It was at last a matter of when instead of if for Jon Rahm last weekend at the U.S. Open. Rahm outlasted the field to win his first major championship and give this column a winner at 11-1. Rahm birdied the 71st and 72nd holes, becoming the first to do so at the Open since Tom Watson in 1982 at Pebble Beach. Rahm also became the first Spaniard to win a USGA championship, something Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros never accomplished. He also became the new No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm will not make the trip to Connecticut for this week’s Travelers Championship, but several of last week’s contenders will descend on Hartford, including co-favorites Bryson DeChambeau, who has three straight top-10s here, and defending champion Dustin Johnson (12-1). DeChambeau led through the 10th hole Sunday at Torrey Pines but then imploded, going 8 over par over his last eight holes to finish T-26. Brooks Koepka (16-1) had his chances but settled for a T-4. Paul Casey (16-1) has a pair of runners-up and a fifth-place finish here over the last six years. Patrick Cantlay (16-1) once set the course record here as an amateur in 2011 with a round of 60, which remains the lowest round by an amateur in PGA Tour history. He made his professional debut at the Travelers in 2012.
Scottie Scheffler finished T-7 at the Open and shares a 22-1 tag with Patrick Reed. Tony Finau (28-1) disappointed his backers with a missed cut last week. Brian Harman has three top-10 finishes here and is 30-1, along with Abraham Ancer. Kevin Streelman (33-1) won this event in 2014 and nearly won it last year before falling a shot short. Harris English (35-1) was the early man to post a number Sunday at the Open and it looked like the leaders would come back to him, but he had to settle for third, his best finish in a major.
The Travelers Championship was established in 1952 as the Insurance City Open before becoming the Greater Hartford Open for most of its existence from 1967-2003. Legendary entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. was a fixture at the pro-ams in Hartford, and his name was attached to the event from 1973-88. TPC River Highlands has been the venue since 1984. The event is managed by the Greater Hartford Community Foundation. Travelers, one of the largest insurance companies in the U.S., took over sponsorship in 2007 after Canon and Buick were associated with the event for many years.
Multiple-time winners include Billy Casper (1963, ’65, ’68, ’73), Bubba Watson (2010, ’15, ’18), Arnold Palmer (1956, ’60), Paul Azinger (1987, ’90), Phil Mickelson (2001-02), Peter Jacobsen (1984, 2003) and Stewart Cink (1997, 2008).
The Travelers is customarily slotted the week after the U.S. Open on the PGA Tour schedule but still attracts consistently solid fields. In 2017 and ’18, the tournament earned the PGA Tour’s Players Choice Award, voted on by PGA Tour members for its services, hospitality and quality of the course and overall event. This year has a very strong field with five of the top 10 OWGR players and 10 of the top 25 participating.
TPC River Highlands is in Cromwell, Conn., about 12 miles south of Hartford. Robert Ross designed it in 1928, and the track was founded as the Middletown Country Club. It became the Edgewood Country Club from 1934-84 before being purchased by the PGA Tour and officially becoming TPC River Highlands. It was redesigned by Pete Dye in 1984 and remodeled in 1989 by Bobby Weed, a Dye protege. The course plays as a par-70 of 6,841 yards, the second-shortest course on tour behind Pebble Beach. Jim Furyk set the course record in the final round of the 2016 Travelers by shooting a 58, the lowest round in PGA Tour history.
River Highlands is a tight and short tree-lined parkland. Wind is the main defense, and the winning score usually is in the mid-teens under par. The course has only four water holes, and some bunkers were removed in a 2015 renovation to create more short pitch shots into the greens (69 bunkers remain). The fairways and rough are Bentgrass/Poa Annua (Kentucky Bent/Fescue mix in rough). The greens average 5,000 square feet, measure 12 on the Stimpmeter and are also a Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix. Shorter hitters as well as bombers have won here. As always, ball striking and hitting greens regularly are usually a good recipe for success, and River Highlands is no exception.
Here are some other Pete Dye designs featured on the PGA Tour:
Austin Country Club: WGC Dell Match Play since 2016.
Crooked Stick: 2012 and 2016 BMW Championships.
Harbour Town Golf Links: RBC Heritage.
Ocean Course, Kiawah Island: 2012 and ’21 PGA Championships.
TPC Louisiana: Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
TPC Sawgrass: The Players Championship.
TPC Stadium, PGA West: The American Express since 2016.
Whistling Straits: 2010 and ’15 PGA Championships.
Recent History and Winners
2020: Dustin Johnson (-19/261), 30-1
2019: Chez Reavie (-17/263), 70-1
2018: Bubba Watson (-17/263), 28-1
2017: Jordan Spieth (-12/268), 9-1*
2016: Russell Knox (-14/266), 45-1
2015: Bubba Watson (-16/264), 11-1 **
2014: Kevin Streelman (-15/265), 125-1
2013: Ken Duke (-12/268), 150-1 ***
2012: Marc Leishman (-14/266), 100-1
2011: Fredrik Jacobson (-20/260), 45-1
2010: Bubba Watson (-14/266), 40-1 ****
* - playoff win vs. Daniel Berger
** - playoff win vs. Paul Casey
*** - playoff win vs. Chris Stroud
**** - playoff win vs. Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank
Trends and Angles
— Since Strokes Gained stats were introduced in 2016, every Travelers winner has been sixth or better in the field that week for SG: T2G.
o ’20: Johnson, sixth; ’19: Reavie, first; ’18: Watson, second; ’17: Spieth, first; ’16: Knox, fifth.
— The eventual Travelers winner has averaged seventh in the field in SG: Approach during the last five years.
o ’20: Johnson, sixth; ’19: Reavie, first; ’18: Watson, 18th; ’17: Spieth, seventh; ’16: Knox, third.
— Aside from the Dye courses, look at correlations with Riviera (Genesis Invitational), Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance Open) and Pebble Beach (AT&T PB Pro-Am).
o Johnson: ’09 and ’10 winner at Pebble Beach and ’14 and ’18 runner-up; ’17 winner at Riviera and ’14 and ’15 runner-up.
o Watson: three wins at Riviera (’14, ’16, ’18); Torrey Pines (’11).
o Reavie: third at ’19 U.S. Open (Pebble Beach); second at ’18 AT&T PB; seventh at ’16 Riviera.
o Spieth: first at ’17 AT&T PB plus three other top-10s there since ’14; two top-10s at Riviera.
o Streelman: four top-10s at Pebble Beach, including a runner-up in ’20.
o Leishman: ’20 winner at Torrey Pines plus two runners-up (’10 and ’14); two top-5s at Riviera (’16 and ’19).
Bombers and shorter hitters have all won here in recent years, so the approach game carries even more of a premium.
Strokes Gained: Approach (last 24 rounds)
1. Emiliano Grillo 34.1
2. Paul Casey 30
3. Daniel Berger 26
4. Stewart Cink 25.1
5. Brooks Koepka 23.3
6. Russell Henley 20.5
7. Charley Hoffman 20.1
8. Abraham Ancer 19.4
9. Kevin Streelman 19.2
10. Matthew NeSmith 18.6
11. Keegan Bradley 18.4
12. Doug Ghim 18.3
Eight par-4s at TPC River Highlands measure between 400 and 450 yards.
Strokes Gained: Par 4s 400-450 Yards (last 24 rounds)
1. Emiliano Grillo 18.6
2. Brian Harman 12.3
3. Abraham Ancer 12.1
4. Vincent Whaley 11.8
5. Harold Varner III 11.7
6. Cameron Tringale 11.5
7. Ryan Armour 11.2
8. Patton Kizzire 11.2
9. Russell Knox 11.1
10. Adam Long 11.1
11. Chris Kirk 9.9
12. Doc Redman 8.8
The largest percentage of the iron shots will be from 150 to 175 yards.
Proximity Gained: 150-175 Yards (last 24 rounds; feet gained per shot)
1. Daniel Berger 21.6
2. Abraham Ancer 14.7
3. Robby Shelton 14.5
4. Luke Donald 14.1
5. Michael Kim 14.1
6. Emiliano Grillo 13.9
7. Matthew NeSmith 11.9
8. Paul Casey 11.1
9. Francesco Molinari 10.6
10. Kevin Chappell 10.5
11. Tom Lewis 10.4
12. Kyle Stanley 10.3
Bombers like Dustin Johnson, though he hit many hybrids and fairway woods off the tee last year, and Bubba Watson have won here, but so have shorter hitters like Chez Reavie, Jordan Spieth, Russell Knox and Ken Duke. Distance is not necessarily much of an advantage, if at all. However, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking incorporates off-the-tee plus approach.
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (last 24 rounds; SG: OTT + SG: Approach)
1. Brooks Koepka 41
2. Paul Casey 35.8
3. Patrick Cantlay 34.7
4. Abraham Ancer 34.4
5. Daniel Berger 34.2
6. Emiliano Grillo 33.3
7. Jhonattan Vegas 33.2
8. Charley Hoffman 30.5
9. Bryson DeChambeau 28.8
10. Keegan Bradley 28.1
11. Kevin Streelman 26.8
12. Joaquin Niemann 26
Players who tend to flourish on one Pete Dye design also tend to do well on others.
Strokes Gained: Pete Dye Designs (last 24 rounds)
1. Abraham Ancer 52.2
2. Bryson DeChambeau 46.8
3. Paul Casey 44.9
4. Patrick Cantlay 43.7
5. Brian Harman 43.6
6. Adam Scott 41.4
7. Dustin Johnson 38.5
8. Brooks Koepka 33.8
9. Keegan Bradley 32
10. Jason Day 30
11. Kevin Streelman 29.7
12. Michael Thompson 29.6
Abraham Ancer 30-1
Ancer is the No. 23 player in the world and is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory.
As is evident from the statistics, he checks every box this week.
He has finished eighth and 11th in the last two years here. While he has missed his last two cuts, including at the U.S. Open, Ancer is not far removed from excellent form. He finished fifth at the Valspar, second at the Wells Fargo and T-8 at the PGA in three consecutive starts.
Joaquin Niemann 40-1
Niemann made the cut at the Open on the way to a T-31 finish but was 15th for SG: Tee-To-Green.
The form has cooled from earlier in the season. Nevertheless, this looks like a good spot for him. He finished fifth here two years ago.
Keegan Bradley 50-1
Bradley was born and raised in New England, so he plays this event each year.
He was the runner-up here two years ago to Chez Reavie.
The ball-striking stats have been near the top of the entire tour of late, including fifth for SG: Tee-To-Green, 10th for SG: Ball Striking, 10th for SG: Total and 11th for SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds.
Bubba Watson 50-1
The three-time Travelers champion was T-5 after 36 holes at the Open, an event in which he has one career top-5 in 14 starts and has missed eight of 14 cuts. He finished T-50 but showed some positives, going 21st for Driving Accuracy and 16th for SG: Off-The-Tee.
Watson has always thrived on this track since it allows many ways to attack it and it plays to the strength of his game, creativity.
Rickie Fowler 66-1
Fowler had to sit on the sidelines last weekend as he did not qualify for the Open. However, his game has shown some life. He was eighth at the PGA Championship (his first top-10 in a major since the 2019 British Open) and 11th at the Memorial, his best finish at Muirfield Village since 2018.
Those finishes got him back within the top 100 in the OWGR at 91st. Over the weekend, Fowler and his wife announced they were expecting a baby, so he should come to the Travelers in a better place mentally. The Travelers also looks like an ideal place to get on track as he can keep his driver in the bag.
Emiliano Grillo 80-1
Grillo has never been better than 19th here in four career starts.
However, he leads this week’s field for SG: Approach and SG: Par-4s 400-450 Yards over the last 24 rounds.
Francesco Molinari 95-1
Molinari returned from a six-week break to finish T-13 at the U.S. Open and likely would have finished higher had he not lost 3.5 strokes putting in his Friday round.
Francesco was able to reunite with his brother Edoardo, also in last week’s field, whom he had not seen in person since 2019.
Will Gordon 210-1
Gordon finished third here last year to earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, which he turned into full-time status.
He had missed five cuts in a row until a 14th two weeks ago at Congaree, where he led the field for SG: Approach and was fifth for SG: Tee-To-Green.
BMW International Open
The European Tour returns after a week off due to the U.S. Open. Torrey Pines runner-up Louis Oosthuizen (13-2) tops a field that features 10 players making the trip to Germany for the BMW International Open. Oosthuizen is the co-favorite with Viktor Hovland, who was on the way to missing the cut but withdrew after catching sand in his eye from a bunker shot. Sergio Garcia (11-1) made the cut last week for a T-19 and has two runner-up finishes on this course. Bernd Wiesberger (20-1) missed the cut last week but returns to a spot where he has played well in the past, with a fourth in 2013. Martin Kaymer (25-1) made the Open cut (T-26) and is looking for his first victory on home soil since he won this event in 2008 on this course. Matthias Schwab (25-1) finished third here two years ago and still seeks his maiden European Tour triumph. Antoine Rozner and Sam Horsfield follow in the market at 28-1.
The BMW International Open was established in 1989 and has spent most of its tenure in the home city of its title sponsor, Munich. Over the last decade, the event has alternated between Golfclub Munchen Eichenried in Munich in odd years and Golf Club Gut Larchenhof near Cologne in even years. Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19.
Previous winners at Eichenried include Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood, John Daly, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Azinger, Sandy Lyle and David Feherty.
Golfclub Munchen Eichenried has been slightly lengthened to a par-72 of 7,283 yards. The 1989 Kurt Rosknecht design is very scorable, with four mid-range par-5s and a couple of potentially drivable par-4s. The Poa/Ryegrass fairways are very generous, so the layout is set up for the players to attack.
The Bentgrass greens are relatively flat and roll about 10 feet on the Stimpmeter.
History has proven that many types of players have succeeded here. It could be a high-GIR player who putts well or someone in good putting form who finds more greens than normal. Either way, birdies and low scoring are the order of the day, particularly if rain softens the putting surfaces.
Recent History and Winners
2019: Andrea Pavan (-15/273), 100-1*
2018: Matt Wallace (-10/278), 40-1
2017: Andres Romero (-17/271), 300-1
2016: Henrik Stenson (-17/271), 10-1
2015: Pablo Larrazabal (-17/271), 60-1
2014: Fabrizio Zanotti (-19/269), 80-1**
2013: Ernie Els (-18/270), 22-1
2012: Danny Willett (-11/277), 90-1***
2011: Pablo Larrazabal (-16/272), 45-1****
2010: David Horsey (-18/270), 150-1
* - playoff win over Matthew Fitzpatrick
** - playoff win over Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Gregory Havret and Henrik Stenson
*** - playoff win over Marcus Fraser
**** - playoff win over Sergio Garcia
The 2012, ’14, ’16 and ’18 events were played at Larchenhof.
Matthias Schwab 30-1
Schwab still seeks his first European Tour victory. He was third here two years ago.
Ryan Fox 40-1
Fox was backed in Denmark, including in this column, and disappointed with a missed cut. However, he has rebounded with a T-11 at the European Open and a T-12 at the Scandinavian Mixed event.
Stephen Jaeger 66-1
Jaeger returns to his native Germany to play on the European Tour, but he spends most of his time on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he has two runner-up finishes in his last four starts. He also has six wins on the KFT over the last five years, including one at the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida this season.
Rasmus Hojgaard 80-1
Hojgaard has drifted upward in price after a good start to the season largely because he has been out of form due to a lot of travel to play on both sides of the pond. Now the 20-year-old Dane is back in Europe, and this could be a spot where he returns to the form that had him top 70 in the world last fall.
Jacques Kruyswijk 150-1
Last week’s missed cut on a Challenge Tour event in Spain stopped a streak of 10 made cuts dating to November. The South African has four top-10s in 10 events for 2021.
Alex Cejka 210-1
Cejka also returns to his native Germany instead of playing in the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship on PGA Tour Champions. This decision stands out even more considering Cejka has won the first two majors on the over-50 circuit at the Regions Tradition and the U.S. Senior Open.
KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Three-time champion and world No. 2 Inbee Park (12-1) tops the field on the odds board as the LPGA Tour holds its third major of 2021. Just behind in the market is No. 3 Nelly Korda (14-1), the winner of last weekend’s Meijer LPGA Classic and the only two-time event winner thus far in 2021. World No. 1 Jin-Young Ko also checks in at 14-1. Defending Women’s PGA champion and world No. 4 Sei Young Kim shares an 18-1 tag with So Yeon Ryu, who comes in with four top-6 finishes in her last six events, including a third last week. Lexi Thompson certainly has her fair share of scar tissue from three weeks ago when she had a four-stroke lead with eight holes to play at the U.S. Women’s Open only to collapse down the stretch and miss the playoff. Thompson is priced at 25-1 along with Lydia Ko, winner of the Lotte Championship and the runner-up in the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration, and Ariya Jutanugarn, who earned her first LPGA victory in three years last month in her native Thailand. The two major winners of 2021, Patty Tavatanakit (ANA Inspiration) and Yuka Saso (U.S. Women’s Open), are priced at 28-1 and 50-1, respectively.
The Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club, the home course of Bobby Jones, is in Johns Creek, Ga., about 20 miles north of Atlanta. The course has hosted several majors, most recently the 2011 PGA Championship won by Keegan Bradley. Rees Jones, the son of original designer Robert Trent Jones, renovated AAC in 2006 and redesigned it in 2016. This week’s layout will play as a par-72 of 6,832 yards. AAC is an undulating parklands course with Zoysia fairways. The players will also be hitting into multitiered and fast Bermuda greens. AAC looks to be a good all-around test.
Recent History and Winners
2020: Sei-Young Kim (-14/266), Aronimink GC
2019: Hannah Green (-9/279), Hazeltine National GC
2018: Sung-Hyun Park (-10/278), Kemper Lakes GC*
2017: Danielle Kang (-13/271), Olympia Fields CC
2016: Brooke Henderson (-6/278), Sahalee CC**
2015: Inbee Park (-19/273), Westchester CC
2014: Inbee Park (-11/277), Monroe GC***
2013: Inbee Park (-5/283), Locust Hill CC****
2012: Shanshan Feng (-6/282), Locust Hill CC
2011: Yani Tseng (-19/269), Locust Hill CC
* - playoff win over Nasa Hataoka and So-Yeon Ryu
** - playoff win over Lydia Ko
*** - playoff win over Brittany Lincicome
**** - playoff win over Catriona Matthew
Ariya Jutanugarn 25-1
Jutanugarn had been in a slump over the last couple of seasons and considered retiring, but then she earned an LPGA Tour win in her home country of Thailand and seems rejuvenated.
She has followed that with three top-10s in her last four events.
Leona Maguire 40-1
The Irish rookie ranks sixth for Putts per GIR on the LPGA Tour.
She finished second last week at the Meijer behind winner Nelly Korda.
Angel Yin 66-1
The 22-year-old Yin has three top-10s in her last four starts, including a sixth at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Lauren Stephenson 125-1
Stephenson has two top-10s in her last five starts and has made both major cuts this season.
Bridgestone Senior Players Championship
The PGA Tour Champions holds the third of its five majors this weekend with the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship. Someone will win his first major of 2021 as Alex Cejka, who has won the first two majors at the Regions Tradition and the U.S. Senior Open, will play at the BMW International Open on the European Tour in his native Germany. Steve Stricker (4-1), already a winner in 2021 at the Chubb Classic, won two majors in 2019 and is in his customary spot as the tournament favorite. Jim Furyk (6-1) is still seeking his first victory in 2021 and his first major on PGA Tour Champions. Jerry Kelly (11-1) is the defending champion and won a home game two weeks ago at the American Family Insurance Championship in his hometown of Madison, Wis. Fred Couples (15-1) finished second to Kelly in that event. Retief Goosen (15-1) won the Senior Players here two years ago. At 63, Bernhard Langer (16-1) has won at least one event each year in his entire career on PGA Tour Champions. Mike Weir (16-1) earned his first PGA Tour Champions victory last month at the Insperity Invitational. K.J. Choi (16-1) is still seeking his first triumph in his first full season on the over-50 circuit and comes in off his best finish with a T-3 at the Senior PGA Championship at the end of May. Miguel Angel Jimenez (18-1) also tied for second with Couples and behind Kelly two weeks ago and finished third in this event last year.
Firestone Country Club lost the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after 2018 when FedEx became the event sponsor and the WGC event moved to Memphis, where FedEx is based. The PGA Tour Champions reaped the benefit as the course became the host for the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship in 2019 and will remain so at least until 2022. The course was designed by Bert Way in 1929 and redesigned by Robert Trent Jones in 1960 for that year’s PGA Championship. The course will play as a par-70 of 7,400 yards. It has 82 bunkers and three water hazards in play over three holes that provide the course a defense, in addition to the length. The fairways are relatively wide and consist of Pencross Bentgrass/Poa Annua. The rough is steep at 2.5 to 3 inches and made of a Ryegrass/Bluegrass/Fescue mix. Most of the large greens, averaging 7,600 square feet, will slope from the back to front and are also Pencross Bentgrass/Poa Annua. Many elite iron players have won here, like Tiger Woods (eight times!), Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Keegan Bradley, Vijay Singh and Stewart Cink.
Recent History and Winners
2020: Jerry Kelly (-3/277), 22-1
2019: Retief Goosen (-6/274), 20-1
Jim Furyk 6-1
Furyk has finished T6 and T4 in his last two starts on PGA Tour Champions.
He has a long and excellent history at Firestone. In 17 starts on the PGA Tour at Firestone, he had two runner-up finishes, two thirds and nine top-10s. As recently as 2015, Furyk finished T4 at Firestone in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Mike Weir 16-1
Weir’s last three finishes are T5-2-T7. He also won seven weeks ago at the Insperity Invitational.
Weir played well at Firestone last year, finishing T10 with rounds of 72-70-71-72. He played nine times at Firestone while competing on the PGA Tour with his best finish a 10th in 2009.
Ernie Els 22-1
Els finished T5 here last year with strong weekend rounds of 68-70. He has a long history of competing at Firestone, making his first start on the course at the 1992 NEC World Series of Golf and playing just about every year through 2014. In his 19 events, his best finish was a fifth at the 1999 WGC-NEC Invitational.
Els ranks second on the PGA Tour Champions for Greens In Regulation and Driving Distance.
Tim Petrovic 40-1
Petrovic finished second at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, the most recent major, at the end of May. He also was runner-up here two years ago.
He ranks first in nearly every putting category on PGA Tour Champions.