Steve Bamford Golf Tips

Steve Bamford's Travelers Championship Tips 2019

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Congratulations if you, like our podcast pundit Barry O’Hanrahan (give him a follow on Twitter @AGoodTalkGolf), landed Gary Woodland at 80/1 at the U.S. Open. That was exactly the same price that Graeme McDowell won the last Pebble Beach hosted U.S. Open at, back in 2010. The Golf Betting System podcast uncovered some real gems, with our European Tour expert Paul Williams landing a full 250/1 each-way return on Chez Reavie and, in my defence, this column generated full each-way returns for Xander Schauffele (28/1) and Adam Scott (30/1).

On to this week we go 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, just 2 hours drive out of Manhattan. 2019 sees a strong field with the betting market headed by Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Jason Day plus defending champion Bubba Watson, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Marc Leishman. We also see the professional debut of United States college super star Matthew Wolff.

Before we talk the Travelers Championship, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing by the week. Welcome to all new readers, listeners and viewers and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: TPC River Highlands is a stock ‘up-state’ par 70 which will present a totally different challenge to that which we saw at Pebble Beach last week. At 6,841 yards, the course is attackable and gives all styles of play a chance of victory. Defending champion Bubba Watson has averaged 317 yards off the tee across his three victories here. Jordan Spieth, Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman, Ken Duke and Freddie Jacobson plotted and putted their ways to victory.

River Highlands has seen significant changes since the 2015 renewal with a PGA Tour inspired renovation seeing 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 were also rebuilt to present new hole locations. All in all though, River Highlands is a good, solid, mid-scoring, tree-lined parkland 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. 2018: 69.60 (-0.40), Rank 25 of 51 courses.

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.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30; 350:26.
  • Hamilton: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:27; 350:28.
  • Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:35; 300:30; 325:26; 350:30.
  • Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 27 yards wide; 275:25; 300:26; 325:25; 350:22.
  • Trinity Forest: 250 yards from tee: 58 yards wide; 275:54; 300:56; 325:60; 350:57.
  • Quail Hollow: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:32; 300:31; 325:30; 350:29.
  • Harbour Town: 250 yards from tee: 31 yards wide; 275:25; 300:20; 325:26; 350:22.
  • Oaks Course: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:29; 325:27; 350:26.
  • Copperhead: 250 yards from the tee: 24 yards wide; 275:20; 300:21; 325:23 350:19.
  • TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:33; 300:32; 325:29 350:20.

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 – host course at the Desert 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 of 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, 8th and 4th hardest last 3 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 2016, 18th easiest in 2017 and 21st 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 7 tournaments here. Finishing position in brackets:

  • 2018: Bubba Watson (Winner), Paul Casey (2nd) -11; Stewart Cink (2nd) -10; Brian Harman (6th) -9; J.B. Holmes (2nd) -8.
  • 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: 2018: Bubba Watson (-17); 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).

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 | Combined Stats.

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 Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Troy Merritt, Aaron Baddeley and Phil Mickelson.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the RBC Heritage, which includes 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:

  • Top 20 Driving Accuracy: 1) Chez Reavie; 2) Ryan Armour / Alex Cejka; 4) Colt Knost; 5) Kyle Stanley; 6) Tyler Duncan / Brian Stuard; 8) Austin Cook / Russell Knox; 10) Bronson Burgoon; 11) Ryan Moore / Collin Morikawa; 13) Jonas Blixt; 14) Andrew Landry / Scott Langley / Francesco Molinari; 17) Scott Brown / Kevin Kisner; 19) Jim Herman / Kramer Hickok.
  • Top 20 Greens in Regulation: 1) Kevin Streelman; 2) Paul Casey; 3) John Chin; 4) Brooks Koepka; 5) Brandon Hagy / Kevin Tway; 7) Emiliano Grillo; 8) Tommy Fleetwood; 9) Nick Watney; 10) Dylan Frittelli / Sebastian Munoz; 12) Russell Knox / Alex Prugh; 14) Brice Garnett / Shawn Stefani; 16) Hudson Swafford; 17) Patrick Cantlay / Max Homa / Marc Leishman; 20) Charley Hoffman.
  • Top 20 Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Andrew Putnam; 2) Patrick Cantlay; 3) Jordan Spieth; 4) Kiradech Aphibarnrat; 5) Collin Morikawa; 6) Ryan Moore; 7) Paul Casey; 8) Wyndham Clark; 9) Joel Dahmen / Vaughn Taylor; 11) Brandt Snedeker; 12) Ryan Blaum / Roberto Diaz / Beau Hossler; 15) Peter Malnati / Louis Oosthuizen; 17) Sebastian Munoz / Martin Trainer; 19) Marc Leishman; 20) Matt Jones / Denny McCarthy.

Winners & Prices: 2018: Watson 33/1; 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. Past 5 Renewals Average: 51/1; Overall Average: 68/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2018: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 85. Wind NNE 6-12 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy. High of 67. Wind SE 4-8 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers. High of 67. Wind NE 6-12 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy. High of 81. Wind SW 8-15 mph.
  • 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. Conditions look to be pretty perfect for the Travelers in 2019. 30mm of rain in June wouldn’t suggest a soft golf course, but then again most of that rain was last week and we may well see more rain on tournament week Tuesday, so the course should be lush enough. Temperatures will be nice and warm, ranging from 27-31 degrees Celsius. Moderate 10-20mph breezes across Thursday afternoon and the whole of Friday and Saturday should also keep the players honest – and may provide a launchpad for Thursday AM starters.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners at TPC River Highlands since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:

  • 2018, Bubba Watson (-17). 312 yards (7th), 51.8% fairways (70th), 77.8% greens in regulation (7th), 33’11” proximity to hole (29th), 56.4% scrambling (44th), 1.64 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 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 Average:

  • Driving Distance: 28th, Driving Accuracy: 36th, Greens in Regulation: 29th, Proximity to Hole: 25th, Scrambling: 23rd, Putting Average 6th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2018, Bubba Watson (-17). SG Off the Tee: 4th, SG Approach: 18th, SG Around the Green: 10th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 22nd.
  • 2017, Jordan Spieth (-12). SG Off the Tee: 56th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 2nd, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 30th.
  • 2016, Russell Knox (-14). SG Off the Tee: 16th, SG Approach: 3rd, SG Around the Green: 42nd, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 19th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 25th, SG Approach: 9th, SG Around the Green: 18th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 24th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how TPC River Highlands sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Bubba Watson (2018): “Earlier this year I had won in L.A. for my third win in L.A. Now I just need one more in Augusta and that would be great. Get a different jacket. I like this jacket, don’t get me wrong. I love this. I’ve got a few of them. But, yeah, there are certain places that we’ve built our schedule, everybody builds their schedule around places they’ve seen, loved, the atmosphere, all of that comes into play. Around here there are a lot of driver holes where I can hit some drivers and shape it. There are a lot of guys, a lot of guys that are starting to come. Jordan came last year when he won, and he said, “Bubba, anywhere you play good that’s where I want to play, because I think I can play where you can play.” I don’t know if that was a dig or what, but he backed it up with a win. Yeah, it’s one of those things where it just fits our eye. You can see the fairway. You can see the shape of the holes and the greens are always in great shape, so it’s fun.”

Jordan Spieth (2017): “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 (2016): “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 9 TPC River Highlands winners:

  • 2018 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 77th, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 6th.
  • 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.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 TPC River Highland winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2018 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 7 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 6 back.
  • 2017 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 1 ahead, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2016 – Russell Knox: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2015 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 2 ahead, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2014 – Kevin Streelman: Round 1: 7 back, Round 2: 8 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2013 – Ken Duke: Round 1: 8 back, Round 2: 7 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2012 – Marc Leishman: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 6 back.
  • 2011 – Freddie Jacobson: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2010 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 7 back, Round 3: 6 back.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Bubba Watson: MC US Open/44th Memorial/54th TPC Sawgrass/5th Augusta.
  • 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. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2018 – Z Johnson/Spieth – AM/PM  Split -7/63 – 55/1 & 33/1.
  • 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:

  • 6 – Bubba Watson.
  • 5 – Phil Mickelson.
  • 4 – Jason Day, Brandt Snedeker.
  • 3 – Jordan Spieth.
  • 2 – Bryson DeChambeau, J.J. Henry, Brooks Koepka, Hunter Mahan, Brendan Steele, Nick Watney.
  • 1 – Aaron Baddeley, Sangmoon Bae, Jonas Blixt, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Cantlay, Emiliano Grillo, Padraig Harrington, J.B. Holmes, Russell Knox, Andrew Putnam, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings, Chris Stroud, Vaughn Taylor, Justin Thomas, Kevin Tway.

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 U.S. Open top 10 and then gone on to win the week after. This includes Shinnecock Hills 12 months ago where Travelers winner Bubba Watson had missed the cut in New York. Trends are always there to be broken, but until this point the best U.S. 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 U.S. Open test. Yes Chesson Hadley, Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen and Chez Reavie could all feature this week and potentially place, but they’d be going against the formbook.

The mix of recent winners here is interesting. 3-time winner Bubba Watson blasted his way to victory, but he’s undoubtedly a creative shot-shaper. 2017 winner Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman are also ball-flight movers who thrive on shorter 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 9 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. The last 3 winners have also ranked in the top 18 for Strokes Gained on Approach and in the top 5 for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, with Strokes Gained Putting lagging behind quite considerably.

My selections are as follows:

Justin Thomas 2.5pts EW 20/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

First up for me this week has to be Justin Thomas who must be keen to get his 2019 very much on track. 5th in Malaysia last autumn, the start of this year saw Thomas finish 3rd at Kapalua, 3rd at TPC Scottsdale, 2nd at Riviera and 9th when defending at the Chapultepec, before it all came to a shuddering halt. Hitting a tree with his right arm when attempting a miraculous recovery shot on the Friday at the Honda Classic led to some serious bruising and discomfort. He went on to finish 30th but from that point on he was playing injured even managing 12th at The Masters despite playing in pain. Almost 2 months of recuperation came to a close at The Memorial tournament and there were definite flashes 2 weeks ago at Hamilton G&CC that Thomas is starting to find his confidence and game again. A Friday 65 saw him in semi-contention and he finished with 2 straight 69s to end up in 20th spot. He was 7th for SG Off the Tee, 9th for SG on Approach, 5th for Greens in Regulation, 7th for Ball Striking and 2nd for SG Tee to Green.

A look at Thomas’s CV also shows a liking for golf in the north-east of the United States. His last win came on the Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens at Firestone South at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last August – a course where previous winners here in Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman have all finished inside the top 3. The 2017 Dell Technologies Championship was also won in Massachusetts at TPC Boston and if we go back to Justin’s 2014 web.com Tour season, his only win came at Ohio State University Golf Course. A closing round of 62 here in 2016 – Jim Furyk shot 58 – catapulted him to 3rd spot, where he also ranked 2nd for SG Tee to Green. Hungry and determined to win his first title for over 10 months, I can see the putter warming for Justin this week on a putting surface where he ranks only behind Bubba Watson in this field for PGA Tour success over the past 5 years. Result: T36

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Marc Leishman 1.5pts EW 35/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Course winner Marc Leishman seems a little on the large side pricewise this week, especially for a player who sits 12th in FedEx Cup standings and who loves to play ‘up-state’ golf: 5th (2015) and 5th (2019) at Muirfield Village, 7th (2010) at Aronimink, 8th (2014) at Congressional, 5th (2017) at TPC Potomac, 3rd (2014) at Firestone South, 3rd (2017) at TPC Boston, 2nd (2009) at Cog Hill and 1st at Conway Farms (2017) when we were on board at 45/1.

Undoubtedly more comfortable at tournaments where birdies are vitally important, his last 2 victories have been with winning scores of -23/261 and -26/262. That last win – his 4th on the PGA Tour – came in Malaysia last October and his season record is quietly (what else would it be with Marc) impressive being backed up by 4th at Kapalua, 2nd at Waialae, 4th at Riviera, 9th at the WGC-Dell Matchplay and 5th at Muirfield Village.

Leishman will be looking to this week with optimism as he has a strong record at TPC River Highlands. 1st in 2012, 11th in 2014, 9th in 2016 and 17th in 2017, the Victorian has amassed $1,417,000 in winnings here. Rates in the top 20 for both Greens in Regulation and Putting Average in my 8-week tracker and has shot some nice rounds at both Pebble Beach (70 Round 3) and Muirfield Village (69 Round 3 & 4). Result: T21

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Kevin Kisner 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Kevin Kisner is the kind of Pete Dye design specialist we want on board this week. In total, I make it that he’s earned around $5,796,900 on Dye designs since he’s been on the PGA Tour. An incredible number and something we should look to tap into as KK adds TPC River Highlands to his 2019 PGA Tour schedule.

2nd (2015) at TPC Sawgrass, 2nd (2018) and 1st (2019) at Austin Country Club, 2nd (2015), 11th (2017) and 7th (2018) at Harbour Town, and 2nd (2017), 15th (2018) plus 5th (2019) when partnered with Scott Brown at TPC Louisiana – Kevin’s record on Dye designs is hugely impressive. Granted, I’d prefer him on his beloved Bermudagrass greens, but 8th (2015) and 6th (2017) at Muirfield Village, plus 10th at Hamilton G&CC (2012) highlight a player who can still rack up top-10 finishes on Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix putting surfaces. No the absolute key with Kisner is that he loves shorter formats where his accurate approach play – 40th for Proximity to Hole this season on the PGA Tour – creates birdie chances.

South Carolina born and based, Kevin will love the warm temperatures on tap this week in Connecticut and if he wants to make Tiger’s Presidents Cup team automatically, he needs to produce results quickly, especially with Gary Woodland now guaranteed a spot. 2 missed cuts way back in Kisner’s early PGA Tour days (2011 and 2012) means little, although he did shoot an opening round 66 on Thursday to be T5, before shooting a 76 Friday last time he was here. At 27th in the OWGR and with 3 wins in the last 4 seasons, he’s different gravy these days. Result: T15

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C.T. Pan 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

I will close with C.T. Pan who the last time we saw in domestic action was at Colonial where he finished 3rd behind Kevin Na and Tony Finau. An undoubted short course specialist, C.T. has been exceptional on shorter layouts for a period of time now. 6th at the RSM Classic at Sea Island back in 2016 was Cheng-tsung’s first PGA Tour success and that came on a scoreable par 70 format. From there 8th here at TPC River Highlands arrived in 2017 after a fallow period which included 11 missed cuts in 14 tournaments. That performance included middle rounds of 68-64 which put the Taiwanese in 4th spot going into Sunday. Since then though the high-end performances at short-tests have continued to arrive for Washington State based 27 year-old.

Pan had me on the edge of my seat at Sedgefield last August as he put Brandt Snedeker (we were on board at 28/1) under intense pressure at the Wyndham Championship before settling for runner-up spot. A top-4 finish at TPC Boston then highlighted a player who could mix it at the top levels before season end. Fast forward to 2019 where C.T. landed his first PGA Tour victory at Harbour Town and played beautifully in Texas in his last non-Major performance.

Now into the Open Championship and WGC-FedEx St Jude Classic, Pan now has the opportunity to really kick on and establish himself in the OWGR top 50, the International team for the 2019 President’s Cup and the higher echelons of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. A Pete Dye positive player he was 4th for SG Approach, 4th for Scrambling, 6th for SG Tee to Green and 10th for All-Round at Colonial. Result: T36

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00BST 17.6.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.