LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Henrik Stenson had been absent from two big golf markets in America for longer than he would care to remember.
He last played in Chicago six years ago, the first year of the FedEx Cup. The last time he played golf in Atlanta was in 2006 when he missed the cut in the old BellSouth Classic the week before the Masters.
Stenson's best summer of golf is taking him places.
Fresh off his win two weeks ago in the Deutsche Bank Championship, the Swede is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings going into the BMW Championship, which starts Thursday at Conway Farms Golf Club north of Chicago. He is assured of going to East Lake in Atlanta next week for what will be his first Tour Championship, and it would take a peculiar chain of events for Stenson to fall out of the top five and lose a clear shot at the $10 million prize for capturing the cup.
"I'm just very happy and excited about having the chance to have it in my own hands coming into the last event," Stenson said.
The FedEx Cup playoffs enter the third of four events at the BMW Championship. Here are five things to watch this week:
1. TIGER WOODS AND THE WINDY CITY: Chicago has always been Tiger Woods' kind of town.
He won two PGA Championships at Medinah. He won the Western Open three times and was runner-up twice, and he is a two-time winner at the BMW Championship, all of those events held at Cog Hill. In 15 appearances in the Chicago area — including three majors — Woods has finished out of the top 20 just once.
Woods is only 14 points behind Stenson going into the third playoff event. And while Chicago has been very, very good to him, Conway Farms is a mystery. Woods only saw it for the first time Wednesday in the pro-am, sending out his caddie, Joe LaCava, on a scouting report.
2. EARNING A TICKET TO EAST LAKE: For most players, the FedEx Cup playoffs are all about going to East Lake for the Tour Championship. The field for the BMW Championship has been trimmed to 70 players — there is no cut this week — and only the top 30 in the standings advance to East Lake.
Why is the Tour Championship such a big deal?
Everyone at East Lake mathematically has a chance to capture the FedEx Cup. It was only two years ago that Bill Haas at No. 25 in the standings won a playoff at the Tour Championship and went home $10 million richer.
But there's more. The 30 players at the Tour Championship earn exemptions to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, and most likely are assured a spot in the PGA Championship. That's a big deal for players like Roberto Castro and Brendon de Jonge (Nos. 25 and 26), and a number of players who are just outside the top 30 such as Kevin Stadler, Kevin Chappell and Chris Stroud.