BMW Championship 2014: Complete Guide to the Tournament

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

BMW Championship 2014: Complete Guide to the Tournament

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    The BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, is going to give new meaning to the “ultimate driving machine.”

    A field of 70 golfers makes the move westward and upward to Denver's Cherry Hills Country Club where the air is thinner (400-yard drives anyone? Looking at you, Bubba...and you, Rory) and where the beer flows like wine.

    What has gotten into these people in the first two legs of the FedEx Cup Playoffs?

    Hunter Mahan came out from behind a rock to win The Barclays. Then Chris “Priceline Negotiator” Kirk beamed in from the Enterprise to take the Deutsche Bank Championship. This throws a wrench into predicting who will win the third leg of the playoffs.

    What we have is a FedEx leaderboard that has the No. 1 player in the world loaded for bear and a few relative unknowns taking aim at $10 million.

    Read on for all you need to know about the penultimate leg of golf’s richest prize.

About Cherry Hills Country Club

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    William Flynn designed Cherry Hills Country Club way back in 1922. (He also designed Shinnecock Hills, the site of the 2004 U.S. Open.) The course has hosted such prestigious events as the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship as well as the U.S. Women’s Open (2005) and the PGA Championship (1941, 1985).

    The pot for the BMW Championship is $8 million with $1.44 million going to Rory McIlroy the winner.

    The lay of the land expands over 7,000 yards and was once dimpled (to put it mildly) by baseball-size hail. Ball marker, anyone (be sure to scroll down to see the image)?

    Zach Johnson won this tournament a year ago, and he’ll be back to defend as one of the 70 players to qualify for this third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Where to Watch on Television

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    PGA has you covered with its live stream Thursday and Friday from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET. On Saturday and Sunday, you can catch action from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

    Thursday and Friday

    • 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Golf Channel


    • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
    • 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET, NBC


    • Noon to 2 p.m. ET Golf Channel
    • 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET, NBC

The Biggest Storylines

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    Will Another Obscure Golfer Come Through and Win?

    Think for a second. With the dominance of Rory McIlroy creating a smokescreen over the entirety of the golf world (not unlike Tiger Woods used to do), how much of a chance have you given any other golfer to win a tournament since The Open Championship?

    McIlroy has shown flashes of brilliance in The Barclays and the DBC but not in totality. He’s getting warmer and warmer with each event here.

    Looking at the 70 players alive, a few random names could sneak up and win this: Bill Haas, Cameron Tringale and Hideki Matsuyama.

    That doesn’t sound any crazier than Kirk winning.


    Can Phil Mickelson Play Like It’s 1990?

    Mickelson is the Nosferatu of the FedEx Cup: He won’t die. His play has been more erratic than an EKG, yet here he is.

    He won at Cherry Hills way back in 1990 as an amateur and hasn't played there since. Mickelson said on Golf, “I’m not really focused that well but I’m hoping...going back to Cherry Hills my motivation is extremely high. It’s been an issue for me this year. It’s something I’ll have to address in the offseason. I need to work on seeing the shot.”

    He’s 53rd in the FedEx Cup standings, but like any of these guys, a win will put him right at or near the top heading into the Tour Championship in Atlanta.


    Will One of Those Ryder Cup "Fringe" Players Win?

    Now that Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup captain, has made his picks, those fringe players who had Watson on their minds don’t have to worry anymore. They can just go out and play golf, knowing their fate has already been sealed.

    Because of that, expect someone like Ryan Palmer to play extremely well in Denver.

    Even the players who were selected may want to prove their viability as a pick, so look for Hunter Mahan, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley to have big weeks. And maybe Kirk will play with a Ryder Cup chip on his shoulder.

The Top Pairings

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    Jason Day, Jim Furyk, Jordan Spieth (11:42 a.m. ET, from the 10th tee)

    Jordan Spieth, T22 and T29 in the past two FedEx Cup events, could be one of those sneaky players to contend here. Furyk has been around the top 10, and Day has been in the lead in both tournaments and failed to close in either.

    PGA's Rob Bolton wrote of Day, "Only golfer with top 10s in first two events. Led field in putting inside 10 feet at TPC Boston (67-for-71). Ranks eighth in scrambling."


    Chris Kirk, Rory McIlroy, Hunter Mahan (11:53 a.m. ET, from the 10th tee)

    Is Kirk for real? Can Mahan bounce back? Will McIlroy win here for the second time? All that and more with this threesome!


    Adam Scott, Russell Henley, Martin Kaymer (11:53 a.m. ET)

    Scott may be the most undervalued and underwatched No. 2 player in quite some time. His play has been as sharp as a butter knife, yet he's still managed a T15 and a T16 in the two FedEx Cup events. Henley played extremely well in the DBC, and don't forget the U.S. Open winner. Kaymer's German flag stood out on that DBC leaderboard in stark relief from all the other flags as a reminder that he's healthy and ready to shoot low. 

The Contenders

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    Jason Day

    Day has been right there on the cusp of winning a leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but he just hasn't been able to close. He's the only player inside the top 10 in both events and was T13 in birdies at the DBC.

    Day has just two wins on the PGA Tour despite his talent. If that doesn't change, he'll quickly become known as the guy who couldn't close. 


    Jim Furyk

    You can't ignore this guy, a former FedEx Cup champ. As PGA's Rob Bolton put it, "A T23 at the DBC was second-worst finish since early March. Third in strokes gained: tee-to-green, second in proximity, first in scrambling."

    Furyk manages to find a way to wriggle himself into (and sometimes out of) contention. He'll want to avenge that T23 at TPC Boston.


    Jimmy Walker

    Rob Bolton makes a good point here: Walker's wife went to school in nearby Boulder, and that could make Walker the "local" fan favorite. He finished T9 at DBC, a nice recovery after missing the cut at The Barclays. 

    Walker has been near the top of the FedEx Cup standings all year, and the BMW could be his breakout win of the playoffs.

The Dark Horses

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    Martin Kaymer

    Sitting at No. 15 in the FedEx Cup standings is the 2014 U.S. Open winner Kaymer. Kaymer finished T7 at the DBC, this after missing the cut after The Barclays and the PGA Championship. He hasn't had the smoothest go of it since the U.S. Open, but that had more to do with an injury.

    That T7-finish at TPC Boston could be a sign of a fresh and healthy Kaymer. The last time he was healthy he wired the U.S. Open field.


    Justin Rose

    Rose took the DBC off. As a result he slipped from 20th to 27th in the standings. That's just fine. Many others are playing in all the legs and maybe the physical and mental break will be just what Rose needs to win in Denver.

    He's definitely a sleeper and a golfer far off people's radar.


    Sergio Garcia

    There was a time during The Open Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational where Garcia was playing the type of golf that wins majors. Then along came McIlroy who snubbed Garcia out like a spent cigarette. 

    Garcia, like Rose, skipped the DBC. Garcia is second on the Tour in strokes gained, strokes gained tee-to-green and scoring average. The week off from golf could spell a big effort.

    But don't forget, a week off didn't do...

The Favorite

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    ...this guy any favors.

    McIlroy hardly touched a club after winning the PGA Championship. When he came back to The Barclays, he played like a man who hadn't touched a club in weeks. He needed to decompress—and that's fine—but now he's starting to rise. He's almost at the safe altitude where the captain will tell him it's OK to use electronic devices.

    The Barclays shook off the rust (if taking a week off can make a man rusty). The DBC proved he can move himself right into the thick of contention (and win if he had made half the putts he missed). The BMW Championship, a tournament he won in 2012, could be the one where he plays his most complete tournament since winning the PGA.

    Then again, maybe not. He said, via Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe:

    I think [Monday after the DBC] was just a combination of trying too hard, and then I feel like whenever I have played a lot of golf my attitude can get sort of...I was very sort of reactive about bad shots and bad breaks today, which I haven’t been the last two weeks. So, I think that’s a little bit of mental fatigue kicking in there.

    Yes, he's the favorite and will be for the remainder of this year. Maybe all the golf he's played makes him the favorite, yes, but also the smartest bet against for the remainder of 2014.