OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – We’re halfway through the BMW Championship, and the list of lingering questions has begun to thin.
The 50-man field that first took to a rain-soaked North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club is down to 49 after the withdrawal of Hideki Matsuyama. The size of the top-30 bubble, encompassing the players who have a nerve-wracking weekend ahead to determine their TOUR Championship fate, has contracted as scores have begun to roll in. Eighteen shots separate top from bottom, with most of the field either digging in for a run at the trophy or coming to terms that their 2022-23 season is about to come to an end in the Windy City.
But even with clarity on the rise, there are still unanswered queries heading into the third round. So let’s take a look at what we know – and what we don’t – as a star-studded field looks to chase down a suddenly red-hot Max Homa in the season’s penultimate event:
What We Know
Max Homa came to play
It was the Homa show Friday afternoon, as he went unconscious across the treacherous back nine of the North Course. To put in perspective his 10-birdie performance en route to a course-record 62, consider this: when this tournament was held at Olympia Fields in 2020, Homa made only nine birdies for the entire week.
A common theme in his post-round comments was the phrase “major bonus,” as he rolled in everything in site during the second round. Most aspects of the game are firing on all cylinders during a 62, but Homa has sliced and diced these difficult putting surfaces to the tune of 53 putts across his first 36 holes. After starting the round at +3000 at BetMGM Sportsbook, he heads into the weekend as a +180 betting favorite, equipped with a two-shot lead.
And while Homa seems like a virtual lock to make his first U.S. Ryder Cup appearance next month in Italy, he shared that earning one of six automatic qualifying spots – the window for which wraps this week – remains in his mind.
“That’s been kind of my goal since these Playoffs started, to get into that top 6,” Homa said. “It has been fun keeping that goal in mind, though, because you’re competing against the best Americans, which is a tall task.”
Homa is now tasked with following up a low round, not once but twice. The chase pack will be at his heels in short order, and that +180 price feels a bit short given the challenge that lies ahead.
Rory McIlroy needs to figure out the driver (quickly)
“I don’t lose a lot of confidence with my driver. One bad day is not going to make me lose any sleep.”
That was McIlroy Thursday afternoon, shortly after cobbling together a 5-under 65 despite hitting only three of 14 fairways. The driver didn’t get better overnight, and now the Ulsterman has dug himself a bit of a hole.
Entering the day as a +333 outright favorite, McIlroy made just one birdie en route to an even-par 70 that left him spinning his wheels. He’s now five shots back and out to +750, still second on the BetMGM odds board but listed at a higher price than his pre-tournament position.
Usually one of the best drivers in the game, McIlroy ranks a pedestrian 22nd out of 49 players in SG: Off-the-Tee and described his second-round performance as “pretty mediocre.”
“I don’t feel like I played too different to how I played yesterday,” he said. “I just got a bit more out of my round yesterday.”
McIlroy shared that he hopes the course firms up over the weekend, noting that on some holes it’s actually advantageous at the moment to hit from the rough in order to control approach spin. But a firm layout will put more importance on accuracy off the tee, and this brawny layout isn’t a place where he can lay back off the driver should it fail to cooperate. As they say, be careful what you wish for.
What We Don’t
Was this as easy as it gets?
McIlroy isn’t the only one hoping for some firmer conditions at Olympia Fields. When the course was crispy back in 2020, Matt Fitzpatrick finished T6. He’s now T3 heading into the weekend and essentially doing an (anti) rain dance to get the North Course more to his liking.
“I remember when it was here a couple years ago, and it was fantastic,” Fitzpatrick said. “Come Sunday, the greens were bordering yellow and the fairways were running and it becomes a real tough test. You’ve got to hit fairways. It becomes more penal off the fairway and missing the greens, so you’ve really got to plot your way around.”
We’re not there yet, but might be trending in that direction. Back in 2020, the course was brutally difficult through the first three rounds – then conditions softened a bit in the final round to allow Jon Rahm to rally back with a closing 64. Could we be in for a reverse scenario – where the soft conditions of Thursday and Friday made the North Course as gettable as we’ll see all week? Only time (and the weather forecast) can tell.
Who will emerge from the chase pack?
Remember that three years ago, Rahm basically came out of nowhere over the weekend after stumbling out of the gates with an opening 75. Homa is in great shape, with only three players within five shots – but this thing is far from over.
With the caliber of players in the chase pack, inevitably someone will make a Homa-like run to challenge the current leaders. So who stands out from the pack? Keep an eye on the former Presidents Cup partners sitting in a tie for 10th at 4 under.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay both seemed out of the mix on the opening day. Schauffele was in the middle of the pack after an opening 71, while Cantlay was 2 over before a late rally to get into red figures. Both made progress on Friday, albeit with performances overshadowed by Homa’s.
But tomorrow is a new day, and it’s likely that at least one of them will continue the climb given their collective success in Playoff and limited-field events. With Cantlay sitting at +1800 and Schauffele at +2500, they each represent speculative investments that could prove profitable by Sunday should either one mount a Rahm-like comeback at Olympia Fields.
Source : PGA Tour