Travelers Championship Preview: Top tips for River Highlands
For all the talk, rightly or wrongly, of the merits of Torrey Pines as a US Open venue, there can be no doubt that the course played host to an enthralling final round on Sunday. As Jon Rahm wrapped up his first major title in style, holing excellent birdie putts on the final two holes. Louis Oosthuizen once again the runner-up, the 6th time this has happened to him in a major since he won The Open in 2010.
It was a disappointing end to the week personally, as Bryson DeChambeau unravelled dramatically on the back 9, going from the leader and outright favourite to win with eight to play, to a 26th place finish. Fortunately, Scottie Scheffler rallied late on to snatch a share of the places at 45/1 to ease the disappointment.
Back to the PGA Tour this week, as we head to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. One of the few courses on the PGA Tour that measures under 7000 yards. The 6841 yard par 70 is a classic tree-lined course designed by Pete Dye and has been a mainstay on tour as the venue of this event for over 30 years.
It offers real variety throughout. Plenty of doglegs in both directions, with some holes appearing more claustrophobic than others. A combination of large and small bentgrass greens, surrounded by a mixture of rough and run off areas. It’s this reason, that whilst the course is short and clearly scoreable, proven by Jim Furyk shooting the only ever 58 on the PGA Tour here in 2016, it still maintains its integrity and keeps players on their toes. There is no, one way of playing every hole.
Water is in play on five holes, most notably down the closing stretch on holes 15-17, holes that can make or break your tournament. All are scorable, none more so than the drivable par 4 15th and should provide great drama as the event unfolds.
Travelers Championship Tips
- Patrick Reed 22/1 – 1/5 8 places (WilliamHill) – 2 pts ew (NAP)
- Francesco Molinari 66/1 – 1/5 8 places (Paddy Power) – 1 pt ew (NB)
- Brendon Todd 100/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew (Longshot)
- Will Gordon 200/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 0.75 pts ew (Others to consider)
- Satoshi Kodaira 250/1 – 1/5 8 places (WilliamHill) – 0.75 pts ew (Others to consider)
Due to the length of the course, it’s no surprise to see shorter hitters going well here. One of few opportunities during the year where they don’t feel at a disadvantage because of distance. Though, due to some generous fairways and holes that warrant bigger hitters to club down and control the ball better off the tee, we’ve had a real mix of winners here. Shown by the last three winners containing the big hitting duo of Bubba Watson, a three-time winner here and Dustin Johnson, with the more accurate Chez Reavie sandwiched in between.
Despite the disparity in length of the tee, there were similarities with their performances. All three ranked top 20 in approach: DJ 6th, Reavie 1st and Bubba 18th and all in the top 25 in putting: DJ 4th, Reavie 10th and Bubba 22nd. These two stats will be right to the forefront of my thinking on the event this week.
With temperatures in the high 20s, the greens have the potential to get a little speedy. Only a little breeze over the first two rounds, the forecast predicts some tougher weather at the weekend, with winds getting up to 15mph and some rain scheduled for Sunday morning, which may soften up the course ahead of the final round.
The field is strong, with last year’s winner, Dustin Johnson the top ranked player. Bryson DeChambeau will be hoping to bounce back after the disappointment of Sunday at a course he’s recorded three top 10s in a row, as will Brooks Koepka. Patrick Cantlay, who shot a 60 here as an amateur will also tee it up.
Looking at the top of the market, I’m happy to leave alone the trio of Johnson, DeChambeau and Koepka. DJ is showing better signs but not enough to tempt me at the price and Bryson must still be reeling from Sunday. Brooks has shown an ability to bounce back quickly from major disappointment but due to his lacklustre performances outside of majors, he’s hard to back. Casey and Cantlay are harder to ignore, both with excellent records here but it’s a little further down that I start this week, in the form of Patrick Reed.
He was never really involved last week but a final round 67, the joint best round of the day on Sunday, propelled Reed into a 19th place finish. This continued an excellent run of form, his fifth top 20 in seven events, with a 5th place finish at the Memorial last time out his best finish.
The most encouraging aspect of his game recently has been the improvement he’s made in approach play. He struggled initially in that respect last week over the first two rounds but improved markedly over the weekend to continue his run of positive approach numbers, also gaining well at Memorial and in the PGA Championship.
He has a good record here at TPC River Highlands, where he’s played nine times with a best of 5th, three other top 25s and just the three missed cuts. Also, with victories in similar tests at the Wyndham Championship and the Humana Challenge (Currently the American Express).
A major winner, two WGCs and multiple other wins, Reed’s biggest asset for me, bar the incredible short game, is his ability to win. He looks close to another win and if he can get off to a good start, he could be a tough man to beat this week.
Kevin Na has a great record at these types of courses and I was tempted to overlook a couple of underwhelming performances from Charley Hoffman, back at an event he’s got a great record but none from this middle of the pack stood out to me as much as Francesco Molinari at the prices.
Before last week’s US Open I doubt Molinari would’ve been in my calculations here. After a good start to the year in California, where he notched up three top 10s in four starts, he went on a run of MC-MC-52-MC, before returning from an enforced six-week absence at last week’s US Open, where he finished an excellent 13th.
13th in a major, in your first start in over a month is enough to make you have a look at the 2018 Open Champion but he could’ve been even closer and contended over the weekend if it wasn’t for a really awful day with the putter on Friday, losing 3.5 strokes. He putted excellently the rest of the week, where he was inside the top 10 for putting on both Thursday and Saturday. With the rest of his game solid.
He has a fair record in this week’s event, making the cut in each of his three visits, with a best of 25th. I rate him as one of the classiest players in this price range as a major champion and two time PGA Tour winner. If he can find some of that terrific iron play from earlier in the year and continue the mostly superb putting from last week, he should go well at a course which suits his game.
There’s a group of players on the PGA Tour of whom relish weeks like this. Often at a huge disadvantage because of a lack of distance on some of the tour’s longer courses. None epitomise this more than Todd.
Since he made his return to the winners circle at the end of 2019, winning back to back in the Bermuda Championship and the Mayakoba Classic, Todd has performed commendably in events generally dominated by bigger hitting ball-strikers. Though it doesn’t go unnoticed, that out of the three top 10s he’s recorded in the last 12 months, two of them came at shorter, more accuracy rewarding courses, similar to this week’s test. 8th at Mayakoba last year and then a few starts ago with an 8th place finish at Colonial. Not a surprise considering he ranks outside the top 200 for driving distance.
He combats this lack of distance by being the most accurate player on tour off the tee, as well as being one of the absolute best putters, ranking 2nd. His approach play isn’t generally an asset, though he does produce better performances in that respect when he returns to these types of courses and put up positive numbers in that 8th at Colonial a month ago.
His suitability for this type of test is enhanced further when looking at his last three starts here, where he recorded two finishes in the top 15, including 11th last year. A player who often shows up when the course suits, I expect this week to be no different.
The combination of this event taking place the week after a major and how much a course like this can level the playing field, means it’s not inconceivable that a huge price wins or goes well this week. With that in mind I’m finishing the staking plan with a couple of 200/1+ shots, starting with Will Gordon.
His professional career still in its relative infancy, Gordon has produced some good performances since turning pro, none better than when he finished 3rd here last year. With his second best performance coming courtesy of a 10th place finish at the RSM Classic in 2019, played mainly on a course which boasts similarities to this week’s venue.
Current form was poor, with four missed cuts on the bounce before producing his best performance of the year on his last start in the Palmetto Championship, finishing 14th. This performance was particularly impressive as he produced the best iron play of anyone in the field that week, which wouldn’t necessarily be a strength of his game. Approach numbers like this will always catch my attention.
A talented, big hitting youngster who has shown an ability to contend at this level and at this course. If he can continue that excellent approach play from two weeks ago, he can hopefully improve on that performance here this week.
The final selection is Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira, who looks a huge price based on current form. He really struggled earlier in the year but has found something recently, recording top 20s in his last three starts, with finishes of 11-13-19.
The putter would be the biggest positive for his upturn in form but he’s performed pretty well across the board, gaining strokes in most aspects of his game. Particularly in approach last time out in the Palmetto Championship.
He’s a former PGA Tour winner, winning the RBC Heritage in 2018 at Harbour Town. A particular positive, not just because it’s a similarly short, tree-lined course with plenty of correlating form but also because it’s another Pete Dye design.
I think his liking for courses such as this comes from the fact that they’re very similar to a lot of courses he’d have played in Japan, a tour he is very prolific on, with seven victories to his name. I’m not concerned over the two MCs here as they both came off the back of a poor run of form and I expect him to improve significantly on those efforts this week.