With the players still reeling from a tough week at Shinnecock Hills, there is no time for a break, as the PGA Tour visits TPC River Highlands for the 2018 renewal of the Travelers Championship.
Defending champion, Jordan Spieth returns, looking to an end a run of five straight events since the Masters, without a top-20 finish. Spieth’s last two starts have resulted in missed cuts at The Memorial and the U.S. Open and his task won’t be any easier here, as a strong field has assembled here in Connecticut.
Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all join Spieth, as does two-time Travelers Championship winner, Bubba Watson. Also in the field are the 2018 Major champions, Patrick Reed (Masters) and Brooks Koepka, who has just defended his U.S. Open title. Paul Casey and Marc Leishman will also tee it up this week, ensuring nine representatives from the World’s top-20.
After the gruelling test of Shinnecock Hills last week, the players will appreciate an easier test this week, where birdies will be aplenty.
The Course and what it will take to win
TPC River Highlands, 6,841 Yards Yards, Par 70, Poa Annua Greens
Wind can certainly come into play here at TPC River Highlands, but the winning score is bound to be double-digits under-par regardless. The last time the winning score did not get to ten-under-par was in 1993, when Nick Price was victorious. That was the third straight year the winner here was in single digits under-par (Billy Ray Brown -9 in 1991, Larry Wadkins -6 in 1992). These were isolated results though as before 1991 the score was always double-digits under-par also.
Jim Furyk broke the single-round scoring record on the PGA Tour here, when he shot a 58 in the final round in 2016, quite a feat considering how difficult it is to shoot 59. Despite shooting that 58 Furyk still didn’t win here, highlighting how important it is to go consistently low throughout the week.
There is no clear statistical bias as to how you win here, but you have to make birdies or better, one way or another in order to do so. Hitting Greens in Regulation will be extremely advantageous, and good figures throughout the season is a good way to narrow down a potential winner here.
Of the last ten winners, eight have ranked inside the top-4 for Birdie or Better Percentage, with Watson (12th in 2015) and Freddie Jacobson (11th in 2011) the exceptions.
In extension to the Birdie or Better Percentage statistic, eight of the last ten winners have ranked inside the top-10 in Birdie or Better Percentage on the Par 4’s specifically (Leishman 14th in 2012 and Cink 12th in 2008) the exceptions. Four of the last five have ranked 1st in this statistic, with Knox the outlier, ranking 6thin 2016.
To convert birdie and eagle chances, a good putter is needed, and of the last ten winners here, six have ranked inside the top-10 for SG: Putting and seven have ranked inside the top-20. Spieth (31st), Leishman (49th) and Watson (41st in 2010) have proved though, that you can win when not at you very best with the putter.
Given the nature of this event, it is hard to pinpoint any one type of player here, but I would suggest looking at those that rank highly in both Birdie Or Better Percentage and Birdie Or Better Percentage Par 4’s. Players ranking highly in Greens in Regulation will of course need to be respected also.
Key Trends and Summary of Key Statistics
Five of the last ten winners here have either missed the cut or not played in the U.S. Open the week before.
Of the last ten winners here, only Freddie Jacobson (2011) and Stewart Cink (2008) finished inside the top-20 at the U.S. Open the week before winning here (Both T14).
Five of the last ten winners here were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour.
Of the last ten winners here, only Jordan Spieth was playing this course for the first time.
Four of the last five winners ranked 1st in Birdie or Better Percentage (Par 4’s) with Knox ranking 6th.
All of the last ten winners have ranked in the top-14 in Birdie or Better Percentage (Par 4’s)
All of the last ten winners ranked in the top-12 in Birdie or Better Percentage.
Justin Thomas 12/1
Brooks Koepka 12/1
Rory McIlroy 14/1
Jordan Spieth 14/1
Patrick Reed 16/1
Ryan Moore has top-30 finishes in five of his last six starts, including a 13th last time out and a 7th three starts ago. After missing out on qualifying for the U.S. Open, Moore comes into this week fresh, for the first time since 2012, and that may be a positive for him.
This is a course he clearly enjoys, with five top-10 finishes under his belt, including 2nd place finishes in both 2006 and 2011. Since missing the cut here in 2008, Moore’s Travelers Championship record (most recent first) reads 17-5-7-47-2-13-4, so there’s every chance he contends.
Whilst he doesn’t rank highly in Birdie or Better Percentage overall (116th) he is markedly better in Birdie or Better Par 4’S (T59) and also ranks T35 from the key yardage range (125-150). Given his wedge play throughout the season, he should relish the chance to play one of his favourite courses on Tour, where he is quite clearly due a win.
Moore ranks 8th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 20th in Approach-the-Green, 24th Around-the-Green and 31st Off-the-Tee, all good enough for a T15 SG: Total ranking. His putting has not been where it needs to be to win (130th in SG: Putting), but this can improve significantly on greens he has plenty of (good) experience on.
A five-time winner on Tour, including three times since 2013, Moore is clearly capable of getting over the winners’ line and I am confident he can have a real good go at making it win number six at one his favourite stops.
Daniel Berger 33/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Daniel Berger is a golfer who we know plays the same courses well each year, as he has already shown early on in his PGA Tour career. Back-to-back wins at the FedEx St.Jude Classic are the best example of this, but two top-5’s in his first two starts at this course are also mightily impressive.
When 5th in 2016, Berger actually went into the final-round with the outright lead, but a 74 on Sunday put to bed any chances of him winning. Determined to make amends in 2017, Berger again went close, this time making it to a play-off, where he was cruelly denied when Spieth dramatically holed a bunker shot during their first play-off hole.
Berger strangely missed the cut at the FedEx St.Jude two weeks ago, an event he had originally been undefeated in, but a third-round 66 at last week’s U.S. Open saw him go out in the final round with Tony Finau on Sunday. Berger slipped away in the end, but a T6 finish was still impressive and he can pick himself up this week, and get himself the win he’s come close to getting here, two years in a row.
Currently sitting in 39th in Approaches from 125-150, Berger was actually a lot better (15th) before the U.S. Open and I think that is worth bearing in mind.
Solid course form and last week’s effort still fresh in the mind, I expect Berger to come into this event full of confidence this week, as he looks to keep up his current streak of at least one win in each full season on the PGA Tour.
Emiliano Grillo 66/1 (BetBright) 1pt e/w:
A ball striking paradise, Emiliano Grillo clearly has the perfect skill-set to succeed at TPC River Highlands and he showed that with a closing-67 last year, when finishing 43rd.
An opening-round 69 was ok for Grillo who was making his course debut, but rounds of 70-71 on Friday and Saturday meant he had far too much to do to finish near the top of the leaderboard 12 months ago.
This season Grillo has improved dramatically on the greens (11th in SG: Putting) and that will serve him well on his quest for birdies here. 17th in Greens in Regulation and 22nd in both SG: Approach and SG: Tee-to-Green, the Argentine is hitting the ball as well as ever and should keep that up here.
Whilst he only ranks 70th in Approaches from 125-150, like Berger he was a lot higher prior to last week (T46) and he should be ok here.
Another win has looked to be on the horizon for Grillo all season long, but particularly in his last seven starts, where he has three top-9 finishes, including two top-3’s.
A missed cut at last week’s U.S. Open is no great concern to me, given the tough test Shinnecock Hills provided, and on a course where birdies will be aplenty, I think Grillo has an excellent chance of adding to his 2015 Frys.com Open title.
I think 66/1 is far too generous for a player of his talents, especially given his recent run prior to last week’s missed cut.
Chesson Hadley 100/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w:
Chesson Hadley has been rock solid this season, and really should have been rewarded with a win earlier in the season. Hadley has finished inside the top-25 in 11 of his 19 starts this season and it this level of consistency which could lead to him winning for the second time on the PGA Tour. A four-time winner on the Web.com Tour, including twice in 2017, Hadley is clearly not afraid to win, and he will be looking to take advantage of the form he has shown across both tours over the last two seasons.
Hadley ranks 7th on Tour in Birdie or Better Percentage, and 8th in Birdie or Better Percentage on the Par 4’s, so is clearly having no issue going low this season. He only ranks a disappointing 75th in Approaches from 125-150 yards, but when finishing 11th in an elite field at the Players he ranked 15th from that distance and was also 28th in the same area at the Memorial, despite only finishing 40th. It is clearly a matter of how he plays week-to-week with a wedge in his hand, rather than struggling all the time with it, but one thing is for sure, he should make birdies this week.
In two starts here, he has missed the cuts both times, shooting 70 twice and 72 twice, so he’s not broken par which is a relative reason for concern, but his improved play this season leads me to believe he will perform better this time around.
Sitting 5th in SG: Approach, 20th in SG: Putting and 29th in SG: Tee-to-Green, Hadley’s game is in good all-round shape. He is struggling around the greens (123rd in SG: Around-the-Green) and ranks just 98th in SG: Off-the-Tee, but on a course where driver is not required often, he could well excel, despite previous showings here.
After missing the cut at the U.S. Open last week, he should come reasonably refreshed, and I won’t let just his third missed cut of the season put me off too much.
At 100/1 he looks an attractive price to get the win, his play so far this season has deserved, and I certainly expect him to make the weekend for the first time here, an improvement on the first two showings.
Wesley Bryan 150/1 (Betfred & UniBet) 0.5pt e/w:
Wes Bryan has struggled to recreate the form he showed in his rookie season last year, but he looks to have turned a corner in recent weeks and this course plays to his strengths.
Bryan has been particularly struggling off the tee (209th in SG: Off-the-Tee) and ranks 189th in Greens in Regulation, but when he has a wedge in his hand, which he will quite often here, he is a completely different player.
Thanks to his razor sharp wedge game, Bryan ranks 1st in Approaches from 50-125 Yards, 100-125 Yards and also 3rd in the key range this week (125-150 yards). Add to that a rock-solid short game (29th in SG: Putting and 39th in SG: Around-the-Green) and I see no reason why he can’t contend here.
After missing six of his first 13 cuts this season, including four straight from February to April, Bryan seems to have steadied the ship, making his last three straight. His results have bettered in each of his last three events and he finished T12 last time out, at the FedEx St.Jude Classic.
Last year, Bryan teed it up here for the first time and opened with a pair of 67’s to sit in a tie for 4th going into the weekend. Rounds of 75 and 76 saw him tumble down the leaderboard and finish dead last of those that made it to Sunday. What he did over the first two days here though, shows his potential suitability to this test, and with the confidence he would have gained from his first three days in Memphis last time out, I am happy to take a chance on a him posting a season-best result. It was a shame to see Bryan close with a 73 on Sunday at the St.Jude, because should he have even just matched his 69 on Saturday, he would have finished solo third. All ifs and buts, however the signs are there and given he’s a winner on Tour already, I am happy to chance that he can find winning form again soon.
Points staked this week: 8
Profit/loss for 2018: -87.4