIlroy leads in all categories and he has had time to get familiar with the course.
Another match up of former BMW Championship winners with Rahm winning at Olympia Fields in 2020 and Thomas torching Medinah in 2019.
Rahm is coming off a decent T5 in Memphis, his first top 10 since the Memorial Tournament in June. He leads the Tour in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and is third in driving distance.
“I don't know if it's that it's a Playoff event or the type of golf course is something that I like…, this Northeast part of the country, and even the Chicago area, like Medinah, Olympia Fields, and Caves Valley, all have a very similar feel as a golf course. So it's the type of golf that I like, that I feel comfortable on,” Rahm said. “I'm comfortable on these types of greens and this type of grass, and so maybe that's why my history on this event has been good.”
Thomas was left to lament a third round 71 last week in Memphis which took his chances of victory away. A T13 was still decent, his first top 15 result since a third place at the RBC Canadian Open in June.
“I feel like my game is getting close. I'm playing a lot better than the scores, and I feel like the results aren’t showing,” Thomas said. “But that's how golf is sometimes. I just have to stay patient and hope I get one of these next two weeks, preferably the second.”
Key Stat Ranks (PGA Tour)
Driving Distance: Rahm 3rd; Thomas 14th
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: Rahm 1st; Thomas 15th
Strokes Gained: Putting: Rahm 63rd; Thomas 68th
3-Putt Avoidance: Rahm 148th; Thomas 58th
Approach outside 200 yards: Rahm 27th; Thomas 16th
Approach 50-125 yards: Rahm 161st; Thomas 1st
Approach 50-125 yards from the rough: Rahm 199th; Thomas 9th
Tough to call. Rahm found some form last week and is usually brilliant off the tee. But Thomas isn’t far of his numbers in those areas. The disparity in approach stats have us leaning towards Thomas in a coin flip.
The Sch fight is upon us!
For the first time since after he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational Scheffler is not the FedExCup leader. A missed cut in Memphis allowed Will Zalatoris to slip in front of the four-time winner this season.
Schauffele has three wins this season but wasn’t much better in Memphis. He did make the weekend but settled for a T57. The young star says he is still adjusting his game after the Scotland swing where he won the Scottish Open.
“Being overseas, I played very well. The ball was played down lower, flatter, further back in the stance, different tilts,” Schauffele explained.
“Last week I hit it horrendously, and I’m not hitting it great right now. I'm trying to get myself to sort of hit more up on it again, see the ball up in the air more… it's just adapting to playing styles.”
Key Stat Ranks (PGA Tour)
Driving Distance: Scheffler 20th; Schauffele 35th
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: Scheffler 41st; Schauffele 45th
Strokes Gained: Putting: Scheffler 42nd; Schauffele 27th
3-Putt Avoidance: Scheffler 72nd; Schauffele 11th
Approach outside 200 yards: Scheffler 71st; Schauffele 22nd
Approach 50-125 yards: Scheffler 43rd; Schauffele 17th
Approach 50-125 yards from the rough: Scheffler 116th; Schauffele 64th
How much stock do we take in Schauffele’s self-assessment? He has the stats advantage but watching him in Wednesday’s pro-am he managed just one birdie and three bogeys in his nine-hole effort. Sure, pro-am play is not commensurate to the real deal but combined with his words it is concerning. It’s enough for us to lean Scheffler’s way. Avoiding three-putts is his key.
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