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BMW Championship 2016: Players to Watch, Early Predictions and Course Breakdown

Chris LakerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2016

LAKE FOREST, IL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Jason Day of Australia celebrates with the winner's trophy after the Final Round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club on September 20, 2015 in Lake Forest, Illinois.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Defending champion and world No. 1 Jason Day heads a stellar field including an in-form Rory McIlroy as the battle for the FedEx Cup heads to Crooked Stick, Indiana for the BMW Championship on Thursday. 

The BMW is the penultimate event of the play-offs and is restricted to the top-70 players in the FedEx standings. However, the field is reduced to 69 this year as Open champion Henrik Stenson sits it out with a knee injury, as reported by Alex Myers of Golf Digest.

After Crooked Stick, the top 30 players will go on to qualify for the season-ending Tour championship at East Lake and contest a $10 million top prize.

NORTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston on September 5, 2016 in Norton, Massachusetts.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Image
David Cannon/Getty Images

With much to play for over the next four days, we take a look at some of the likely contenders for the BMW Championship.

        

Players to watch

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Rory McIlroy

McIlroy is fresh from tasting his first victory on the PGA tour for 16 months at the Deutsche Bank Championship in TPC Boston, which ended on Monday. He has been paired in an eye-catching group for the opening rounds, per the Golf Channel:

Golf Channel @GolfChannel

Marquee Group: Rory will play the first two rounds of the BMW alongside Spieth and Scott: https://t.co/nEdjPfu0nH https://t.co/AWv0ttWMdz

The positive parallels to 2012 are there for the Northern Ireland star, who prior to winning the BMW Championship four years ago when it was last played at Crooked Stick, had also won the TPC.

Back then, McIlroy triumphed by two shots over Phil Mickelson, and his tentative putting problems that saw him seek out extra coaching after the U.S. PGA now look to be in the past.

As reported by Jonathan Wall of PGATour.com, McIlroy’s success was down to switching to a new mallet putter, which allowed him to take a slightly different approach.

"I feel like with the putter change to a mallet, it doesn't encourage that face to close that much, which is the bad putt I was getting," McIlroy said, per Wall. "So [it] just sort of encourages the face to stay a little more square through impact."

Victory last time out took him back up to third in the rankings, and, with renewed confidence in his game, it would be no surprise if McIlroy closes the gap on current FedEx leader Patrick Reed.

While a week can be a long time in sport, McIlroy looks to be the man to beat, particularly if he starts in the same vein he left off at the Deutsche Bank.

     

Patrick Reed

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Reed is among the form players having won the Barclays event a fortnight ago and placed fifth last week.

While not in the big-hitting league of someone like Dustin Johnson, Reed’s all-round game has stood up well in recent weeks, and it is his consistency that should ensure he features high on the leaderboard again.

There is, of course, a Ryder Cup on the horizon, and it is perhaps no coincidence that Reed's displays have gone up a notch.

He is a player who appears to relish the high-pressure stakes, and he should feature in the top five. If he shows well here he will also remain in prime contention to be crowned FedEx champion at East Lake in two weeks' time.

     

Gary Woodland

CROMWELL, CT - AUGUST 06:  Gary Woodland of the United States lines up his putt on the fourth green during the third round of the Travelers Championship at TCP River Highlands on August 6, 2016 in Cromwell, Connecticut.  (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Imag
Michael Cohen/Getty Images

A long hitter off the tee, Woodland can ruffle a few feathers at Crooked Stick this week.

Recent form suggests the American is on the upturn as he has three top-five finishes in his last 10 outings.

Woodland tied fourth at the Barclays won by Reed and 15th at the Deutsche Bank. If his short game can match his power play then he could put himself in the mix come the weekend.

While it would still represent a surprise if he were to get the better of McIlroy, Reed or Day, a top-10 placing is well within his capabilities.

     

Notable Holes

The Par 72 course at Crooked Stick favours the big hitters and a prediction of thunderstorms, forecast by Yahoo weather, for the first three rounds is only going to help them further.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Hole 15—Picking up shots across the par fives could be key for those hoping to contend, and this 523-yarder can be reached in two if a fairway bunker is avoided.

Hole 6—Players face up to a water hazard that pretty much stretches the width of the green on the par-three 6th. Accuracy and the correct club will be vital to ensure any momentum gained from the preceding monster par-5 fifth hole is not immediately squandered.

Hole 18A fine finishing hole, the 18th is the third hole in succession to feature a water hazard and a potentially heartbreaking end for any golfer in contention. This one sits across the right side of the par four and a steady nerve will be required.

It is hard to look past McIlroy making it successive PGA tour victories after such a strong finish at the Deutsche Bank.

US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III announces three of his four wild-card picks after the tournament and the likes of Ryan Moore, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson could be among the challenging pack, all determined to force his hand with good performances at Crooked Stick.

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