After the horror's of last week's US Open at the incredibly 'honest' Lake Course at Olympic Club, the PGA Tour moves up state to the slower Bent greens of TPC River Highlands in Connecticut. If you are an eagles and birdies fan I can guarantee that this week will be right up your street!
After Muirfield, Ohio this is the PGA Tour's second visit up country in 2012 and in the form of TPC River Highlands we move to an altogether more PGA Tour type set-up where making red numbers is absolutely essential. TPC River Highlands is set up to be smashed as the course only measures 6,841 yards to its tips and is a Par 70, that's a trivial distance to modern day professional golfers. To make the matter perfectly clear this course was the easiest Par 70 on the schedule in 2011.
Making birdies is the name of the game, so a liking for Bent greens is essential. Each of the last 18 winners of the Travelers have completed 72 holes double digits under par so plodders will not prosper this week. Saying that cutting out mistakes is also important so putting from inside 10 feet is a key stat. Length can help, but certainly isn't essential as Freddie Jacobson proved as he averaged 274 yards off the tee to win his first PGA Tour tournament here 12 months ago. Missing fairways is punished only in the fact that you lose the opportunity to make Birdie. With tranquil conditions forecast and only a low level breeze through till Sunday scoring will be low, so expect 260 / -20 to be close to the magic number needed this week to get the job done.
The event itself is popular with over 80,000 fans in attendance but the mix of previous winners highlights some key characteristics. The past 2 champions, Freddie Jacobson and Bubba Watson, won their first PGA Tour titles here whilst 2009 saw veteran Kenny Perry grab his 2nd win of the season and 14th career victory with a winning score of -22. Experienced Stewart Cink captured the 2008 title on his way to a Ryder Cup birth and 2007 saw Hunter Mahan capture first PGA Tour title. Expect the upcoming Ryder Cup to be a feature yet again this week with Zach Johnson (Colonial), Tiger Woods (Muirfield), Dustin Johnson (TPC Southwind) and Webb Simpson (Olympic Club) all previously being outside the automatic Top 8 for selections over the past 4 consecutive weeks . Don't be surprised to see Keegan Bradley (9th), Johnson Wagner (17th), Kyle Stanley (19th), Bo Van Pelt (21st) or wonderkid John Huh (23rd) very much in the mix this week.
Sometimes you just have to pick the obvious and Ryan Moore is certainly in that category. Ryan Moore for me should have won far more than the single PGA Tour title he's secured so far at Sedgefield in 2009, but the World Number 73 - who was ranked as high as 37 back in August last season - is a class act in my eyes. Sure enough he has a list of recent Bent Top 10s at TPC Four Seasons: 2nd (08), Muirfield: 2nd /-17 (07) and 5th/-11 (10), Aronimink: 2nd/-9 (10), Sedgefield: 1st/-16 (09) and 6th/-11 (06) and Cog Hill: 3rd (10). His liking for 'up state' golf makes sense when you realise he grew up on the Bent/Poa Annua greens of Washington State and his recent form line of 38(Muirfield)-26(Colonial)-46(TPC Sawgrass)-5(Quail)-8(TPC San Antonio) shows he is close and the Colonial finish, despite being his career best, could have been so much better as he entered the final round in 8th. He'll win his 2nd PGA Tour career title soon and TPC River Highlands is a prime candidate. Moore was trading at 27/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T47
2011 PGA Champion Keegan Bradley loves a Par 70 set-up. Indeed both of his PGA Tour wins last year were on the Par 70s of TPC Four Seasons (Bent greens) and Atlanta Athletic Club. The thing that excites me with the Florida-based Bradley, who grew up in Vermont and studied in New York, is the fact that after Webb Simpson's US Open triumph last week he now sits outside the Ryder Cup automatic spots and I'm sure we will see his performances improve as a result, starting this week. 2012 has seen Keegan produce 2nd at Riviera (Bent Poa), 8th at Doral, 4th/-12 at Humble (Bent mix) and a decent 27th on debut at the ultimate Bent test that is Augusta National. It's also noticeable that Bradley's game has become for more aggressive in 2012 compared to 2011 hence 23rd (up 74 spots) in Strokes Gained Putting and 5th (up 37 spots) in Par Breaker PGA Tour categories in 2012 vs 2011. He's also the only player on Tour that sits in the Top 15 of all Par 3, Par 4 and Par 5 Birdie categories. Expect Bradley to appear on the leaderboard this week. Bradley was trading at 43/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T29
TPC River Highlands should also suit the precious talent that is John Huh who has the core game fundamentals to go well on his course debut in Connecticut. 2012 has contained a number of highlights on course debut such as Torrey Pines 6th/-11, TPC Scottsdale 12th/-9, El Camaleon 1st/-13, Humble 14th/-9 (Bent mix), TPC San Antonio 2nd/-7, Colonial 5th (Bent) and Muirfield 19th highlight that Californian Huh can tackle any green grass /track type and score heavily when needed. Indeed Huh sits 17th in Total Birdie, 21st in Strokes Gained Putting, 22nd in Scoring Average and 35th in Par Breaker categories across 2012. For me John Huh is a World Top 10 player in waiting and like Anthony Kim in 2008 who won at Quail Hollow in May and then at Congressional in July, I'm expecting the exuberance of youth to drive Huh towards another contending performance this week on a short course that is bound to suit his neat and tidy, heavy scoring game. Huh was trading at 54/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: MC
Talking of precious talent, Harris English has already grossed $818,000 in earnings so far in 2012 making him the 2nd best rookie behind John Huh and, believe me, this guy (who has already secured his full playing privileges for 2013) has bigger goals to fulfil this season and he isn't scared of winning. 2011 produced his first Nationwide Tour win in only his 2nd Tour appearance on the creeping Bent grass greens of Ohio State University's Scarlet Course. So English already has a taste for up state golf. 2012 has seen top performances at shorter formats including 19th/-16 PGA West, 15th/-8 TPC Scottsdale, 18th PGA National, 8th Harbour Town and 5th on the Bent greens of Colonial 4 weeks back. But dig into the numbers and you'll see that English is no ordinary player as here is a Ball Striker (sits 15th in 2012 category) who can actually putt well and make loads of birdies as the following season-long categories highlight: 6th Total Birdies, 7th Par 4 Birdies, 29th Par Breakers, 30th Birdie Average. I'm thinking Harris should love the sight lines of TPC River Highlands and his putting on the Bent greens of Colonial recently was exceptional. English was trading at 69/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T64
I put Los Angeles-based Charlie Wi in the same category as Jason Dufner, Freddie Jacobson, Kevin Na, Bryce Molder and Tim Clark. He will win a PGA Tour event and it's most likely to arrive on a Par 70 or a shorter format. Wi has always been streaky and has the capability to go very low when everything clicks, but up until now the 7th season PGA Tour member hasn't been able to get over the finish line. 2012 has seen him finish 2nd to Mickelson at Pebble Beach (tight, short Par 72) and 4th behind Curtis at TPC San Antonio, and last week Charlie delivered his best Major performance since finishing 9th at PGA Championship in 2008 when he finished a creditable 29th at Olympic Club. But it's his record on low scoring tracks that really grab my attention with Wi, who is equally as comfortable on Bent as he is on Bermuda greens. La Cantera: 2nd/-17 (08), Colonial: 2nd/-14(10), Deere Run: 4th/-15 (08), St Georges: 4th/-14 (10) all jump off the record book page as do 3 Top 20 results at TPC Boston. 6 appearances here in Connecticut have yielded nothing better than 21st in 2010 but don't be surprised when Wi turns up in the mix this week. Wi was trading at 94/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T24
I can't resist a small punt on the enigma that is Tommy '2 Gloves' Gainey this week. As any self-respecting golf punter knows, Gainey will either miss the cut or contend and in theory the low scoring nature of TPC River Highlands should suit the South Carolinian who loves a shorter course that he can attack all guns blazing. As you'd expect his record here reads MC/MC/17th and the place finish was his most recent visit last year, where he putted extremely well on his way to a 268/-12 total. Gainey despite a quiet 2012 - he's grossed $545,000- already looks like he is going to maintain his full privileges for 2013 via a Top 125 finish on the Money List but I've always believed that on the right track he can win a PGA Tour event and this week fits that category. Link that to the fact that he popped up with 3rd on the Bent greens at Colonial (Par 70) 4 weeks back and you'll start to see that there is both outright and trading value in Two Gloves this week. Gainey was trading at 139/1 on Betfair at the time of writing - for more details on how trading works on golf read our Golf Trading article. RESULT: T18
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!