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It might not mean the world to golf punters, but the conclusion of the FedEx St. Jude meant an awful lot more to some players.

As Lucas Glover continued a remarkable recovery from a place of ‘no control’, his two wins launched him from a world ranking of 166th to a current 30th in the space of seven weeks.

Emotions ran high elsewhere on the course.

Former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama was also bouncing. His brilliant run of birdies and an eagle securing his place in this week’s second play-off event. Behind, others were not so fortunate.

Covered by the PGA Tour, golf takes the cruelest of turns.

Not 50 yards away [from Deki] stood Nick Hardy. He was enjoying a similar run to Matsuyama, with three birdies in his last five holes before he stepped on the 18th hole. His demeanor was much different.

Matsuyama needed a par on the difficult closing hole to secure his Playoffs spot. He got it. Hardy needed another birdie. His tee shot found the water.

“Just sucks, I mean it really sucks,” said Hardy, choking back tears as he recounted the final-hole bogey that dropped him to 52nd in the FedExCup standings.

A year ago, that would not have mattered. Now, with the amount of qualifiers reduced from 70 to 50, Hardy, alongside Mackenzie Hughes (who finished 58th last week) and Taylor Montgomery (37th after a final round 67) join 17 others to miss out on the automatic entry to the Signature events of the 2023/2024 season – that, believe it or not, starts in around a months time. Every putt was huge.

For now, the 50 qualifiers see the gold in front of them, and the chance to make a bit of history.

Just 30 players will gain entry into the Tour Championship at East Lake, making this week even more of a focus and, with a staggered start at the final event of the year, every place up this week’s leaderboard will count.

The nomadic BMW Championship this year settles at the North Course of Olympia Fields- a course that has notably hosted four major championships, the Western Open and senior and women’s majors.

For this week, the only significance may come from the result of the 2003 US Open. Although golf has changed so much that it is likely only the 2020 BMW Championship result is of any real use to form students.

At over 7300-yards, the par-70 track will need careful handling.

The only two par-5s are over 600-yards, four of the par-4s over 460-yards, whilst players will need to conquer two of the four shorter holes that measure 215 and 280 yards. With narrow landing areas and smaller than average greens, length will definitely help but will need to be controlled, recent rain making longer approach shots much harder to control.

I’m looking for players with confidence in their tee-to-green games right now, with Taylor Montgomery summing things up nicely:

“There’s a reason why the top 10 guys are who they are,” Montgomery said. “It’s because they do every aspect of the game really good. Obviously, we’re all trying to do that, but it would be nice to get to that next level.”

The top of the shop contains the usual suspects and opting between them is tough.

I’ll stay away from the world’s number one and two for a while, with both Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm looking below their best – at least, until Scheffler calls Lucas Glover up and asks to borrow his putter.

Below them, the incredibly consistent Rory McIlroy continues to fail to get the riches his tee-to-green play deserves, and has never won the week before either of his three Tour Championships.

Patrick Cantlay

Instead, launch the card with Patrick Cantlay, a standout candidate after missing out in Memphis.

Forget the bad tee shot on the first play-off hole and concentrate instead on his final round – six unanswered birdies – and final round stats of 1st for off-the-tee, 22nd in approaches, 2nd in tee-to-green, 7th for around-the-green and 24th for putting.

Overall, that left the 31-year-old leading the event stats for tee-to-green off 11th place for off-the-tee, perfect stats for a track on which he finished 12th (of 70) in 2020.

Three years ago, Cantlay came off an average run of form, leading into Olympia Fields with a T43 at the PGA and a missed-cut at the first play-off event, then The Northern Trust.

Now, he’s finishing a season containing five top-five finishes and a record of 14/9/14/33 over the major season, three of which could/should have been higher given his position at various stages. He’s dismissed the two lesser efforts in the home Opens and looks to be peaking at the right time.

Unlike McIlroy, the selection thrives in these lead-up FedEx events, winning three of the last six, including the last two BMW Championships at Caves Valley and Wilmington. Whilst they may seem totally different tracks, Cantlay’s finish of 12th here three years ago disguises the fact he led at halfway and managed to stay within touching distance of Rahm despite losing five shots with his irons.

“I obviously made a bad tee shot and paid the price,” Cantlay said after his tee-shot on the final night. “I’m in a good spot and two big weeks coming up, so I’m looking forward to it.

“I’m obviously playing really well, and next week is a golf course that I enjoy, so looking forward to it.”

So am I.

In a limited, elite field, I’ll treat it as a bit of a WGC – there will be a time and a place, but here, ignore the rags. Still, WGC, you say…..

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Hideki Matsuyama

Saying that, there looks to be some decent margin in the afore-mentioned Hideki Matsuyama, a player with plenty of experience in this event and winner of two World Golf Championships… 

The Japanese star would have been missing his first BMW event as a FedEx event, had he failed to make it to number 47 on the list last week. He will surely bring plenty of confidence on to a track that he finished third on in 2020; ranking in the top two for both tee-to-green and around-the-green.

Plenty has happened since, not least his 2021 Masters victory alongside a further two PGA Tour wins, but he’s been plagued by injury, a factor that has seen him drop from the world’s top 20 to 34th in the world rankings.

2023 has had signs of recovery, though. Best of those have been fast-closing efforts at the Farmers (50th to 9th), Players (94th to 5th) and Travelers (68th to 13th). In between, the 31-year-old has finished 16th at Augusta (5th after the third round), 16th at Muirfield (3rd and 9th after the middle rounds) and 13th at the Open Championship.

Indeed, although it may not match his absolute best, major finishes of 16/29/32/13 read very acceptably given his issues, and if last Sunday’s closing 16th (from 38th) gives us anything, it is surely his will to get right back to the top.

Despite ranking 17th for tee-to-green and in fifth for around-the-green (that final hole surely boosting the figure) Deki admits he will need to play better to reach the top-30 at the end of Sunday and punch his ticket to East Lake. Given he responded to the challenge set last night, I’ll happily go in at the price.

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Collin Morikawa

The last time I was on Collin Morikawa was, fortunately, at the PGA Championship at Harding Park; a 7200-yard par-70. It might be time to go in again.

Talk about Glover and Scottie as two that need help with the putter and, invariably, the next name up is the 26-year-old star, who (lest we forget) has already won two majors and a WGC in just four seasons.

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. When producing positive putting stats, Morikawa can do a job. He did so at the Genesis (6th), Masters (10th), PGA (26th), US Open (14th), Rocket Mortgage (2nd after a play-off) and finished 13th last weekend. In-between, he was lying inside the top-10 at the Memorial before withdrawing with back spasms.

In five of his last six events, the selection has produced positive putting figures for five events, the worst being at wet and windy Hoylake.

With that out of the way, he continues to produce very impressive tee-to-green figures, even if they are starting to be put in the shade by the likes of McIlroy and Sheffler.

The former college superstar currently ranks 20th off-the-tee, 2nd for approach and 4th for tee-to-green for the year. Included in that, is a ranking of between first and 11th for iron play from 50 to 200 yards, depending on your metric, a stat that wasn’t quite at that level when finishing 20th here in 2020 (60th after first round). It’s an encouraging run of play that has seen the selection rank no worse than 21st for tee-to-green this year, with his latest three starts recording 11/2/15.

As well as the figures, Morikawa is earning money for the recent tragedy in Maui. It may be something or nothing, but he’s keen on raising money from each birdie or eagle, something that will be on his mind when standing across every eight-footer.

Currently 22nd in the FedEx lists, Morikawa should be safe for East Lake, but he won’t want to be giving the top couple a healthy lead on the stagger and I have a suspicion viewers will soon see a back-to-form Collin.       

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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