OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In just about each sport, when the playoffs start, gamers know the depth goes to rise. In soccer, defenses hit tougher. Coaches deal with turnovers by their very own crew like a tragedy. In basketball, you must battle for each rebound. Postseason baseball at-bats usually play out like a battle of wills.
In skilled golf, one thing completely different unfolds.
The sport seems to get simpler.
Bogeys develop into uncommon. Doubles are virtually unparalleled. Gamers aren’t examined on whether or not they can make birdies, they’re examined on how many they’ll make. And so they’d higher make a ton o them, or they’ll get dusted by the leaders.
The BMW Championship at Caves Valley this week, the second occasion within the FedEx Cup playoffs, has been the proper instance. Through three rounds, the 70-man subject has made 948 complete birdies and 20 eagles. The sphere is 527 underneath par, for a 69.4 scoring common.
Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, each tied for the lead at 21 underneath, have nice likelihood to shoot the bottom rating (in relation to par) on Tour this 12 months. Harris English shot 25 underneath on the Match of Champions in January (albeit on a par 73 course with 5 par 5s), and K.H. Lee shot 25 underneath at TPC Craig Ranch en path to profitable the Byron Nelson in Could. Solely three gamers in Tour historical past have ever shot 30 underneath in a four-round match, however a kind of instances got here through the 2020 FedEx Cup playoffs, when Dustin Johnson received the Northern Belief by 11 pictures.
What to make of it? That is determined by your perspective. The FedExCup is not a significant, and no fan would confuse it for one, regardless of the PGA Tour’s huge funding in advertising and marketing these playoffs. However should not the postseason have just a little extra tooth than this? Requested what he thought of his third-round 66, Cantlay was pretty candid.
“It was one other day on a comfortable, straightforward golf course,” he mentioned.
The fact is, this can be precisely what the PGA Tour, and it sponsors, need the postseason to seem like. In spite of everything, what’s extra more likely to pull viewers away from the primary weekend of school soccer: The very best gamers on the earth racking up birdies and eagles? Or the identical gamers grinding for pars?
“I actually suppose the FedExCup Playoffs are completely different than the majors,” mentioned Rory McIlroy, who sits in a tie for fourth at 17 underneath. “The Tour is a — that is going to sound just a little unhealthy however — I feel it is extra of an leisure product fairly than the majors. The majors are arrange just a little bit otherwise and it is alleged to be the hardest take a look at that we face all 12 months. It is just a little bit completely different.”
There are many causes as to why it is completely different, and a few of them the PGA Tour could not management even when it wished to. Temperatures within the northeast are scorching at the moment of 12 months, and humid days on this area are sometimes adopted by nightly thunderstorms. Attempting to maintain a course like Caves Valley agency — when firmness might be its solely protection in opposition to professionals — has been an unimaginable ask for the upkeep crew.
“Look, it is an space of the nation right here the place it does get scorching and humid, and bentgrass, it isn’t going to have the traits that you simply need to have a extremely difficult golf course,” McIlroy mentioned. “I do not actually know the place you may go this time of the 12 months the place that is not going to occur with out it being like over on the west coast or northwest or no matter.”
McIlroy and Cantlay weren’t alone of their candor. When gamers know the ball will not bounce very far after it lands, it would not matter how lengthy the course is. Everybody can, and can, go low.
“A man like Bryson is tough to beat on a golf course like this as a result of it is comfortable. The nearer you stand up there, the higher,” mentioned Sam Burns, who’s tied with McIlroy and Sergio Garcia at 17 underneath.
“It is enjoyable if you happen to’re taking part in effectively,” mentioned Garcia, who shot 67 within the third spherical. “It is not my favourite type of golf. I prefer it when it is a bit more difficult and it isn’t simply placing. Which clearly do not misread me, you continue to must hit the pictures. … [But] the course is taking part in pretty easy.”
Jon Rahm was tied for the lead after firing a first-round 64. He then adopted it up with a 66 and a 68, and he misplaced floor every day, falling all the way in which to eighth. Solely 4 gamers within the 70-man subject — Carlos Ortiz, Russell Henley, Max Homa and Colin Morikawa — are at the moment over par. Their mixed rating: 5 over.
“If it is comfortable, you simply must have slim fairways and excessive tough [to challenge Tour players],” mentioned Jordan Spieth, who’s 5 underneath and tied for forty ninth. “However the fairways are fairly large right here and the greens are fairly huge. It’s important to actually type of screw as much as make a bogey. … It is arduous to type of be completely out of place except you do one thing actually improper.”
Caves Valley, which is internet hosting a PGA Tour occasion for the primary time, just isn’t a course with slim fairways. In actual fact, it has a few of the widest fairways of any course the gamers play outdoors of the Plantation Course in Kapalua. It additionally has three par 4s which can be lower than 400 yards. With fashionable expertise, that could be a inexperienced mild for lots of gamers.
“I feel there’s quite a lot of programs we play these days the place quite a lot of fairways pinch in at 300 and 310 [yards],” McIlroy mentioned. “It would not enable the lengthy hitters to hit driver rather a lot, final week being a fairly good instance of that. Everytime you get a giant golf course like this that permits the massive hitters to hit driver, that is often a giant benefit. It is simply good to get driver in your hand and be capable of really feel like you may let it fly a bit.”
That wasn’t the case finally 12 months’s BMW Championship, when agency circumstances at Olympia Fields produced one of many hardest exams all 12 months. Solely 5 gamers completed underneath par, and Rahm’s profitable rating (4 underneath) was really nearer to par than DeChambeau’s profitable rating on the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. It’s potential to have a stern take a look at within the playoffs, however a minimum of this 12 months, it will not come till the highest 30 get to East Lake in Atlanta subsequent week for the Tour Championship.
“I do just like the tougher exams, however I do not desire a actually arduous take a look at each single week,” McIlroy mentioned. “East Lake will likely be an excellent instance — 12 underneath wins. I feel 12 underneath is a extremely good profitable rating for — 8 to 12-under par is an efficient profitable rating on most golf programs. I feel it exams guys the correct quantity but additionally permits you to make some birdies and offers you possibilities. I feel there is a steadiness there to be struck. It relies upon what we’re all making an attempt to get out of the FedEx Cup playoffs. I feel one a part of it’s leisure. It is actually been entertaining this week. I do not suppose it’s going to be fairly as — it will not be the birdie-fest subsequent week [in the Tour Championship] as it’s this week. And I feel that is an excellent factor, particularly once you come to the ultimate one and the highest 30. I feel the problem is a crucial a part of it, too.”