Bet £10 win or £10 EW on golf and new William Hill customers get another 3x £10 free bets! Use code C30 and this qualifying link. T&Cs apply.
Congratulations to Brooks Koepka who deservedly won his first Major title at the US Open. Long, straight and as ever high greens in regulation was the order of the day and Brooks, who split 87.5% of fairways and hit an amazing 86.1% of greens in regulation, took the title at an incredible -16/272. Erin Hills real defence mechanism was fast conditions so plenty of rain in the immediate build-up meant the course's challenge was muted. Throw in relatively light wind for 3 days and the 2017 US Open will be remembered for producing a field scoring average which was lower than both The Masters and The Players Championship. We had Justin Thomas on side at 33/1, but eventually received the ubiquitous punter's slap in the face as he finished 9th and a shot outside the paying places.
Onto this week and the Travelers Championship has always been a well-supported event on the PGA Tour with huge crowds and a 'big tournament' feel in Cromwell, Connecticut. 2017 sees a strong field with the betting market headed by Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, that man Justin Thomas plus Bubba Watson, Paul Casey, Patrick Reed and Brandt Snedeker.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the BMW International Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Travelers Championship - Featured Bookmaker
Betfair Sportsbook for the third consecutive week on a PGA Tour event have gone 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the Travelers Championship. They have also gone 6 places each way 1/5 odds at the BMW International Open at the time of writing. Betfair have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £100 Welcome Bonus (UK only) or Bet £/€10, Get £/€30:
Course Guide: TPC at River Highlands is a stock 'up-state' par 70 which will present a totally different challenge to what we saw at Erin Hills last week. At 6,841 yards the course is attackable and gives all styles of play a chance of victory. Bubba Watson averaged 320 yards off the tee across his two victories here whilst defending champion Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman, Ken Duke and Freddie Jacobson plotted and putted their ways to victory. However River Highlands has seen significant changes since the 2015 renewal with 50 bunkers removed and the remaining bunkers being upgraded and in many cases moved to create fairway pinch points. 5 greens on the inward set have also been re-built to present new hole locations. All in all though, River Highlands will still play as a resort-level scoring course where making birdies and putting extremely well will be key on Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens that aren't overly taxing. Birdies and minimising mistakes will be the name of the game.
TPC at River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut: Designer Robert J. Moss 1928 with Pete Dye (1982) and Bobby Weed (1989) renovations; Course Type: Resort; Par: 70; Length: 6,841 yards; Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Bentgrass with poa annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Perennial Rye 4"; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with poa annua; Tournament Stimp: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.84 (-0.16), Difficulty Rank 26 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.25 (+0.25), Difficulty Rank 20 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.69 (-0.31), Rank 32 of 48 courses: 2015: 69.38 (-0.62), Rank 29 of 52 courses. 2016: 69.67 (-0.33), Rank of 26 of 50 courses.
TPC River Highlands Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC River Highlands and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: TPC River Highlands is a traditional north-eastern state parkland golf course that features little water. The short format calls for a greater degree of accuracy off the tee to fairways which aren't difficult to hit for players who focus on course management. At an average of 5,500 square feet, the green complexes are a typical short Par 70 affair, but the key to the course is that the Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix surfaces run at a receptive speed. River Highlands is a second-shot course where accurate approach play is key. Accurate drivers and plotters tend to prosper, although bombers can contend with Bubba Watson a prime example. But here more than anywhere a red-hot putter will be required to deliver a minimum 20 birdies required for victory.
No course statistics really jump off from the page - River Highlands really is pretty stock across the piece, apart from the fact that scrambling from the rough is particularly difficult for those missing greens. This tournament though tends to be won on the par-4s. The course was in the top-10 easiest on the PGA Tour for par-4 birdie or better conversion in 2015 and 14th easiest last term, highlighting that the tournament is won or lost on the 48 looks at the par-4s.
Below is a breakdown of player par-4 scoring at TPC River Highlands across the last 5 tournaments here. Finishing position in brackets:
Winners: 2016: Russell Knox (-14); 2015: Bubba Watson (-16); 2014: Kevin Streelman (-15); 2013: Ken Duke (-12); 2012: Marc Leishman (-14); 2011: Freddie Jacobson (-20); 2010: Bubba Watson (-14); 2009: Kenny Perry (-22).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Jordan Spieth (No.1), Justin Thomas, Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk and William McGirt.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the RBC Heritage / Trophee Hassan II and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Knox 50/1; 2015: Watson 14/1; 2014: Streelman 150/1; 2013: Duke 150/1; 2012: Leishman 125/1; 2011: Jacobson 45/1; 2010: Watson 40/1;. Average: 82/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Cromwell, Connecticut is here. 20mm of rain across last Friday, yesterday (tournament Monday) and today will have left the course on the receptive side. Rain in the evenings across the tournament is possible too. Wind conditions look tranquil, which is the norm here, however the wind does freshen on Friday afternoon to around 15 mph, perhaps giving the PM/AM split a slight advantage.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how TPC River Highlands has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Paul Casey: "This is a golf course where the green is relatively small, but they're tucking the pins away and putting them on some funky little slopes. If you short side yourself, especially if you get over these greens, you're going to be in a world of hurt. I'm a guy that hits a lot of greens in regulation. I'm pretty aggressive when going with the irons into the greens. I try to give myself a lot of birdie looks. To me, as a player, I love playing these kinds of events where you can go low. I think it's good for the psyche. If all you ever do is play events where level par is winning score, you feel like you get beaten up, and you've got to have these, because every now and then you've got to go really low. It is fun. You can't get the wrong side of it. With a golf course like this, it's not that easy. I think the scores are reflective in the fact that we've got perfect conditions and perfect greens. If you get to the wrong side of it, you can make bogeys very easily out there."
Bubba Watson: "First hole is going to be a wedge; second hole, wedge; third hole, wedge. These are the approach shots. And then next hole is going to be...it'll change, but 8, 9 or wedge; next hole is a 6 iron to a 5 iron; next hole is a 3 iron, going for it in two; next hole is a wedge; next hole is an 8 iron; next hole is a wedge; next hole is a wedge; next hole is a wedge; next hole is a wedge; next hole is going for it in two; next hole is a wedge; next hole is a wedge, or if you drive the green you can putt; next hole is a 9 or an 8; 17 is a 9 or a wedge; and 18 is a wedge. So when you look at that, why would I not want to play here if I'm hitting that many wedges? It doesn't matter if I'm in the rough or not, those are the clubs I'm hitting. It comes down to me putting; if I can putt halfway decent, I have a chance to top 10 here or scare a victory."
Marc Leishman: "I think it's a fun golf course. If you're playing well, you can make a lot of birdies. If you're not playing well, you can make bogeys. But I think this is a fun golf course because there are birdies out there. If you're willing to take it on, you can have a low score. But at the same time, if you do take it on, you're bringing in that big number into it as well. I think that's a good indication of a good golf course. I think this is one of them."
Hunter Mahan: "This is a fun golf course to play and it has a great last four holes, so I'm excited. When you come here, it's not quite as intense (as a US Open) going into the tournament. You're a little more, I don't know, almost fluid and you're just kind of more relaxed and you're just kind of ready to play and this course is, you know, set up to make birdies. But it's also set up to challenge you, if the conditions are the way they are, soft and a little windy, it's not pitch and putt by my means, but you're just not going to be penalized for hitting a bad shot. You can still play the hole and get a birdie and be successful on it. It's just not quite as strenuous on the mind."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
The Travelers Championship is the traditional post-US Open stop off and it returns to its rightful spot in the PGA Tour schedule after 2016 saw it usurped by the Quicken Loans National due to the Olympic re-shuffle. Trend-wise going back to J.J. Henry in 2006, no player has finished inside of the US Open top 10 and then gone on to win the week after. This includes Congressional 12 months ago where winner Billy Hurley III had missed the cut at Oakmont. Trends are always there to be broken, but until this point the best US Open performers to then go on to win here since 2006 have been Mahan (2007 14th), Cink (2008 14th) and Jacobson (2011 14th). That trend is over a considerable length of time and makes logical sense with competition starting 4 days after the traumas and stresses of a US Open test. Yes Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman, Trey Mullinax, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Brandt Snedeker could all feature this week, but they'd be going against the formbook.
The mix of recent winners here is interesting. Leishman and 2-time winner Bubba Watson are creative shot-shapers who blasted their way to victory whereas Knox, Streelman, Duke, Jacobson and Perry were far more accurate from the tee. Greens in regulation over the past renewals has become of secondary importance to high quality birdie making powered by high class putting. All 6 of these winners sat in the top 17 for putting average across the week with a sub-1.7 Putts per GIR looking an essential target for victory.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Bubba Watson makes a lot of sense this week and with Day, McIlroy and Spieth all in the field, it's great to see 33/1 about the 2-time Travelers champion. Bubba has always liked to do things differently and a move to Volvik balls has undoubtedly had a negative effect on his game, but there have been signs of late that the tide is turning for the 9-time PGA Tour winner. Watson made the knockout stages at the Dell Matchplay, played nicely at the Shenzhen International before a final round collapse and then landed 5th at TPC Louisiana with partner J.B. Holmes. But it was at Muirfield Village where Watson really came to the fore for me this week. Rounds of 71-68-68 placed him in 3rd spot going into the final round and despite a 73 on Sunday, Watson held on for a morale-boosting season's best 6th place finish. 10th for Greens in Regulation, 13th for Putting Average, an eye-opening 11th for Strokes Gained Putting and joint tournament best -8 across the par-4s were keys to a strong result against the likes of Fowler, Thomas, Kisner and Spieth.
So I was very pleased to see Bubba's standard US Open performance last week which has kept his price on the positive side. His record at TPC River Highlands is exceptional: 9 appearances here have delivered 6th (on debut 2007), 14th (2008), 1st (2009), 2nd (2012), 4th (2013) and 1st (2015). That kind of record is outstanding and can be explained by the fact that with his power he reaches for wedge on 11 holes every round here. In his own words, "So when you look at that, why would I not want to play here if I'm hitting that many wedges? It doesn't matter if I'm in the rough or not, those are the clubs I'm hitting. It comes down to me putting; if I can putt halfway decent, I have a chance to top 10 here or scare a victory."
Naturally at 109th in the FedEx Cup standings and with flagging Presidents Cup hopes, Bubba could do with a big result and I think this week on Bentgrass/Poa mix greens he loves is the green light to get on board.
I'm also going to chance my arm on Brandt Snedeker this week despite him playing 'too well' at Erin Hills. 9th was an excellent effort on a course that was ultimately too long for the World Number 32, but he was never truly in the heat of the battle in Wisconsin, at a tournament which played more like a PGA Championship, so I'm going with the Tennessee man at a track where putting is so critical. 24th (2011), 11th (2014) and 10th (2015) is a positive trend in Connecticut and his last effort here is worthy of comment as he shot a magnificent 3rd Round -7/63 to sit 4th after 54 holes (playing partner Paul Casey shot a closing round -5/65 to reach the play off with Bubba).
I like Brandt this week for a few key reasons. Firstly he's relatively rested after only playing at Colonial and Erin Hills since he was struck with trigger finger at Augusta, after which he also played at Harbour Town with the injury. His run at Erin Hills is likely to see him improve in my view. Secondly Snedeker sits alongside only Bubba Watson in the field when it comes to wins on greens featuring Poa Annua with 4 career PGA Tour victories. But it's his performances after Major Championships which really wins his inclusion this week. His first ever PGA Tour win at Forest Oaks in 2007 came a week after 19th at the PGA Championship. 5th at Glen Abbey (2009), 5th at Sedgefield (2009), 8th at Sedgefield (2010), 4th at TPC San Antonio (2011), 8th at Congressional (2013), 1st at Glen Abbey (2013), 5th at Sedgefield (2014), 5th at Glen Abbey (2016) and 4th at Sedgefield (2016) highlight a player who we need to back the appearance after a Major Championship. 7 of his 8 PGA Tour titles have also been preceded with a top-20 finish, 4 of which were top-10s.
Maidens have a great record at the Travelers Championship so I'll keep the faith with Bud Cauley after he finished 25th with our money on his back at The Memorial. Cauley is one of those rarities at the moment - a ball striker who is putting well enough as he sits inside the top 9 across both my Greens in Regulation and Putting Average 10-week trackers. Recent results read MC at Erin Hills, 25th at Muirfield Village and 41st at Colonial so that falls into line very well with recent winners of this event. But prior to that 5th at the Byron Nelson, 5th at the Zurich Classic, 10th at the Valero Texas Open and 9th at RBC Heritage highlight a talent who's close to winning when the opportunity arises. For me he wins on a resort scoring track where conditions are tranquil and TPC River Highlands ticks a lot of boxes. 11th here in 2014 featured rounds of 63-70-68-69 and Cauley was 2nd after firing that -7/63 and was 7th going into Sunday. I also like his love for Pete Dye designs (Dye re-designed this course back in 1982) which is something that runs across Knox/Streelman/Duke and even Bubba Watson (a winner at TPC Louisiana). Cauley was 3rd at the CareerBuilder Challenge back in January which features the Dye Stadium Course as the host venue plus he's also finished 9th at Harbour Town, 5th (in partnership with Justin Thomas) and 11th at TPC Louisiana.
Webb Simpson could go very close this week and he's undoubtedly due a win. Another to have won a title the week after a Major Championship - his first at Sedgefield in 2011 - I always look towards him on shorter, scoreable tracks. Simpson finished 35th here last term and in 2012 he finished 5th. He's 7/7 in terms of weekends made on his visits and has shot 65 here on 4 occasions. He's won in Massachusetts at TPC Boston and it's interesting that all 4 of his wins have been on Bentgrass surfaces with his non-US Open titles coming at -18/262, -15/269 and -24/260. Current form is unspectacular at 35th Erin Hills, with 67th at Muirfield Village for good measure, but the Carolinian has come very close to winning 2 excellent tournaments in 2017. His 5th at Colonial saw Simpson lead after 54 holes and 2nd at TPC Scottsdale saw him beaten by Hideki Matsuyama in a play-off. 70/1 on that basis seems a very fair price and I like his correlating course form across Harbour Town (2nd 2013), TPC Louisiana (2nd 2011), Sedgefield and TPC Boston (1st 2011).
William McGirt is the kind of player who wins the Travelers Championship at a very tidy price. Straight as a die off the tee (8th in season long Driving Accuracy and 16th in our 10-week tracker) like Knox, Streelman and Duke, he also enters the tournament with the kind of form which is hardly pulling up trees - that almost seems a pre-requisite here. 55th last week was preceded by a missed cut at St Jude, 67th when defending at Memorial, 61st at Colonial and 22nd at The Players. Not a disaster, but nothing to overly scare the layers. But a look at this week's Predictor Model sees him ensconced in 5th spot behind the likes of Spieth, Thomas and Furyk (you may remember he shot a 58 around here last year). That position is delivered by the fact that McGirt is accurate, plays par-4s very well, likes playing up-state golf and is very, very comfortable on Bent/Poa Annua mix putting surfaces. His win at The Memorial 54 weeks ago typifies that love for these particular green types, as does 6th at Riviera (2014), 2nd at Hamilton (2012), 2nd at Glen Abbey (2013) and 5th at Ridgewood (The Barclays - 2014). I'm also a believer on the basis that McGirt finished 2nd at Hamilton the week after playing in the PGA Championship and bringing that forward to here and now, he also finished 3rd at Harbour Town in April after finishing 22nd at Augusta the week before. 30th, 31st and 25th here in his last 3 appearances provides an improving trend and there's no doubt that the World Number 54 is a better player now than he was across that 2013-2015 stretch.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel