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Len Ziehm On Golf

Playing in BMW Championship isn’t a done deal for Donald, Wilson

Luke Donald and Mark Wilson, Chicago-based PGA Tour players and members of the Western Golf Assn. board of directors, put on an exhibition this week to promote next month’s BMW Championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

The nine-hole closed-to-the-public event, which included new Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins and Bulls’ guard Kirk Heinrich, raised $45,000 for the WGA’s Evans Scholars Foundation. It also underscored the PGA players’ uncertainty about their status regarding the upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs.

Only this week’s Wyndham Championships in North Carolina preceded the four-tourney FedEx Playoffs – the biggest money opportunity in all of golf. Each of the four events – the BMW is the third – offers an $8 million purse and limited fields. Financial windfalls await the players who play the best at this time of the year.

Naturally, Donald and Wilson want to cash in, but need to improve their current position to do it. The top 125 on the season-long FedEx point stands get into The Barclay’s – the New York-based first playoff event that tees off on Aug. 22.

The top 100 after points are awarded in The Barclay’s qualify for the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, which begins on Aug. 30. The top 70 after the Deutsche Bank go to Conway Farms and the top 30 after that one play in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Based on the current standings Wilson will be hard-pressed to survive the first playoff event and Donald will have a challenge qualifying for the BMW Championship that will be played on his home course.

Donald, the world’s No. 1 player barely a year ago, dropped to No. 54 in the FedEx standings after missing the cut at last week’s PGA Championship. Wilson didn’t play in the PGA and is No. 95. He entered the Wyndham in hopes of boosting his playoff position.

“My game’s a work in progress at the moment,’’ said Donald. “Golf’s like that with its ups and downs. It’s been trying at times, but I’m looking forward to the Fed Ex events. Each tournament offers five times as many points (as the previous ones). There’s always a chance to make big leaps and bounds, and one great week can turn around your year.’’

The playoff format can also create volatile swings in the point standings, so Donald and Wilson could fall or climb dramatically depending on how they play beginning in two weeks.

“In the last two years I came into the playoffs in great position,’’ said Donald, who was No. 3 in the FedEx standings when he held the top world ranking. “This time I’m a little further back, so it’s a different mindset. One good tournament can shoot me up the board. I’m excited about that chance.’’

Wilson, hampered by a sore ankle, is also having a somewhat down season. He tied for ninth in his last start at the Canadian Open, though, and that was cause for optimism.

“I’ve worked through some swing thoughts,’’ he said, “and I’m rounding into form.’’

Wilson had spent much of his practice time in Chicago at Cog Hill, the Lemont facility that hosted the BMW Championship for 20 years prior to the WGA’s decision to move it to Conway this year. He’s not nearly as familiar with Conway as Donald is, but welcomes the change and thinks the 70 players who make it will, too.

“I played in the NCAA Championship there (in 1997) and have come on a regular basis,’’ said Wilson. “We play a lot of new courses every year on tour, and there’ll be a little learning curve, but our games travel.’’

Look out for Hardy

Nick Hardy, a 17-year old senior at Glenbrook North High School, shot a stunning 65 on Monday to lead the first round of the 36-hole stroke play qualifying at the U.S. Amateur in suburban Boston.

Hardy, who plans to attend the University of Illinois and recently played a practice round with Michael Jordan, shot his six-birdie opening round at Charles River Country Club. His second round was Tuesday at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. – a former U.S. Open site that will be the venue for six days of match play beginning on Wednesday. The title match is on Sunday.

The U.S. Amateur started with 312 finalists from nation-wide qualifying tournaments. The low 64 after Tuesday’s second round of stroke play advancing qualify for the match play portion of the championship.

Did you know?

Emily Fletcher, who coached the Northwestern women’s team to its first Big Ten title and was the league’s coach-of-the-year, had her contracted extended through 2015.

Michael Smith of Twin Lakes, in Palatine, defeated Midlothian’s Frank Hohenadel in a three-hole playoff for the Illinois PGA Assistants title.

Top area amateur Blake Biddle of St. Charles has transferred from Nevada Las Vegas to Arkansas.