Travelers Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Paul Casey and caddie John McLaren. Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Give the Travelers Championship credit for attracting a strong field the week after a major championship held on the opposite coast.

One of the Tour’s longest running events has attracted five of the top-10 players in the world, including defending champion Dustin Johnson, who fell to No. 2 in the rankings when Jon Rahm dropped those birdie putts on the final two holes at Torrey Pines.

They’ll face a kinder, gentler test. The winning score at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. is generally in the mid-to-upper teens under par and it took 4 under just to play the weekend a year ago, sans fans. The fairways and greens are easier to hit than the PGA Tour average and at 6,841 yards the Pete Dye layout, renovated by Bobby Weed, is one of the shortest on the circuit. It’s a par 70 and the lone par 5 on the back, No. 13, begins a pivotal stretch that often sorts a jumbled Sunday leaderboard.

RELATED: Travelers Championship course preview of TPC River Highlands | The Caddie Line homepage

Our model this week weighted recent performance on Tour, players who have thrived at River Highlands through the years, those who like shorter courses and Dye’s designs and are strong on approach and tee-to-green. In recent years, there’s been a strong correlation between the tee-to-green rankings and the final standings.

The greens are a blend of bentgrass and poa annua. The rough can be troublesome. Golfers have a ton of short irons and wedges in hand and both par 5s are reachable, but trouble lurks. Of the 12 par 4s, seven measure between 400-450 yards.

The Bargain Bin

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As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

25. Doc Redman – Summertime, come and gone, my oh my. I am declaring the North Carolina native and Clemson grad a fan of hot golf. He finished second at Detroit in late June of 2019, went on a cash collecting tear a year ago around this time (T-11 at Travelers) and his game, AWOL early in 2021, has heated up with the temps (ninth at Byron Nelson, second at Palmetto).

24. Francesco Molinari – Been a quiet year for the 2018 Open champion due to injuries and whatnot but we had high hopes for the monotone machine back in January and he rekindled those feelings with a T-13 in the U.S. Open. Has played the weekend in each of his three Travelers trips.

23. Sam Burns – It’s going to take birdies this week – the last five winners made at least 20 – and the Valspar champion’s blend of pinpoint irons (2.6 strokes gained on approach in last five tournaments) and solid putting (24th in field in last 36 rounds on bent and poa) should generate ample opportunities. Top 25 in last year’s Travelers.

22. Joaquin Niemann – Was worse than the field average in putting for the first time in eight weeks in tying for 31st at the U.S. Open. Struggled on the greens last year at the Travelers also (-6.9) but putted well the year before and finished T-5. Short game has also been weak lately. So what’s the good news, you ask? He’s second in the field in opportunities gained and 10th on 400-450-yard par 4s. Know my love will not fade away.

21. Chris Kirk – Returns to the Travelers for the first time since 2013 when he tied for 58th. Top 10 in the field in birdies or better and scoring on 400-450-yard par 4s in the last 36 rounds. Finished 26th at Memorial two weeks ago.

20. Brendan Steele – Streak of 12 consecutive cuts made ended at Torrey Pines, however, River Highlands is the ideal locale for him to return to the money. He’s finished in the top 25 here seven of the last eight years and ranks top 30 in the field in the last 36 rounds on shorter courses and on layouts designed by Pete Dye.

19. Garrick Higgo – Why not? Missed the cut last week on the heels of his stunning victory at Congaree but loved what he showed with the irons in that performance (4.6 shots gained) and should expect the three-time winner in 2021 to quickly return to form.

18. Scottie Scheffler – Coming in hot with three impressive top 10s (PGA, Memorial, U.S. Open) in the last month or so. Gained 5.8 strokes on approach at Memorial and 3.6 at the U.S. Open. Backers must endure poor putting (112th in field on similar surfaces). He shot 3 under in 36 holes at the Travelers last year and missed the cut.

17. Maverick McNealy – He’s carving a niche as a shorter course specialist, posting strong results at Pebble Beach, Harbour Town and Colonial this season. The West Coast native should enjoy the bentgrass / poa annua mixture in his Travelers debut. He’s top 25 in birdies or better gained on shorter courses and in total strokes gained over the last 12 rounds played anywhere.

16. Tony Finau – Missed the cut badly last week. Feels like reasonable value in the fantasy and betting boards this week. Had three Travelers top 25s in a row before missing the cut the last two years. I’ve not had much luck forecasting Finau’s success this season but there are worse players to put on your roster. Top 10 in birdies and tee-to-green on courses shorter than 7,200 yards.

15. Keegan Bradley – He’s 147th in the field in SG: Putting on bentgrass and poa, but you probably already knew that. He’s also sorta the unofficial host (maybe not) of the Travelers, the Tour’s regular season stop in New England. Tied for second in 2019 and tied for eighth in 2017. If you believe in patterns, could be a big week. He’s 16th in SG: Approach over last 36 rounds.

14. Emiliano Grillo –  Paces the field in par-4 scoring (400-450 yards). Top 5 in SG: Approach over last 36 rounds. Enjoys a Pete Dye course. Has made the cut in all four Travelers tries but never better than T-19. Expect him to improve this year because he’s gained nearly a shot per tournament on the greens the last five starts.

13. Russell Henley – Disappointing final round cost him a top-10 finish at Torrey Pines but one of the Tour’s best iron players gained 6.9 strokes on approach last week and that should serve him well as he aims to conquer a tamer challenge. Finished 11th at River Highlands in 2016 and sixth in 2018.

12. Bryson DeChambeau – Will have to rebound from a back nine U.S. Open meltdown but can’t fade him at River Highlands, where he’s posted three consecutive top-10 finishes. Best birdie machine in the field on short courses and also, somewhat surprisingly, is third in the last 36 rounds on Pete Dye designs.

11. Brian Harman – His odds of 18-1 Monday were shockingly low. His fantasy price is more reasonable. He’s having a great year, finishing in the top 20 in six of his last seven tournaments, and has an outstanding record at River Highlands, landing in the top 10 three times in the last six (also two MCs). Excels on Pete Dye courses, iron game is sizzling and top 20 putter.

10. Rickie Fowler – The irons are cooking, the putter’s sizzling, his confidence is rising and he and his wife have a baby on the way. Fowler has finished eighth and 11th in his last two starts, climbed inside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings and is playing the golf we expect from someone with so much talent. After serving months in Power Rankings prison, Fowler is free and making his first appearance here since ‘13 when he tied for 13th.

9. Kevin Streelman – Won the 2015 Travelers in dramatic fashion and battled Dustin Johnson to the final green a year ago, finishing as runner-up for his fifth top 10 in the event. Excellent course history with outstanding current form is a tasty combination. Has four top 20s (including the PGA and U.S. Open) and has gained strokes on approach in seven consecutive tournaments.

8. Charley Hoffman – Even on a rare off week with his irons (-2.8 strokes on approach) Hoffman managed to make the cut in a U.S. Open. Despite that effort still leads the field in that statistic over the last 36 rounds. Has missed one cut since last fall’s stop in Houston. Been a moneymaker in Connecticut with three career top 10s and one result worse than 25th in the last five appearances.

7. Stewart Cink – The two-time winner this season and two-time Travelers champion opened the week 100-1 to win the tournament which feels awfully generous. Won on a Pete Dye course (Harbour Town) two months ago. Has made seven consecutive cuts and last week was the first time he was worse than the field average in SG: Approach.

6. Patrick Reed – Has played the last nine Travelers, making six cuts and finishing in the top 30 on five occasions. His iron play has been strong of late and a balky driver kept him from contending last week. Should be able to play around the club and show his scoring skills at River Highlands.

5. Dustin Johnson – The defending champion’s game is rounding into form again and seems ripe for another summer run to the VIP section of the local savings & loan. (Never mind, this isn’t 1975). In his last two starts, he’s rated high in every area and visually, is firing shots at the flag. Dominates the shorter par 4s with those dialed in wedges. Will only need the driver on special occasions, if he chooses.

4. Abraham Ancer – Yes, he missed the cut last week. That created a sad ending for several tickets here at the home office and also snapped his sensational streak of five top 20s in a row. But here’s the number that stands out: he gained 5.2 shots on approach at Torrey Pines. He’s finished eighth and 11th in Cromwell the last two years, bettering the field average in every SG category.

3. Brooks Koepka – It always feels strange picking Koepka this high in a non-major week, because, frankly, it’s difficult to gauge his interest. But his overall ballstriking and acumen on Pete Dye courses makes him a safe play. Has one top 10 in four starts at River Highlands.

2. Patrick Cantlay – Ranked in the top 10 in six of the nine categories identified in our primary model this week. Has three Travelers top 15s in a row. The FedEx Cup leader shot 60 here in his amateur days.

1. Paul Casey – It’s been the year of the older guy, from Cink’s resurgence to Phil’s victory at Kiawah and 48-year-old Richard Bland leading the U.S. Open after 36 holes. Casey, who has been consistently excellent in 2021, is poised to join the list and claim his second win worldwide. He’s 68 under in six career starts in Cromwell with a trio of top-5 finishes.

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