Red numbers can be had at BMW

September, 11, 2013

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A wife, a couple of kids, a green jacket ... and about $30 million in prize money. Those are just a few of the things different in Zach Johnson's life since he last played at Conway Farms, site of this week's BMW Championship.

Johnson was a college golfer at Drake when he came to the Chicago suburbs in 1997 for the NCAA championships played here. He shot 81-69 to miss the cut.

"I remember it being phenomenal then," said Johnson, 37, who has nine PGA Tour wins, including the 2007 Masters, and is ranked 24th in the world. "I hadn't played many courses of this stature at that point. But it's good. It's matured a little bit since then. I think it's going to be a good test. It's all based on conditions and the weather, but it's going to be a good test."

How good remains to be seen, as Johnson is among a small group of players in the 70-player field who had ever seen the course prior to this week.

The BMW Championship, formerly the Western Open, had found a permanent home at Cog Hill Country Club, which is about 45 miles from here. From 1991 through 2007, the tournament was played there every year, moved to St. Louis in 2008 for a year, and then returned to Cog Hill for three more years before going to Indianapolis last year.

The Western Golf Association, which runs the event and saw the tournament based in the Chicago area every year dating to 1962, decided to hold it in alternate years outside of the Windy City. Player disdain over a redesign at Cog Hill also hastened the move to another Chicago venue.

"It's in great shape," said Steve Stricker, who was among the critics of Cog Hill. "It's a nice layout. I think depending on the weather, the scoring is going to be pretty good. It's pretty generous off the tee. The green complexes are the challenge where you have to put it in precise areas, and a lot of movement on the greens. So that's going to be a real challenge.

"But if the weather is OK, I kind of expect the scoring to be pretty good here."

Noted architect Tom Fazio designed the course, which opened in 1991. It plays to just over 7,100 yards, which is short by today's professional golf standards. It is a par-71, with three par-5s, including the 14th and the 18th, both of which ought to be birdie holes.

Tiger Woods, who has won this tournament five times, the last in 2009 at Cog Hill, saw the course for the first time Wednesday and said he expected scores to be good, with the high number of "scoring" clubs a player can have if he hits the ball in play.

The biggest factor promises to be the weather. After highs in the 90s so far this week, the high temperature Thursday will drop to 75 with a low of 45 overnight and a high of just 64 on Friday. Those conditions are quite a difference from the practice rounds.

"I think it gives you quite a few different opportunities and tactics," said Henrik Stenson, the winner of the Deutsche Bank Championship who leads the FedEx Cup standings. "If you want to be aggressive or if you want to be conservative ... I guess it's kind of hard to know what to expect and what numbers could be out there, which is kind of good in a way."

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer