No rest for the weary at BMW Championship

Updated: September 9, 2009

LEMONT, Ill. -- Golfers run the risk of receiving ridicule when they complain about being tired. You can hear the snickers all the way across Lake Michigan. The game doesn't have the greatest reputation when it comes to producing physically fit athletes, so the skepticism is understandable.

But as any pro golfer will tell you, there's so much more to it than simply playing four rounds of golf. There are the practice rounds and pro-ams that precede the event, the travel to and from, the time spent practicing before and after a round.

Camilo Villegas

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Camilo Villegas likely doesn't have to win this week to advance to the Tour Championship, but he'll need a strong finish if he wants to play for a shot at the FedEx Cup title.

All of it is more pronounced for those set to play in their third straight FedEx Cup playoff event at the BMW Championship. The playoffs began just two weeks after the PGA Championship, which followed the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

For Sergio Garcia, this will be his sixth straight tournament, a stretch that started with the Bridgestone and included Greensboro the week between the PGA and the playoffs.

"I feel like I'm ready to die," Garcia joked on Sunday at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Making matters worse this week is the Monday finish in Boston. A Labor Day conclusion to the Deutsche Bank Championship has made for a short turnaround at the BMW Championship.

"I was talking to one of my football coaching buddies, driving out here, and I said, 'It's sort of like playing a Sunday night game and then you've got a Thursday night game,' " said PGA Tour veteran Scott Verplank. "You've got no turnaround so you don't have any time to waste. You've got to get prepared for your next opponent, which sits out there at about 9,000 yards long.

"You go from playing the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night and you've got the Steelers on Thursday. That's about how it is. You don't have a lot of time for rest and relaxation."

For 27 of the 70 players in this week's field, this will be their sixth tournament in seven weeks. For 39 players, it will be their fifth in seven weeks.

Through the balance of the golf season, players have a choice in setting up their schedules to avoid getting burned out. But at this time of year, there is virtually no choice.

Players who are eligible are not going to skip a World Golf Championship event or a major championship such as the PGA. And if you qualify for the playoffs and advance, skipping is not a viable option if you want to keep playing. Defending champion Camilo Villegas, for example, withdrew from The Barclays two weeks ago due to a wrist injury and finds himself 52nd in the standings and now scrambling to make the Tour Championship field, which invites just the top 30.

One of the fittest players in the game, even Villegas is dragging.

"This game drives us crazy," Villegas said. "It's been a long stretch. It's been real tough. I definitely have to change a little bit of the way I eat and the way I work out. ... You've got to have energy. You've got to be fresh."

That's why Verplank only walked the course when he arrived Tuesday, a day when the practice range was filled mostly with those who had missed the cut in Boston. Or why Heath Slocum, who won The Barclays but missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship, was viewing his forced two days off as a blessing in disguise. Or why Tiger Woods, who shot 63 Monday at the Deutsche Bank, came to Chicago that night but did not play Tuesday.

"It's a lot of golf for me," said Woods, who now trails Steve Stricker in the FedEx Cup standings. "I normally don't play this much. And then I'm in contention most of the events, and that adds to it. That adds to you being a little bit more worn down, and you've got to alter your practice. Make sure you get your rest when you can because it is a long stretch."

This will be Woods' 16th event of the year, but his sixth in seven weeks. Then, after an off week comes the Tour Championship.

"For me, my tolerance goes down a little bit, patience goes down a little bit," said Hunter Mahan, who is also playing his sixth event in seven weeks. "You have to be aware of that kind of stuff on the golf course and make sure when you do come to the golf course you get a lot done in a short amount of time. ... Everyone is a little bit tired. It's just kind of stressful."

Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday that the tour will consider changing the off week so that it will follow the second week of the playoffs.

"That would give you another little breather in there," Woods said. "You've got a big event in the Bridgestone and then you have the PGA and then you have these three big events in a row. Five big events in six weeks. That's one of the reasons why I skipped The Barclays the first year [in 2007], to give myself a break."

"I love that idea," Stricker said of taking a week off following the first two playoff events. "I don't think it's fair to the players or the tournament to whip us around in such a quick fashion and get us going again. It's a tough turnaround, it really is. We basically lose one day of rest. For the people who are in contention and finishing late on Sunday [or this week on Monday], it's even that much worse."

Making up ground

The defending FedEx Cup champion is gone. Vijay Singh is not at the BMW Championship this week, eliminated after just two weeks of the playoffs a year after winning two of the four playoff events and romping to the title.

Camilo Villegas and Sergio Garcia -- who were in a playoff at the Tour Championship a year ago -- find themselves in danger of missing out on a trip to Atlanta without a good showing here.

Villegas is 52nd in the FedEx Cup standings and Garcia is 55th, meaning they need to finish inside the top 10 at minimum to move into the top 30 to advance. And since there is no cut at the BMW, No. 30 Ian Poulter is assured of earning some points -- which means they might have to finish even better.

Others on the outside looking in at East Lake are No. 36 Paul Casey -- who has not played any of the playoff events due to a rib injury -- No. 40 Robert Allenby, No. 44 Davis Love and No. 49 Charles Howell.

"In any of these situations, it's not who gets in, it's who doesn't get in is what's talked about when the cutoff is made," said Padraig Harrington, who is seventh in the standings but missed out on the Tour Championship last year despite winning two major championships. "And you need some marquee names to miss out in order to make it exciting. If the top 30 in the world ranking made it, there would be nothing to talk about."

A look at this week's venue

After a one-year break which saw the tournament go to St. Louis, the BMW Championship -- formerly the Western Open -- returns to renovated Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in suburban Chicago.

Opened in 1964, the No. 4 course at Cog Hill -- known as Dubsdread -- is a public course that has been the tournament venue since 1991, except for last year when it moved to Bellerive in St. Louis. During the hiatus, architect Rees Jones oversaw an extensive project to restore the course to its original Dick Wilson design.

The course has 18 new greens with Sub-Air Systems for better drainage, redesigned and re-positioned bunkers, additional tees and an increased length of 7,600 yards. Although the routing remains the same, it is a different course from the one Tiger Woods dismantled two years ago when he shot 22-under-par 262.

The former Western Open is the third-oldest tournament on the PGA Tour (behind only the British Open and U.S. Open) and dates to 1899. It used to move around the country but settled in the Chicago area in 1962, when it was played at Medinah. It then moved to various Chicago courses until landing at Butler National in 1974, where it stayed through 1990.

Among the reasons for the upgrades at Cog Hill is the hope of one day landing a U.S. Open.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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Birdies and bogeys

Birdies

1. Steve Stricker. Two years after finishing runner-up to Tiger Woods in the inaugural FedEx Cup playoffs, Stricker has made it interesting by finishing second and first in two events to take the overall lead.

2. Scott Verplank. With a tie for second at the Deutsche Bank, Verplank moved up 32 spots to fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, meaning he is a lock for the Tour Championship and is in position to control his own destiny.

3. FedEx Cup playoffs. So far, so good. The playoffs have produced excellent fields and exciting finishes and, with tweaks to the system, assure drama headed into the final two events.

Bogeys

1. Padraig Harrington. For the third time in his last four tournaments, the Irishman saw his chances for victory doomed by penalty shots. This time at the Deutsche Bank, it was unplayable lies due to poor drives after having taken the lead to the back nine.

2. Greg Norman. It is hard not to view his pick of Adam Scott to the Presidents Cup International team as pure favoritism for a fellow Aussie. Scott would be the first to admit his play this year has not justified inclusion as his game is in shambles.

3. Vijay Singh. Last year he won two playoff events and captured the overall FedEx Cup title. This year, Singh won't even be able to defend his title at the BMW Championship as he finished outside of the top 70 in points.

An eye on the U.S. Open ... and the Olympics?

Cog Hill's No. 4 course underwent an extensive renovation with the hopes of one day attracting a U.S. Open. And since Chicago makes sense as a host city for the country's national championship, the venue seems to be a strong candidate if the United States Golf Association wants to come back here.

The U.S. Open was last played in Chicago in 2003 at Olympia Fields, which drew lukewarm reviews. Prior to that, it was held at Medinah, which is scheduled for the 2012 Ryder Cup and has hosted two PGA Championships.

The U.S. Open has been awarded through 2016, so we're talking at least eight years in the future.

But Cog Hill could be in the running for another big event. If Chicago is awarded the 2016 Olympic Games next month, Cog Hill would garner serious attention.

"I think it would be great," Tiger Woods said. "I think you would have to have it on a public venue. I don't think you could have it at a country club. I think you'd have to have it at a public venue just because of what the nature of the Olympics is all about. Certainly this golf course is stand-alone in public venues here in the Chicago area. I don't know another golf course that could rival this one as far as difficulty, a public course."

Notables

• Steve Stricker heads into the BMW Championship first in the overall FedEx Cup standings. Only Tiger Woods can pass him this week and Woods would need to finish no worse than third to do so.

• There are seven players who were outside of the top 70 in the FedEx standings who played their way into the BMW this week at the Deutsche Bank: Jason Bohn, Marc Leishman, Stephen Ames, Jeff Overton, Bubba Watson, Bryce Molder and Sergio Garcia. Everyone in the top 70 has a mathematical chance of advancing to the top 30 for the Tour Championship.

• Woods has eight top-10 finishes, including four victories, in 10 starts at the BMW, formerly known as the Western Open.

* No player can pass Steve Stricker or Tiger Woods for first in the FedEx Cup standings, but there can be plenty of movement for the second through fourth positions now held by Heath Slocum, Zach Johnson and Scott Verplank. Kenny Perry, Padraig Harrington, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson hold down the next five spots. Any player who is among the top five heading to the Tour Championship is guaranteed the top prize with a victory at East Lake.

Quotable

"I do believe they should give out the cash on the 18th green. Just sit it there just to have a good look at it. It would be great, like the World Series of Poker. We could take it in a wheelbarrow up the clubhouse. Anything that falls out is the caddie's."
-- Padraig Harrington, on how the $10 million in bonus money for winning the FedEx Cup should be distributed.

Catching up with last year's champ

Camilo Villegas won his first PGA Tour event a year ago at the BMW Championship -- when it was played at Bellerive in St. Louis -- and then continued his good play with a victory three weeks later at the Tour Championship in a playoff over Sergio Garcia. That performance helped him finish second to Vijay Singh in the FedEx Cup standings.

A year later, he's in need of another good week at the BMW, but this time the pressure is more acute as Villegas has not had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since March at the CA Championship. That was one of three he had early in the season, when it appeared it would be just a matter of time before Villegas broke through for another victory.

But since then, his best performances were ties for 13th at the Masters and British Open. Although he's missed no cuts in that stretch, Villegas did withdraw from The Barclays two weeks ago with a wrist problem. He is 52nd in the FedEx Cup standings and will need at least a top-10 finish in order to have a shot at moving into the top 30 and on to the Tour Championship.

Either way, Villegas, who is from Colombia, has qualified for his first Presidents Cup team.

BMW Championship picks

Birdie Buster. Steve Stricker. The man is on fire. He captured his third victory of the season at the Deutsche Bank Championship a week after missing a playoff at The Barclays by a stroke. He now leads the FedEx Cup standings and is assured of being no worse than second heading to the Tour Championship.

Horse for the Course. Tiger Woods. He's won four times at Cog Hill, including two years ago when he was a whopping 22 under par.

Super Sleeper. Mark Wilson. The Elmhurst, Ill., resident is a big fan of Cog Hill and is in need of a good week to make the Tour Championship field after moving to 41st in the FedEx Cup standings.

Winner. Anthony Kim. It's been an up and down year for Kim, but a victory here would change everything. As it is, Kim, who is ranked 34th in the FedEx Cup standings, needs a good week to advance to the Tour Championship.