Senior LPGA tourney at French Lick will conclude this year’s majors

The year’s major golf championships aren’t finished just yet. There’s still one to go.

Indiana’s French Lick Resort will host the third annual Senior LPGA Championship on its Pete Dye Course from Oct. 14-16. The 54-hole final event of The Legends Tour season has an unusual Monday through Wednesday schedule because that enabled the circuit for women 45 and over to gain live TV coverage on The Golf Channel.

England’s Trish Johnson became the first champion of a senior women’s major when she won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course in 2017. The U.S. Golf Association staged its first major tournament for senior women last year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. England’s Laura Davies won that one by a whopping 10-stroke margin.

Davies also won last year’s second Senior LPGA at French Lick last October and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson took the second U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles, in North Carolina, in May. Those players, along with American Juli Inkster, loom as the favorites for the year’s final major at French Lick. A $650,000 prize fund will be on the line with the champion getting $100,000.

Beth Daniel, (left) was one of the LPGA’s top stars in her heyday and a former Solheim Cup captain. She won’t be competing at French Lick, but she recently received the coveted Woman of Distinction Award from Cece Durbin of the Women’s Western Golf Association. (Rory Spears Photo)

Since last year The Legends have undergone a change in leadership. Jane Blalock, who founded the circuit in 2000, stepped aside and Jane Geddes assumed the role of chief executive officer three months ago. Geddes, who still competes on the circuit, won the last of her 11 LPGA titles at the 1991 Chicago Challenge, which was played at White Eagle, in Naperville.

Illinois Open changes

White Eagle, which has just undergone a major renovation by architect Todd Quitno, will be the primary site of next year’s Illinois Open. According to published reports White Eagle will replace The Glen Club as the primary site of the tournament finals with nearby Stonebridge the secondary site.

Dates have not been announced but officials from both White Eagle and Stonebridge confirmed the site change, according to the reports.

Here and there

The Illinois PGA will have a representative in next year’s Senior PGA Championship at Michigan’s Harbor Shores course. Roy Biancalana, of Fresh Meadows in West Chicago, tied for 22nd at the Senior PGA Professionals Championship last week at Barton Creek, in Texas, to earn his spot at Harbor Shores.

The Women’s Western Golf Association presented its Woman of Distinction Award to Beth Daniel and Hollis Stacy will be this year’s lone inductee into The Legends Hall of Fame at French Lick when the ceremonies are held prior to the Senior LPGA Championship.

Vince India and Brad Hopfinger, winners of both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open and competitors on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, switched to the PGA Latinoamerica circuit last week in Ecuador. India tied for 10th and Hopfinger tied for 46th. Patrick Flavin, also a winner of both of Illinois’ top tournaments, tied for 32nd and is fifth on the Latinoamerica season money list.

Chris French and Jim Sobb scored big wins as the Illinois PGA’s tournament season wound down. French, playing out of Aldeen in Rockford, won the IPGA Players Championship at Crystal Tree, in Orland Park, and Sobb took the Super Senior Open at Makray Memorial, in Barrington.

The all-star team from Cog Hill, in Lemont, is in the national finals of the PGA Junior League for the fourth straight year. The finals run through Monday (OCT 14) at Grayhawk, in Arizona.

The stage is set for Thomas to cash in big again at East Lake

Justin Thomas had a big weekend to win the BMW Championship and No. 1 seed at East Lake.

Record scores were the story after each of the first three rounds of the BMW Championship at Medinah. Not so in Sunday’s final round, however.

While Justin Thomas came out the champion, the final 18 at Medinah basically set the stage for what comes next – The Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. The last event of the PGA Tour’s 2018-19 season has a weird, new format and the second of the three FedEx Cup Playoff events decided who would be the leader when the last one tees off on Thursday.

To no one’s surprise it’ll be Thomas, who started Sunday’s final round at Medinah with a six-shot lead in the BMW and won by three over playing partner Patrick Cantlay. They climbed to first and second in the FedEx Cup standings and now they’ll battle again for golf’s biggest cash prize under different circumstances.

Under the new playoff format, Thomas will sleep on a two-stroke lead over Cantlay for the next four nights. Then those two plus the other 28 qualifiers for The Tour Championship will compete over 72 holes again. When the points are re-calculated the player with the most gets $15 million.

Thomas doesn’t know what to make of the new format.

“I can certainly say a thousand percent I never slept on a Wednesday lead, but I’m definitely excited for that,’’ he said. “ I’m just going to try to win the golf tournament as if everybody starts at zero.’’

There was always the possibility of two winners at The Tour Championship during its first 12 years. The winner of the tournament and the winner of the bonus weren’t always one in the same. Organizers didn’t like that, so now there’ll be just one winner at East Lake. He’ll be a very rich man, and the PGA Tour expects to have a more dramatic finish to its season-ender.

Thomas, who won the FedEx Cup in 2017 under the old format, will be a marked man. He’ll have a handicap advantage of some sort on all 29 of his rivals. The scoreboard at Atlanta will start with him at minus-10 and Cantlay at minus-8. Brooks Koepka, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings and the leader in the FedEx standings going into the BMW Championship, dropped to third and will start at minus-7 at East Lake.

The other 27 players in the field will also be handicapped, all the way down to those ranked 26-30. They’ll start at even par.

As for the wrapup at Medinah, Thomas set a course record on Thursday with a 65, a score matched by Jason Kokrak. Hideki Matsuyama lowered the record to 63 on Friday and Thomas to 61 on Saturday. Thomas went on to shoot 68 Sunday for a 25-uder-par 263 score and a three-shot victory over Cantlay with Matsuyama two shots further back in third.

Thomas said he was nervous going in because of the pressure require to protect a six-stroke lead.

“I had guys telling me congratulations on 13 today, even on the front nine when the tournament was so far from over,’’ he said. “You can get it going sideways and make a lot of bogeys pretty quick.’’

While Thomas had won nine previous PGA tournaments including the PGA Championship in 2017, he had no top-10 finishes this year until Sunday. Cantlay put the pressure on him with three straight birdies on holes 7-9 and Thomas’ lead eventually shriveled from six strokes to two.

“Patrick caught fire and I couldn’t really get anything going,’’ said Thomas. “But from 11 on I really, really played some quality golf and hit a lot of really great golf shots and great putts.’’

Cantlay will get another shot at Thomas in The Tour Championship

Patrick Cantlay had his best round of the week on Sunday, shooting a 7-under-par 65. Only Hideki Matsuyama (63) did better. Neither could overhaul Justin Thomas at Medinah but they’ll have a chance to do it next week in the final FedEx Cup Playoff event in Atlanta.

Cantlay goes into it with a two-stroke deficit on Thomas, but he has an advantage of some sort on every other player in the field. Cantlay doesn’t know how to approach it, though.

“I haven’t done it before, so I don’t know what to expect,’’ said Cantlay. “I’m just going to go out and have a good game plan for the golf course, stick to that and let the chips fall where they do.’’

Cantlay’s goal was to make lots of birdies on Sunday, and he certainly did that. He made nine of them against two bogeys.

Matsuyama, who shot 63 twice in the tournament, got through the final 18 with an astonishing 20 putts. The record low is 18 putts, done by 10 players since such statistics were first kept in 1979.

President’s Cup preview

Tony Finau had a good week, and played in the last group on Sunday. That wasn’t good enough to get him on the U.S. team for this fall’s President’s Cup matches in Australia, however.

“It’s a little bittersweet,’’ said Finau. “Few guys played better than me this week, I knew what I needed to do, and I’m proud I gave myself a chance to do that I knew I needed a top-three finish.’’

Instead Finau wound up fourth in the tournament and ninth in the point standings for the President’s Cup team. Only eight receive automatic berths. Finau seems a shoo-in to be one of Tiger Wood’s captain’s picks, however.

The eight automatic spots for the U.S. went to Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cantlay.

The International team spots went to Marc Leishman, Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer, Hao Tong Li, C.T. Pan and Cameron Smith.

No title change

The BMW Championship isn’t dead after all. The sponsorship agreement, which was scheduled to end after Sunday’s round, has been extended.

The announcement, made jointly by the auto manufacturer, Western Golf Association and PGA Tour on Sunday, did not say how long the extension would be in effect but NBC Sports reported it would carry through 2022. Sites were not announced other than the one for next year. I’ll be on Olympia Fields’ North Course and the event remain a part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the 14th consecutive year.

BMW took over sponsorship starting in 2007. The tournament has raised over $30 million for the WGA’s Evans Scholars Foundation and been named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year four times.

Electrifying start for Phil

Phil Mickelson had a memorable start to his day, which he revealed in an early morning tweet.

“How’s this for crazy,’’ Mickelson tweeted. “My hotel was struck by lightning. I was on the top floor, we were evacuated and the place is on fire (the only thing of mine on fire this week). I can’t get back into my room and may miss my tee time because I am without clothes and clubs.’’

Forty-five minutes after that tweet Mickelson sent another, saying that he would arrive at the course on time. Mickelson was staying at the Eaglewood Hotel, which is adjacent to the course. He changed into his golf shoes in the Medinah parking lot but wouldn’t talk further about the incident there.

“Turns out my clubs acted as a fire retardant. Lucky me,’’ Mickelson said in subsequent tweet.

They’re out

Last two spots in the top 30 who qualified for The Tour Championship went to Lucas Glover and Jason Kokrak. The three who just missed (in spots 31-33) were Kevin Tway, J.T. Poston and British Open champion Shane Lowery.

Other notables on the outside looking in after the BMW Championship were Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter, Woods, Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth and Mickelson.

Is Medinah No. 3 no longer the monster it used to be?

Justin Thomas’ course record 61 made him the man of the hour in Round 3 of the BMW Championship.

Just how low can these guys go?

Medinah No. 3 has long been considered one of the world’s most difficult courses. It won’t be after the BMW Championship concludes there on Sunday. Only two of 69 players are over par after 54 holes and leader Justin Thomas is 21-under.

Thomas has set the pace in this three-day birdie binge. He tied the then course record with a 65 in Thursday’s opening round, then faded to a 69 on Friday when Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama took the spotlight with a record 63.

On Saturday Thomas took the spotlight back with a dazzling 11-under-par 61. His 21-under 195 is six better than Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay, Thomas’ top challengers entering the final 18. Finau, playing with Thomas, shot 68 in the third round. Cantlay, paired with Matsuyama in the final group, also carded a 68.

Matsuyama, as so often happens to players trying to follow up a low round, stumbled to a 73 on Saturday. Avoiding the letdown that affected Matsuyama may be the biggest challenge Thomas faces on his way to what would be his first victory of the 2018-19 season.

Winner of the PGA Championship and FedEx Cup in 2017, Thomas has been winless this season in part because he missed three key tournaments – one being the Masters — with a wrist injury and he hasn’t had a top-10 finish since returning to action.

“I’ve felt good about my game for awhile, and you don’t know when a round like this is going to happen,’’ said Thomas. “We’ve been talking the last couple of weeks that I’m due to have one, and it’s nice when it happens. At the end of the day this round was great and awesome, but it’s over with and I need to focus on tomorrow.’’

Thomas’ round was a thing of beauty and full of highlights. He opened with five birdies before making his lone bogey at No. 6. On the back nine he had eagles on Nos. 10 and 16. For the day he needed only 22 putts, chipped in twice and holed an 8-iron from 180 yards on the par-4 16th.

“That was really impressive,’’ said Finau . “He played extremely well, and it was fun to watch. Whenever you see a guy playing that well he’s in a zone. That’s really cool.’’

Thomas and Finau teed of 75 minutes late after a rain delay halted play in the morning. They had a softened course all the way around, but the scoring conditions have been ideal all three days of the tournament.

“The first seven holes there was no wind whatsoever. You couldn’t have it easier than that, and this was probably the easiest of the three days we’ve played,’’ said Jon Rahm, in fifth place after posting a 66.

U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland played early and shot 64 – but it boosted him only into a tie for 18th place.

“Obviously the course is still soft. If the wind is down like it was you’ll see some low scores,’’ said Woodland.

Thomas, sensitive to the feelings of Medinah members who wouldn’t want their storied course considered easy, said “it doesn’t matter what golf course it is. You give us soft, good greens and soft fairways and we’re going to tear it apart. It’s just how it is.’’

The scores all the way down the leaderboard bore him out.

“We all have such great control over our golf ball and we know how far it’s going to go when we’re hitting it well,’’ said Thomas. “We’re just good. It’s just the fact of the matter.’’

Sunday’s round will be a bit different than the first three. To cope with potential weather issues the players will be sent off in threesomes off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees. First tee time is 10:19 a.m. Thomas, Finau and Cantlay hit off No. 1 at 12:20.

Woods shows improvement at Medinah — but probably not enough

Tiger Woods recognizes that golf is changes, but he still had his loyal fans at Medinah.

Tiger Woods played better on Saturday. He shot a 5-under-par 67 at Medinah No. 3, but it may not matter. Woods’ chances of getting into the top 30 on the Fed Ex standings still aren’t good going into Sunday’s final round.

“I figured I’m going to have to do something in the mid-60s for two straight days. I left myself pretty far behind after the first two rounds,’’ he said.

He’s still pretty far behind, so far behind in fact that — when he was asked to about the number he needed in the final round to play next week at The Tour Championship in Atlanta – he said somewhat sheepishly “I shoot 60. It should be right.’’

That sounds about right. Woods came to the tournament at No. 38 in the FedEx standings and his 71-71 dropped him down into the 40s. He’s projected to finish the BMW Championship at No. 40, even after Saturday’s improved round.

Woods stirred up the golf world when – after a long series of injuries and personal problems — he won The Tour Championship last fall and the Masters in the April. There hasn’t been much success since those giddy weeks, and Woods’ season will likely end when his last putt drops at Medinah.

Going forward, Woods will still be visible in his sport – he’ll captain the U.S. President’s Cup team this fall in Australia – but his future as a player isn’t as promising as it seemed just four months ago. His expansive comments after Saturday’s round backed that up.

For one thing, his health remains questionable. A mild oblique strain, for instance, limited his on-course preparations for the BMW Championship to nine holes in Wednesday’s pro-am. Four back surgeries have taken a toll.

“It’s just one of those things where some days I feel better than others,’’ he said. “I’m going to have some difficulties here and there. I’ve got to fight through it and be patient.’’

Another factor may be even more important. Woods admits that the game is changing and there’s at least some doubt that he can change with it. He opened up on that after his round on Saturday.

“What’s amazing is how many guys are under par on this golf course (67 of 69 after Saturday’s third round). Who would have guessed that going into this week,’’ he said. “We all thought this was one of the more tough and bigger ballparks, and the whole field is playing well.’’

The younger stars just don’t think the way the older ones – and Woods, at 43, is one of those – do now.

“When I first came out on tour there were a lot of 1-irons off the tees, just to kind of get it in play,’’ he said. “Now you just pull out driver, bomb it down there and you’re looking for three to four good weeks a year. That’s how you play. It’s not consistency. It’s not about making a bunch of cuts. It’s about having three-four good weeks a year. That’s the difference. The guys understand that.’’

The short game, chipping and putting, used to play a big part in determining a player’s success – or lack of it. That’s not the case now.

“With today’s equipment you can maximize a driver, and some of the guys sacrifice stuff around the greens or short irons,’’ he said. “The driver is the most important club in the bag now, just because of the way the game is played.’’

Woods needs one more win to tie Sam Snead’s record 81 victories on the PGA Tour and – just based on his age – Woods would seem in position to break it. But those critical wins won’t come easily.

Matsuyama’s 63 is Medinah No. 3 record — but is it the best round there?

Hideki Matsuyama’s 63 was a round for the record books on Medinah’s No. 3 course.

Lots of great rounds, by lots of great players, have been shot over Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 course over the years. So many, in fact, that it’s tricky determining which one was the best.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama staked the best claim yet to the record on the storied course on Saturday. The layout that opened in 1923 has hosted three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships and a Western Open prior to this week’s BMW Championship, and Matsuyama has played it the best so far.

He toured it in 9-under-par 63 – nine birdies and nine pars – in Friday’s second round of the second of three tournaments comprising the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs. The course record had been 65, set by Tiger Woods and Mike Weir in the third round of the 2006 PGA Championship and tied twice in Thursday’s first round by Justin Thomas and Jason Kokrak.

Despite all the course change over the years Medinah director of golf Marty DeAngelo believes 63 should now be the record on the No. 3 course.

When it comes to Medinah No. 3, however, the assessment of a record score isn’t that simple. Tom Bendelow was the architect for the original design, and there were many re-designs over the years. In fact, different architects provided major tweaks to the course as part of the preparations for each of the major championships as well as the 2012 Ryder Cup played there.

The first record score on the course was a 63 by Lighthorse Harry Cooper, one of the game’s top stars from almost a century ago. He posted that number in the 1930 Medinah Open, an event played only that one year. The No. 3 course was a par-70 then and its yardage was only 6,261 yards.

Three years later it was expanded into a par-71 layout, and it remained that way until 1986. Best score on that course was 67, shot by eight players in various big tournaments.

Dick Metz did it first, in the 1939 Western Open. Lloyd Mangrum, Harold “Jug’’ McSpaden and Johnny Palmer matched it in the 1946 Chicago Victory National Open. Cary Middlecoff had a 67 en route to winning the 1949 U.S. Open. Billy Casper did it in the 1962 Western, George Archer in the 1966 Western and Frand Beard in the 1975 U.S. Open.

The course became a par-72 in time for the 1988 U.S. Senior Open and Skip Kendall had lowered the record to 65 in the 1999 PGA Championship.

Now the course measures 7,613 yards from the back tees. While par has remained at 72 the yardage has gradually increased with each re-design. Matsuyama’s record is the one that counts now – at least sort of. Director of golf Marty DeAngelo says he has a card turned on for another 63 – by Brent Geiberger in an informal round three years ago. It hasn’t been publicized much, but DeAngelo says Geiberger did play the course from the tips.

“I like the idea of a course record coming from the current design, so (the 63) should stand,’’ said DeAngelo. “The way it’s played currently is the way it’s been played since the Ryder Cup.’’

Matsuyama’s score – as good as it was — could have been better. He failed to make birdie on either of the back nine par-5s. Still, he made 165 feet 8 inches worth of putts, climaxed by a 30-footer for birdie on the last hole. That was the story of his great day.

“I did make a lot of long putts, and that was the difference,’’ said Matsuyama, speaking through a translator, “Honestly, I didn’t know it was for a course record, but I’m happy with the way I played.’’

Matsuyama’s putting has rarely approached the level of Friday, and he’s received “a lot of advice, good advice from some real good putting professionals.’’

He wouldn’t name them, but was happy to see his game perk up.

“My season so far has been not bad – better than last year but nothing that I’m satisfied with,’’ he said. “I’ve worked hard, and it’s not that (the hot round) came out of the blue. But I’m very happy and happily surprised, I guess.’’

He hardly has the tournament under control at its halfway point, however. Matsuyama stands at 12-under-par 132 and is only one stroke ahead of Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau. First-round co-leader Justin Thomas, a former FedEx Cup winner, is another shot back.

Finau: A victory is `just around the corner’

Tony Finau is thinking victory at the halfway point of the BMW Championship, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be. Finau is just a shot behind leader Hideki Matsuyama heading into Saturday’s Round 3 at Medinah.

Finau shot 66 on Friday in an effort to keep in close touch with the record-setting Matsuyama and believes Medinah No. 3 is a good fit for him.

“It’s a great driving golf course. It looks pretty good to me off the tee, and I’m a very visual, very creative player,’’ said Finau. “That plays a big part of the story.’’

Finau crushed a 333-yard drive on the par-4 eighteenth hole while trying to get into a share of the lead with Matusyama. He had only 115 yards to the pin but left his approach short and settled for a par and a one-stroke deficit. He’s tied for second with Patrick Cantlay.

“I feel like a win is around the corner,’’ said Finau. “I’ve felt that way all season. Coming off (last year’s) Ryder Cup I got some great experience there and had a couple good loos at majors this year. I haven’t gotten it done, but one of these times I know it’s going to be my turn. Hopefully that’s Sunday. If not, it will be next Sunday (the final round of The Tour Championship in Atlanta and the last round of these FedEx Cup Playoffs).

Tiger’s outlook dims

Tiger Woods’ chances of defending his title in next week’s Tour Championship are now slim and none.

Woods started the BMW Championship in 38th place in the FedEx Cup standings and needs to finish in the top 30 after the weekend round at Medinah to qualify for a place at East Lake. His first two rounds at Medinah (71-71) don’t suggest that’s likely.

“I’m going to have to have a great weekend and make a lot of birdies and post some rounds in the mid-60s to give myself a chance,’’ said Woods, who is 2-under-par after the first 36 holes.

Putting was Woods’ main problem on Friday.

“I left quite a few shots out there,’’ he said. “I hit the ball a lot better today, which is great, but I didn’t really make anything until 14.’’

By then it was too late to salvage his second round and – barring a huge comeback — his season will come to an end when his last putt drops at Medinah. He’s not the only top star struggling, either. Dustin Johnson is tied with Woods, 10 shots off the lead, and Phil Mickelson is still another shot back.

Too little, too late?

Jordan Spieth is only one shot better than Woods and Johnson, but at least he feels he has some momentum going into the weekend.

“I was able to close with three birdies in the last five holes,’’ said Spieth. “I probably need to go somewhere around 10-under on the weekend, but I certainly have the firepower to do it. I feel very confident holding the putter in my hands right now. I just simply need a few birdie putts. There hasn’t been enough of them.’’

Standing at 3-under Spieth is tied with two former BMW champions, Jason Day and Justin Rose, and Matt Kuchar. Dylan Fritelli, winner of this year’s John Deere Classic, is also in that group.

Bad warmup didn’t faze Thomas in the first round at Medinah

It didn’t matter that all the conditions — comfortable temperatures, minimal wind, soft greens and fairways – were all ideal for low scoring at Medinah on Thursday. Justin Thomas certainly wasn’t thinking about that while warming up for his first round in the BMW Championship.

“I had the worst warmup I’ve ever had in my life,’ said Thomas. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to hit it.’’

Neither did his father, who doubles as Thomas’ swing coach, or his caddie Jimmy Johnson.

“We were going to have to guess out there and try to find something,’’ said Thomas. “I’ve had that happen plenty of times, just not quite that extreme. I’m usually pretty good at finding my way around a golf course and finding something, but definitely didn’t expect that today.’’

Thomas definitely “found something’’ – at least enough to shoot a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 and claimed the first-round lead in the second of the three Fed Ex Cup Playoff events that conclude the PGA Tour’s 2018-19 season.

Jason Kokrak, who teed off two hours after Thomas, wasn’t so hot at the start of the day, either, but he matched Thomas’ 65, which tied the Medinah No. 3 course record.

“I didn’t make my best swing off the first tee, but I stuck to my game plan,’’ said Kokrak. In his case, making 110 feet of putts didn’t hurt, either.

Thomas and Kokrak owned a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Joel Dahmen after the first round of this $9.25 million event. The co-leaders just got the job done in different ways.

Thanks to his ability to improvise Thomas could sum up his performance as “a very low-stress day.’’ That’s quite a contradiction from his mindset four hours earlier.

Good things started happening for Thomas after three pars to open his round. A 5-iron approach from 208 yards at No. 4 stopped a foot from the cup. The resulting tap-in was the first of his seven birdies in the remaining 15 holes. He strung his last three on holes 14-16.

Of the co-leaders Thomas definitely has accomplished more in his short career. He won the FedEx Cup in 2017. Kokrak has never qualified for The Tour Championship and he’s on the bubble for making it this time. He didn’t figure to be a contender at Medinah because he’s not one of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters, and Medinah generally favors a player with length off the tee.

“I guess I’m not considered a bomber,’’ said Kokrak, No. 32 in the FedEx Cup standings, “but I don’t think there’s too many guys that are going to consistently hit it by me. I’m more about fairways and greens, and I’ve been getting better and better with the irons the last couple for years. For me fairways are the key.’’

Thomas survived with a round that included 24 putts. A former PGA champion, he hasn’t won this season after accumulating eight victories in 2017 and 2018. A right wrist injury, which kept him out of three tournaments, might have been a factor.

“It’s weird. It’s been an odd season,’’ said Thomas. “The difference with this season and any other season is I’d won (in the past campaigns). I’m playing every bit as good as I have any other year this year, for sure.’’

If Thomas, now No. 15 in the FedEx standings, wins this week he’ll climb to No. 1 going into The Tour Championship.

Furyk may be the next `Mr. Chicago’ in golf

With all due respect to Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and even Tiger Woods, there is another contender when debating the most successful player on Chicago courses. Jim Furyk should also be on the list.

All four players have feasted on Chicago area courses. Furyk just did it most recently – and is still doing it at the somewhat advanced age of 49.

Watson won the Western Open, predecessor to the BMW Championship, three times between 1974-84. Irwin won the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah as well as one Western and three PGA Tour Champions tournaments on Chicago courses while Woods owns two Westerns and two PGA Championship here.

Furyk’s record isn’t bad either. He won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields and the 2005 Western at Cog Hill. He also posted a 59 at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, en route to a third-place finish in the 2013 BMW played there and now still another impressive BMW is looming.

Furyk was four-under-par after five holes Thursday en route to posting a 6-under-par 66 at Medinah. He’s tied for third place, one stroke off the lead going into Friday’s Round 2.

“I’ve always liked Medinah, and Chicago has been good to me,’’ Furyk admitted. “I’ve always enjoyed coming back to Chicago and seeing the fans here.’’

This week it’s more a personal thing. Furyk had to walk off the course at Conway Farms in the 2015 BMW with a wrist injury. He had surgery the following year and wasn’t
in full recovery mode until this year when he played his way into three major championships and the FedEx Playoffs.

“My motivation is I had three years off basically where I wasn’t playing good golf,’’ said Furyk. “I want to prove to myself that I can do it again.’’

A quick turn-around

Rory Sabatini estimated his score at 82 in Wednesday’s pro-am, but he was much better when the tournament started on Thursday. Playing in the third group off the No. 1 tee, Sabatini chalked up five birdies in the first eight holes en route to a 67.

“I think my amateurs thought I was the amateur in my pro-am group,’’ said Sabatini. “If you would have offered me 70 before I teed off I probably would have run for the hills with it quickly. Maybe (67) is a little bit more than I’m capable of in my old age (43).

The Slovakian golfer is definitely on the comeback trail after battling injuries and rebuilding his putting stroke over the last three years.

“This is probably the first time in many years I’ve actually played to my potential,’’ he said.

One stroke did it

Tony Finau’s play was nothing special in the first 12 holes of the BMW Championship, then a 35-foot putt dropped for a deuce at the par-3 thirteenth. That changed everything.

Finau followed with an eagle-birdie showing on the next two holes and posted a 67.

“Sometimes you just need to see the ball go in, no matter from where or if you chip it in or putt from 20 or 30 feet,’’ said Finau. I was able to see a 35-footer go it, and that gets your mindset in a different direction. I knew I had a par-5 in front of me and a drivable par-4, so I was able to score on the holes I needed to coming down the stretch.’’

Here and there

Joel Dahmen’s 66 got him into a tie for third place with Furyk, but he’s been enjoying Chicago all week. His wife Lona turned 31 on Tuesday and they celebrated her birthday at Alinea, a Chicago restaurant. “They do different things with food and chemistry and they change your sensory,’’ he said. “They have smelly things all over the place and the lighting is weird. We got to go down to the kitchen. Just a super cool experience.’’

Phil Mickelson is far down the FedEx standings and his opening round 70 didn’t help his chances of getting into the top 30 to qualifying for next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. Michelson wasn’t deflated, however. “I let a good round go, but I’m playing much better. I feel a lot better about my game,’’ he said.

Collin Morikawa, fresh out of the collegiate ranks, shot 67 and is now a contender for Rookie of the Year. “It’s definitely popped up out of the blue over the past month, since I’ve gotten a win,’’ he said. “That’s not something that I’m going to worry about until everything is over. I’ve got to worry about tomorrow.’’

Tiger feels better, opens up before teeing off in the BMW Championship

Tiger Woods took to the famed No. 3 course at Medinah on Wednesday and played only nine holes in the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am, the last pre-tournament event before Thursday’s start of the BMW Championship.

Woods worked only his short game on the back nine, just like he did at last week’s first FedEx Cup Playoff event in New York. In that one he withdrew after a poor first round, citing a mile oblique strain.

Don’t worry, though. A similar scenario isn’t in the forecast at Medinah. At least it wasn’t when Woods addressed the media on a variety of topics after his pro-am round. Here’s the latest update on the ongoing tale of Tiger:

His health: Six days after his WD at The Northern Trust tourney in New York Woods declared his body “way better.’’

“It was nice to take those days off, and I had to just let it calm down and get a bunch of treatment. It feels so much better now,’’ he said.

How that latest injury happened: “Swinging. As I’ve said before, the forces have got to go somewhere, and unfortunately when I make any kind of tweaks and changes to my swing a new body part is aching. I can’t play around the back like I used to, and unfortunately things flare up.’’

Chicago memories: “This is one of the areas that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing over the years. It’s where I made my first cut on the PGA Tour (in the 1995 Western Open at Cog Hill). I’ve had some good memories and some wins (the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships at Medinah) here.’’

Changes to the course: “It’s a lot bigger, a lot longer than I remember. They’ve certainly lengthened it since ’99 and ’06 and when we played here in (the 2012 Ryder Cup). No. 13 is a big hole now, and they’ve moved up 15, so now it’s driveable. Before we were hitting 2-irons down there from the back tee.’’

His planned course in Chicago: “We’re excited about it. The project is still continuing. Still going forward. It (the combined existing courses at Jackson Park and South Shore) is an incredible piece of property. We’re trying to do something that’s unique. One of the things we’ve talked about is that all kids will play for free. That’s something we need to make happen.’’

President’s Cup: Woods is the U.S. captain for the fall matches in Australia and might be a player as well.

“I’m hoping to put myself in the top eight. Right now I’m seed 12th, and I’m trying like hell to make the team on my own. Obviously I have some work to do. I’ve got to play well this week to make that happen.’’

Would you make yourself a captain’s pick: “It would come down to the top eight guys, myself and my vice captains about who the guys will fill the next four slots – whether it’s me and three other guys or just four other guys. Either way, I’m going to Australia.’’

Looking ahead to East Lake: “I’m trying to win this tournament, just like anybody else in the field, and trying to get to East Lake where a lot of things changed for me last year. Hopefully I can make that happen.’’

Woods made it to East Lake, the Atlanta course that hosts The Tour Championship, then won his first tournament since 2008.

The 2020 Ryder Cup: Steve Stricker will captain the U.S. team at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

“Stricks is ready,’’ said Woods. “He’s ready for not only this year (when he’ll be one of Woods’ three vice captains in the President’s Cup) but next year. He’s our guy. All the players out here know him, trust him, have the utmost respect for him. When Stricks speaks, we all listen.’’

Woods begins his bid for the BMW Championship at 11:54 a.m. on Thursday and is paired with C.T. Pan and Billy Horschel in the first round. Tee times begin at 9:15 a.m. and run through 1:;27 p.m., all off the No. 1 tee.

The BMW Championship was part of the original start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2007. Woods won both the BMW Championship and FedEx Cup in both 2007 and 2009. He also won the BMW Championship, then played at Cog Hill, in both of those years.