The Travelers Championship
As many readers will know I was at Pebble Beach last week for the US Open and it was something I will certainly remember for a long time.
The golf was fantastic and the scenery breath taking, the only thing that was disappointing however was the performance of our team as with the exception of Gmac basically they never really got going.
At the top of the leaderboard though great drama unfolded on Sunday as Gary Woodland managed to overcome a 0-7 third round lead track record to hold off a charging Brooks Koepka to bag his first Major Championship.
All credit to Woodland who played fantastically all week, he is a worthy champion. Credit should also go to Koepka who kept his amazing run of performances going in the Majors and if one or two more putts had dropped for him we could easily now be discussing an amazing third consecutive US Open title for him.
Following on from the US Open we now return to the bread and butter of the PGA Tour as we move back across to the North East and to Cromwell, Connecticut for the Travelers Championship.
The tournament has been a fixture on the tour since the early 1950s and it has been played at its current home TPC River Highlands since 1991.
Since 2007 the event has held the spot in the calendar of the week after the US Open. The only exception to this was in 2016 when as part of the tweaking of the schedule due to the Olympics it was moved to August.
Considering this is the week after a major and only a month away to the next one the field is a strong one with Koepka, Cantlay, Spieth, Thomas, Casey & Day heading things up in the market.
Also present are Molinari, Fleetwood, Dechambeau and three times Travelers Champion Bubba Watson.
TPC River Highlands is a Par 70 measuring at 6841 yards.
The greens are Bentgrass with Poa Annua.
The original course designer was J Moss back in 1928. Subsequently the course has undergone renovations in the hands of Pete Dye in 1982 and Bobby Weed in 1989.
There are different ways to play TPC River Highlands. One, as we have seen from Bubba over the years, is to overpower it’s collection of short par 4s. Another as shown by the likes of Russell Knox and Ken Duke is to plot your way round. Either way plenty of birdies will be required on what is basically a short resort course.
Lets take a look at the last ten winners here.
2018 Bubba Watson
2017 Jordan Spieth
2016 Russell Knox*
2015 Bubba Watson
2014 Kevin Streelman
2013 Ken Duke
2012 Marc Leishman
2011 Freddie Jacobsen
2010 Bubba Watson
2009 Kenny Perry
*Played later in August due to schedule change around the Olympics.
As you can see from the list and as mentioned above there have been different types of winner here of late.
Over the past 10yrs we have seen three wins for Bubba who basically over powered the course.
Then we have seen Spieth and Freddie Jacobsen use their short game skills to win.
Finally we have seen wins for Knox, Duke, Leishman and Streelman, all renowned ball strikers who have combined this with a hot putting week.
Streelman of course memorably made seven straight birdies when closing out victory in 2014.
Of these players Duke, Leishman, Watson [the first time!] and Jacobsen were all clinching their maiden PGA Tour victories when they won here.
It is not unsurprising that after the demanding test we usually see at the year’s second Major the week before this event The Travelers tends to be won by a lower tier player.
The only real exceptions to this over recent years have been Spieth’s win in 2017 and Bubba’s win in 2015 and last year.
It’s worth noting however that Jordan was never really in serious contention at Erin Hills in 2017, finishing down the field in 35th place. In addition it would be fair to say that the challenge offered up by Erin Hills was more than akin to a ‘week in week out’ PGA tour event than the US Open.
With regards to Bubba’s wins in 2015 and 2018 whilst he was seen as a marquee player at the time of his second and third wins here his record in his home championship is poor and he had duly missed the cut both at Shinnecock and at Chambers Bay the week before.
Of the remaining seven winners over the past ten years three of them, Duke, Leishman and Bubba [in 2010] did not play in the US Open the week before whilst Streelman missed the cut in 2014 at the US Open.
Perry finished 44th the week before and Jacobsen finished 14th the week before.
As mentioned previously the year Knox won, 2016 the event was played in August the week after the USPGA.
Therefore as we can see from this no player has won the Travelers in the past 10 years who finished higher than 14th the previous week at the US Open.
On that basis you can in theory rule out Koepka, Oosthuizen, Reavie and Hadley this week who are all in field at the time of writing. As they say though stats are there to be broken.
As mentioned earlier plenty of birdies will be required this week to get the job done and over the past ten years we have seen winning scores ranging from -22 by Kenny Perry back in 09 to -12 on a couple of occasions including from Jordan with the average over recent years being between -12 to -17.
We look set for a wet start to the week with rain of some form in the forecast every day through to Friday, with Thursday showing the possibility for a thunderstorm. Saturday and Sunday though fingers crossed look set to be dry.
Temperatures look set to be in the high 70s most of the week while winds don’t look like getting above 10mph all week.
All in all therefore conditions look ripe for low scoring.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
DANIEL BERGER – 70 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
First up for me this week is Floridian Daniel Berger.
This time last year Berger arrived at TPC River Highlands with high expectations for two reasons, firstly he had finished second and fifth here on his only two previous starts and secondly he had just finished sixth at the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Unfortunately though that week didn’t go to plan for Daniel as he laboured to a 67th place finish.
There are two reasons though we can stick a line through that performance and instead focus on his two previous great efforts here. Firstly as noted above it is very hard for a player to produce the goods here after having produced a great week at the US Open and there would have been some inevitable Mental Let Down from his great week at Shinnecock Hills, secondly and perhaps even more significantly Berger later confirmed that, that week at the Travelers was the week that he first started to feel pain in his thumb, an injury, which subsequently lead to him wrapping up his season prematurely in September before taking four months off.
After returning in January this year Daniel inevitably showed some inconsistency and mixed a 12th place finish at the Desert Classic and a second place at Puerto Rico with a handful of missed cuts.
Of late however Berger has settled in to a steady if unspectacular cut making groove, which has seen him make his last seven weekends with finishes ranging from 23rd to 71st.
At Pebble Beach Berger was solid off the tee finishing the week 22nd for DA and 21st for SGOFTT and it was his putter that let him down.
As we know though when on song the strength of Berger’s game is his tee to green game and it is clear from his recent results that he is starting to build up a solid head of steam again. The hope therefore is that back at a venue that clearly fits his eye Daniel can get those extra couple of putts to drop, which will allow him to get right back in to the hunt and if this is the case he will surely be right in the mix for us come Sunday.
EMILLIANO GRILLO – 50 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 60th
Next up for me is Emilliano Grillo. Similarly to our first selection Berger, Grillo is currently in a solid run of form having, again like Berger, made his last seven cuts.
At Pebble Beach Grillo’s tee to green game was in fine fettle and he actually finished the week second in SGATTG as well as 18th in SGTTG with the putting being the issue.
This season in fact Grillo’s putting, an area which he ranked tenth in on tour last season, has let him down horribly and he currently ranks 200th for the flat stick.
There have though been a few more positive signs on the greens from the Argentine of late despite a fairly mediocre week in this department at Pebble, as the previous week on his way to a ninth place finish at Memorial he actually ranked 27th for the week with the flat stick.
From a course correlation point of view there is one event worth mentioning here that stacks up very nicely to the Travelers and that is The CIMB Classic with the likes of Leishman, Moore and Stroud to name but three performing well at both venues over the recent years. It is therefore interesting to note that Grillo was second in Malaysia last fall.
This time last year when tipping Grillo for this event I wrote about him that I was “very pleasantly surprised to see him sitting in the general 66-1 area and to be honest I am struggling to fathom this price”, my logic being that I felt his ball striking was a perfect fit for the course.
Unfortunately Emilliano didn’t quite repay my faith that week, however a solid finish of 19th did nothing to make me think I had been barking up the wrong tree.
Twelve months down the line and with another year of course form under his belt I am optimistic that Grillo can now build on last year’s effort and come close to adding a long overdue second PGA Tour title this week.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 57th
Next up on the list for me is Andrew Putnam.
After landing his maiden tour title late last summer at the Barracuda Championship Putnam went on a bit of a tear, which saw him finish the 17/18 season strongly before flying out of the gates in the 18/19 campaign.
After finishing second in Hawaii in January when carrying our money Andrew then went off the boil for a few months and he has been honest enough to admit that he initially found the joys of become a father early in the year hard to adapt in to his professional life.
Over recent weeks however Putnam has began to regain his momentum on the PGA Tour and he has posted a third place finish at Colonial and a 17th place the following week at Memorial.
Last week at Pebble Beach Putnam finished [very frustratingly for me as I had backed him for a top 40 finish] in 43rd place, however interestingly he finished third for the week in birdies made, with the mistakes elsewhere being the root of the lower finish than hoped.
This week my hope therefore is that the 30yr old can eliminate the mistakes whilst keeping his excellent form with the putter going, which currently sees him rank second on tour in SGP.
When on form Putnam is known is a great iron player and having watched a good chunk of his rounds at Pebble Beach on Friday and Sunday he looked to me to be striking the ball nicely and if he can rediscover that long game consistency and ally it to his putting, even though this is his TPC River Highlands debut I am confident he will be great fit for the course and have a really strong week.
SUNGJAE IM – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 21st
My next pick this week is really a price pick in the shape of Sungjae Im as I am struggling to get my head around the 100-1 on offer even though it is for a smaller amount of e/w places.
Im as we know was the Web.com player of the year in 2018 and he has so far lived up to this reputation by posting no less than seven top ten finishes on tour in his Rookie season.
Most of this strong form it must be said came prior to the end of March and over the last two and half months or so Sungjae had gone off the boil. Last time out however he came back to form with a vengeance and opened and closed the week in Canada with rounds of 64 to finish seventh.
Having posted three top tens in four starts in March this latest top ten caught my eye as it would appear that when Im finds his touch he is man to keep on side.
Like our previous pick Putnam, Im is making his debut this week at TPC River Highlands, however at the price on offer I am happy to take a chance that this hugely talented player will take to the venue and go close to landing his first PGA Tour victory, which is something you have to think cannot be too far away.
MACKENZIE HUGHES – 150-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 51st
For my final pick this week I am going to roll the dice with Canadian Mackenzie Hughes.
Since landing his maiden PGA Tour title at the RSM Classic early in his tour career at the back end of 2016 it has been an up and down period for Hughes and until last years RBC Canadian Open he had only added one further top ten finish, which came at Pebble Beach in 2017.
The 18/19 season started poorly as well for Mackenzie however he sprung in to life in march with a 13th place at the Valspar and a second place at the Corales Puntacana over consecutive weeks.
Another mini slump then followed however the last two times out Mack has performed well to finish eighth at Colonial and 14th in his home open.
Hughes has always been known as a good putter however he has struggled in that department this season until his recent starts, which have shown improvement.
My hope is therefore that Hughes can continue this upturn with the putter at a venue he has played solidly at in two previous visits and if this is the case I am optimistic he can perform well for us at a big odds this week.
UPDATED 19th JUNE
TRADER - ANIRBAN LAHIRI - FINISHED MC
For this weeks trader pick I am going down the 'horses for courses' route in the form of Anirban Lahiri.
Currently languishing at 169th in the Fedex Cup standings it's been a grim season for the Indian and if he does not get his skates on soon he is facing the loss of his PGA Tour card.
Fortunately this week he arrives at a venue, which he has finished ninth and 17th at in two previous visits so if he is to find his form this season TPC River Highlands is a standout candidate for the venue for him to do so at.
Prior to missing the cut at last weeks US Open Lahiri had opened up his previous two starts with rounds of 68 and 67 before going on to play all four rounds, something, which he had failed to do in his previous three efforts.
The signs therefore are there that hopefully Anirban is turning the corner and another strong start this week will have him easily trading where we need him to, bearing in mind his previous course form.
CURRENTLY TRADING AT 520