By the time this article posts in this week’s edition of Point Spread Weekly, only 30 days will remain until they tee it up at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the season’s final major and the 148th playing of The British Open. Between Gary Woodland’s remarkable finish down the stretch on Sunday at Pebble Beach to win the U.S. Open and next month’s British Open, we have four lower-tier events on the PGA Tour, beginning with the Travelers Championship this week at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.
The Travelers, however, has attracted a compelling field with 22 of the top 50 players in the world in attendance. World No. 1 Brooks Koepka is here as well as three more players ranked inside the top 10; Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay. Other marquee names in this week’s field are Jason Day, two-time Travelers winner Phil Mickelson, two-time runner-up Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, 2017 winner Jordan Spieth and threetime Travelers winner Bubba Watson, who is the defending champion. Finally, welcome amateur Viktor Hovland to the professional ranks as the former U.S. Amateur Champion and this year’s low amateur at both the Masters and U.S. Open, has turned pro and will make his PGA Tour debut.
What was once known as Middletown Golf Club and Edgewood Country Club some 80-90 years ago, was transformed into TPC River Highlands and made Tour ready by Pete Dye in 1982. Bobby Weed made some tweaks to the course in 1989. In terms of our handicap, we are going to use the Dye design tendencies here as it is the prevailing source of the course’s architecture. There are no advantages off the tee in terms of length versus accuracy at this 6,841-yard, par-70 course. We have seen bombers like Watson win here three times and shorter hitting, ball striker types win here as well like Kevin Streelman and Russell Knox. Greens in Regulation and Scrambling will be important as always but emphasized at River Highlands due to the greens being below average in size. I feel that Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, Par 4 Scoring and Birdie Average will be the most crucial areas of one’s game needed for success on this course, plus bring a hot putter. The Travelers can be a real birdie fest. After grinding for par after par at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, players will be firing at flagsticks and trying to bag birdies in bunches. In 2016, Jim Furyk shot 58 in the final round by hitting all 18 greens in regulation. The average score for the last 11 winners of the Travelers is 16-under par. The greens will be fast and are Poa annua just like we saw last week at Pebble. As far as a crossover course, we can consider one’s performance at TPC Louisiana, home to the Zurich Classic, as a possible harbinger for how one might fare at TPC River Highlands. Another Dye design is TPC Louisiana, where neither accuracy nor distance matter much off the tee, and birdies are a plenty.
FULL TOURNAMENT HEAD TO HEAD MATCH UP
Sungjae Im (-125) over Joaquin Niemann
After playing eight straight weeks on Tour, Im got a much-needed break having not qualified for last week’s U.S. Open. Prior to that, he finished 7th in Canada at the RBC Canadian Open, another course that lends itself to birdies with Poa annua greens. Im has excellent stats, ranking 34th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, 70th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 30th in Birdie Average. Niemann is ranked 125th in the world and hasn’t had a finish higher than 27th all season. He’s 197th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 188th on Tour in Birdie Average. I will take the player who I believe is far more well rounded at a pretty tame price.
THREE PICKS TO WIN THE TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP
Jason Day (18/1)
Day is arguably the best putter in the world, and throughout his career he has had tremendous success on Poa annua greens. I love that he has gone to Stevie Williams on the bag, and I feel that Week 2 with Williams will be a successful one after Week 1 at Pebble Beach resulted in a respectable 21st-place finish. Day is 12th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, 17th in Birdie Average and 19th in Par 4 Scoring.
Marc Leishman (25/1)
A winner at TPC River Highlands in 2012, Leishman comes in in good form, taking 35th at the U.S. Open and 5th before that at the Memorial. He ranks 32nd on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and 22nd on Approach. He’s 25th in Birdie Average.
Sungjae Im (60/1)
I mentioned that I like the stats this week for Im. He’s really solid across the board; 36th in Scrambling, 30th in Par 4 Scoring and 59th in Greens in Regulation in addition to those noted in our headto-head matchup play. Im has six Top 10 finishes this season. If he’s hanging around the Top 10 on Sunday, nothing wrong with having a 60/1 shot.