CHERRY HILLS, Colo. (CBS4) – The PGA Tour returns to Colorado for the first time in eight years. Not only have the faces changed, but the game has changed drastically as well.
Can Cherry Hills hold up against the top golfers in the world? That remains to be seen. Keep in mind, never has a golfer shot better than 10-under in a competitive tournament and the famed layout.
Will it happen this year? If so, here are five golfers who just might walk off the 18th green Sunday holding the BMW Championship trophy.
1. Rory McIlroy. Duh! I struggle to find a reason why golf’s No. 1 player in the world isn’t at the top of this list. Watching McIlroy drive a golf ball on TV is awesome. Fans here in the Rocky Mountain region have to be excited to see it in person.
The problem is McIlroy may not be able to hit many drivers at Cherry Hills. The course isn’t a bombers ballpark. There are a number of par 4’s where Rory is probably going to have to opt for a 3 wood or something less to put his golf ball in the proper position.
You may have heard of golf’s new stat: strokes gained putting. Well, they have a similar stat called strokes gained driving. Basically the stat measures how far and straight you can hit the golf ball. The more distance you can generate without sacrificing accuracy gives you a better chance to hit the ball closer to the hole. This increases your odds of making a lower score.
McIlroy gains an average of 1.5 strokes every round with his driver. That adds up to a six-stroke advantage every tournament over the average tour pro. He’s the best driver of the golf ball in the game and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Granted, Cherry Hills will handcuff McIlroy a little bit off the tee. He has shown that he has all the shots and he’s not afraid to win down the stretch. When he’s on his game, he’s nearly unbeatable.
2. Jim Furyk. There isn’t a more consistent player on the Tour this year. Furyk hasn’t missed a cut. He has 10 top-10 finishes and he’s finished second three times. Furyk doesn’t bomb the ball. He’s not the best putter, but what he does do is hit greens in regulation at a high clip. That gives him numerous opportunities at birdies. He does it all with the game’s most unorthodox swing. In a day and age when all young players have basically the same swing, Furyk does it his way.
The only coach he’s ever had is his dad and he’s resisted the urge to change to a more conventional swing. Despite all the close calls, Furyk hasn’t won in nearly four years. He hasn’t sealed the deal the last eight times he’s held the lead going into the final round. So has the former U.S. Open champion forgot how to win or is he due? I’ll take the latter.
3. Rickie Fowler. He used to be known as the young kid who likes to skateboard and wear the wild clothes. Unfortunately Fowler got the moniker “more style than substance.” He’s done his best to shake free of that label this year by enlisting the help of Tiger Woods’ former coach, Butch Harmon. The partnership has flourished as Fowler is the only golfer on Tour to finish in the top five in every major. He has eight top 10 finishes this season and hasn’t finished out of the top 10 since early June. He’s at the top of his game.
At 5-foot-9 and only 150 pounds, Fowler packs some punch, averaging nearly 300 yards off the tee. (You can add another 30 yards to his drives for the altitude adjustment.) It should be fun to see a “little” guy move it out there. Considering Broncos like John Elway, John Lynch, John Fox and Peyton Manning are members at Cherry Hills, it seems fitting that the guy who likes to wear orange on Sunday’s might walk away with the trophy.
4. Phil Mickelson. Do I think he can win? Sure. Do I consider him a favorite? No.
Mickelson hasn’t had his A-game this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not one of the top five players to watch at the BMW Championship. Lefty is a swashbucker, a risk-taker and that’s entertaining to watch. Phil will try shots other golfers won’t.
Did you watch him at the Barclays the other the week? He not only hit his tee shot into a hospitality area but that’s where he played his next shot from. He did it in back-to-back rounds! I’ve never seen anything like it. The NY/NJ jersey fans loved it. They were offering him beverages, slapping him on the back, giving him knuckles. It was great and that’s what makes Mickelson such a draw and a fan favorite.
In addition to his aggressive style of play, remember Mickelson is the only player in the field to have won a tournament at Cherry Hills when he won the U.S. Amateur back in 1990. While the course is different 24 years later, it will also be familiar and conjure up some good memories. That alone makes Mickelson dangerous.
5. Ernie Els. This might be a sentimental pick as Ernie Els has always been my favorite golfer but hear me out. Els hasn’t had a good year missing six cuts but he’s made his last five in a row. That includes at seventh place finish at the PGA Championship and a fifth place finish at the Barclays.
Plus, keep in mind Els loves playing in Colorado. He won the International back in 2000 and had eight other top 10 finishes at Castle Pines. Granted Castle Pines is a much different course than Cherry Hills, but navigating the altitude is still the same and Els has plenty of good memories here in our state.
I’m sure he’ll try to channel some good play out of those past successes. Putting has been Els’ weakness recently and honestly it can be painful to watch him on the green at times. But his swing is still smooth. The Big Easy hasn’t lost his tempo and it’s still wonderful to watch a big man with such a smooth swing.