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posted: 9/10/2013 5:30 AM

Stars will be out, fireworks on display at BMW

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  • Jason Day, signing autographs Monday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, says he is looking forward to playing in front of Chicago crowds this weekend.

       Jason Day, signing autographs Monday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, says he is looking forward to playing in front of Chicago crowds this weekend.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 

Walking the course at Conway Farms early Monday morning, it became clear that BMW Championship organizers are looking for a specific result this week in Lake Forest.

Actually, it's something along the lines of a fireworks display.

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It might not reach the 22-under fired by Henrik Stenson to win in Boston on Labor Day, but it won't be far off.

Barring something surprising on the putting surface, the track is absolutely here for the taking.

"The only defense could be the greens," said Jason Day, the only Tour pro to get in a practice round Monday morning. "Depending on the pin placements and the speed, they could make it hard to score, but the setup looks like there's a lot of opportunities out there."

The greens probably won't run faster than a 12, the rough has been taken far back, and the native area has been cut down considerably. The PGA doesn't want unplayables. It wants low scores, high attendance and happy patrons with a shootout down the stretch on Sunday.

And Chicago golf needs that all to happen.

The future of area tournaments is on the line with nothing on the schedule for next year and the future of the BMW up in the air. Cherry Hills in Denver gets the 2014 BMW and the contract ends there.

Conventional wisdom has the Western Golf Association returning to Conway Farms in 2015, but much of that depends on a sponsor agreement, how the course plays, whether the pros like it and how the suburbs support it.

Since the redesign of Cog Hill, which drew criticism from Phil Mickelson and even a shot two years ago from the mild-mannered Steve Stricker, it was inevitable that a change would take place. The only holdout would probably be Tiger Woods, who's won five times at Dubsdread.

But Conway -- a surprise choice over the Glen Club -- has a lot going for it considering the demographics of the North Shore and Northwest suburbs, which are starving for golf. There's great access via the train and tollway, and it should draw big. If it doesn't, there could be another venue or schedule change.

Once again, however, the BMW must play a final round in the Chicago area on a Bears Sunday with the beloved playing a home game. It boggles the mind that the PGA can't get together with NBC -- which televises the BMW -- and make certain that the Bears are playing at night and out of town, which they are next week on Sunday night in Pittsburgh on -- you guessed it -- NBC.

It's no accident that the Bears were out of town for a Monday night game the weekend of the Ryder Cup last fall, with Medinah drawing huge crowds and NBC garnering big ratings. But with four night games scheduled this season, the Bears are home this Sunday for an afternoon game.

Go figure.

"This tournament is a big deal. It's the top 70 players in the world in FedEx points," said Lake Forest resident Chip Beck, who won four times on the PGA Tour and played in the Pro-Am Monday afternoon at Conway. "We need a tournament in Chicago.

"The golf community is excited, and it just wouldn't be right if we didn't have a tournament here with at least 70 golfers. We've proven we can support golf and that it matters in Chicago. It's really important that Chicago have a PGA Tour event, and I'm confident that the PGA will make that happen."

You would think BMW, which has events in Munich, Singapore and London, would like to stay in Chicago, but without support there's no guarantees -- even with everyone currently assuming the championship will be back here two years from now.

It helps that Woods has won five times this year, Phil Mickelson has had a big season and there are new major winners like Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Jason Dufner playing great golf.

On top of that, points leader Stenson has been the best player in the world since the Scottish Open, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth has been almost as good since the John Deere, and Illini product Steve Stricker -- who sneaked in a round here over the weekend -- lives 90 minutes away in Wisconsin.

That doesn't even take into account Luke Donald -- who hasn't had a good season -- but this is his home course and he has a large Northwestern following, so there will be plenty of purple and orange at Conway this week.

The advantage Cog Hill had was Woods always at the top of the leaderboard, but if Tiger is in it this weekend, Conway Farms should boast crowds much bigger than those in Lemont.

And attendance was, after all, one of the main reasons -- along with corporate sponsorship -- for bringing the BMW to Lake Forest.

"Chicago crowds are great," said Day, an Australian who lives in Ohio. "It's a great sporting town, a great golfing area. I'm looking forward to it."

Since this could be a defining moment for the future of the PGA Tour in Chicago, here's hoping Jason Day has a lot of company.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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