Congratulations to Brooks Koepka who captured his second consecutive US Open, becoming only the third person in history to defend the title and the first since Curtis Strange in 1988/89. He won at 25/1 and I know there were many of you on him judging by Social Media, so congratulations on grabbing yourself a Major Championship winner. Koepka has now won more Major Championships than PGA Tour titles which is some accolade. The way he came back from an opening +5/75 on Thursday took mental fortitude at a Shinnecock course which stretched the very best to their limits and beyond.
Onto this week and our Travelers Championship tips in an event that’s always been well supported on the PGA Tour with huge crowds and a ‘big tournament’ feel in Cromwell, Connecticut. 2018 sees a strong field with the betting market headed by Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed,
Course Guide: TPC River Highlands is a stock ‘up-state’ par 70 which will present a totally different challenge to what we saw at Shinnecock 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. Defending champion Jordan Spieth, Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman, Ken Duke and Freddie Jacobson plotted and putted their ways to victory. Recently 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 rebuilt to present new hole locations. All in all though, River Highlands is a good mid-scoring, tree-lined 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 River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut: Designer Robert J. Moss 1928 with Pete Dye (1984), and PGA Tour (2016) 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: 5,000 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. 2017: 70.20 (+0.20), Rank 21 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC River Highlands and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
- TPC River Highlands: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:28; 325:28; 350:27.
- Shinnecock Hills: Average 42 yards with 8th hole widest at 64 yards wide.
- TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.
- Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:35; 300:31; 325:26; 350:30.
- Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:27; 325:26; 350:23.
- Trinity Forest: 250 yards from the tee: 58 yards wide; 275:54; 300:56; 325:60; 350:57.
- TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from tee: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:32; 325:29; 350:20.
- Quail Hollow: 250 yards from tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:30; 325:29; 350:28.
- Oaks Course: 250 yards from tee: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:28; 325:27; 350:25.
- Harbour Town: 250 yards from tee: 30 yards wide; 275:24; 300:21; 325:26; 350:23.
- Golf Club of Houston: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:31; 325:25; 350:28.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Pete Dye designs include:
- Whistling Straits – 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship
- Ocean Course – Kiawah Island – 2012 PGA Championship
- TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course – The Players Championship
- TPC Louisiana – Zurich Classic of New Orleans
- Harbour Town Golf Links – RBC Heritage
- TPC Stadium, PGA West – CareerBuilder Challenge since 2016
- Crooked Stick – 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship.
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 from off the page – River Highlands really is pretty stock across the piece, apart from the fact that scrambling from the rough is particularly difficult (8th & 4th hardest last 2 seasons) 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, 14th easiest in 2017 and 18th 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 6 tournaments here. Finishing position in brackets:
- 2017: Jordan Spieth (Winner) -11; Boo Weekley (5th) -9; Anirban Lahiri (17th) -8; Daniel Berger (2nd), Paul Casey (5th), Keegan Bradley (8th) -7.
- 2016: Russell Knox (Winner) -10; Jerry Kelly (2nd) Shawn Stefani (11th) -9; Tyrone Van Aswegen (5th) -8.
- 2015: Bubba Watson (Winner) -12; Bo Van Pelt (7th) -10; Paul Casey (2nd) -9; Curran (10th), Delaet (4th), Gore (10th), Harman (3rd), Pettersson (5th) -8.
- 2014: Kevin Streelman (Winner), Brandt Snedeker (11th) -11; K.J. Choi (2nd), Marc Leishman (11th) -9; Aaron Baddeley (4th), Sergio Garcia (2nd), Jhonattan Vegas (31st) -8.
- 2013: Chris Stroud (2nd) -9; Graham Delaet (3rd), Ken Duke (Winner), Charley Hoffman (7th) -8; Ryan Moore (7th) -7.
- 2012: Charley Hoffman (2nd) -11; Tim Clark (4th), Matt Kuchar (8th), Bubba Watson (2nd) -10; Brian Davis (4th), Billy Hurley III (47th) -9.
Winners: 2017: Jordan Spieth (-12); 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).
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 10 of my published predictor are Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Brian Harman, Justin Thomas, Emiliano Grillo, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Kevin Streelman.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the RBC Heritage & Open de Espana and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Ryan Armour, 2) Ryan Moore; 3) Chez Reavie / Conrad Shindler; 5) Emiliano Grillo; 6) Ken Duke; 7) Jim Furyk / Adam Hadwin / Russell Henley / Brian Stuard; 11) David Lingmerth / Kyle Stanley; 13) Alex Cejka; 14) Ted Potter Jnr; 15) Jonathan Randolph; 16) Ben Silverman; 17) C.T. Pan; 18) Bob Estes /Billy Horschel / Kevin Streelman.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Ryan Moore; 2) Bryson DeChambeau / Brooks Koepka; 4) Webb Simpson; 5) C.T. Pan; 6) Patrick Cantlay; 7) J.J. Spaun; 8) Stewart Cink / Jordan Spieth; 10) Russell Knox; 11) Patrick Reed / Kevin Streelman; 13) Brett Stegmaier; 14) Rory McIlroy; 15) Emiliano Grillo / Fabian Gomez / Beau Hossler / Sam Ryder; 19) Daniel Berger / Brandon Harkins / J.J. Henry / John Huh / Brendan Steele.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Padraig Harrington; 2) Denny McCarthy; 3) Brandt Snedeker; 4) Chesson Hadley / Si Woo Kim; 6) Peter Malnati / Rory McIlroy; 8) Jordan Spieth; 9) Paul Casey / Marty Dou / Billy Horschel; 12) Troy Merritt; 13) Patrick Rodgers; 14) Xander Schauffele; 15) Jason Day / Justin Thomas; 17) Bryson DeChambeau; 18) Jonas Blixt / Danny Lee / D.A. Points / Rory Sabbatini.
Winners & Prices: 2017: Spieth 10/1; 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: 73/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 56/1.
- 2017: Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 85. Wind SSW 7-12 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy, with intermittent showers throughout the day. High of 85. Wind SSW 10-20 mph. Saturday: Due to expected morning thunderstorms, tee times were between 10:45 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. Cloudy in the morning, with light rain. Clear and mostly sunny in the afternoon, with a high of 86. Wind NW 8-16 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 84. Wind SW 10-18 mph.
- 2016: Thursday: Sunny. High of 82. Wind SSE 6-12 mph. Friday: Sunny. High of 85. Wind SSW 10-15 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy with light precipitation. High of 85. Wind WSW 10-15 mph. Sunday: Sunny. High of 87. Wind WNW at 10-15 mph.
- 2015: Thursday: Sunny, with an afternoon high of 83. Wind SW at 6-12 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with an afternoon high of 85. Wind SW at 6-12 mph. Saturday: Cloudy, with an afternoon high 73. Light, afternoon rain. Wind SE at 8-15 mph. Sunday: Due to expected overnight rain Saturday, officials moved final-round tee times between 11:40 a.m.–1:30 p.m., in threesomes off Nos. 1 and 10 tees. Cloudy, with light rain. High of 74. Wind NNE at 7-12 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Hartford, Connecticut, is here. We may see some faster greens and conditions than we are accustomed to at TPC River Highlands this week. It’s 50/50 whether the course gets a drenching over Wednesday night and into Thursday, but if it doesn’t it should play fairly fast, although don’t expect Shinnecock Hills! Light breeze looks a feature across the first 36-54 holes of play, with the potential for 15 mph gusts across the weekend. Temperatures will be 27-29 degrees Celsius on Thursday / Saturday, with the likelihood of warmer conditions on Sunday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2017, Jordan Spieth (-12). 290 yards (52nd), 62.5% fairways (41st), 68.1% greens in regulation (42nd), 31’1″ proximity to hole (35th), 65.2 % scrambling (19th), 1.63 putts per GIR (3rd).
- 2016, Russell Knox (-14). 296 yards (24th), 67.9% fairways (30th), 79.2% greens in regulation (5th), proximity to hole 30’6″ (8th), 66.7 % scrambling (19th), 1.68 putts per GIR (8th).
- 2015, Bubba Watson (-16). 319 yards (1st), 53.6% fairways (70th), 69.4% greens in regulation (38th), proximity to hole 38’1″ (59th), 90.9 % scrambling (1st), 1.70 putts per GIR (17th).
- 2014, Kevin Streelman (-15). 291 yards (48th), 73.2% fairways (17th), 73.6% greens in regulation (10th), proximity to hole 29’5″ (5th), 52.6% scrambling (58th), 1.55 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2013, Ken Duke (-12). 282 yards (57th), 78.6% fairways (10th), 62.5% greens in regulation (62nd), proximity to hole 30’7″ (13th), 77.8% scrambling (3rd), 1.62 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2012, Marc Leishman (-14). 301 yards (12th), 76.8% fairways (15th), 70.8% greens in regulation (28th), proximity to hole 30’1″ (9th), 61.9% scrambling (18th), 1.67 putts per GIR (10th).
- 2011, Freddie Jacobson (-20). 275 yards (46th), 85.7% fairways (9th), 72.2% greens in regulation (34th), proximity to hole 32’0″ (45th), 95.0% scrambling (1st), 1.67 putts per GIR (11th).
- 2010, Bubba Watson (-14). 321 yards (1st), 66.1% fairways (58th), 70.8% greens in regulation (38th), proximity to hole 31’5″ (25th), 57.1% scrambling (43rd), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd).
Tournament Skill Averages:
- Driving Distance: 30th, Driving Accuracy: 31st, Greens in Regulation: 32nd, Proximity to Hole: 25th, Scrambling: 20th, Putting Average 7th.
Let’s take a view from players as to how TPC River Highlands sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Jordan Spieth: “Yeah, I had no idea until we kind of got on the grounds and I saw Michael (Greller) on Tuesday before we played any holes, and he said, “This course is tailor made for you,” is what he said. I love the back nine. I think it’s a very exciting nine holes of golf, one of the coolest stretches that we play where anything can happen. So that’s good and bad when you’re leading. So again, yeah, I thought it was a really good golf course for us. You kind of manoeuvre the ball both ways. You’ve kind of got to watch out for – you’ve got some clearings where the wind affects it more than other times where you’re kind of in the valleys. But overall, poa annua greens, historically, aren’t my best, and so today was a big confidence boost. The rest of the golf course I really love. You’ve got to work both ball flights. You’ve got to kind of be fearless in playing different shots. You really have to. You can’t get out there and just step and hit just draws the whole day. It forces you to hit different shots. The greens are just tough.
Yeah, you’ve got to stay patient. You can’t force it here. You get so many opportunities, you feel like you’re losing to the field if you don’t birdie with a wedge in your hand. But they put these pins in such difficult locates it’s hard to feed it next to it, once you do, it’s difficult to get the right line on the green. So recognizing that the course is 6800 yards for a reason. It’s tricked out elsewhere. And being very patient on the weekend is key. I always mention that, that’s always the word. I try to tell myself that, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Given here especially, given that we’re going to have a lot of chances, greens in regulations is going to be an important stat.“
Russell Knox: “The scores here – I always think this course, if you tee off in the morning, the conditions, you can always shoot a mega low score. That’s what Jim Furyk did last year on Sunday. But as the day goes on, teeing off in the afternoon, especially on a weekend, shooting under par is a great score if you tee off at 1, 2 o’clock. So the course changes significantly as the day goes on, just the firmness of the greens. I think players like that. But every hole, I don’t really feel uncomfortable on. I mean, you don’t have to overpower this course. I remember watching the year before. I think Bubba Watson and Corey Pavin were in a playoff with Scott Verplank maybe too. And I remember thinking what an amazing course this must be that the shortest hitter and longest hitter in the field are in the playoff. So this course, I think, allows everyone in the field to win, and I think that shows what a great course this is.“
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.“
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 8 winners:
- 2017 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2016 – Russell Knox: – Round 1: 9th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2015 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2014 – Kevin Streelman: Round 1: 61st, Round 2: 39th, Round 3: 7th.
- 2013 – Ken Duke: Round 1: 48th, Round 2: 32nd, Round 3: 6th.
- 2012 – Marc Leishman: Round 1: 25th, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 20th.
- 2011 – Freddie Jacobson: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 1st.
- 2010 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 10th, Round 3: 4th.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Jordan Spieth: 35th US Open/13th Memorial/2nd Colonial/MC TPC4S.
- Russell Knox: 22nd PGA/30th Open/10th Scottish Open/54th Firestone.
- Bubba Watson: MC US Open/42nd TPC Sawgrass/29th Shenzhen/38th Augusta.
- Kevin Streelman: MC US Open/MC St Jude/MC Memorial/MC TPC Sawgrass.
- Ken Duke: MC St Jude/16th Memorial/31st Colonial/MC TPC4S.
- Marc Leishman: 58th Memorial/57th Colonial/3rd TPC4S/45th TPC Sawgrass.
- Freddie Jacobson: 14th US Open/32nd St Jude/27th TPC4S/31st Colonial.
- Bubba Watson: 33rd Memorial/MC TPC Sawgrass/43rd TPC Louisiana/14th Houston
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
- 2017 – Spieth – PM -7/63 – 20/1.
- 2016 – Kelly/V Taylor – AM/PM Split -6/64.
- 2015 – Watson – PM -8/62.
- 2014 – Steele – AM -8/62.
- 2013 – Hoffman – PM -9/61.
- 2012 – Mathis – PM -6/64.
- 2011 – Renner – PM -7/63.
- 2010 – Goggin/Harrington/Rose/Wi – 3AM/1PM -6/64.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 5 – Bubba Watson.
- 4 – Jason Day, Brandt, Snedeker.
- 3 – Rory McIlroy.
- 2 – Hunter Mahan, Jordan Spieth, Brendan Steele.
- 1 – Aaron Baddeley, Jonas Blixt, Keegan Bradley, Greg Chalmers, Bryson DeChambeau, Emiliano Grillo, Bill Haas, James Hahn, Billy Horschel, Russell Knox, Graeme McDowell, William McGirt, Geoff Ogilvy, D.A. Points, Ted Potter Jnr, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings, Chris Stroud, Vaughn Taylor, Nick Watney.
The Travelers Championship is the traditional post-US Open stop-off. Trend-wise going back to J.J. Henry in 2006, no player has finished inside the US Open top 10 and then gone on to win the week after. This includes Erin Hills 12 months ago where winner Jordan Spieth had finished 35th in Wisconsin. 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 Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson and Russell Knox could all feature this week, and potentially place, but they’d be going against the formbook.
The mix of recent winners here is interesting. 2-time winner Bubba Watson blasted his way to victory, but he’s undoubtedly a creative shot-shaper. Last year’s winner Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman are also ball-flight movers who thrive on tree-lined tests. 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 8 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.