The Travelers Championship
It was a fantastic weeks golf at The Country Club in Brookline, which culminated in Matt Fitzpatrick landing his first professional trophy on US soil and his first Major Championship.
I say his first professional trophy as Fitzpatrick of course had won the US Amateur title at the same venue back in 2013 and as a result becomes only the second male golfer behind Jack Nicklaus to win both the US Amateur and US Open on the same track.
Because of his history at Brookline combined with his really solid form this year Matthew had come in to the week strongly fancied and with no doubt high expectations upon him self it is a huge credit to the Yorkshireman that he was able to deliver.
The final day saw us treated to a tremendous dual between him and our pick Will Zalatoris and it was not until the American’s birdie putt on 18 agonisingly slipped by that the destination of the trophy was decided.
From Zalatoris’ point of view having held a two shot lead on the 12th tee this will no doubt be a tougher loss to take than at Southern Hills, however it is surely only a matter of time until he gets over the line in one of the game’s biggest events.
From our point of view, while when added up with a share of a place return from our FRL pick Aaron Wise there was no real damage done, it was a tough beat to take and we can only hope that the cookie crumbles our way on a Sunday in the near future.
So onwards we go the tour heads about ninety minutes South West 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 in 2020 when it followed on from the RBC Heritage in the revised calendar that followed the Covid related shutdown.
The field is a strong one with several big names making the short trip from Brookline. The market then is headed up by Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Sam Burns.
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.
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 and English 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 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 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 the most recent post US Open winners of the event Chez Reavie in 2019 and Harris English last year. 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. 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 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.
In all honesty form coming in to the event doesn’t give too many clues either although last years winner 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.
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 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 Wednesday does show the possibility of a shower.
From Thursday onwards though at the time of writing there does appear to be the possibility of a storm or two across the tournament days so we can only hope they keep away.
Temperatures look set to be in the mid to low 70s across the week while wind does not look to be too much of an issue with no more than 10-15mph forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
WEBB SIMPSON – 55/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
I am going to start this week by taking a chance on former US Open Champion Webb Simpson at attractive odds.
Simpson’s 2022 has been derailed by a neck injury, which saw him have to sit things out for a couple of months from the Sony Open through to the Players Championship and if you then add this to a subsequent poor run of results he finds himself languishing at 122nd in the Fedex Cup standings.
By Webb’s own admission one of the main problems this year has been his approach play, an area he normally ranks strongly in and he currently see’s himself ranked at 63rd on tour this season in that area and a woeful 148th in GIR.
At the PGA Championship though Webb put a new set of irons in the bag and that saw an immediate impact as he finished 20th at Southern Hills, a performance which included a hugely impressive 65 on the Saturday and he talked about how the new irons had really helped.
Following on from the PGA Webb delivered another block building effort at the Charles Schwab where he finished 27th and ranked 22nd for the week in approach work.
Since those two efforts Simpson has made just the one start last week in the US Open, which resulted in a missed cut on the number however again his approach play offered encouragement as he gained shots over the two days in this area.
On to this week then and while Webb couldn’t be said to be firing on all cylinders, something reflected in his odds of course, if he is going to step it up further then TPC River Highlands you would have to think is pretty good place for him to do so at.
Expanding further and while Webb has never won here two top tens in his last four visits certainly show he is comfortable here and of course his list of wins on tour reads about as perfect as you can get from a correlation point of view to here, including at the Dye designed Sawgrass and Hilton Head, the short par 70 at Sedgefield CC and at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which links well here with the likes of Chez Reavie and Bubba Watson. Furthermore he has lost out in play off’s to Bubba at TPC New Orleans, another Dye design and a couple of times at the short RSM Sea Island venues.
As well as struggling with the irons this season Webb has also had his struggles with the putter however he has always been somewhat streaky on the greens and my hope is that an outing on ones he certainly will know pretty well could see an upturn with the flat stick.
On that basis then I am happy to take a chance that Webb can thrive this week on what traditionally should be a great set up for him and if he does get in the hunt he is certainly as we know more than capable of competing with the big names on display.
DENNY McCARTHY – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I highlighted earlier that the last two winners of this event post US Open have ridden the wave of a great Major finish to success here and I am keen to risk Denny McCarthy to follow in the footsteps of Chez Reavie and Harris English to do the same.
McCarthy has been known for a few years now as one of the best, if not THE best putter on the PGA Tour and he is at it again this season in that department as he currently sits six in the rankings on the dance floor. With the potential then this week for softer, calmer conditions to turn the event in to a low scoring shoot out I am keen to have someone of his ilk onside. In addition though and perhaps more eye catchingly as well as rolling his rock to his normal high standard Denny has been striping it from tee to green superbly over his last couple of starts.
To expand further and three weeks ago at the Memorial Denny, who ranks 109th on the season from tee to green and 139th in approach play, ranked 17th and 30th for the week in those departments respectively on his way to fifth place finish while last week on his way to seventh at the US Open he ranked 17th in approach play and fifth in good old fashioned GIR, stats, which it should be noted came on the back of a poorer opening day.
Moving away from Denny’s fine current form to correlating course form and there is plenty to like about the 29yr olds body of work, which has seen him post a sixth this season at the American Express, which features the Dye designed Stadium Course and a 13th last season at Pete Dye’s Hilton Head.
Furthermore Denny has plenty of other strong history on par 70 tracks and/or shorter tracks including an 11th place in Houston last Fall on a track, which last years beaten play-off protagonist here Kramer Hickok finished fourth at, as well as at the RSM, the Honda, The Wyndham and in Bermuda.
From that point of view then I am happy to ignore McCarthy’s previous poor efforts here particularly as he has never arrived here in anything like the form he is in now. In addition it is worth noting that despite never managing better than 47th here he has posted a couple of 66s across his three completed visits.
Brought up in the North East Denny should certainly be comfortable in this part of the world and if he can bring the recent long game form with him to TPC River Highlands and align it with anything like his normal putting touch this could be an ideal opportunity to bag that first tour win.
BRENDAN STEELE – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 25th
Next up is a player who has certainly caught the eye of late Brendan Steele.
I mentioned earlier that there has been plenty of success here over the years for strong tee to green ball strikers and Steele’s is very much a name that would sit comfortably alongside the likes of Harris English, Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman and Ken Duke who have all tasted success here.
Looking at Brendan’s 21/22 season and while he notched a runner up finish at the ZOZO before Christmas the start of 2022 had been a real struggle for him. At the API though Steele started to turn a corner and since then he hasn’t looked back making every cut since and posting two top tens in his last two starts at the PGA Championship and the Memorial. Furthermore he notched a 13th at Sawgrass and a top five in the Zurich pairs event both on Pete Dye tracks as noted earlier.
What has been particularly impressive from Brendan over this run is his trademark ball striking has returned as he ranked fourth in approach play at the PGA and 11th in this department at Muirfield Village.
Looking at the Californian’s efforts here and he has tee’d it up in Cromwell on numerous occasions, something that as noted earlier several winners had done here before triumphing, and he has had his share of success making eight of his last 11 cuts here and posting five top 13 finishes along the way, with a best of fifth. Clearly then he is more than comfortable here.
Like many strong ball strikers Steele struggles on the greens however as we know one strong putting week for a player of his ilk can make all the difference and if he can just step it up in the department this week and keep the strong iron playing going I can see a really big performance coming.
SAHITH THEEGALA – 110/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 2nd
Next up I am going to play what I will admit is a bit of a hunch on Sahith Theegala.
Theegala, who was one of our ‘six to follow’ for 2022 picks has certainly justified that selection so far by posting a third place finish in Phoenix, a seventh at the Valspar and most recently a fifth at the Memorial. Add this to his top ten at the Sandersons before Christmas and as a result he sits comfortably in the Fedex Cup standings at 54th in his debut season.
In addition to some strong finishes unlike plenty of rookies the other thing Sahith has managed this season is a strong level of consistency missing only four cuts in the season as a whole to date, while he arrives at TPC River Highlands this week on the back of nine straight made cuts in individual events.
So we’ve established that Theegala arrives here in really solid form and on that basis alone a strong performance is of course a possibility but what of his suitability to the course this week? Well to be honest this is where we get in to my hunch/the speculative part of the selection. Firstly if we take a look at where Sahith produced his best effort this season, at TPC Scottsdale, and plenty of the recent winners here have performed well there over the years.
Last years Champion Harris English has a best result of third in Phoenix while 2019 Champion here Chez Reavie has two top five’s in Phoenix over recent years. Russell Knox meanwhile also has a top ten in Phoenix, Spieth has three top ten’s there, while three time champion here Bubba Watson has done everything but win in Scottsdale.
In addition if we look at where his other best efforts have come this season and Kevin Streelman a former champion here bagged his other tour win at the Copperhead course where Sahith was seventh this season.
Returning to Watson and while of course he is a law unto himself similarities have been drawn between him and Theegala’s style of play in that the 24yr old is very much a ‘feel player’ like Bubba who likes to shape the ball both ways, and therefore it may just be that this course transpires to suit his eye very much like Bubba.
Theegala has made one previous start here at TPC River Highlands missing the cut in 2020 however rounds of 69 71 in what was his first start on the PGA Tour in over three years and only the third of his career were hardly a disgrace and seven birdies across those two days certainly show he can score here. Returning this week then a far better and more experienced player and rested up while plenty of others ground it out at Brookline I’ll take a chance on him to make a big impact this time around.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 125/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 35th
Next up on a course, which we have seen Bubba Watson bomb his way to success on over the years I will take a chance on the tours statistically fourth longest hitter Wyndham Clark to thrive.
This year marks Clark’s fourth straight season on the PGA Tour and while yet to win we have seen him over that time knock on the door on several occasions, interestingly furthermore some of Wyndham’s best efforts have come on shorter tracks and/or par 70s notably in Bermuda where he lost out in a play-off to Brian Gay, at the Honda Classic where he has finished seventh and 11th, and more recently in Canada where he was seventh on another par 70 layout. In addition while Clark has missed the cut here on three of his four visits he does have a 15th place to his name in 2019 when he arrived in no form at all.
Like another of our picks this week McCarthy, Clark has been known as one of the stronger putters on tour since he has been out here, however last season the flat stick deserted him. This campaign however he has been much more solid on the greens and in Canada he actually ranked first for the week with the flat stick.
Clark followed that seventh with a missed cut at the US Open however rounds of 70 74 to miss on the number were hardly a disgrace and a course where accuracy transpired to trump power clearly didn’t play to his strengths.
Moving away from Clark’s own form and it may just be significant that his former Oregon team mate Norman Xiong with whom Wyndham won the 2017 Pac-12 Championship, produced a memorable win on the Korn Ferry Tour on Sunday. Clark and Xiong were the ‘dynamic duo’ for Oregon in their time together at Oregon and one would have to think that win for Xiong on Sunday could just spur Clark on.
To sum up Clark in his time on tour has been a player who has very much blown hot and cold however once he finds his form he has often gone on to post a bunch of solid results in a row and on the back of the strong effort in Canada I am happy to risk him to overpower TPC River Highlands and then putt his way to a big finish this week.
DOUG GHIM – 150/1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED MC
Finally this week I will take my chances on another shorter hitting player best known for their tee to green prowess, Doug Ghim.
Ghim who is currently in his third full season on the tour is yet to break through however in his time out here so far it has become clear that he is most at home on shorter tracks and particularly and relevantly for this week, Pete Dye layouts.
Focusing on that point first and Doug’s standout moments on tour to date have come this season and last at TPC Sawgrass, where he finished sixth this time around and 27th last year, having been right in the hunt through 54 holes before fading badly on Sunday, and then last season at the Amex where he was fifth. In addition he has top twenties in Bermuda, at the RSM and at the Charles Schwab to his name.
Most recently after a low key run of results Doug tee’d it up in Canada and finished 18th on the week on another par 70 where his tee to green game was working solidly and his notoriously shaky putter co-operated reasonably well.
Ghim has made two starts here before, one when way back in 2018 before he had his tour card and when he comfortably missed the cut and then last year where he finished 54th. On that occasion though he was far better placed at halfway with opening rounds of 68 and 66 before two 72s over the weekend saw him falter.
Known as a hugely talented player who was seen as good as if not a better prospect than Scottie Scheffler back in their Texas College and Walker Cup days Doug has been left lagging somewhat, however as we know all players develop at their own pace and back on another track with Pete Dye’s mark on, and on the back of the strong week in Canada, I’ll chance him to thrive this week.