By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Next week’s BMW Championship will be many players’ first trip to Conway Farms, the suburban Chicago layout that will host the third event of the FedExCup Playoffs. Conway Farms has hosted a handful of national amateur events, but this will be its first PGA TOUR event.
Preparing for a new course adds a new challenge for the BMW’s elite field. The top 70 players in the FedExCup qualified for the event. The FedExCup's top 30 after the BMW will qualify for the following week’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
“What works in their favor, one, is there's 70 players left in the field, so they will get out there and practice rounds won't be too tedious,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said Wednesday in a teleconference. “I'm looking forward as an analyst just to see this golf course. I've toured it via the Internet and looked at it. It looks marvelous, great setting. I think it's really exciting, risk-reward, a lot of cool shots coming down the stretch, and I'm sure the players have thought about it, as well.”
Conway Farms will be a home game for Luke Donald. His short-game coach, Pat Goss, tweeted Wednesday, “Day 2 of my Conway Farms short game escapades - today with the best in the world at it @LukeDonald. #funtowatch.” Goss worked with Gary Woodland the previous day.
Woodland is 14th in the FedExCup standings and seems likely to safely advance to the TOUR Championship. He was 116th in the FedExCup after the RBC Canadian Open in July, but has vaulted more than 100 points in the standings after winning the Reno-Tahoe Open and finishing T-2 at The Barclays, the first FedExCup Playoffs event. Goss and Woodland worked exclusively on the short game from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Goss tweeted.
Donald has work to do at his home course if he is to make the TOUR Championship for the fifth consecutive year. He is 54th in the FedExCup. Donald recently started working with instructor Chuck Cook, who’s instructed PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner for several years.
“I just think that Luke maybe is just having a little bit of ‑‑ just sort of a downtime,” Miller said on the teleconference. “It happens to everybody. It happened to Nicklaus, of course to Woods a couple of times and it's happened to all the great players, Mickelson, you name it. They have had times where maybe they didn't know if they wanted to unpack the suitcase and pack it that many times a year; a little bit of that, you never know.
"He'll probably come back. He has got a lot of talent. But his iron game is off, and that was always the hallmark and as a collegian and coming on TOUR, that's what he was known for was great iron play. I think his wedges are all right, but the rest of the irons are not so good.”
While Donald, a former World No. 1, seeks to regain past form, several players have had breakout performances in the FedExCup Playoffs, namely Henrik Stenson and Graham DeLaet. Stenson leads the FedExCup after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship, his first TOUR title since the 2009 PLAYERS Championship. He’s risen to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking after falling outside the top 200 during a slump a couple years ago. Stenson will qualify for the TOUR Championship for the first time; this is his first time advancing to the BMW Championship since 2007.
“Obviously Stenson is really on a roll, and it's not just a one‑ or two‑week roll,” Miller said. “He's doing everything really well. He has the power and he has great irons. Short game has really improved, the work he's put in, and the putter is working really well.”
You know, it's fast, but he's so powerful. The guy is really put together, big guy, tall and strong, and really makes great contact and crushes the ball, really compress the ball and makes a loud noise when he hits it.
“He could possibly get to the next level next year. He might end up being a guy that will win a major or maybe a couple majors the next two years. He says he wants to put even more work into his game. Saw his interview this morning, and you know, he understands that to take it to the next level, he has to even work even harder. So I like him.”
DeLaet also is on pace for his first TOUR Championship appearance. He's fifth in the FedExCup standings after a T-2 finish at The Barclays and third-place finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship. The top five in the FedExCup standings after the BMW can clinch the FedExCup with a win at the TOUR Championship, regardless of how the players ahead of him fare in the final Playoffs event.
“I'm just absolutely flabbergasted watching that guy hit golf balls,” Chamblee said. “He's never had a golf lesson. His father showed him how to hold a golf club and then he just went about it himself. He leads the TOUR in total driving and he leads the TOUR in ball‑striking. I think it's a fabulous contrast, in my opinion, to the over‑coaching that's going on on the PGA TOUR.”
Stenson leads the FedExCup, followed by Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and DeLaet. There’s still a lot of work left to be done to win the FedExCup, though. Historic East Lake Golf Club awaits.
"You start to look at guys who on the eve of THE TOUR Championship, first of all who, have won a major championship, because that golf course, Donald Ross, re‑designed obviously by a number of people, but you have to look at quality ball‑strikers; the golf course, it's hard to hit a lot of those greens."