Travelers Championship Betting Tips: Five against the field at TPC River Highlands
What a fantastic golf tournament we were treated to last week at the US Open. The Country Club in Brookline provided a wonderful test, in which the USGA set up the course perfectly to produce one of the most exhilarating major championships in recent memory.
The modest and unassuming Matthew Fitzpatrick finally capitalised on his recent excellent form, to not just pick up a first major, but his first victory on US soil, back at the venue in which he won the prestigious US Amateur a decade ago. Not a surprise that he was capable of this for anyone who has followed his career, he was the best amateur in the world when he turned pro and has made winning iconic DP World Tour events a forte, picking up titles at Crans and Valderrama amongst others. Often showing a penchant for a tough test, thanks to a game a that has little in the way of weakness. Now with the length he’s successfully added off-the-tee, I expect him to go from strength-to-strength and suspect this may not be the only time we see him picking up one of golf’s four most coveted titles.
It would be unfair to describe runners-up, Zalatoris and Scheffler as his supporting cast, more co-stars in a final round in which the lead fluctuated between the three of them, as some of the more established names like Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm failed to fire in the final round. Scheffler started like a train, -4 thru his first 6 and into a two-shot lead. The world #1 looked the man to beat but this fabulous course brought him back to the field. Whilst Zalatoris had the opposite start to Scheffler, +2 thru three holes and at risk of dropping out of contention, he started to produce some excellent approach play to get back into it, himself enjoying a two-shot lead and battled to-and-fro with Fitzpatrick right to the finish.
Himself and Scheffler would’ve fancied a playoff after Fitzpatrick hit his tee-shot into the bunker left on the 18th hole, looking virtually impossible to find the green in two but produced one of the shots of the week as he hit an excellent cut to find the green, a two-putt enough to secure the title as Zalatoris failed to birdie the closing hole.
Not only a huge moment in the career of the young Yorkshireman but for his highly respected and well liked caddy, Billy Foster who after being on the bag for the likes of Seve and Lee Westwood in major defeats during his career finally got to taste success himself.
Travelers Championship Tips
- Joaquin Niemann 30/1 – 1/5 8 places (William Hill) – 1.75 pts ew
- Sungjae Im 35/1 – 1/5 8 places (William Hill) – 1.5 pts ew
- Mito Pereira 50/1 – 1/5 8 places (William Hill) – 1 pt ew
- Marc Leishman 60/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365 – Each Way Extra) – 1 pt ew
- Cameron Davis 125/1 – 1/5 8 places (William Hill) – 1 pt ew
Onto this week and we’re off to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. An event going back to 1952, though only played here since 1984 and traditionally played in this post-major spot. Bubba Watson is a three-time winner, whilst Peter Jacobsen, Phil Mickelson and Stewart Cink have all tasted success twice. It is also the scene of Jim Furyk’s twelve-under 58, the lowest round ever on the PGA Tour.
Originally designed in the 1920s, the course was remodelled by renowned architect Pete Dye in 1982, bringing the course up to scratch for the PGA Tour. Bobby Weed renovated it further in 1989 and as a 6852 yard par 70, is one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour schedule.
It’s a course full of birdie opportunities. Of the twelve par 4s, only two measure above 450 yards. Of those others, we have the risk/reward 296 yard 15th hole, part of a finishing stretch with plenty of water in-play. The par 5s both scorable at 523 and 574 yards, whilst the par 3s are mixed with two apiece under and over 200 yards.
The fairways are heavily tree-lined throughout with doglegs aplenty in both directions. Despite giving the impression of a tight course, the fairways are typically easy to find here, through a combination of generous landing areas and the longer hitters in the field clubbing down on many of these short par 4s.
The bentgrass greens offer a mix of large and small, with bunkers, some thick rough and run-off areas for protection. By and large they’re not overly difficult to find, whilst about average in terms of scrambling difficulty should you miss the putting surfaces.
It’s a course that is dependent on conditions. If the wind blows and the course is firm, then it can play tricky. Harris English shooting -13 when winning last year and Jordan Spieth’s winning total of -12 in 2017 the most recent examples of this, whilst when benign and/or receptive because of rain, you can make bundles of birdies. Jim Furyk’s 58 evidences this, whilst winning scores of -19 from Dustin Johnson in 2020, and -17 from Chez Reavie in 2019 and Bubba Watson in 2018 shows further. However, rarely does it get completely overwhelmed.
Though different skill-sets are required in the contrasting conditions, shown by quality around-the-green being hugely important in 2021 with English, who ranked 8th around-the-greens and Spieth in 2017, who ranked 2nd. The requirement that occurs most, regardless of conditions, is quality approach play.
Harris English looks the outlier in this regard last year, ranking just 32nd in approach for the week, relying more on quality off-the-tee and an excellent short-game. Though in the five years previous, where we saw a mix of conditions and winning scores, none of the winners ranked worse than 18th in approach, with four ranking 7th or better: Dustin Johnson 6th in 2020, Chez Reavie 1st in 2019, Jordan Spieth 7th in 2017 and Russell Knox 3rd in 2016.
I too think it’s notable that when the scoring is lower we see the contenders littered with bigger hitting, strong drivers. Dustin Johnson winning in the low scoring 2020 version and whilst Chez Reavie is a more accurate type, he was chased home by the bigger hitting duo of Zack Sucher and Keegan Bradley in 2019. Whilst Bubba Watson in 2018, long off-the-tee himself, had the likes of Paul Casey and JB Holmes in behind.
All this is relevant as the scoring conditions could well be favourable this week. It is forecast to rain plenty before and during the event, and with a lack of strong winds currently forecast throughout the week. Receptive and benign should mean lots of birdies.
In addition to this it important to look at scoring on par 4s from 400-450 yards. Eight of the holes fall into this category around River Highlands and it has proven important to score well on these holes in recent years. Whilst Harris English ranked 32nd in this regard last year, the man he beat in a playoff, Kramer Hickok ranked 1st. DJ ranked 3rd when winning in 2020 and Chez Reavie 1st in 2019. In the three intervening years before 2019, we had the three winners all ranking inside the top 10 for this stat, with Bubba 9th in 2018, Spieth 4th in 2017 and Russell Knox 3rd in 2016.
As is so often the case, these shorter tree-lined courses/events often tie in with one another, though there’s a few that appealed more to me this week. The first of these is Pebble Beach, which as well as being a US Open host course, annually hosts the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with two other courses, it’s this event, rather than the US Opens that I like.
All courses used in that event are short and scorable and it’s a tournament in which we see a variety of types at the top of the leaderboard. The fairways and greens are of a similar difficulty to find, whilst it also asks similar questions of a player’s ability to scramble.
Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have all tasted success at both events. Whilst other Travelers Champions, such as Chez Reavie and Kevin Streelman have both finished runner-up at Pebble Beach. We can find further form-ties from the likes of Brooks Koepka, Brendon Todd, Charley Hoffman and Mackenzie Hughes. Once again highlighting the variety of players who go well at both venues.
Next up is the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club. A short tree-lined and scorable course, the type where many of the shorter plodders who find form at the Travelers also find form.
Form-ties aren’t as strong here, with little in the way of recent crossover winners, though it’s worth noting that the two events usually attract hugely contrasting fields in terms of star quality. We find plenty of form-ties outside of winners and it’s a who’s who of short-course specialists: Brendon Todd, Brian Harman, C.T Pan, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Streelman, Russell Henley and Webb Simpson amongst a large group of players to possess form at both events.
Now we have a trio of courses from the TPC network. Not a surprise to find form-ties here as they are generally designed in a similar way, with fun playability well in mind, where you can shoot low scores if on your game.
It seems sensible to start with the Pete Dye designed TPC Sawgrass, home of PGA Tour flagship event, THE PLAYERS Championship. Similar from a ball-striking view, also a course that is generous off the tee in places, with a comparable level of penalty when missing fairways and difficulty in finding greens.
2014 Travelers Champion, Kevin Streelman has a 2nd at Sawgrass and that year was chased home at River Highlands by two PLAYERS Champions, KJ Choi and Sergio Garcia. Brendan Steele, Brian Harman, Danny Lee, Keegan Bradley and Kevin Kisner amongst a bunch of players to possess top 10 finishes in both events.
The John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run is played on a tree-lined, generous driving course that often produces low winning scores and warrants a similar level of ball-striking.
Jordan Spieth has won both events, whilst Brian Harman, who possesses four top 10s in the Travelers is also a past champion of the JDC. Other familiar names, such as Danny Lee, Kevin Streelman and Mackenzie Hughes are joined by the likes of Patrick Rodgers and Scott Stallings in possessing strong finishes at both courses.
Finally we’ll finish with the now discontinued Greenbrier Classic, played at TPC Old White.
Both courses have teeth if the conditions allow it but are scorable if benign. With the tree-lined fairways and greens of a similarl difficulty to find as TPC River Highlands, whilst also possessing a similar level of penalty for missing fairways. Another event where we’ve seen shorter, accurate hitters mix it with the bombers.
Brendon Todd, Joaquin Niemann, Danny Lee, Russell Henley and Scott Stallings amongst the names with correlating form between the Greenbrier and Travelers Championship.
We have a stellar field heading to TPC River Highlands following last week’s US Open. World #1 Scottie Scheffler tops the field and is joined by Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Sam Burns from inside the world’s top 10. In addition to this are the likes of Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka, though Will Zalatoris has withdrawn his entry from the event. Probably feeling a little run-down following another near major miss.
Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler head the market at 10/1. Both players coming here after strong performances at the US Open but are easy enough to ignore at the prices. Justin Thomas comes next at 11s, again of no interest at the price following a disappointing showing at the US Open last week.
Of these at the very top, Sam Burns at 18/1 appealed the most, he played well in the US Open last week, a similar performance to his PGA Championship effort, in which he followed with a victory at Colonial the next week and if this turns into a birdie contest, there’s few players better equipped.
Though I’m going to start with a couple of players a little further down the betting, who underwhelmed last week despite being fancied but can make up for that here, starting with Chile’s Joaquin Niemann.
Niemann actually started quite well at The Country Club last week. He was -2 thru 15 in his first round and threatening the first-round-lead, before a poor finish which included three bogeys in his final four holes of round one dropped him back. He responded well in round two, shooting level par and sat at +1 for the tournament, well in the mix heading into the weekend.
A disappointing 76 followed on Saturday and did for his chances, before a two-over 72 in Sunday’s final round. All resulting in a 47th place finish for Niemann.
There was little concern in last week’s performance though. He hit his irons well over the first three days and drove it well for most of the week. A couple of poor days with the short-game on Friday and Saturday bookended with better on Thursday and Sunday.
This general all-round quality is what we’ve come to expect from Niemann, as a player who rates as one of the better ball-strikers on tour and has added a much improved game around-the-greens to the fold this year, all culminating in him being the 8th best player on tour tee-to-green. Complimented by a more than adequate putter, ranking 61st.
In addition to this he’s the 6th best player in par 4 scoring from 400-450 yards. As mentioned above, playing holes that fall into this category well is often a requirement to success around River Highlands.
This has been on show in his previous starts here. Where he’s been able to use his power off the tee and strong all-round game to amass 3/3 made cuts, finishing an excellent 5th on debut in 2019.
Niemann also has strong form at correlating courses, namely as a winner of the Greenbrier back in 2019 and has also recorded a top 10 at the John Deere. Even his victory at the Genesis at Riviera earlier this year would often be a pointer to success, though more so if conditions were set to be tougher.
Niemann has continued to show strong form since winning the Genesis back in February, including a 3rd place finish in the Memorial Tournament on his final start prior to last week’s US Open, where he was by far and away the best ball-striker in the field. If he can bring that same level this week, he’s sure to add another strong result to his record in the Travelers Championship.
Much like Niemann, Sungjae Im was well fancied for a strong performance in Brookline last week. Unfortunately he missed the cut there, though only did so by one shot and with the form he’s shown since coming back from having covid, I expect him to bounce back from that disappointment this week.
Although he only played two rounds last week, Sungjae maintained form in all areas, just failing to put it altogether at the same time. He was off with the ball-striking in round one but looked good on and around-the-greens. Completely reversing that in round two, where a solid ball-striking performance was brought down by a day to forget with the short-game.
Once again, similarly to Niemann, Sungjae compliments one of the best tee-to-green games on tour, where he ranks 9th, with a solid putter, ranking 71st. With such strength all-round, it’s little surprise to see such consistency in results, where he’s missed just three cuts in 14 starts and hit the top 10 on four occasions, though will undoubtedly be a little disappointed to have only managed a best of 6th, which came all the way back at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
He can put that right this week, at a course he’s played twice and made the cut on both occasions. 21st on debut in 2019 the best of the two. What is notable about both of those performances is that he didn’t play well in approach on either occasion, but when we look a little closer we see his iron play wasn’t in a good place before either of those previous attempts here. Arriving here this week in considerably better form in approach, I expect him to put up an improved result. My confidence is enhanced further by the fact he ranks 8th in par 4 scoring from 400-450 yards on tour this season. With a couple of top 10s at the Wyndham Championship to his name adding more belief.
He’s hitting the ball to a high standard at the minute. I’m hoping he’ll be a little fresher than some near the top of the betting after the missed cut last week and can redeem himself by a first victory of 2022.
A double dose of Chile as I’m taking Mito Pereira to emulate compatriot and friend, Niemann in taking to TPC River Highlands at the first time of asking.
Four-weeks have passed since Pereira dramatically threw away the PGA Championship on the 72nd hole at Southern Hills. Many players would’ve suffered a hangover from this, but it was clear straight after that Pereira wasn’t going to be this type of player.
He followed that major disappointment with a 7th place finish at the Charles Schwab Challenge the following week and then a 13th place finish at Memorial the week after. He missed the cut at the US Open last week, though only on the number and is easily forgiven that on the strength of a ball-striking game that looks ideal for this week’s test.
Pereira is one of the very best ball-strikers on tour, ranking 10th in approach and 21st off-the-tee, where he’s both long and straight. In addition to this he’s 7th in greens hit and ranks 1st in 400-450 yard par 4 scoring. This is combined with a perfectly adequate short-game, where he’s been consistently solid around-the-greens in recent months and though not quite as good with the putter, does produce plenty of good rounds.
Pereira may have never played here but players have often proven capable of going well at the first time of asking. Niemann was 5th on debut and Jordan Spieth won on his first try at the venue. With other players such as Russell Henley and Anirban Lahiri also possessing strong efforts on their first time around here. He also has a strong piece of correlating form when 6th at last year’s 3M Open.
He’s a player who has found winning easy at lower levels so far, as a three-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour. With the softer, scorable conditions likely on show this week, there should be little for this supreme ball-striker to fear, and he looks a perfect fit to contend this week at the first time of asking.
Marc Leishman won the Travelers Championship in 2012 and has only missed one cut in 11 starts at TPC River Highlands, five times finishing inside the top 5, including a 3rd place finish last year. Following a strong 14th place finish in last week’s US Open, he looks well placed for another strong showing this year.
After starting the year looking like a player close to re-entering the winner’s circle, Leishman’s performance last week actually halted a poor run of form for the Australian. As he had failed to record a solo top 20 since finishing 15th in the Genesis Invitational back in February.
Consistency has been the key thing missing from Leishman’s game since then. He’s continued to putt well, but the different areas of his tee-to-green game have come and gone. As he’s struggled to marry any quality he’s shown with the irons with the driver and vice-versa. Though the fact he has still been showing this quality, just not at the same time shows he hasn’t been all that far away.
This was rectified somewhat last week, with Leishman showing quality around-the-greens and in approach practically every day. Also starting and finishing his week with strong putting performances. The driver the only area failing to fire, something he will likely have to improve this week.
As a five-time PGA Tour winner, coming off a good performance in a major and with the excellent record he holds here, Leishman looked a decent price this week and I’m hoping he can pick up where he left off in Brookline.
After a slow start to the year, the talented, big-hitting Cameron Davis has started to find form in recent starts and can defy a three-week break to go well again this week.
Australia’s Davis turned pro in 2016 with plenty of expectation as a former #4 amateur and duly delivered with a victory in the Australian Open in 2017, his first victory as a pro where he had Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Cameron Smith in behind.
Davis then made his way to the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018, winning there and earning his right to play on the PGA Tour. Where he continued to show his ability to win by picking up his first PGA Tour title in last year’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.
He’s a player every bit the modern golfer. A strong ball-striker who hits it a mile and is solid on the greens. With this it’s a surprise that this sometimes wayward driver seems to excel on shorter tree-lined courses. Indeed his two best performances of the year, that have come in his last five starts, a 3rd place finish in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town and a 7th at Colonial in the Charles Schwab Challenge two starts ago, both times showing that excellent ball-striking that had engineered much of his success on the tour.
This should make him a good fit for this week, even more so because of the softer conditions and despite a mediocre record at the event, where he’s finished 43rd and missed the cut in two starts, there have been positive signs. He shot two rounds in the 60s on debut in that the 43rd place finish and actually opened with a four-under 66 in 2020, before shooting a 71 in round two and missing the cut. Three rounds in the 60s out of six proof of a player more than capable of a better result here.
Further encouragement for this is found in some nice bits of correlating form, aside from those recent efforts at Colonial and Harbour Town. As he’s recorded top 15 finishes at the 3M Open, Pebble Beach and Wyndham Championship.
Davis is hitting the ball really well at the moment, particularly his irons in which he’s gained strokes in his last eight starts, whilst he’s also been putting well. His first win at the Rocket Mortgage last year came following a four-week break after the Memorial Tournament and I’m hoping he can produce something similar this week.