By Bill Fields
LAKE FOREST, Ill. - Tiger Woods seldom plays a tournament on an unfamiliar course, but that is the case at this week's BMW Championship.
As it is to most of the 70-man field, Conway Farms GC, a 1991 Tom Fazio design, is new turf to the five-time PGA Tour winner in 2013.
Woods, who enters the third of four FedEx Cup Playoff events No. 2 in the points standings behind Henrik Stenson, had a particularly purposeful pro-am round Wednesday at the first-time BMW site.
"I normally don't work this hard in a pro-am, but I had to do a little bit of work because I wasn't out here yesterday," Woods said. "It helps that [caddie] Joey [LaCava] has been out here a couple of days getting the lines."
The line on Conway Farms?
Birdies could flow like beer at a Cubs' game on a hot summer afternoon if the wind doesn't blow too hard after a cold front moves through -- starting Friday, highs are forecast to only be in the 60s after a spell of steamy weather.
Jordan Spieth doesn't believe the scoring will be as low as it was at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Stenson won at 22 under, not that even par is likely going to be a very valuable currency.
Luke Donald is one of the few players this week familiar with the course.
"We know we've got some easier holes out there, and if you drive the ball well, you're going to have a lot of 8-iron on down, and those are some scoring clubs," Woods said. "There's a lot of funneling where you can get to some of these pins. You don't have to fire it right at the flag, you can funnel it in there. You can get the ball pretty stiff. Yeah, the scores are going to be low."
Zach Johnson is in the minority of players who have seen Conway Farms prior to this week, having played in the 1997 NCAA Championship on the 7,216-yard, par 71 course. (It also has hosted the 1998 U.S. Junior Amateur, 2009 Western Amateur and 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur.)
"I remember it being phenomenal then," said Johnson. "I hadn't played many courses of this stature at that point. But it's good. It's matured a little bit since then. Typically you see big greens out of Tom [Fazio], but these greens are not very big, [they are] quadrant-like, and I think it's going to be a good test."
Johnson's knowledge of the course pales compared to that of Luke Donald, a Conway Farms member for a decade who refers to himself as the "semi-host" of the tournament. Donald, who first played the layout as a Northwestern golfer, could use a great week because he comes in at 54th in the FedEx Cup standings.
"I think [for] someone who was at the pinnacle of the game not too long ago and is now 54th on the FedEx Cup, it's been disappointing," said Donald, who recently changed swing coaches from Pat Goss to Chuck Cook. "It's been very hard this year.
One golfer who will be coming in cold for Thursday's first round is Phil Mickelson, who withdrew from the pro-am, citing personal reasons, and was expected to arrive in Chicago Wednesday evening in advance of his 11:59 a.m. CDT first-round tee time. (PGA Tour players can miss two pro-ams a year without sanctions.)
Steve Stricker, whose season won't come to an end this week after all -- he is not going to pass up next week's Tour Championship to go elk hunting -- believes Conway Farms is a straight-forward exam. "There's really no tricks to it," he said. "What you see is what you get."
No. 8 in FedEx Cup points, Stricker had talked about skipping the Tour Championship, but one of only three golfers -- Mickelson and Hunter Mahan are the others -- to finish inside the top 30 each of the previous six FedEx Cups had a change of heart after a conversation with wife Nicki following a runner-up finish at the Deutsche Bank.
"It's our marquee event," Stricker said. "It's the Super Bowl of our year, and for me to just kind of say, you know what, I'm in the top 10, I'm not coming -- to walk away from that I think would have been foolish."