Five things I'm looking for at this week's BMW Championship at Conway Farms at Lake Forest, Ill., outside Chicago:
1. The wind will be just as much of a factor as the new golf course. Conway Farms is not all that long at 7,150 yards, but players were already commenting on the strong breeze after playing practice rounds Tuesday. A stiff wind would be a factor not only in approaching the course's smallish greens but also in plotting strategy on some of the quirkier holes like the seventh, a 340-yard par 4 that could be drivable in a favorable wind; the 342-yard, par-4 15th, which the tournament committee is expected to set up to tempt players to go for it; and the par-5 18th, where a creek meanders up the hole and crosses the fairway twice.
2. The BMW's pre-tournament buzz will center on two guys who have driven into a ditch in 2013 — defending BMW champion Rory McIlroy and longtime Conway Farms member Luke Donald. Both are former No. 1s, and neither has played even close to his potential this season. "I think someone who was at the pinnacle of the game not too long ago and is now 54th on the FedEx Cup, it's been disappointing," said Donald, whose search for form compelled him to leave his longtime swing coach, Pat Goss, for Chuck Cook. "It's been very hard this year. It's been frustrating at times, and I've had to make some tough decisions in terms of changing swing coach. You know, it's been a bit of a distraction because of some of those things. But I feel pretty good about where things are headed, and I'm excited about the future. This year, I still have time to rescue it."
3. Donald, who went to nearby Northwestern and is a part-time resident of Evanston, joked in his presser Tuesday, "I'm not really the host. Especially if people don't like the golf course, I'm definitely not the host." But I expect him to be on the hook for this tournament for better or worse, and I suspect he knows it. "I certainly talked with the Tour leading up to this event, and they wanted opinions on some courses around here and I tried to steer them towards this course-obviously selfishly, because I know it very well and I think it's a good place to have a tournament. I think it's great in the fact it's a golf club. There's no carts, no tennis courts. It's all walking. It's a great membership, a lot of low single figure handicaps. People are very passionate about their golf here."
4. With stiff penalties for spraying it off the tee, not to mention Donald's affinity for Conway Farms, it's tempting to think this might be a shorter to medium-length player's week. A better guess is that the trophy will go to a longer player who has a great week with the 3-wood. There are still plenty of holes where length is an advantage, specifically the three closing holes, two of which are par-5s, and the really short par-4s, the seventh and the 15th holes. Hmm. Let's see, who's great with the 3-wood, plenty long, and learns courses as fast as anyone? Tiger Woods ticks all those boxes and had a week off to think about his 65th place finish at the Deutsche Bank at Tiger-friendly TPC Boston.
5. FedEx points leader Henrik Stenson, who tees off on 10 with No. 2 Tiger Woods and No. 3 Adam Scott at 10:53 a.m. ET Thursday, will not be easily moved out of pole position in part because he has worked too hard to get to this point. He got all the way to fourth in the World Ranking in 2009 before undergoing a series of bizarre setbacks-a viral pneumonia in 2010, a waterborne parasite he picked up while on vacation in the Maldives in November of 2011, and his investments with disgraced financier Allen Stanford, sentenced to 110 years in prison in 2012. "It's hard work, long term," Stenson said of his comeback from the abyss.
10:53 a.m.: Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott
11:26 a.m.: Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Daniel Summerhays
11:59 a.m.: Matt Kuchar, Graham DeLaet, Phil Mickelson