Stat attack!: BMW Championship preview


Cherry Hills Golf Club in Colorado is about to host the second-oldest PGA Tour event on a course that hasn’t hosted the best players in the world since the 1985 PGA Championship.

Very few of the 69 players in the current field have played a competitive round at Cherry Hills, which makes handicapping the BMW Championship (formerly known as the Western Open, which began in 1899) a riskier business than usual.

Long thought of as a “second-shot” golf course, where accurate approach shots can make or break a round, Cherry Hills also plays at altitude, which could lead to longer ball flight and more aggressive play.

Phil Mickelson might not be among the longest hitters on the PGA Tour any more, but the veteran is still one of its most aggressive players, ranking 34th in going for the green, 28th in scrambling and 29th in scoring. We mention Lefty because he won the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, but the amount of local knowledge he can take from 24 years ago is minimal at best.

And it reminds us that Mickelson hasn’t won a PGA Tour event this year, putting his tour-best streak of 10 straight years with a victory in jeopardy.

Longest active streak of consecutive years with a PGA Tour victory

 No. of years with a win Player Years
 10 Phil Mickelson 2004-2013
 7 Dustin Johnson 2008-2014
 5 Justin Rose 2010-2014
 4 Bill Haas 2010-2013
 3 Matt Kuchar 2012-2014
 3 Zach Johnson 2012-2014

Bill Haas is also in jeopardy of ending his streak, although at 17th on the FedEx Cup standings, this likely won’t be his last appearance of the season. He’ll still have the Tour Championship at East Lake (where he won in 2011) to extend his streak to five seasons.

Mickelson, at 56th in points, is likely not going to Georgia unless he has a high finish at Cherry Hills.

Phil Mickelson’s record at the BMW Championship in the Playoff era

 Year Finish Scores Course
 2013 T-33 70-74-68-71—283 Conway Farms
 2012 T-2 69-67-64-70—270 Crooked Stick
 2011 T-56 72-73-71-75—291 Cog Hill
 2010 T-8 72-71-70-67—280 Cog Hill
 2009 T-30 71-69-70-76—286 Cog Hill
 2008 T-17 68-65-71-70—274 Bellerive 

It’s worth noting that Mickelson was T-2 at Crooked Stick, another new BMW venue that isn’t normally used for PGA Tour events. And, in addition to his win at altitude at the 1990 U.S. Amateur, Mickelson has won two PGA Tour events in Colorado - the 1993 and 1997 International -which was held at Castle Pines. He was second at the International in 1998 and 2000, and had seven top 10s in 14 starts at what was the Tour’s annual Stableford event.

Here’s a look at other players in this week’s field who fared well at the International before it disappeared from the schedule in 2006.

How selected players in the BMW field fared at the PGA Tour’s International: 1991-2006

 Player International record
 Ernie Els 15 starts, 15 cuts made; 9 top 10s, with a win in 2000
 Jim Furyk 5 starts, 4 cuts made; 1 to 10 (T-7 in 1997)
 Charles Howell III

7 starts, 4 cuts made; 4 top-20 finishes with a best of fifth in 2005

 Phil Mickelson

14 starts, 11 cuts made; 7 top 10s, with two wins and two seconds

 Bubba Watson 1 start, 1 cut made; T6 in 2006

Although the International’s champions were often long hitters – think Els, Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III for example – there were some shorter hitters who won, notably Brad Faxon, Lee Janzen and Dean Wilson, who won the last event in 2006.

Granted a stroke-play playoff event has a different atmosphere than a modified Stableford event midway through the long season, but the point remains: A long hitter only has an advantage in altitude if he controls his ball flight and avoids danger.

The BMW Championship has been the third event of the PGA Tour playoffs since the FedEx Cup was formed in 2007. In that time no player ranked outside the top half of the 70 players who make up the field has won. Justin Rose, 34th in 2011, was the highest seed to win.

FedEx Cup ranking of the BMW Championship winner

 Year Player FedEx rank Deutsche Bank finish
 2013 Zach Johnson 27 T-27
 2012 Rory McIlroy 1 1
 2011 Justin Rose 34 T-68
 2010 Dustin Johnson 16 T-57
 2009 Tiger Woods 2 T-11
 2008 Camilo Villegas 25 T-3
 2007 Tiger Woods 3 T-2

Although the BMW champ has tended to play well at the Deutsche Bank, with four of the seven champions finishing in the top 11 at Boston. Only Rory McIlroy won both events. In fact the Deutsche Bank winner has not fared particularly well in his playoff follow-up. In additon to McIlroy, who was a world-beater in 2012, only Webb Simpson in 2011 managed better than a top-30 finish the week after his win.

How the Deutsche Bank winner fared at the BMW Championship

 Year Deutsche Bank winner BMW finish
 2013 Henrik Stenson T-33
 2012 Rory McIlroy 1
 2011 Webb Simpson 5
 2010 Charley Hoffman T-30
 2009 Steve Stricker T-53
 2008 Vijay Singh T-44
 2007 Phil Mickelson Did not play

That doesn’t bode particularly well for Chris Kirk’s chances at Cherry Hills, but the Boston champ already has two wins this PGA Tour season.

One final thought: Jim Furyk lost in the third round of the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills (to David Eger). Morgan Hoffmann and Cameron Tringale played for the U.S. in the 2009 Palmer Cup at Cherry Hills (won by Europe, 13-11), and Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama played in the 2012 U.S. Amateur at the course (Matsuyama didn’t make match play, Spieth lost in Round 1). With Mickelson, this is about the extent of the BMW field’s competitive history at Cherry Hills.

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