BMW Championship a pivotal playoff event on unfamiliar turf

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Justin Thomas is among the few who have experience at Wilmington Country Club.

He was 20, still officially in college at Alabama, when he played in the 2013 Palmer Cup. Thomas didn't recall much when he returned for the BMW Championship, the second stop in the FedEx Cup playoffs, except for the shape of the hole when he played a practice round.

He doesn't remember his 2-and-1 win over Sebastian Cappelen of Denmark in Sunday singles or the team score, only that it was a big win.

Limited experience is still more than most at a pivotal juncture in the PGA Tour postseason.

The PGA Tour has never been to Delaware, though the BMW Championship was only 30 minutes away in 2018 at Aronimink outside Philadelphia, and last year was an hour down the road at Caves Valley outside Baltimore.

Still, no one has ever played it when every shot counts and $15 million is at stake. Patrick Cantlay is the defending champion and doesn't feel like he needs a deep study of Wilmington.

"This golf course is definitely just like last year, extremely distance-biased," Cantlay said. "You've got to hit it as far as you can and hit a lot of fairways. This course is a little narrower than last year, and I think most times you see when guys win they just got hot with the putter, which I did last year."

There won't be a repeat of last year, when Cantlay never looked like he would win until a birdie on the sixth playoff hole against Bryson DeChambeau before a highly charged crowd. That's mainly because DeChambeau is among more than a dozen players who have signed on with Saudi-funded LIV Golf and have been suspended or resigned.

If they had been eligible for the postseason, they didn't count in the standings.

That was a bonus for someone like Lucas Glover, who would have finished out of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup except that nine players ahead of him had played for LIV Golf. That meant Glover went from No. 130 to No. 121.

And then he tied for third in the playoff opener, rocketing up to No. 34.

"I shouldn't even be here," Glover said.

But here is - first time playing in Delaware, like just about everybody else - with a shot at getting into the top 30, who advance to the Tour Championship to chase the FedEx Cup and its $18 million prize.

Reaching the Tour Championship typically comes with an invitation to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. For those already locked into the top 30, the higher up the points list, the better the odds at East Lake.

For players like Jon Rahm, the objective hasn't changed.

"We are here to win the tournament. Pretty sure if I win the tournament, it takes care of itself," Rahm said.

He can point to Will Zalatoris winning last week - points are four times the value during the postseason and went from No. 12 to the top spot.

"I'm not going to be making a decision on the golf course coming down the stretch on the back nine thinking about my FedEx Cup position," Rahm said. "I will be thinking about my leaderboard position and if I can win or not."

Wilmington Country Club, which counts President Joe Biden among its members, is long and elevated, with enough room off the tee to encourage driver even on the shorter holes. Dry weather could help create firm greens, the best defense on any course.

Rory McIlroy already likes what he sees, and he has seen plenty. McIlroy missed the cut last week at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Instead of heading home to hot and muggy Florida, he came straight to Delaware and has been practicing at Wilmington every day since Saturday, including 18 holes of the pro-am Wednesday.

"It's a golf course that's a little more up my alley compared to last week in Memphis," McIlroy said. "I was a little rusty last week, as well, but a lot more drivers off the tee, a lot of room off the tee, a lot more scope to hit driver. Length is an advantage here, where in Memphis it's not really. Just my sort of golf course that I feel like I can excel on.

"It's nice to get back out and prepare and get to know a new golf course, get a little bit of a head start on everyone else."

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Updated August 17, 2022