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BMW Championship 2013: Complete Guide to This Year's Tournament

James McMahonContributor ISeptember 9, 2013

BMW Championship 2013: Complete Guide to This Year's Tournament

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    After hitting the pause button for a week, the FedEx Cup playoffs get restarted this weekend just outside Chicago, with 30 players looking for safe passage to the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

    The BMW Championship starts Thursday at Conway Farms with defending champion Rory McIlroy one of 40 golfers on the outside looking in for advancement to the final test of the playoffs at East Lake Golf Club next week.

    The third leg of the season-ending playoffs, the BMW features a 70-player field full of elite golfers, but with a slightly different look at the top of the FedEx standings.

    With his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship a little more than a week ago, Henrik Stenson is the new FedEx leader, and the disposed Tiger Woods is now in second place. Woods is followed closely in the top five by Barclays champion Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and the surprising Graham DeLaet, who has charged up the standings in the playoffs’ first two events.

    That positioning is significant considering the top five players at the end of the BMW will be in position to automatically win the Fed Ex Cup championship with a victory at East Lake the following week.

    There are a host of other players looking to improve their ranking among the top 30, or at the very least hold steady, as the competition for a $10 million payday really heats up at Conway Farms. Among them are Phil Mickelson, who is looking for his first ever playoff championship, fast-rising Steve Stricker and amazing rookie Jordan Spieth.

    Likewise, a host of golfers outside the top 30 will look to make a move and steal someone’s golden ticket to the season-ending Tour Championship. With so much on the line for many players, the action should be dramatic and pressure-packed. 

    The tournament doesn't begin until Thursday, but we’re getting you ready with a complete look at what to watch for in the FedEx Cup's penultimate event.

Conway Farms' PGA Tour Debut

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    The 70 remaining players in the FedEx Cup are faced with an entirely new challenge this week, as the BMW Championship is taking place at Conway Farms for the first time ever.

    After being contested at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indiana last year, the event returns to Illinois and will spotlight the acclaimed and relatively young Tom Fazio-designed layout. For many years, the tournament was staged at Cog Hill Golf Club.

    The 7,216-yard Conway Farms, which opened back in 1991 and is located in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, has hosted a number of prestigious amateur events, including the 2009 Western Amateur and the 1997 NCAA Championship. Last summer, the course hosted the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur to rave reviews.

    Beginning on Thursday, the course gets its shot at the top professionals in the sport and it promises to be more than up to the task.

    Crafted by Fazio to deliver many of the elements of links-style golf, the course is sure to test the game’s elite with its strategically placed bunkers, well-positioned water hazards and significant mounding.

    The par-71 layout will offer the field opportunities and tests of all kinds. Depending on the set up, Conway Farms could offer a pair of drivable par fours—one on each nine—but also boasts some long tests that will demand both power and accuracy.

    The par fives are reachable in two, but that aggressive play will come with significant risk on the approaches to greens with trouble all around them in the form of runoffs, deep bunkers and water hazards.

    Given that diversity in holes and the fact it’s the first time the majority of the field has seen the layout in competition, the unexpected should be expected throughout the BMW Championship this weekend.

    Considering what’s at stake in the FedEx Cup’s third event, that’s going to make for some great action and likely a memorable finish.

The BMW Championship on the Tube

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    The stakes are high for the BMW Championship and the pressure is building; two elements for great sports viewing.

    The sport's top players will be in action, so make sure to clear your schedule or fire up the DVR and sit back and enjoy the charge to the Tour Championship

     

    Thursday and Friday

    3 to 6 p.m. ET—Golf Channel

     

    Saturday

    1 to 3 p.m. ET—Golf Channel

    3 to 6 p.m. ET—NBC

     

    Sunday

    Noon to 1:30 p.m. ET—Golf Channel

    1:30 to 6 p.m. ET—NBC

Top Storylines at the BMW Championship

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    If Saturday is moving day on the PGA Tour, the BMW Championship is positioning week in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

    The action at Conway Farms will be critical in determining the identity of those golfers headed to Atlanta and who among them actually still has a chance to win the $10 million prize.

    Amongst the FedEx Cup elite, there will be a push to finish in the top five, as those players will absolutely control their own destiny at East Lake next week. A Tour Championship win by any one of those five would ensure a playoffs triumph.

    Current projections call for 3,182 points being needed to secure one of the top spots.

    If that number holds firm, Stenson, Woods and Scott are guaranteed to be among the top five. That means Kuchar and DeLaet have a little work left to remain there with them.

    Players currently outside the elite five but with a chance to change that with a BMW victory include the likes of Spieth, Stricker and, of course, Mickelson, who has never won the playoffs since they started in 2007.

    A little further down the standings, there’s the battle to retain or obtain a spot in the top 30 and at the very least, guarantee a week with one more paycheck. There will likely be some interesting twists of fate just around that cut line.

    For the first time since the playoffs began three weeks ago, there is a new leader atop the standings in Stenson. The Swede has been playing amazing golf since before the British Open and is a significant threat to win the FedEx Cup. He will look to keep his momentum going and hold onto the top spot with a strong showing this weekend.

    While the Swede is dialed in, Woods was anything but that at TPC Boston, struggling to a tie for 65th to fall into the playoff's second spot.

    The world No. 1 is still in excellent shape to win a third FedEx Cup title, but that will only happen if he can regain his putting touch and find a measure of confidence with his driver off the tee.

    Tiger doesn't have to win the BMW to remain in control of his destiny, but his play at Conway Farms this week will go a long way toward telling us if a third FedEx Cup title is in the cards.

The Final FedEx Cutdown

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    A Sunday cut will trim the fat before the season-ending Tour Championship gets busy deciding who will ultimately win the FedEx Cup next week.

    At the opening of the playoffs, projections were that 1,556 points would be needed to advance beyond this week.

    Assuming that number is near accurate, it would leave about 10 golfers currently in the top 30 vulnerable to fall outside that range. More realistically, however, there will likely be about six or seven spots in play this weekend at Conway Farms.

    At 19th in the standings, Boo Weekley has 1,560 points, just inside the projected number needed to advance. Just below him, Webb Simpson, D.A Points and Billy Horschel all have at least 1,490 or more and should ultimately make their way to Atlanta.

    That leaves players like Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson and Lee Westwood with work to do to retain their current spots on the safe side of the final cut line. Players such as Charles Howell III, Kevin Stadler, Fowler and Watson are gunning for them and have fewer than 10 spots to jump to come in from the cold.

    It will take some work, but strong BMW Championship showings could extend their seasons another week and, of course, one more paycheck.

    Even further back and likely needing a victory, or at least a near-miss, are golfers like defending BMW champ McIlroy, Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell.

    Ultimately, it’s likely that at least a couple golfers from outside the current safe line will crash the Tour Championship party at the expense of others.

    Who it will be is anyone’s guess. Watching the drama play out, however, will be fun for everyone.

Players to Watch from Outside the Top 30

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    Luke Donald hasn't won a golf tournament since March 2012. Given some friendly surroundings this weekend, the Englishman might just realize a critical breakthrough that would get him into the Tour Championship.

    Donald, who currently sits outside the top 30 at 54th, has something over the majority of the BMW Championship field—personal knowledge of Conway Farms. He went to school in the Chicago area at Northwestern and is a member of the course, which is hosting a PGA Tour event for the first time ever.

    Given his understanding of and deep affection for it, Donald has an advantage over the competition, most of which will be seeing the course for the first time.

    That could very well translate into a much-needed victory, which would turn around an otherwise disappointing season for the former world No. 1.

    Since he missed the cut in the first tournament of the four-event playoffs, it was uncertain whether Poulter would even qualify for the BMW Championship. A solid performance at the Deutsche Bank, however, has the Ryder Cup standout among the field at Conway Farms

    In fact, Poulter’s tie for ninth at TPC Boston jumped him up 25 spots to 52nd heading into this weekend. With a strong showing this week, he might just keep his late run heading straight to East Lake next week.

    Fellow Irishmen McIlroy and McDowell have played just well enough to remain in these playoffs, but both need a victory, or at the very least a top-five finish, to keep their survive-and-advance formula going another week.

    Given the links-style feel to Conway Farms, those two golfers should feel at home and will likely play well. That said, just as with Donald and Poulter, execution will be the key for the popular Europeans.

    If you look even further down the list, 65th-placed Ryan Moore has a tendency to go low when least expected, and he could easily make himself a factor over the weekend as well.

Favorites from the Top of the FedEx Cup at the BMW Championship

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    Given his stellar play this summer that culminated with a win at TPC Boston, a second straight victory at the BMW Championship for Stenson would surprise very few. The same goes for a rebound performance from Tiger. 

    In fact, there’s no fool’s bet to be made anywhere in the top 10, which also includes the likes of Mickelson, Scott, Kuchar and the fast-rising DeLaet. Another player from that elite group to keep an eye on is Stricker, who doesn't play much, but always seems to perform well when he does.

    Conway Farms will require accuracy and a solid short game, and Stricker, who finished second at the Deutsche Bank, fits that bill quite well. A victory this week would make the American a serious threat to capture the FedEx Cup in Atlanta a week from now.

    The same can be said for Spieth, who continues to impress almost every time he tees it up with the game’s elite. The Texan didn't have a tour card when the season began, yet here he is with a PGA Tour victory and a 10th-place position in the FedEx Cup standings with two weeks to go.

    Given his success up to this point, the 20-year-old won’t be intimidated by challenging late at Conway Farms while giving himself a shot at a $10 million payday a little more than a week from now.

    A significant threat from just outside the FedEx top 10 is PGA champion Jason Dufner, who continues to regain his top form after the whirlwind weeks following his first major championship. The soft-spoken but talented golfer finished in a tie for ninth at TPC Boston, and the week off before the BMW Championship likely did him well.

And the BMW Championship Winner Is.....

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    With the Tour Championship just one week away, things are getting serious in the FedEx Cup, and that’s when the elite typically rise to the occasion.

    Stenson and Woods are at the top of that list, but we don’t see either winning this week. There’s no one playing better in the world right now than Stenson, but there hasn't been a back-to-back winner on the PGA Tour this season. 

    For his part, Tiger doesn't typically play well on courses he’s never seen, and Conway Farms is one of those. He’ll improve upon his performance at TPC Boston. 

    That pair, however, will have new company near the top of the standings heading to Atlanta when Stricker gets his first victory of the season and positions himself nicely for a run at a first FedEx Cup championship next week.

    Had Stricker played a full schedule this year he’d likely already be in the top five of the standings entering the BMW Championship. The American, however, has only started 11 times as he sought to find more balance between his professional and personal lives.

    While he hasn't won this year, he’s been extremely effective in his starts. Stricker has five  top-five finishes, highlighted by three runner-up showings.

    This week, he’ll better those performances with a victory at Conway Farms, which should set up nicely for his accuracy off the tee and from the fairways as well as his deft short game.

    Stricker finished second to Stenson last week after taking off the first event of the playoffs, and if he brings that same form to the BMW Championship, he is absolutely a solid pick to capture his first victory since January 2012.

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