The Travelers Championship
There’s no disguising It was a really poor week for us at the US Open as all of our five picks failed to make it through to the weekend. Add that to the fact that we drew a blank with our first round leader selections and things went about as badly as they could have done.
What made it even more frustrating was that the course in the end played pretty much as I anticipated it would, firming up with some links feel creativity required, along with the type of second shot precision which is needed for severely tiered greens such as at Augusta.
Unfortunately though where we went with Spieth who fitted that bill perfectly we instead got Fowler who is known for his similar creativity and links prowess. Similarly we plumped for Kitayama who has a comparable profile to the eventual winner Wyndham Clark.
Still, that’s just the way it goes at times and all you can do is dust yourself down and move on.
Before we do move on though of course we must congratulate Clark who thoroughly deserved his win. While he has been hugely impressive of late I think most including me thought Sunday would be a ‘learning curve’ for him. It was anything but though as McIlroy, for whom the wait for that elusive fifth Major goes on, produced a mirror image of his final round at St Andrews. Strong from tee to green but couldn’t buy a putt. Meanwhile Fowler floundered and Clark needed no second invitation holding his nerve superbly on the final hole to make the four for victory required.
So onwards we go as the tour heads cross country from the West Coast to the North East and to Connecticut for the traditional post US Open slot 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 with the only exception to this during this period being in 2016, when as part of the tweaking of the schedule due to the Olympics it was moved to August and in 2020 when it followed on from the RBC Heritage in the revised calendar that followed the Covid related shutdown.
This year the event has been given ‘designated event’ status meaning we have strong field in play. The market is headed up by Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. They are then followed by Patrick Cantlay and defending champion Xander Schauffele.
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, Ken Duke and 2020 winner Chez Reavie 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.
2022 Xander Schauffele
2021 Harris English
2020 Dustin Johnson*
2019 Chez Reavie
2018 Bubba Watson
2017 Jordan Spieth
2016 Russell Knox*
2015 Bubba Watson
2014 Kevin Streelman
2013 Ken Duke
2012 Marc Leishman
*Denotes when the event was not played the week after the US Open.
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 two wins for Bubba who basically over powered the course [he also triumphed here in 2010] and a similar performance from Dustin Johnson in 2020.
Then we have seen wins for Reavie, Knox, Duke, Leishman, Streelman, English and Schauffele last year, all renowned tee to green exponents who have combined this with a hot putting week. Streelman of course memorably made seven straight birdies when closing out victory in 2014.
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.
Putting aside then the two editions over the past ten years, which were not played directly after the US Open and the only real exceptions to this over the other eight years have been Spieth’s win in 2017, Bubba’s wins in 2015 and 2018 and Schauffele’s win 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 those 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.
Finally let’s not forget that Schauffele last year was ending a three year plus winless drought here so motivation was high. In addition while he had finished 14th at the US Open the week before he was never right in the thick of things closing with a 68 on Sunday.
Of the remaining three winners over the past ten years two of them, Duke and Leishman did not play in the US Open the week before and Streelman missed the cut in the 2014 US Open.
The two players however who did buck this trend significantly though were Chez Reavie in 2019 and Harris English in 2021. Reavie had the Major of his life at Pebble Beach in 2019 finishing third and then carried that momentum straight through to his victory the following week, a fantastic achievement. Similarly English finished third at Torrey Pines last year and again rode the wave to victory here.
With regards to experience here one of the past ten winners, Jordan Spieth, was making his debut the year he won, while another Marc Leishman had played here only once before finishing 70th. All other winners though had made at least two starts, with several like English, Reavie, Streelman and Knox [& of course Bubba on his second and third wins] having made multiple starts here.
Dustin Johnson was making his fourth appearance here when he triumphed in 2020 although he had not played the event since 2014 while last years winner Schauffele was playing here for the fourth time.
Previous good course form though is not necessarily a prerequisite. This can be seen by looking at the likes of English who had a best of seventh in seven previous starts and Duke who had a best placed 27th in three tries prior to his win.
Looking at other winners they also had a mixed bag on previous trips to TPC River Highlands with Reavie having a best place of 11th in numerous attempts and Knox 13th. Streelman had fared better posting two top tens in six previous visits, however Dustin Johnson had only managed a best of 31st in his three previous starts here while similarly Schauffele had a best of 20th in three visits.
In all honesty form coming in to the event doesn’t give too many clues either although English and 2019 winner Chez Reavie did telegraph their wins with a third place at the US Open the week before. Of the other eight though only two, Spieth and Leishman had posted a top ten in their previous three starts, and four had missed the cut in their prior start including Streelman who had missed his previous three cuts! 2020 champion Dustin Johnson meanwhile had a MC and 17th place finish to his name in his two starts since lockdown.
Schauffele though did arrive here in typically consistently solid form last year having posted three straight top 20s on the back of a fifth at the Byron Nelson.
Finally Duke and Leishman were all clinching their maiden PGA Tour victories when they won here.
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 -19 last year from Schauffele and from Dustin Johnson in 2020, to -12 on a couple of occasions including from Spieth with the average over recent years being between -12 to -17.
The days leading in to the tournament look predominantly dry although Tuesday does show the possibility of a thunderstorm.
At the time of writing the first three tournament days look dry however Sunday does show the possibility of a storm.
Temperatures look set to be in the mid to high 70s across the week while wind could be a slight factor with 15mph+ gusts forecast across the first three days in particular.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
PATRICK CANTLAY – 12/1 – 3pts WIN - FINISHED 4th
I am going to start this week by nailing my colours to the mast with Patrick Cantlay.
Cantlay has no doubt been tough to follow this season and anyone who has been patiently waiting for him to strike will I am sure be beginning to get frustrated as he now how has six top tens this campaign but is yet to get over the line.
Add this to Patrick’s somewhat underwhelming record in the Majors and there are those who are beginning to label him as an underachiever.
Still only 31 though and with eight PGA Tour wins to his name this is obviously unfair and there is no doubt in my mind that Cantlay’s day will come in the biggest of events in due course.
In the meantime though after another ‘never in contention’ top 15 in a Major it is back to the bread and butter this week for Patrick at TPC River Highlands.
Digressing slightly and as we saw at the Heritage the week after the Masters there were two types of elite player in the field that week, those who always head to Harbour Town and those who were there because they were obligated to be, due to the new ‘designated’ status the event was given. What we then saw was that the event was played out between three big name Hilton Head regulars, Matt Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth and Cantlay.
This week then we have a similar scenario in that aside from the fact that all the big names teed it up here post covid 2020 Cantlay is really the only one of the games biggest names who have chosen to come here year in year out. McIlroy meanwhile has never cracked the top ten in four sporadic visits, Rahm has only been here once in the past six years finishing 37th and Scheffler has no top tens in three visits.
Cantlay though is a different story, clearly a fan of TPC River Highlands this will be his sixth straight trip here with all previous five visits bringing a finish between 11th and 15th.
In addition let’s not forget his love affair with this event started way back in 2011 when he shot 60 here as an amateur.
No top tens either then for Patrick here however those who remember last years event know that the 13th place finish doesn’t begin to tell the story. The Californian was tied for the lead with his good friend and eventual winner Xander Schauffele through two holes on Sunday before imploding hugely with a 76, which saw him post no less than nine bogeys.
Returning here this year then I expect Cantlay to be by far the most motivated of the biggest names teeing it up as he looks to put things right and take the trophy from Xander.
In addition of course as we saw again at Hilton Head, the fact that the former Fedex Cup Champion has not been getting right in the mix at the Majors is perhaps leaving him with more in the tank the week after.
Finally it was encouraging to see that after a slow start at LACC Patrick’s long game was solid over the weekend gaining strokes from tee to green in all areas while the putter was also firing.
With a win at the BMW Championship last August since that debacle here Patrick has reminded us he knows how to get the job done and having only failed to break 70 three times in his last 25 rounds here I expect another big showing from him this week.
TOM KIM – 45/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 38th
After his sensational start to life on the PGA Tour, which saw him post two early wins at the Wyndham and then at the Shriners it’s been a quieter period of late for the young phenom as he perhaps adjusts to the expectations.
Last week however after a pair of missed cuts at the PGA and Memorial Tom posted his first top ten finish at the US Open, since a sixth place at the Amex in January.
While Tom has struggled to post the results he would have wanted, his long game stats for the season still continue to look hugely impressive. He currently sits fourth and seventh respectively in old fashioned Driving Accuracy & GIR, while he sits eight in approach play. The problem however has been the putter for which he is ranked 128th in the campaign.
Last week on his way to eighth place he once again performed admirably with the irons, ranking fourth in approach play, however the putter sprang to life ranking 18th and this was the difference.
With confidence hopefully boosted by the big week in LA Kim heads over to TPC River Highlands for the first time and you would have to think that this is a track, which will suit his stellar tee to green game while not penalising his lack of distance off the tee.
A winner with totals of -20 and -24 at Sedgefield CC and TPC Summerlin Tom has clearly shown that he loves a birdie fest where his precision iron play can pick a shorter and/or lower scoring course apart. This is something he backed up again when posting -23 to finish sixth at the Amex.
It is only a couple of months since Tom was heading off in events, even with the biggest of names in as one of the top half dozen or so in the market, however with his slight loss of form of late he has drifted to far more backable price again and I am happy to take a chance that last week heralds a return to form jump on board at the odds.
CAMERON DAVIS – 125/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 33rd
Next up I’m going to take a chance that this is a ‘go week’ for Cameron Davis.
The talented Davis undoubtedly has a hugely high ceiling and it would be no surprise one day if he threatened for the biggest of titles in the game.
What is undeniably the case though is that this year there seems to be no middle ground for Cam, it’s either a great week or a really poor one, something shown by three top seven finishes and ten missed cuts in 15 starts on tour in 2023.
So why risk Cam this week then, particularly as he arrives on the back of three straight missed cuts rounded out by a 79 on Friday at the US Open? Well the obvious answer is the course.
To expand further and two of Cam’s three big results this year have come at TPC Sawgrass and Hilton Head, both Pete Dye designs, while if we go back a couple more seasons we’ll see he has posted another third place finish at Hilton Head as well as a third place at the Amex which also features the Dye designed Stadium course.
With regards to Cameron’s history here and at first glance there is nothing to get too excited about with a best of 43rd in three visits. If we look closer though last year Davis sat in a tie for second place through two rounds opening up 65 66 before fading poorly over the weekend, while in 2020 he also opened up with a 66 before a poor Friday saw him miss the cut.
Returning to the Aussie’s week at LACC and there was certainly nothing pretty about Friday’s effort however on Thursday his approach game was solid enough as he ranked 32nd in this department on day one.
Davis’ sixth place at Sawgrass came on the back of five straight MC’s while the seventh at Hilton Head came in his first start since shooting 80 in Texas so we know he can bounce back quickly.
I’ll chance him this week then at big odds to to come good once more on a Dye design.
AUSTIN ECKROAT – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 24th
Next cab of the rank for me this week is Austin Eckroat.
The case for Eckroat is a simple one to the extreme, basically he is just playing fantastic golf at the moment, which cannot be ignored at the odds.
A rookie on tour after gaining his card via the Korn Ferry Tour finals Austin took a while to find his feet in the big league missing eight of his first 13 cuts in the season.
Things picked up though when Austin posted a fifth place in the Corales in March, thus improving on his previous best of the season, 12th at the Sony, and after a few more quieter weeks he then had his biggest finish to date, a second place at the Byron Nelson.
Closing out that week in Texas with a 65 Eckroat showed no sign of nerves whatsoever when under the gun on Sunday and he went in to many peoples note books that day, including mine, as someone who could win soon on the Tour.
Since that performance in Texas Austin has gone on to post a 16th at Colonial, a 30th at the Memorial and then a superb tenth at the US Open.
Looking at Austin’s stats for the week at LACC and he ranked 12th off the tee and 14th in approach, while the putter, which had held him back over the first three days came to life on Sunday as he ranked second in round four on the greens.
On to this week then and the good news is that unlike many of the circuits Eckroat will see this year he has had a previous spin around TPC River Highlands as he was given a sponsors exemption in to the event in 2021, which he took advantage of finishing 47th, with a best round of 66 on Friday.
A former team mate of Viktor Hovland at OSU Eckroat must surely be taking some inspiration from how the Norwegian is now performing on tour and I am happy to take him at the odds here to continue his recent momentum and produce another big week.
RYAN MOORE – 400/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/6 odds 1st 12 - FINISHED MC
Finally I will wrap things up by giving another chance to Ryan Moore who we were on last time out in Canada.
My case for Moore in Canada was made by his accuracy off the tee and strong stats in the short approach game arena, which I felt would be ideal for Oakdale and while he didn’t quite deliver us a place he certainly justified my logic finishing 25th.
Furthermore a look at Ryan’s stats for the week in Canada show us he was fourth in accuracy off the tee, 31st in approach, 33rd from tee to green, 12th around the greens, and perhaps most encouragingly 32nd in putting, the area he has really been struggling in.
As I mentioned in my preview for Canada there is no doubt Moore needs to pick and choose his venues these days and he is most likely to be a threat on shorter tracks which, can be picked apart with accuracy and favour low scoring, such his old stomping grounds like TPC Deere Run and Sedgefield CC, and TPC River Highlands is very much in that bracket, something he has shown with numerous strong performances here over the years including four top 20s in his last eight visits, including two top tens.
As outlined in the lead up to Canada Moore is very much in ‘last chance saloon’ territory, as he is using a ‘career money list exemption’ this season so it is essential he claws his way in to the top 125. His final round 67 in Canada then, which pushed him up in to 145th in the Fedex standings would have been a real boost and with events like this week, the John Deere, The Rocket Mortgage and the Wyndham on the horizon he will know this is his time to strike.
With his tee to green game in nice shape then and his putting hopefully turning a corner I’ll risk Ryan again this week to find that one huge performance he needs.