The Travelers Championship
After our share of frustrating Sundays of late it was a great week for us at the US Open and with the breaks going our way on the final day we not only bagged the winner with Jon Rahm but got decent place returns with Branden Grace and Scottie Scheffler both tying for seventh.
For most of Saturday and indeed for the first few holes on Sunday it had looked like it would be a ‘nearly week’ for Rahm as he couldn’t quite get the birdie putts to drop.
A combination of a huge break on nine when after initially looking as though he had hit his tee shot out of bounds before going on to make birdie, along with some costly errors from Dechambeau and McIlroy suddenly opened the door for the Spaniard though and like all true champions he took full advantage by holing two spectacular birdie putts on 17 and 18 to set the target in the clubhouse on 6- under.
With the leading contenders dropping like flies by this stage the only man who could then challenge Rahm was Louis Oosthuizen however after the South African hit his tee shot out of bounds on 17 the job was basically done.
So onwards we go in great spirits as the tour heads North East and to Cromwell, 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 last year when it followed on from the RBC Heritage in the revised 2020 calendar that followed the Covid related shutdown.
This year though we are back to normal as the event returns to its normal post US Open slot.
The field is a relatively strong one with Dustin Johnson and Bryson Dechambeau vying for favouritism. They are then followed on the market by the trio of Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Paul Casey.
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 last years 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.
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
2011 Freddie Jacobsen
*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 last year.
Then we have seen Spieth and Freddie Jacobsen use their short game skills to win.
Finally we have seen wins for Reavie, Knox, Duke, Leishman and Streelman, 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 and Bubba’s wins in 2015 and 2018.
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.
Of the remaining five winners over the past ten years two of them, Duke and Leishman did not play in the US Open the week before, Streelman missed the cut in the 2014 US Open while Jacobsen finished 14th the week before.
The one player however who did buck this trend significantly though was the most recent winner of the event when it was played post US Open in 2019, Chez Reavie. Reavie had the Major of his life at Pebble Beach finishing third and then carried that momentum straight through to his victory the following week, a fantastic achievement.
Whilst then that shows us that we cannot completely rule out here players who performed well in the previous weeks US Open the slight caveat I would add to Chez’ success across that fortnight is that Pebble Beach was a course that fitted much more closely to TPC River Highlands from the point of view of the type of player who could succeed there as opposed to Torrey Pines, as his short hitting ‘fairways and greens game’ carried across well on both tracks.
With regards to experience here one of the past ten winners, Jordan Spieth, was making his debut here 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 Reavie, Streelman and Knox [& of course Bubba on his second and third wins] having made multiple starts here. Last year’s winner Dustin Johnson was making his fourth appearance here although he had not played the event since 2014.
Previous good course form though is not necessarily a prerequisite. This can be seen by looking at the likes of Jacobsen who won here on the back of two previous MC 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.
In all honesty form coming in to the event doesn’t give too many clues either although 2019 winner Chez Reavie did telegraph his win with a third place at the US Open the week before. Of the other nine 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! As for last years champion Dustin Johnson he had a MC and 17th place finish to his name in his two starts since lockdown.
Finally Duke, Leishman and Jacobsen 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 from -20 from Jacobsen in 2011, -19 from Dustin Johnson last year, 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 shower.
Touch wood we look set for a dry tournament as well although at the time of writing Sunday does show a small possibility of a storm. Hopefully this stays way.
Wind could be a bit of a factor with only Friday showing less than 15mph gusts while Sunday shows the possibility of 25mph gusts.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
BUBBA WATSON – 50/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 19th
I shall start things off this week with three time Travelers Champion and TPC River Highlands standing dish Bubba Watson.
Bubba arrives in Connecticut on the back of a disappointing weekend at Torrey Pines, which saw him post rounds 77 of and 76 to tumble down the leaderboard and go from being right in contention at halfway to finish 50th.
Over the first two days though Bubba produced some solid stuff and having never been a player who has produced the goods in his home Open I am not going to let that poor weekend showing put me off.
The week at Torrey Pines came on the back of a withdrawal after a day one 77 at Memorial and a tough week at the PGA Championship, however prior to that Watson had been in decent touch notching an 18th at the Wells Fargo and 13th at the Valspar to make it five top twenty finishes on the season to date.
Looking at Bubba’s history here and it is very much feast or famine as the three wins and two further top fives have been punctuated by two MC and a 54th around one of those wins over recent years. What has been clear though is that all of Watson’s wins here have come in seasons when he has either triumphed already that year or at the very least been producing some eye catching stuff, which is again the case this season.
Coming back to Bubba’s week in San Diego and while Saturday and Sunday were a struggle his stats for the week were still reasonably positive as he ranked 21st in Driving Accuracy, 16th off the tee, a stat he currently sits sixth for on tour this season, and 34th around the greens, with only his approach play and the putter letting him down as a whole.
While Bubba has of course triumphed at Torrey Pines in the past it wasn’t under the guise of a US Open set up, something he has always struggled with and the hope then is that this week back on a course set up we know he loves he can maintain his form off the tee, while making the required improvements with the approach play and putter, the latter, which it should be noted did fire in patches last week, particularly on Friday.
At 42yrs old now time is not hugely on Bubba’s side however on courses, which suit him he is no doubt still a big threat and at decent each way odds I am more than happy to chance him to fire here again this week.
DOC REDMAN – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 61st
Next up for us this week is Doc Redman.
As noted earlier there tend to be two types of player who succeed at TPC River Highlands, the out and out big hitter like Bubba or DJ or the straight short hitter who picks the course apart like the 2019 champion Chez Reavie and Redman certainly fits right in to the latter camp.
Redman who featured in my ‘six to follow for 2021’ feature at the start of the year, has it must be said not quite had the smooth sailing 2021 I expected and the first four months of the year saw him manage nothing better than 39th, a result, which he posted in mid-May at the Valspar.
That improved performance was though the prelude to better things and in his next start Doc went on to finish ninth at the Byron Nelson before following two further made cuts, with a seasons best to date second at Congaree.
In that performance in South Carolina Redman ranked fourth for the week from tee to green and fourth in approach play and it was only the putter, which faltered on Friday and Saturday, which held him back. Even so though the performance was hugely encouraging and told us what we already suspected, which is that Redman has rediscovered his laser like iron play.
Redman made his debut in this event last year and courtesy of a solid week wrapped up with a closing 63 he finished 11th, no mean feat considering he ranked 99th for the week on the greens.
That week Doc ranked third from tee to green so. If he can bring that same iron game back this time around, which was also on display last time out at Congaree, and perform even averagely with the putter you have to believe that he has another big week here in him and I am keen to have him on side.
PATTON KIZZIRE – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank is Patton Kizzire.
I have long taken a view that unless a player is destined for the very highest echelons of the game such as say a Thomas or Johnson, or more recently a Morikawa or Hovland that, there average cycle for wins is every couple of years or so at the most and therefore I tend to look strongly at players who are ‘due’ another win and clearly tending towards one.
One such player is Kizzire who triumphed twice on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2015 and again twice in 17/18 in the big league.
Kizzire joined the PGA Tour in 2016 and after a couple of seasons to find his feet the man from Alabama hit paydirt in the wrap around part of the 17/18 campaign, posting a win in the fall at the Mayakoba and again in January in Hawaii.
Following that success though things became more of a struggle for the 35yr old and 2019/20 saw him post only one top 40 finish, all be it in an abbreviated campaign.
That one big finish though actually came in this event where Kizzire posted an out of the blue sixth place, a result, which it should be noted was built around strong approach play, not a hot putting week, which can be his trademark.
Moving on and this season has seen Patton really get himself back on track and five top tens including recent back to back third place finishes in Texas see him comfortable in 56th place in the Fedex Cup standings.
Granted since those two big weeks at The Byron Nelson and Charles Schwab Kizzire has seemingly gone off the boil missing the cut at the Memorial and Palmetto however what has become abundantly clear to me is the Sea Island resident does his best work on shorter and/or low scoring tracks. His wins, which as we noted earlier came at the Mayakoba and Sony Open, and his top tens this season at the RSM, Waialae, Colonial, and in the birdie fest at TPC Craig Ranch are testament to this.
Kizzire has maintained his magic touch on the greens this season, currently ranking 11th with the flat stick, and his approach game is also firing well, my hunch then is that on a course, which gives him some license off the tee, that he can pick up the level again that we saw a few weeks back in Texas and make a big push for his third tour win.
CHASE SEIFFERT - 250/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week is a player who at the odds strikes me as a fantastic each way bet, Chase Seiffert.
Since bagging his PGA Tour card courtesy of a strong Koen Ferry season in 2019 Seiffert has struggled to make a serious impact in the big league and were it not for a stay of execution down to rules introduced following the covid pandemic Chase’s 131st finish in the standings last season would have seen him needing to return to the Korn Ferry finals to keep his card.
Following that reprieve Sieffert started this season more solidly and a best ever tour finish of third at the Honda Classic in March [when we were onboard] seemed to put him in a relatively comfortable spot, however four missed cuts of late has him looking over his shoulder again at 119th in the standings.
Last time out Chase arrested the slide with a solid 35th at the Palmetto and encouragingly his trademark long game seemed to be back on track as he finished the week ninth in Driving Accuracy, ninth in approach play and 23rd from tee to green.
So with the 29yr old arriving here hopefully in reasonable fettle it is his history at TPC River Highlands, which then makes him really catch the eye this week.
To expand further and prior to gaining his tour card for 2020 Chase had made six starts on the PGA Tour and two of them had come in this event.
In 2017 the Floridian Monday qualified and after doing so he sat fourth at the halfway stage with rounds of 68 and 66 before slipping to 43rd.
The following year Chase then repeated his Monday Q heroics before posting 66 71 67 64 to finish ninth.
Roll the clock forward two years and Seiffert now returns to Connecticut an experienced PGA player wo has shown when finishing third at the Honda and fourth at the Workday that he can mix it in the big league on his day. Add this to the fact that his shorter hitting ‘fairways and greens’ game is perfect for this track and he came back to form last time out and Chase is a must bet for me this week.
WILL GORDON – 200/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 79th
Finally sticking with my mantra as a whole of bombers or plodders, I am going to go with one more for the bombers camp, Will Gordon.
The case for Gordon to be honest is a pretty straight in front of you one of course form meets current form, which when you throw in the fact that Gordon is clearly a player with that extra touch of class to succeed out here, makes his odds of 200/1 very attractive.
Twenty Four year old Gordon returns to TPC River Highlands for the second time this week with, no doubt, hugely fond memories of his first visit last year as a third place finish where he lead the field for the week in birdies, gained him Special Temporary Membership to the tour, which he has since built on to gain status for this season.
This year though up until last time out at Congaree has been a struggle for Will, however at the Palmetto he bounce back to form with a 14th place finish.
At Congaree Will lead the field for the week in approach play and was fifth from tee to green, with the putter holding him back.
Fifth on tour in Driving Distance Gordon can overpower TPC River Highlands in the way Bubba has over the years, however encouragingly his performance here last year wasn’t all about big hitting with his approach play and putter both working well.
Will posted rounds of 62 And 64 here last year so clearly the track fits his eye and at big each way odds I am more than happy to wrap things up by chancing that he can fire here again on the back of his upturn in form last time out.
UPDATED - 22nd JUNE
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - ADAM LONG - DK VALUE $6800 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 26
It's been a tough 2021 for Adam Long to date, however after six straight missed stroke play cuts he appears to have turned a corner with back to back top thirty finishes at the Charles Schwab and the Memorial.
Long's lone tour success to date came when he shocked the golfing world to win the 2019 American Express, which of course links well this week through Pete Dye and having also performed strongly at TPC Sawgrass earlier this year he is obviously comfortable on the legendry designers layouts.
Two top twenty five finishes here in two previous visits also add to the confidence and Long looks set for another strong showing this time around.
PICK 2 - RYAN ARMOUR - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED 61st - DK POINTS 61.5
Ryan Armour is exactly the sort of shorter straight hitter who can thrive at TPC River Highlands, think Ryan Moore or former champion here Ken Duke, and he showed this when posting a sixth place finish here last year.
This time around Ryan arrives in Connecticut on the back of an eighth place finish at the Palmetto, which followed an eye catching 26th at the Byron Nelson.
Currently fourth on tour in Driving Accuracy I expect the one time tour winner to have another strong week here.