The third stop in the four-tournament FedEx Cup Playoff series, this week’s BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club, begins on Thursday just outside of Chicago. Here are nine things to know about the event as the PGA Tour season nears its finish.
1. All Eyes Are Still on Jason Day
Jason Day is still the man to watch, and now he’s even shaved his scruffy beard for the occasion. Although he was admittedly tired at the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago, Day still finished a respectable 12th. Having had a week of rest, he will be the favorite to come out ahead in the marquee (12:53 ET) threesome of Day, Rickie Fowler and a suddenly slumping Jordan Spieth.
“I think the last piece of the puzzle was to really believe,” Day said in his press conference Tuesday. “It’s easy to say, ‘Just go ahead and believe in yourself,’ but how do you believe in yourself when you don’t know what to believe in?”
2. Everyone Plays the Weekend
The logistics are simple: Although 70 players will start the tournament, and there is no cut, only 30 will advance to the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake next week. (Louis Oosthuizen is the Bubble Boy at No. 30.) To say many players are feeling a bit skittish this week—well, that doesn’t quite cover it.
William McGirt, Bryce Molder and George McNeill, Nos. 68-70, are the least likely to advance—all need no worse than a runner-up finish. But more eyes will be on 22-year-old Masters and U.S. Open champion Spieth, who is trying to bounce back after two straight missed cuts, the first such slump of his young career.
3. The BMW Is Always on the Move
Of the four FedEx Cup tournaments, the BMW, like the Barclays, is a movable feast. Last year it was at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver. This year it’s in Lake Forest, just north of Chicago. Next year it’ll be at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis before it returns to Conway Farms in 2017.
4. Keep an Eye on These Five
Five players control their own destiny: Day, Spieth, Fowler, 2013 FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, and Bubba Watson. All could go into the Tour Championship at No. 1 in the points list with a win at Conway Farms. A victory by Stenson would be especially resonant given that he destroyed both his driver and his locker in a furious outburst at the 2013 BMW at Conway. Zach Johnson is also dangerous this week; he won here in ’13 and is seventh on the FEC points list.
5. It’s Not as Easy as Jim Made It Look
Conway Farms is not easy, despite having yielded a second-round 59 to Jim Furyk at the 2013 BMW. (The next best score that day: 65.) Zach Johnson’s winning score was a very reasonable 16 under par, and the course has since been toughened up some with more bunkers, new tees, and additional yardage.
6. Can Phil Stick Around?
Phil Mickelson has plenty to play for, even if he doesn’t feel the need to justify being picked by U.S. captain Jay Haas to play in the upcoming Presidents Cup. At 61st in the FEC standings, Mickelson needs at least a third-place finish at the BMW or he’ll miss out on the Tour Championship for the second year in a row. He also hasn’t won a tournament since the 2013 British Open.
7. Mahan on the Move?
Hunter Mahan, the only man to have teed it up in every playoff event since the FedEx Cup series began in 2007, needs a big week to keep the streak alive. Mahan lived to fight another day thanks to his T4 finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship, but that got him only up to 52nd in FedEx points. He needs to finish no worse than third at Conway Farms to crack the top 30.
8. The Defending Champ Is in Danger
It’s not easy being the defending FedEx Cup champ—only 2012 FEC winner Brandt Snedeker has made it back to the Tour Championship the following year—and now Billy Horschel is in danger of bowing out of the race before the Tour finale at East Lake. At 67th on the points list, Horschel, like Mahan and Mickelson, needs no worse than a third-place finish at Conway Farms in order to advance.
9. Don’t Forget About the No. 1
He’s fallen to 17th in FEC points, but Rory McIlroy might be a sleeping giant this week. When the BMW last visited this course two years ago, McIlroy seemed to figure something out with a pair of 68s on the weekend. Now he’s coming off a final-round 66 at the Deutsche Bank, and might be on the verge of reminding everybody why he’s still the nominal No. 1 player in the world.