OWINGS MILLS, Md. – In almost every sport, when the play-offs start, players know that the intensity is going to increase. In football, the defense hits harder. Coaches treat their own team’s turnover like a tragedy. In basketball, you have to fight for every rebound. Post-season baseball bats often play out like a testament battle.
In professional golf, something else unfolds.
The game seems to be getting easier.
Bogeys are becoming scarce. Double play is almost unheard of. Players are not tested to see if they can make birds, they are tested on how very they can make. And they better make a ton of it, or they’ll be dusted off by the leaders.
This week’s BMW Championship in Caves Valley, the second event in the FedEx Cup play-offs, was the perfect example. Through three rounds, the field of 70 people made 948 birds in total and 20 eagles. The field is 527 below track mark, with a score of 69.4.
Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, which is tied for 21 ahead, has a great chance of shooting the lowest score (relative to track figure) on tour this year. Harris Engels 25 in January during the tournament of champions (even if it was on a par-73 track with five par-5s), and KH Lee shot 25 down at TPC Craig Ranch on his way to winning the Byron Nelson in May. Only three players in tour history have ever conceded 30 in a four-round tournament, but one of those times came during the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2020, when Dustin Johnson wins the Northern Trust by 11 strokes.
What to make of it? It depends on your perspective. The FedEx Cup is not a major, and no fan will confuse it for once, despite the PGA Tour’s huge investment in marketing these playoffs. But shouldn’t the post-season have a little more teeth than that? When asked what he thinks of his third round 66, Cantlay was pretty candid.
“It was another day on a soft, easy golf course,” he said.
The reality is that this may be exactly what the PGA Tour and its sponsors want the post-season to look like. What is the chance that viewers will take away the first weekend of college football: the best players in the world who dock birds and eagles? Or the same players who grind for pars?
“I definitely think the FedEx Cup play-offs are different from the majors,” he said. Rory McIlroy, who finished fourth at 17 under a tie. “The tour is a – it’s going to sound a little bad, but – I think it’s more of an entertainment product than the majors. all year round. It’s a little different. “
There are many reasons why it is different, and some of it could not control the PGA Tour, even if it wanted to. Temperatures in the northeast are scorching this time of year, and humid days in this region are often followed by nocturnal thunderstorms. Holding a course like Caves Valley – if firmness is probably the only defense against professionals – was an impossible question for the maintenance staff.
“Look, this is an area in the country here where it gets hot and humid, and bending grass does not have the characteristics that you want a very challenging golf course,” McIlroy said. ‘I do not really know where you can go this time of year, where it is not going to happen without it being on the West Coast or North West or whatever.
McIlroy and Cantlay were not alone in their candor. If players know that the ball will not bounce very far after it has landed, it does not matter how long the course is. Everyone can, and will, descend low.
“It’s nice when you play well,” said Garcia, who shot 67 in the third round. “It’s not my favorite kind of golf. I like it when it’s a little more challenging and not just to sit down. Which of course does not misinterpret me, you still have to hit the shots … [But] the course plays pretty simple. “
Jon Rahm was tied with the lead after firing a first round of 64. Then he followed a 66 and a 68, and he lost field every day and fell to eighth place. Only four players in the field of 70 men- Carlos Ortiz, Russell Henley, Max Homa and Collin Morikawa – is currently more than par. Their combined score: 5 overs.
‘If it’s soft, just have narrow fairways and a high strip [to challenge tour players], “said Jordan Spieth, which is 5 down and is tied for 49th place. “But the fairways are pretty wide here and the greens are pretty big. You really have to make a turn to make a bogey … It’s hard to be completely out of position unless you do something really wrong.”
Caves Valley, which is hosting a PGA Tour event for the first time, is not a track with narrow fairways. In fact, it has some of the widest fairways of any track that players play outside of the Plantation Course in Kapalua. It also has three par-4s that are less than 400 meters. With modern technology, it is a green light for many players.
‘I think there are a lot of courses we play today, where a lot of fairways join 300 and 310 [yards]”McIlroy said.” This does not allow the long victims to hit the driver a lot; last week it was a good example of that. Every time you get a great golf course like this with which the big victims can hit the driver, it is usually a big advantage. It’s just nice to get the driver in your hand and feel like you can let it fly a bit. “
That was not the case with last year’s BMW Championship, when solid conditions at Olympia Fields delivered one of the toughest tests of the year. Only five players finished below track mark, and Rahm’s winning score (4 below) was actually closer to track mark than DeChambeau’s winning score at the US Open at Winged Foot. It is possible to take a tough test in the playoffs, but at least this year it will only come before the top-30 come to East Lake in Atlanta next week for the tour championship.
“I like the tougher tests, but I don’t want to have a very hard test every week,” McIlroy said. “East Lake will be a good example – 12 under wins. I think 12 under is a very good win score for – 8 to 12 under course count is a good win score on most golf courses. I think it tests guys the right quantity but also let you make some birds and give yourself chances.was this week entertaining.I do not think it will be so – it will not be the bird next week [in the Tour Championship] as it is this week. And I think that’s a good thing, especially when it comes to the last one and the top 30. I think the challenge is also an important part of it. “