MEDINAH, Ill -- For a majority of the field at the BMW Championship, only 36 holes remain in their 2018-19 season. This is the second of three FedEx Cup Playoff events, with only 30 players advancing to next week's Tour Championship in Atlanta. Here are a few of the storylines this weekend at Medinah Country Club:
Tiger and the Tour Championship
It would be a shame if Tiger Woods could not make it back to the site of one of his greatest triumphs. His victory at the Tour Championship last September was his first in five years, the 80th of his PGA Tour career, and was met with overwhelming excitement. The scene with Woods walking to the 18th at East Lake and thousands of fans swarming behind him is a highlight reel for the ages.
But the Tour Championship is about numbers, not names. And not even last year's victory will get him back to Atlanta if he is not among the top 30 in FedEx points at the end of the BMW. And right now, Woods is a long way off the pace, projected at 45th in points -- approximately six shots out of the minimum place he would need to advance.
"I'm going to have to have a great weekend and make a lot of birdies this week and post some rounds in the mid-60s to give myself a chance at it,'' he said.
It is difficult to envision Woods giving up. He went to the putting green after his round Friday, with that part of his game letting him down so far. But his lack of practice and play is catching up with him on a course that is playing easy. Woods, 43, has looked good physically, which perhaps means more than anything. But he left a lot of points out there with a light summer, and missing the weekend at Liberty National turned out to be a big blow. He needs a lot to go right over the next two days.
How about Hideki?
Hideki Matsuyama has been mostly missing in action since he made a run at the PGA Championship in 2017. Since then he has no worldwide victories. He has dropped from fifth in the world at the end of that year to 32nd. He has not been a contender at any of the major championships in the past two years.
But the Japanese star has found something this week, shooting scores of 69 and a course-record 63 and not making a bogey. He would move up to No. 2 in the FedEx standings with a victory.
"I am really happy with my position,'' said Matsuyama, who leads Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay by a stroke. "It's been a long time since I've been in contention. Hopefully I can play well. I've been struggling for a while this year. Hopefully that can turn around and I'll have a good weekend.''
It's a bit shocking to see the scores at Medinah's No. 3, which has a long history in the game, having hosted five major championships -- three U.S. Opens and two PGAs. It also had the 2012 Ryder Cup.
But the players are making the 7,600-yard course look easy. Only two players shot over par Thursday. The scoring average was the lowest of the year on the PGA Tour. There were 17 scores over par in the second round, but through 36 holes, 62 of the 69 players were under par. Part of it is due to soft conditions from early-week rain. That can't be helped.
Clearly, however, there is a mandate by PGA Tour officials to err on the easy side. The FedEx Cup playoffs over the years have become a grind. It's a lot of golf toward the end of the season, and the last thing anybody wants is players griping about difficult conditions. So they've been allowed to go at it, and the results are evident.
Perks, non-financial division
It's hard to ignore the money. The winner of the FedEx Cup will earn $15 million, with second place securing $5 million and payouts all the way through 150th in the final standings. Getting to East Lake assures you a minimum of $395,000.
But there's more. Finishing the season among the top 30 means an invitation to the Masters as well as exemptions into the U.S. Open and The Open. And it all but assures a spot in the PGA Championship. So ... spots in the major championships virtually locked up by Labor Day is a huge incentive to those not already qualified.
Players such as Sung-jae Im, Harold Varner III, Andrew Putnam and Jason Kokrak are particularly feeling the pressure. They began the week hovering around the 30th position. Nothing is secure with so much volatility, and none of the four has ever played in the Masters.
Through two rounds, Im is tied for 49th and is projected outside of the top 30 at 36th. Varner, who finished third last weekend, is near the bottom of the field after a 74 on Friday is projected to fall to 39th after starting the week at 29th. Putnam shot 69 on Friday and is now projected 33rd, so he's on the cusp with a decent weekend. And Kokrak, who was tied for the first-round lead, shot 73 and now is projected 31st. It is going to be a gut-wrenching weekend for them.
Brooks on top
Brooks Koepka is well off the lead at the BMW, but he's doing enough so far to retain the top spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs. That would mean he starts the Tour Championship next week at 10 under par, 2 shots ahead of second place and 10 up on those who are 26th through 30th on the points list. There will be no 72-hole winner, only the FedEx Cup champion will be decided. So fighting for position this weekend is more than just getting in; it's also about being closer to the lead next Thursday.
And don't forget ...
Both the U.S. and International Presidents Cup teams determine their automatic qualifiers at the conclusion of the BMW Championship. Points are worth what they are in a World Golf Championship event, and nobody outside of the top 12 on the U.S. can move into the top eight automatic qualifiers. Finau is best positioned to earn a spot on his own. Players on the outside are Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler and Woods, who is 13th. The four at-large selections to fill out each side will not be made until the first week of November. Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand is in position to earn a spot on the International team -- as he leads the Asian Tour event in Malaysia.