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Golf betting can be cruel at times. We were an out of bounds drive and a 12-foot putt away from a potential US Open victory on Sunday but it wasn't to be. Jordan Spieth is a phenomenon who, in my opinion, will become World Number 1 in the near future and whose battles with Rory McIlroy will light up the sport over the coming years. Golf has been needing a Woods versus Mickelson type rivalry at the top of the sport for a while now and we finally have it. Exciting times and it was great to see that our US Open previews delivered both Dustin Johnson (22/1) and Brendan Grace (125/1) full place returns, despite the obvious disappointment of both players just missing out in the end on Sunday.
Travelers have laid on a special charter flight to get US Open competitors across the United States to Cromwell, Connecticut for their Championship, but in reality this week's PGA Tour field is particularly weak. Over in Munich, the BMW International Open has attracted Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer and Shane Lowry for a tournament which has always been a stalwart on the European Tour. Paul Williams' preview gives you all the required lowdown to Golfclub München Eichenried and the event's runners and riders.
2015 Punters League
Long-time competition supporter Ger Spillane equalled the Punters League record last week by winning for the second consecutive week. Phenomenal stuff with his inspired choice of Cameron Smith delivering his second free bet prize with Paddy Power. Sean Colgan still leads overall after 24 weeks with 2nd place man Simon Blight closing the gap slightly after a successful US Open. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 6 players across the Travelers and the BMW International on our facebook group now!
After an exciting US Open the action moves onto a notoriously difficult tournament to judge, the Travelers Championship. With only 3 PGA Tour tournaments between the US Open and the Open Championship it's hardly surprising that the lesser lights tend to get a look in across both the Travelers Championship and next week's Greenbrier Classic. With precious 2-year exemptions and Open Championship qualifying spots available over the next 3 weeks, a number of excellent opportunities present themselves for both Tour maidens and occasional winners alike.
Here's my Travelers Championship preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: TPC at River Highlands, is a stock 'up-state' Par 70 that will present a totally different challenge to what we saw at Chambers Bay last week. At 6,841 yards the course is attackable and gives all styles of play a chance of victory. Bubba Watson averaged 321 yards off the tee when he won here in 2010 whilst Kevin Streelman, Ken Duke and Freddie Jacobson plotted and putted their ways to victory. The key this week will be making birdies and putting extremely well on Bent/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. Ross 1928, with Pete Dye (1982) and Bobby Weed (1989) renovations; Course Type: Resort; Par: 70; Length: 6,841 yards; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Perennial Rye 3.5"; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa annua; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; 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.
Course Overview: TPC River Highlands is a traditional eastern parkland golf course that features little water. At an average of 5,500 square feet the green complexes are akin to a typical short Par 70 affair, but the key to the course is that the Bent/Poa surfaces run at a receptive 10.5 on the Stimpmeter. River Highlands is a second-shot course where accurate approach play is key. Accurate drivers and plotters tend to prosper, but here more than anywhere a red-hot putter will be required to deliver the absolute minimum 20 birdies required for victory.
Winners: 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 Travelers predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Zach Johnson (Predictor number 1) Brandt Snedeker, Jerry Kelly, Jason Bohn and Kevin Na.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Masters and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Streelman 150/1; 2013: Duke 150/1; 2012: Leishman 125/1; 2011: Jacobson 45/1; 2010: Watson 40/1; 2009: Perry 20/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for TPC River Highlands is here. June has been wet in Cromwell with 109mm of rainfall in the month leading up to the tournament. Electrical activity on Sunday deluged the course with 15mm of rain and further storms today (Tuesday) look fairly certain. The course will play soft with receptive greens that will respond to accurate approach shots. The course drains well and will dry out throughout the week making a fast start important. Increased wind will also play a factor on Sunday which may lead to slightly higher scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 5 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages: Driving Distance: 33rd; Driving Accuracy: 22nd; Greens in Regulation: 34th; Scrambling: 25th; Putting Average 5th.
So let's take a view from players as to just what are the key attributes required at River Highlands this week:
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."
The Travelers Championship is now traditionally the post-US Open stop-off. That in itself starts to answer the question as to why so many Tour maidens win here. Going back to J.J. Henry in 2006, no player has finished inside of the United States Open Championship Top 10 and then gone on to win here in Connecticut. That's a considerable length of time and makes logical sense as converting a birdie on every 1 in 3 holes is extremely alien compared to the traumas of a U.S. Open test. Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Cameron Smith and Brandt Snedeker could all feature this week, but they'd all be doing so against the formbook.
The mix of recent winners here is interesting. Leishman and Watson are creative shot-shapers who blasted their way to victory whereas Streelman, Duke, Jacobson and Perry were far more accurate from the tee. Greens in regulation over the past 4 renewals has become of secondary importance to high quality birdie making powered by top class putting. All 6 of these winners sat in the Top 11 for putting average across the week with a sub-1.7 Putts per GIR looking an essential target for victory.
So I'm looking for excellent putters who have the ability to birdie lots of Par 4s. Course experience here is vital as River Highlands, although attackable, is not a full-throttle resort track; instead astute course management delivers birdie opportunities. Keeping the ball on the fairway is an advantage around here as it affords better approaches and having an accurate wedge-approach game is vital to success. Open Championship qualification is an added part of the conundrum this week as there are four qualifying places available to the leading four players (not otherwise exempt) who finish in the top 12 and ties.
My selections are as follows:
Zach specialises in Par 70 set-ups where his accurate driving and approach play generates lots of birdie opportunities. A sluggish (for Johnson) start to 2015 sees the World Number 28 arrive in Connecticut outside of the automatic President's Cup spots: Johnson has struggled with accurate approach-play and a lukewarm putter of late but major steps forward were evident at TPC Four Seasons recently where a closing 63 delivered his first Top 5 of the season. 3rd here on course debut in 2004, Zach has plenty of linkable course form across a plethora of similar set-ups such as Waialae, PGA West, Warwick Hills and of course Deere Run. Although a Robert Ross original, Donald Ross course form works with Zach having the appropriate Top 10s at Sedgefield and Oak Hill (8th). Indeed the 2013 PGA Championship saw both Marc Leishman and Kevin Streelman finish in the Top 12 which adds further fuel to the fire.
Kevin Na has decided to add River Highlands to his schedule and this is undoubtedly the level of tournament that could see him add another victory to the lone triumph he has from TPC Summerlin in 2011. A plotter and a putter primarily, through consistency Na now sits in the OWGR Top 25 and recent strokeplay form that reads 46 (US Open), 13 (Muirfield), 10 (Colonial), 6 (Sawgrass) and 12 (Augusta) is impressive. Na led and had serious chances to win at both TPC Sawgrass and Colonial, but you get the feeling that he needs a final round 'off the pace' charge to eventually secure that next victory. Well that opportunity could arise this week on a course where he finished 9th back in 2007 and at a tournament where non-final group players have taken home the trophy in 4 of the last 5 renewals.
Jason Bohn has a track record of playing well on shorter formats, ideally where he has a prior record of finishing in the Top 25. Jason is your typical PGA Tour journeyman, a player who peaks in short bursts and who deals with pre-tournament expectation poorly. So after finishing 9th and 2nd at Quail Hollow and Colonial in May, avoiding him at short prices across both Muirfield and TPC Southwind was the right play. However it's clear that Bohn is having a stellar year off the tee (4th Driving Accuracy), with his approach play (24th vs 97th for GIR% 2015 vs 2014) and with his putter (10th in Putting Average), so I like the look of his chances this week on a track where he was 6th on debut back in 2004. You can add to that 16th and 21st place finishes in a pre-2010 spell of 5 tournaments where he cashed 5 cheques. 2 wins in weaker, low scoring PGA Tour events shows he can get the job done, whilst the first of those wins was 'up-state' at En-Joie GC in 2005.
Matt Jones has impressed in 2015 and now has a chance of making a real breakthrough. Top-7 finishes at Pebble Beach, Bay Hill and TPC Southwind in 2015 have propelled the Aussie into 67th spot in the OWGR with automatic President's Cup qualification a real possibility - Byeong Hun An currently sits in the final automatic spot at OWGR 55th. With Aussie golf in rude health right now (is that a coincidence?) Jones looks a great pick this week on a course where low scoring and top-notch putting is the key. 13th here in 2010 after sitting 4th after 54 holes, Matt has plenty of linkable form across Old White TPC, Deere Run and Sedgefield. Another who can finish fast from off the pace.
This is a tournament with a triple-digit price 'sweet-spot' so I will invest in 3, all with chances:
Former World Amateur Number 1 Patrick Rodgers made his professional debut here 12 months ago and he impressed with an opening round 66 and an eventual 44th place finish. What impressed over the 4 days was his long and accurate driving (11th) allied to excellent approach play (3rd). Before then Rodgers finished 15th at the 2013 John Deere Classic playing as an amateur so it's clear that the Avon, Indiana 21-year-old is comfortable 'up-state'. 2015 has seen Rodgers capture his first professional win on the web.com Tour, finish a magnificent 2nd to Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow and he now has Special Temporary Member Status for the rest of this season. However what really grabs me currently is his putting ability, where he currently ranks Number 1 in my rolling Putting Average tracker. If he plays as well from tee-to-green here as he did 12 months ago then watch out!
Jerry Kelly is another who's had a strong 2015 and 17 appearances here have yielded 4 Top-15 finishes. Jerry has always been an accurate, streaky scorer and he currently sits 13th for Driving Accuracy, 44th for Par 4 Birdie or Better, 3rd for Scrambling > 30 yards and 25th for Putting Average in the PGA Tour season categories. If you are looking for an experienced, course plotter who can score well on Par 70 formats Jerry is worth more than cursory glance. 3rd (2014) and 4th (2013) at the John Deere Classic in recent years, he was also 4th at Sedgefield in 2011.
I will close with Sean O'Hair who I'm going to have a speculative interest in this week. O'Hair has no course form to speak of, but the World Number 142 has been a revelation this term powered by his ability to birdie Par 4s and some exceptional putting. Sean won his first of 4 PGA titles at the 2005 John Deere Classic and career Top 5s across Waialae (2nd 2012), Copperhead (1st 2008, 2nd 2015), Bay Hill (3rd 2008, 2nd 2009), Warwick Hills (4th 2006) and Firestone (5th 2010) all link in well. If he finds fairways and greens this week, as he has on previous visits, he could be a real danger.
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