The Travelers Championship
It was a cracking tournament at Hilton Head with up to 30 players having a chance going in to Sunday’s final round with the only shame being that a near three hour weather delay pushed the finish back in to the small hours for those of us in the UK.
In the end Webb Simpson bounced back from a rare missed cut at Colonial to bag the trophy and rubber stamp once more the link between Hilton Head and previous form on other Pete Dye tracks, specifically TPC Sawgrass.
From our point of view it was the second somewhat frustrating week in a row as although we bagged some place money courtesy of JT Poston with Dahmen one shot of the lead going in to the final round and Dechambeau in the final group out on Saturday it could have been much better. Still that’s the nature of the game and if we keep getting in contention another winner will no doubt come our way soon.
So we move on and for the third week of the revamped schedule the tour heads North 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 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.
This year though while the event remains in its traditional late June spot due to the schedule revision around Covid-19 the tournament follows on from the RBC Heritage, thus giving us our second outing at a Pete Dye design/renovation in as many weeks.
For the third week running since restart we have an incredibly strong field in play with nine of the world’s top ten at the time of commitment lining up, with the odd man out being world number eight Adam Scott.
At the time of writing Rory McIlroy’s slightly lacklustre form by his own high standards has seen him lose his dominancy at the top of the market and he is vying for favouritism alongside Justin Thomas and Bryson Dechambeau.
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.
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
2010 Bubba Watson
*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 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.
As was the case at last weeks event the RBC Heritage, which traditionally follows the Masters, It is not unsurprising that after the demanding test we usually see at the US Open 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.
This year of course though this becomes a redundant point and with so many of the games elite teeing it up there is every chance we see a marquee name taking home the trophy.
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.
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 however fared better posting two top tens in six previous visits.
In all honesty form coming in to the event doesn’t give too many clues either although last years winner Chez Reavie did telegraph his win with a third place at the US Open then 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!
Finally Duke, Leishman, Watson [the first time!] 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 with the winning score for the past two years being -17.
The lowest score we have seen in the past ten years was -20 from Jacobsen while the highest was -12 from Spieth and Duke, while most years the winning score sits between -17 and – 14.
As we have become accustomed to over the past couple of weeks we look set for another week of sweltering temperatures in the high 80s/low 90s with the possibility of a thunderstorm.
Wind does not look to be an issue for the first couple of days at least, however Saturday shows gusts creeping up to 13mph while Sunday shows the possibility of 20mph gusts.
An anticipated storm on Wednesday would make conditions look ripe for low scoring for the first couple of days at least.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
BROOKS KOEPKA – 20 -1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - WITHDRAWN PRIOR TO OUTSET.
Prior to the break there were quite a few question marks hanging over the former world number one as a knee injury followed by a loss of form had seen him lose his air of invincibility.
Undoubtedly though the break, simply by allowing Koepka to rehab the knee further if nothing more, has done him good.
After a fairly low key 32nd at Colonial where his main attribute for the week was the putter Brooks pushed on at Harbour Town to find himself in the mix on Sunday before finishing in seventh place.
Putting well again, what was particularly pleasing to Koepka no doubt at the Heritage was that he lead the field for the week in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-Tee, on a course, which he was making his debut on and is renowned for being one that requires a decent chunk of getting used to.
This week Brooks moves on, entourage and all with his coach Claude Harmon III and travelling chef to boot, to a course that he does have experience on having teed it up on four occasions.
If we look at Koepka’s results here, although he has made the cut on all four visits, nothing better than ninth in 2016 and finishes of 57 and 19 the last two years don’t necessarily lead you to think at first glance that this course is a great fit for him, however the key point to remember is where this event usually falls in the calendar, right after the US Open and as we know over recent years it has been all about peaking for the majors for the Floridian.
This year however it is a different ball game of course and Koepka will be fully geared up for this week.
There is no doubt that a strong case can be made for anyone of the three market leaders McIlroy, Thomas and Dechambeau, however I see little to choose between the four this week and with the extra e/w juice in Brooks’ price I am happy to side with the former world number one.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 50 -1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 63rd
Whilst a decent amount of course experience appears to be the order of the day here one relative course novice who’s claims I can’t ignore are Joaquin Niemann.
The young Chilean superstar got our 19/20 campaign off to a flyer at the Greenbrier last fall when we were onboard for his maiden tour title.
The former world amateur number one’s win that week was somewhat telegraphed by some strong form to end his 18/19 campaign and a couple of eye catching previous appearances at the venue and this week he arrives in Conneticut with similar credentials.
After a quiet spell before the tour went on hiatus Joaquin returned with a solid 32nd place finish at Colonial which included two rounds of 65.
Moving on to Harbour Town and after a steady opening couple of days the 21yr old caught fire at the weekend to post rounds of 63 and 65 and a fifth place finish, confirming in interview what we could clearly see, that his game is in great shape.
It is not uncommon for a player, particularly a younger one to have a poor twelve months or so after they bag their first win, however Niemann is made of stronger stuff and anyone who saw him close out the Greenbrier with a hugely impressive round of 64 will know that win was the first of many.
After finishing fifth on his debut at TPC River Highlands last year Niemann followed that up with another fifth place finish the following week showing he is a man to keep onside when ‘hot’.
Arriving here with the potent cocktail of course and current form he looks a man to have very much on side this week and I am more than happy to be on board.
BRIAN HARMAN – 60-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is Brian Harman.
33yr old Harman has been quietly putting together a very consistent season making 12 out of 14 cuts including both since the tour returned from its hiatus.
Twenty third at the Charles Schwab and 28th at The Heritage Harman has produced some really strong stuff in patches across the two weeks, but has struggled to put four rounds together to get seriously in to contention,
omething which with the exception of a third place finish at The Greenbrier in the seasons curtain raiser, has been the story of his campaign to date.
The main reason for Brian’s improved results so far this season has been a considerable uptick in his approach play, an area, which let him down badly in 18/19 and he has continued to be strong in this category since the restart ranking 14th and 36th in this area in the two events.
Unfortunately what has held the Georgia man back from getting in to serious contention over the past couple of weeks has been his tee ball game, however he has performed steadily in this area as well prior to the break so hopefully this will soon be ironed out.
If he can just tighten up off the tee then this week could be the week Harman threatens to get back to winning ways as he finds himself at a venue, which he has had a strong degree of success at, having posted three top tens in his last five visits here, including eighth and sixth over the past two years.
A two time winner on the PGA Tour back at the John Deere in 2014 and the Wells Fargo in 2017 Harman is due a return to the winners enclosure and there is no doubt that this gritty character wouldn’t be phased by any of the games big names if in the mix come Sunday.
Finally it is just possible that Harman takes some inspiration from fellow Bulldog Chris Kirk’s emotional return to the winners circle last weekend and I am keen to have him onboard this week.
PATRICK RODGERS – 110-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 9. - FINISHED MC
Next up I am going to side with another player who like Harman is quietly putting together a really solid season, Patrick Rodgers.
Rodgers last graced this column at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March where he played really solidly to finish 24th without quite unfortunately putting the four rounds together to make the frame.
What has been really noticeable in Rodgers’ play this season is the level of consistency he is putting together, something which has been absent in previous campaigns, and judging by the fact that prior to lockdown he was on his tenth [yes tenth!!] straight week on the road he is clearly enjoying his golf.
While I am sure on this basis the Stanford grad was one man who enjoyed some time in his own bed once the tour halted, equally I am sure there was frustration at having to stop when he was in a groove. Encouragingly, therefore it was a case of straight back on the saddle for Patrick at Colonial where he finished 14th.
Last week was a blip for the 27yr old as he missed only is fourth cut in nineteen starts this season, however Harbour Town is a venue where he has no history at all to speak of.
Instead therefore I am happy to focus on Patrick’s play over the years at TPC River Highlands in an event which gave him a sponsors exemption way back in 2012 to make his first PGA Tour start and again in 2014 and where he has missed only one cut in five starts.
Third here in 2016 Patrick’s aggressive low scoring game is clearly suited to this track and I am happy to take the chance that this could be the week it finally all clicks together for him.
SEPP STRAKA – 250-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
Finally excuse me from being stubborn but I am going to give another roll of the dice to one of our big priced plays from last week, Sepp Straka.
By now readers will know that I have train of thought regarding Straka that he comes to life on a ball strikers track, particularly one, which has Pete Dye’s hands stamped on it, and therefore it is probably of no surprise to readers that he is on my radar again this week.
For new readers over the past seven days Sepp did us a huge favour when placing at massive odds at the American Express in January, another event with a Dye design in play and this was one of the reasons for his inclusion at Hilton Head last week.
While Sepp was unfortunately unable to repeat his Amex heroics at Harbour Town he certainly didn’t disgrace himself finishing 33rd and closing out with two rounds of 67.
At Harbour Town the Austrian’s customary trademark solid approach play when on song, was on display again as he ranked 15th in this department and encouragingly his short game around the green, which has let him down this season was also solid.
It has become apparent in Sepp’s short time on tour that he can catch alight at any time however his performance at the Amex was preluded by a closing 65 at the Sony the week before. On that basis on the back of last weeks solid play I am happy to chance Straka again at huge odds on a venue, which despite his missed cut last year, should really suit his game.
UPDATED 23rd JUNE
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RYAN MOORE - DK VALUE - $6900 - FINISHED MC
For my first sub $7k selection this week I'm going to chance my arm that a return to TPC River Highlands helps reignite Ryan Moore's season, which has stalled since the tour's return.
Moore has tee'd it up at both Colonial & at Harbour Town missing the cut at both events, however there has been some good stuff in amongst both of these efforts, noticiably an opening 66 at the Charles Schwab so you get the impression his game is not too far away.
Moore has always been a fairly slow starter after a break, tending to build up momentum over time, and arriving this week at a venue that has seen him post five top tens over the years, and where he was 15th last year, could just be the ticket to get him going again.
It is not often you see Moore languishing down in the sub $7k market and with plenty of upside to him should he find his game, I am happy to chance him this week.
PICK 2 - MATTHEW NeSMITH - DK VALUE - $6600 - FINISHED MC
A fairly predictable choice for my second selection in that I am going to stick with Matthew NeSmith who was in my main team last week at the Heritage as well as in a couple of my DK line ups.
The logic for NeSmith last week was his connections to Hilton Head and had it not been for a nervy Saturday when in genuine contention going in to the weekend he would have finished much higher than his eventual 33rd place.
Despite his Saturday slump though it was another solid week for Matthew on the ball striking front and his continuing strong tee to green play, which is his trade mark strength, should be a perfect fit for TPC River Highlands.
With only one missed cut in his last 11 starts on tour the rookie continues to be a safe pair of hands to fill out a line up and I am happy to run with him again this week.