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Field set for BMW Championship in Wilmington

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Delaware has never hosted a top-flight PGA Tour event, but that is about to change with the arrival of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club on Aug. 18-21. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – With play in the PGA Tour’s four-day BMW Championship set to commence Thursday, the field of players has been determined and most have already spent time on the northern Delaware course.

Who’s here?

Fan favorite Rory McIlroy will make the BMW Championship this month after finishing in the Top 10 heading into the Fedex Cup Playoffs. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

As the penultimate tournament of the PGA’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, the BMW Championship features the Top 70 ranked golfers, however, two have dropped out of the tournament before its start and won’t be replaced.

Cameron Smith, the No. 3 ranked Australian golfer who won the British Open major in July, dropped out due to a hip injury, although he has also been linked with reports that he may soon leave the PGA Tour in favor of the rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf league. British golfer Tommy Fleetwood has also not played on the PGA Tour since the British Open following the death of his mother, despite ranking No. 58.

Topping the rankings after winning the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs is American Will Zalatoris followed by major champions like Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and other top-ranked golfers like Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Sam Burns and Tony Finau, among others.

The BMW Championship will be aired Thursday and Friday, 3-7 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3-6 p.m. (NBC); Sunday, noon to 2 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2-6 p.m. (NBC). Tickets to attend are still available at bmwchampionship.com/2022-tickets/

For a full ranking of the Top 70, see the end of this story.

Who’s not playing?

Notably, big names like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, and Brooks Koepka all won’t be playing due to insufficient ranking or participation in LIV Golf.

The sport’s biggest draw, Tiger Woods, didn’t make the cut after only playing a few tournaments this year following rehab from a devastating car crash in 2021. He was in Wilmington on Tuesday, however, as he met privately with roughly 20 of the PGA Tour’s top players at the Hotel DuPont as they discussed strategy to prevent further LIV Golf defections.

Woods reportedly flew into a Philadelphia airport along with friend and fellow PGA golfer Rickie Fowler on Tuesday afternoon, driving to Wilmington for the meeting and staying a few hours.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who has been seeking to assuage the tour’s players after the Saudi league began paying riches for big-name players to play faster, smaller tournaments around the world, is set to meet with the players Wednesday in a private meeting as well.

What’s at stake?

The players are looking at both immediate winnings in the Wilmington tournament as well as a shot at greater riches in the season-ending TOUR Championship next weekend in Atlanta.

The total prize pool for the BMW Championship is $15 million, with the winner’s share totaling $2.7 million.

Even more important are the FedEx Cup Playoff points, with the BMW Championship winner earning 2,000 points, or four times that of a regular season tournament. Zalatoris, who ranks No. 1 after winning the FedEx St. Jude Championship last week, jumped from No. 12 to the top spot, exemplifying the importance of such late wins. Less than 200 points separate the top two spots, while the 10th spot is fewer than 1,700 points back.

The Top 30 players make the cut to the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club starting on Aug. 24, which will feature a strokes-based system for the first time, raising the stakes for good finishes in Wilmington.

The FedExCup points leader will begin the TOUR Championship at 10-under par, while the No. 2 player will start at 8 under, the No. 3 at 7 under; the No. 4 at 6 under; and the No. 5 at 5 under. Players 6-10 start at 4 under; players 11-15 start at 3 under; players 16-20 start at 2 under; players 21-25 start at 1 under; and players 26-30 start at even par.

After a four-day tournament playing from those advantages, the lowest scoring golfer will win $18 million and a five-year PGA tournament exemption.

What have they been saying?

The Trophy Club features stadium seating, concession and an air-conditioned area that overlooks several holes on the course. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Most of the golfers have spent time playing the course in practice rounds from Saturday to Tuesday, and some participated in a pro-amateur tournament Wednesday. Only Justin Thomas has played Wilmington Country Club before, although that was nearly a decade ago in the collegiate Palmer Cup tournament. 

The players have largely told the press this week that they had never been to Delaware, let alone the course. They’ve primarily been shuttling between the Hotel DuPont and the Wilmington Country Club, although McIlroy has been spotted at several city restaurants.

Zalatoris called Wilmington Country Club “a big-boy golf course.”

“All three of the par-5s are basically not reachable. Huge, sloping green,” he commented, echoing a common feedback on the par-71 course that measures 7,534 feet.

Schauffele, who ranks No. 6, said he looks at the Wilmington course “sort of like a harder Caves Valley,” referring to the Baltimore-area course where the BMW Championship was held last year.

“A lot of the fairways dogleg, and that first cut will catch the ball but almost makes it unpredictable coming into the greens,” he noted.

Fan favorite Rory McIlroy, who arrived in Wilmington on Saturday after missing the cut in Memphis, has played the course several times and spent time out in downtown Wilmington.

“Length is an advantage here, where in Memphis it’s not really. Sort of just my sort of golf course that I feel like I can excel on,” he said Wednesday after playing 18 holes at the pro-am.

Thomas agreed but added that he felt some greens were reachable but difficult to gauge.

“The greens are big, but you can’t use a lot of them. They’re so severe and crazy in some spots to where you can’t use them,” he said, referring to dramatic slope differences on some parts of the greens.

Any surprises?

President Joe Biden returned to his home near Wilmington Country Club on Wednesday, although it’s unknown whether he may attend the BMW Championship. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The weather looks like it will cooperate for Wilmington’s grand sporting event, with rain only potentially in Saturday morning’s forecast. Players prefer drier courses where the greens and rough are more predictable, and crowds will surely enjoy the average mid-80s temperatures over the weekend.

One big question mark hanging over the area this weekend is whether the BMW Championship may receive a rare presidential visit. President Joe Biden is a member of the Wilmington Country Club and a golf fan – he is set to appear as an honorary chairman at the President’s Cup tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., next month, as most prior presidents. While the host Western Golf Association hasn’t received word of a Biden visit to the course, the president did return to his home less than 15 minutes from the course on Tuesday night.

The president’s official schedule does not feature any events this weekend as of Wednesday, but such a visit may be impromptu to ease the potential security of such a stop.

Biden actually played a round of golf Wednesday afternoon at his other members-only club, Fieldstone Golf Club, less than 2 miles from where BMW Championship week was underway.

Top 70 ranked players

  1.   Will Zalatoris
  2.   Scottie Scheffler
  3.   Cameron Smith*
  4.   Sam Burns
  5.   Tony Finau
  6.   Xander Schauffele
  7.   Patrick Cantlay
  8.   Sepp Straka
  9.   Rory McIlroy
  10.   Justin Thomas
  11.   Sungjae Im
  12.   Matt Fitzpatrick
  13.   Cameron Young
  14.   Jon Rahm
  15.   Hideki Matsuyama
  16.   Max Homa
  17.   Jordan Spieth
  18.   Viktor Hovland
  19.   Joaquin Niemann
  20.   Collin Morikawa
  21.   Tom Hoge
  22.   Billy Horschel
  23.   Brian Harman
  24.   Talor Gooch
  25.   J.T. Poston
  26.   Joohyung Kim
  27.   Davis Riley
  28.   Sahith Theegala
  29.   Kevin Kisner
  30.   Corey Conners
  31.   J.J. Spaun
  32.   Aaron Wise
  33.   Maverick McNealy
  34.   K.H. Lee
  35.   Lucas Glover
  36.   Denny McCarthy
  37.   Seamus Power
  38.   Shane Lowry
  39.   Keith Mitchell
  40.   Cameron Tringale
  41.   Trey Mullinax
  42.   Mito Pereira
  43.   Luke List
  44.   Russell Henley
  45.   Keegan Bradley
  46.   Adam Scott
  47.   Scott Stallings
  48.   Andrew Putnam
  49.   Kurt Kitayama
  50.   Sebastián Muñoz
  51.   Tyrrell Hatton
  52.   Cam Davis
  53.   Mackenzie Hughes
  54.   Jason Kokrak
  55.   Si Woo Kim
  56.   Lucas Herbert
  57.   Emiliano Grillo
  58.   Tommy Fleetwood*
  59.   Troy Merritt
  60.   Chez Reavie
  61.   Adam Hadwin
  62.   Christiaan Bezuidenhout
  63.   Chris Kirk
  64.   Taylor Moore
  65.   Matt Kuchar
  66.   Brendan Steele
  67.   Harold Varner III
  68.   Alex Noren
  69.   Taylor Pendrith
  70.   Marc Leishman
    * Not playing

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a reporting error on where Tiger Woods arrived. He flew into Atlantic Aviation airfield in Philadelphia, not an Atlantic City, N.J., airport. We regret the error.

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