Travelers Championship: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Ted Scott, Bubba Watson
A three-time champion at TPC River Highlands, Bubba Watson is always a player to watch in the Travelers Championship. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, a decade or so ago, when the PGA Tour’s annual stop in the Hartford suburbs was an afterthought, just another summer tournament tucked between the majors. That’s no longer the case. Despite its traditional post U.S. Open slot, the Travelers Championship has enjoyed a strong field of late. This year, as just the third tournament since the Tour resumed and the first major championship still more than a month away, golf fans have been rewarded with yet another star-studded lineup.

The Travelers has attracted nine of the top 10 in the world and 33 of the top 50 as the best players in golf remain hungry for competition after an unprecedented three-month midseason break.

The TPC River Highlands is a 6,844-yard, par-70 layout and the record of 22 under (Kenny Perry, 2009) could be in danger based on last week’s scoring onslaught at Hilton Head.

LISTEN: ‘Under the Strap’ Podcast: Episode 14 with Brian Reed, Johnny Thompson and Micah Pueschel

The fairways at River Highlands are wide and among the easiest to hit on the PGA Tour and the greens in regulation percentage is higher than the average event as well. Take a close look at recent form and past performance, as always, but emphasize par-4 scoring. With only two par 5s and a stiff quartet of par 3s, firing at the flags with short irons and converting the putts is a key ingredient for victory this week.

Warm weather and light wind is forecast for Thursday-Sunday in Cromwell and the closing four-hole stretch provides the opportunity for wild swings on the leaderboard. The driveable par-4 15th is such a pivotal hole, with an eagle possible and a bogey also one swing away. Finding the fairway on 17 can be a challenge and the front right hole location on 18 can be attacked after a good tee shot.

Golfer power rankings

25. Vaughn Taylor – Has made the cut in 13 of 15 starts in Cromwell and played the weekend in Hilton Head. Quietly assembling a solid year (49th in the FedEx Cup), benefitting from having seasoned veteran Mike Hicks on the bag.

24. Ryan Moore – Sluggish year by his lofty standards (90th in FedEx Cup) and spent the last two weeks shaking loose the rust, missing the cut on each occasion. Still, the lush green fairways of River Highlands should snap his slump – he’s made a pile of money here through the years with five top 10s in 12 starts

23. Scottie Scheffler – Making his first start at the Travelers and was a late scratch from Hilton Head, but has the profile required to thrive at River Highlands. In particular, ranks 7th in par-4 average and sixth in par breakers.

22. Matthew Fitzpatrick – Also making his Travelers debut but the world’s 25th best player is trending nicely with a T-32 at Colonial and a T-14 at Hilton Head.

21. Keegan Bradley – The New England native has been a stalwart at the Travelers, making the cut in all nine starts with a T-2 and T-8 in two of the last three years. Shot four rounds in the 60s at Colonial and skipped last week.

20. Doc Redman – In his second year on the PGA Tour and arriving in Cromwell for the first time, he’s 24th in driving accuracy and 40th in greens in regulation this season. Has shot par or better in six of eight rounds since the Tour resumed.

19. Brian Harman – The two-time PGA Tour champion has always enjoyed the scenery along the Connecticut River, making the cut in eight of nine starts with a trio of top-10 finishes. Has six top 25s in 14 starts in 2019-20 and was 21 under the last two weeks (T-30, T-28).

18. Viktor Hovland – Came out of hiatus with a pair of top-25 finishes. He’s ranked No. 1 in the field in SG: Ballstriking over the last 50 rounds. Short game has held him back (148th SG) but his long game makes him a wise choice this week.

17. Sungjae Im – Missed the cut for the first time in 15 starts in 2019-20 last week at Harbour Town, so expect him to rebound on a course where he finished T-21 last year. He’s 15th in par-4 averages and 18th in par breakers which should help him climb yet another leaderboard.

16. Patrick Cantlay – Between surgery to repair a deviated septum and the COVID-19 break, Cantlay hasn’t played a full tournament since he finished T-17 at Riviera in mid-February (he was in the field at the cancelled Players). T-15 at Travelers each of the last two years and fourth on Tour in par-4 scoring average.

15. Joel Dahmen – I’ve underrated Dahmen for too long. His ballstriking is super consistent and other than a final-round 75 at Harbour Town has looked sharp since the restart with six rounds of 68 or better. Seeking eighth top-25 of the season.

14. Sergio Garcia – Led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green last week and was second in SG: Approach-the-Green en route to fifth place finish. Returns to TPC River Highlands for the first time since 2015, aiming to build upon a solid record. Has made the cut in all four starts with a T-2 in 2014.

13. Jon Rahm – His performance has disappointed the last two weeks (MC, T-33) and his record at River Highlands is rather indifferent (T-25, T-64), however, the young Spaniard ranks third in the field in SG: Total. Feels like he’s due to contend.

12. Paul Casey – The 42-year-old Englishman has made $1.7 million at TPC River Highlands the last five years with these results: T5-T2-T5-T17-2. First start since the Players and he’s 210th on Tour in SG: Putting but it’s hard to argue with his previous performance in Cromwell and 67.1 stroke average on River Highlands.

11. Tony Finau – Fired a sub-70 score in seven of eight rounds the last two weeks and seeks his fourth top-25 in five starts at the Travelers. He’s fourth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green, per Fantasy National, gaining 1.4 strokes per round with his long game.

10. Rory McIlroy – Feels criminal to rank the world’s best this low but consider me less than impressed with his performance the last two weeks. Granted those are two events he would not have played in a ‘normal’ year and he should feel more comfortable on the wider fairways at River Highlands. Still, proceed with caution.

9. Marc Leishman – Missed the cut at Colonial and skipped last week but the Travelers has been a honey hole through the years with a win in 2012 and only one missed cut in nine starts.

8. Webb Simpson – Leads the PGA Tour in par-4 scoring average (3.85). After his victory on Sunday said he’s made a concerted effort to become a player who can contend every week. Now fifth in the world, he has two top 10s in nine Travelers starts.

7. Brooks Koepka – Broke par in all eight rounds the last two weeks and finished T-7 at Harbour Town, proving what we suspected – the three-month break allowed his knee to fully recover. Has made the cut in each of his four Travelers starts with one top 10.

6. Abraham Ancer – The Heritage runner-up missed 10 fairways and seven greens in 72 holes at Harbour Town, which is amazing. Led the field in proximity to the hole as well. Has climbed to 11th in the FedEx Cup and his first Tour victory feels inevitable. Finished T-8 in the 2019 Travelers.

5. Bubba Watson – Closed with a 65 at Harbour Town and heads to the familiar fairways of TPC River Highlands seeking his fourth Travelers title. Has six top 10s in 13 starts and is T-20 in par-4 scoring average, an important stat on a par-70 layout with a dozen par 4s.

4. Patrick Reed – Ranks top 10 on the PGA Tour in par breakers and par-4 scoring average, which should be a good combination this week. Missed the cut last week but has had moderate success at TPC River Highlands with three top 25s in eight starts including a T-5 in 2017.

3. Justin Thomas – How talented and complete is JT? He can barely make the cut, be out of sorts most of the week and still close with 63 to finish T-8, as he did last week. He’s third on the PGA Tour in par-4 scoring average and second in the FedEx Cup and may be world No. 1 by the end of the year. Mediocre record at Travelers – one top 10 and two missed cuts in six starts.

2. Bryson DeChambeau – Nobody was happier to leave the narrow corridors of Harbour Town. Yet he still finished T-8, his second consecutive top 10, despite ranking 36th in SG: Putting and 62nd in SG: Around-the-Green. The driver is a weapon.

1. Joaquin Niemann – Brimming with confidence, the 21-year-old future star was top 10 in three key ballstriking categories last week: Greens in Regulation, SG: Approach-the-Green and SG: Tee-to-Green. Finished T-5 in his Travelers debut last year.

COMMENTS

  1. I was a bit surprised to see Niemann as your # 1 player this week. Ancer, is my #1 at this particular course. I will probably combine Niemann and Ancer when forming my Draftkings lineups this week. Other players I like this week are; Rodgers, Harman, Bradley, Hovland, Finau, Morikawa, Garnett, Leishman, Casey and someone I never play, Watson. Thanks for the commentary.

    1. Steve, It’s hard to argue against Ancer after his ballstriking exhibition last week. He’s a fearless competitor and has returned from hiatus in peak form. I’m a huge Niemann fan. Spent some time around him at the 2018 Masters just before he turned pro and I expect him to be a top 20 in the world player for the next 15-20 years. Just scratching the surface. Like your picks. Garnett was under consideration for the top 25 but I liked Taylor as a reliable cut maker at the Travelers. Good luck this week.

  2. Brian, who do you like outright this week? In a one-and-done league, considering JT, Cantlay, Hovland, and Harman

    1. David, out of that group I’d probably go with JT first and Hovland second. Feels like JT hasn’t had his A game yet has posted back-to-back top-10s. My concern is he hasn’t played particularly well at River Highlands. Harman loves the Travelers and feels safe as a top 25 pick. He’s on good form and has been tough down the stretch in his career when he has a chance to win.

  3. John, My top nine picks for the most part, however I may omit Reed (always a wildcard) and insert Rory, who is a higher percentage play for making the weekend.

  4. Do the Caddies make a pick any more? Love the site, the player/caddie for the week is my favorite. Have works with the Caddies for 33 years at Colonial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.