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posted: 9/11/2013 6:27 PM

Can Conway Farms defend birdie barrage?

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  • Tiger Woods walks past the practice driving range before taking part in the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am tournament at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest on Wednesday. The top 70 players in the world tee it up Thursday for the first round of the BMW Championship.

       Tiger Woods walks past the practice driving range before taking part in the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am tournament at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest on Wednesday. The top 70 players in the world tee it up Thursday for the first round of the BMW Championship.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Rory McIlroy tees off on during the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am tournament at Conway Farms on Wednesday. The four-day BMW Championship begins Thursday with the first players teeing off about 10 a.m.

       Rory McIlroy tees off on during the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am tournament at Conway Farms on Wednesday. The four-day BMW Championship begins Thursday with the first players teeing off about 10 a.m.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

Heading into Thursday's opening round of the BMW Championship, the prevailing opinion is that unless the greens are firmer than firm and the wind picks up big-time, the field of 70 of the top players in the world amassed in Lake Forest this week just might plow through Conway Farms.

That means rounds in the 64-65 range -- if not lower -- might be the norm rather than the exception over the next four days as the penultimate event of the FedExCup Playoffs makes its North Shore debut.

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During practice rounds earlier this week, hot, humid weather, combined with winds out of the south, made the course there for the taking.

And man, were the pros taking. And taking, and ...

So much so, that some experts have speculated that a 59 might not be out of the question.

"We've got some easier holes out there and if you drive the ball well here, you're going to have a lot of 8-irons on down, and those are some scoring clubs," Tiger Woods said following his pro-am round. "Yeah, the scores are going to be low."

Added Zach Johnson: "Par is not going to be a great score over the next four days."

The unofficial host of the event, Northwestern alum and Conway Farms member Luke Donald, understands that a birdie-fest is likely in the offing but is hoping a change in the weather might help temper the scoring ... a bit.

"The wind was blowing kind of out of the south and west, and the course kind of plays pretty short when the wind is that way," said Donald, who holds the "casual" course record of 61 at Conway Farms. "I think it's going to switch (over the weekend) and make it a little bit more difficult.

"But it's not a very difficult golf course. I think when the wind comes out of the east and the north -- which it could well do come the tournament days -- it's going to play a little tougher."

But whether the weather cooperates, this isn't the U.S. Open where officials toughen up courses to try to keep scores as low as possible. This is the playoffs, and in the playoffs fireworks should be expected and even encouraged, right?

"Making birdies is part of it," Johnson said. "The next week we play in Atlanta and hopefully I get there and par is a premium. I like the challenge of both. I don't know if one is more fun than the other.

"I like the challenge of having to hit the ball in the fairway, having to hit it on the green and trying to two-putt. I mean, I don't mind that. And then I also like the, 'OK, I've got to be aggressive here, I've got to get after that flag.' It's nice having variety."

Johnson and others figure to have plenty of the latter when the field tees off Thursday on both the first and tenth tees, beginning at around 10 a.m. It'll mark the return of the BMW Championship to Chicago for the first time since 2011 at Cog Hill.

"The scoring is going to be a little bit better here than what we've seen at Cog Hill," Steve Stricker said. "But this is going to be a good test. I came down Sunday and played and I was talking to the head pro and the director of golf, and wind and firm conditions are what make this course challenging.

"That's what they're hoping for."

But while most of the players seem to feel the scores this week are going to be lower than low, 20-year-old Tour sensation Jordan Spieth doesn't think it will quite match the 22-under that Henrik Stenson shot to capture the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago.

"When the pins start getting put onto ledges, these greens are pretty funky on the back nine," Spieth said. "You've got a lot of different pin locations, possibilities, and if you're attacking with an 8 iron it's going to make you think.

"The rough is pretty difficult in the spots where it has to be difficult, and you've just really got to pick your spots. It's a ball striker's course."

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