Despite Rory McIlroy having been winless in 25 starts world-wide it obviously came as no surprise to see him prevail last week. It was his rather high profile putting woes that were holding him back so whenever he got those sorted it was clear that he would be in contention again. That is exactly what happened in Boston as he ranked 7th for strokes gained: putting on the way to overtaking Paul Casey on the Monday. Rickie Fowler was never really involved as he returned to the sort of form that has seen a disappointing 2016. However proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards was indeed crucial as McIlroy and Casey regularly sit in lofty positions in stats from that range. When putting well they also have no real weaknesses to their game so while it is another fruitless week at least I had a handle on what was required. This could be just the catalyst that McIlroy needs to push on and dominate the rest of 2016, especially as his peers at the top of the world rankings appear to have tailed off, at least for now.
This week we have the penultimate event in the play-offs and we are down to just the last 70 men standing with the top 30 continuing onto next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake. It is all change for the BMW Championship as it returns to the brilliant Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indiana. It was last seen in 2012 when hosting this tournament and that is the only recent top-class PGA form we have to go on. There was however a Senior U.S. Open in 2009 when the accurate Fred Funk won and it was also where John Daly won his US PGA in 1991 after only scraping into the field earlier in the week.
The course is a Pete Dye design and is a 7516 yard par 72 layout. While it sets up as a fairly typical Dye design, it must be noted that in 2012 McIlroy won with a total of -20 so it won’t quite play as tough as some of his other designs. The fairways are quite narrow in parts with a scattering of trees down the dog-legged routes. Those kinks combined with Dye’s usual strategic placement of water hazards means that placement of the ball off the tee can be crucial in order to hit the bentgrass greens. As we see year after year at Sawgrass, the greens at Crooked Stick are very well protected by the water and also some clever bunkering and two tiered greens. This makes hitting the correct areas of the greens crucial.
Initially that suggests that driving accuracy should be at a premium but the leaderboard from 2012 is littered with bombers so it doesn’t look like the rough is too penal at Crooked Stick. Moreover, as is the norm at most Dye tracks, proximity to the hole will be key this week. All of those longer hitters were able to attack the flags with more loft in their hands and looking more closely at those on the 2012 leaderboard we can see that not only are McIlroy, Westwood, Garrigus and Scott big hitters, but they are also supremely accurate with their short irons. Subsequently I would consider proximity from 125-150 and 150-175 yards to be the most important stats again this week.
Given McIlroy, Westwood and Scott’s much documented putting woes, it is easy to think that putting isn’t too difficult at Crooked Stick but a winning score of -20 in 2012 tells us that birdies are required. That means that par 5 scoring will come strongly into the equation on a Par 72 where length off the tee is paramount.
With the recent history of players going back to back in Fed-Ex Play-Off events this doesn’t look like a week where we should complicate matters. Rory McIlroy has a history of striking twice while the iron is hot and the putter was certainly hot last week. We know how brilliant he is from tee to green and last week’s win will have helped him to draw a line under a difficult summer.
A lot of punters will have been sitting waiting for him to find something with the putter but he went beyond that and putted brilliantly in Boston. It isn’t taking much of a leap of faith to think that he can win again and it’s entirely possible he can do that even with an average week on the greens.
Looking quickly at his price it’s easy to think that he is a little short but when we consider that he is the only player in the field to have won at Crooked Stick and he arrives off a win then we can have a rethink. This is a limited 70-man field and this is Rory McIlroy, who won’t be in the slightest bit worried by the game’s best teeing up alongside him. He will be eager to start clawing his way back up the world rankings and this looks the perfect place to continue that charge. As well as Crooked Stick he has won on another long Pete Dye course at Kiawah Island and he sits in 18th in proximity from 150-175 yards and 1st in Par 5 scoring.
Nobody reading this needs me to tell them how dangerous McIlroy is when putting well and although it is an obvious bet, he is most definitely the man to beat and he could turn this into a procession. He will surely contend over the weekend and give us a run for our money at worst but I strongly expect to see him at the top of the leaderboard after 72-holes for the second week in a row.