Odds and Ends: Rory McIlroy will feel right at home in the city of Chicago for BMW Championship

Rory McIlroy can bank a record seventh FedEx Cup play-off victory in the BMW Championship on the outskirts of Chicago this week  Picture by AP
Rory McIlroy can bank a record seventh FedEx Cup play-off victory in the BMW Championship on the outskirts of Chicago this week Picture by AP

TWO ‘cups’ dominate the agenda at the top level of professional golf this week, with the FedEx building towards a great finale and the qualification period for the Ryder Cup almost at an end.

The top 50 players on the PGA Tour standings are in Chicago for the BMW Championship, jostling to be amongst the 30 who go forward to the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta next week.

For a number of players in the field, catching the eye of US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson will also be in their plans, with this the last event before the six automatic qualifiers for Rome are known.

Read More:

Rory McIlroy delighted with Tiger Woods' role on PGA Tour's Policy BoardOpens in new window ]

Closer to home, Robert MacIntyre and Victor Perez are teeing it up in the ISPS Handa Championship at Galgorm and Castlerock as they try to do enough to be in the European line-up at the end of next month.

There are two more counting events on the DP World Tour after this week, but MacIntyre in particular knows another victory would more or less guarantee his ticket for Italy.

Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are already sure of their Ryder Cup spots, as is Scottie Scheffler, and the trio lead the way in the FedEx Cup heading into the second play-off event in Illinois.

Rahm showed a bit of rust on his way to 37th at the FedEx St Jude Championship in Memphis last week, but is still in pole position, with Scheffler biting at his heels.

McIlroy, meanwhile, is arguably the man in the best form of the ‘big three’ and he will go to post in Chicago on Thursday as a marginal favourite at 15/2.

He will play his first round alongside Lucas Glover, who rose to fourth in the standings – and catapulted himself into the Ryder Cup mix – with a second successive win in Memphis on Sunday night, seeing off Patrick Cantlay in a play-off, with McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood a shot back in joint-third. 

Cantlay is the defending BMW champion, having won the last two renewals, albeit on very different courses to Olympia Fields, the host venue this week.

The California native took the title in Maryland two years ago with a 27-under total, and was then 14-under in Delaware 12 months ago to set up a hat-trick bid this week.

In contrast, Rahm won the 2020 event at Olympia Fields at four-under, beating Dustin Johnson in extra holes after only five players broke par for the four rounds.

This is very much a US Open-type test, with a classic tree-lined course made even tougher this time around with thicker rough than usual due to a wet Chicago summer.

With rain in the forecast tomorrow as well – before a warm and dry weekend – the par 70 course will play long and demands being in position off the tee, while length should be a significant advantage with smaller than average greens in play.

Rahm will fancy his chances despite a humdrum effort in Memphis, and he did pick up noticeably over the weekend.

As well as that win here three years ago, he also reached the last eight of the US Amateur at Olympia Fields in 2015 – an event won by Bryson DeChambeau.

The Spaniard has every chance at 10/1, while Scheffler’s tee-to-green excellence always makes him a factor, although there were signs his poor putter was impacting on the rest of his game en route to 31st in Memphis.

While his form might just be dipping, McIlroy appears to be going in the other direction, and I really fancy him to register a record seventh play-off event victory come Sunday night.

The Holywood man came up one shot short in Memphis, but a closing 65 once more underlined how good his long game is at present, and Olympia Fields is likely to require all of that excellence and more.

McIlroy now has eight straight top-10 finishes – including a win at the Scottish Open – and the fact he was in the top four for approach play, driving and tee-to-green performance in Memphis really bodes well.

He was 12th here in 2020, but that came amidst a poor run of form post-lockdown, and with his tail up he has to be the man to beat at 15/2 with Sky Bet.

A victory would see McIlroy take a lead into the Tour Championship – which is using a staggered leaderboard again – next week, and that is added motivation given his three wins already at East Lake, and there is a massive chance that victory will be sealed come Sunday night.

Jon Rahm won the BMW Championship the last time it was held at Olympia Fields in 2020
Jon Rahm won the BMW Championship the last time it was held at Olympia Fields in 2020

Rahm and Cantlay (12/1) are probably his biggest dangers, but having selected the favourite there is no way I can also side with another of the market leaders.

I’ll look a little deeper for each-way runners and the first that catches the eye is Max Homa at 25/1 with Paddy Power, who like most firms are paying six places in this 50-runner event.

Homa is trending the right way after a quiet spell at the start of the summer, and can seal a Ryder Cup debut with a strong week as he currently sits in the sixth and final automatic spot.

The Los Angeles man is definitely getting back to the form that saw him make a superb start to 2023, with a 12th at the Scottish Open followed by a first ever Major top 10 in The Open at Royal Liverpool and a tied-sixth in Memphis on Sunday night.

The latter two results are of real interest with Olympia Fields in mind given that they were based on excellence off the tee – fourth in that regard at the St Jude and fifth at Hoylake – while Homa’s eyes will have lit up when he saw this week’s greens include poa annua grass.

Having grown up on those surfaces in California, he should feel right at home in Chicago, and he could just push McIlroy all the way.

Corey Conners, meanwhile, looks fairly safe in the top 30 for next week, and he too should love what lies in store at Olympia Fields.

A real tee-to-green merchant, Conners closed with back-to-back 65s for a share of sixth in Memphis on Sunday, where he crucially putted very well, and the Canadian looks a perfect fit for this venue, so he should be backed each-way at the 40/1 generally on offer.

Finally, Hideki Matsuyama needs a big week to make it through to East Lake, having just sneaked into the top 50 by virtue of finishing 16th in Memphis.

It has been a mixed bag over the summer for the Japanese superstar, but he flew home at the St Jude and might just build on that momentum at Olympia Fields, where he was third in 2020 having led after day one.

Matsuyama is one of the very best iron players in the game at his peak, and the putter got hot on Sunday night, so he is worth chancing at 33/1 here, and also at 30/1 to repeat the trick of three years ago and top the leaderboard after round one.


Rory McIlroy, 15/2 (Sky Bet);

Max Homa, e/w, 25/1 (Paddy Power);

Corey Conners, e/w, 40/1 (General);

Hideki Matsuyama, e/w, 33/1 (General); first round leader, 30/1 (Bet365)