The First Tee – Travelers Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly June 17, 2019 20:08

The First Tee – Travelers Championship

This Week

The post-major letdown isn’t felt as much this week with a pretty strong field, and we’re back to a full-field event with top-70 and ties making the cut. Cromwell, Connecticut is the home of the Traveler’s Championship, with the event taking place at TPC River Highlands.

THE COURSE

Originally a Moss/Kearney design, Pete Dye brought this course up to TPC “standard” (read: boring) in 1984, with a Bobby Weed touch-up coming a few years later in 1989. Although it’s gone through some name changes, TPC River Highlands has hosted the Traveler’s since 1994 with scores typically being on the easier side (winners in the mid-teens, cut below par); last year, Bubba Watson won at -17 and the cut coming at -2.

This is a short course at just 6841 yards as a par-70, and last year’s tournament saw a whopping 43 eagles made (33 on the two par-5s) and a scoring average of -0.405. The average hole length here is a paltry 380 yards, and only two par-4s play above 450 yards; the par-3s are the trouble holes here as three of the four played above par, and the two longer par-4s are relatively tough as well. Beyond that, players will definitely take advantage of the incredibly easy par-5s and the driveable p 15th.

The fairways here a touch longer than a regular Pete Dye course at 35 yards-across at the 275 marker, but they do narrow quickly beyond that and the holes are so short that most golfers will leave driver in the bag. Trees very loosely line the fairways and water isn’t a concern, the only real hazard off the tee beyond landing it into the rough is the diabolical fairway bunkers the course is littered with. Thanks to most golfers clubbing down, the fairways are hit here in the 64-67% range on average every year, so accuracy isn’t at a premium.

Approach shots will typically be in the 100-150 yard range here, and golfers will be hitting into tricky greens – the grass is a bent/poa mix and slow, but there’s a ton of undulation and sloping away from the center that sticking the ball close is tough especially if conditions are dry. The greens are ~5,000 sq. ft. on average so pretty small, but if the conditions are wet the winning score this week will probably be in the -20 to -25 range.

Scrambling here is a key thanks to all the slope and small size of the greens, so that’s something to consider; Gary Woodland ranking 169th in scrambling but leading the field last week on his way to a US Open should indicate that ranks ahead of time don’t mean that much, and scrambling is definitely an imperfect stat, so consider looking just at wedge play (proximity from 50-100 is one idea).

Comparable courses/events:

Pebble Beach (AT&T Pro-Am) – The small bent/poa greens and short length of the course make these two comparable, even if the rough/coastal aspect of Pebble is a completely different animal than River Highlands.

TPC Sawgrass (The PLAYERS) – Similar fairways and length when accounting for the difference in par (70 here vs. 72 at Sawgrass), and they’re both Dye designs. The grass types are obviously different, but TPC courses and especially Dye ones are good barometers from year-to-year.

The Old White TPC (Greenbriar) – An easy par-70 that sees a ton of short approach shots and slow bentgrass greens, par-4s are key at both courses.

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off-the-Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-4 Scoring
  • Approach Shots: 50-125 Yards
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Fairway
  • Putting Inside 10’

Top-Tier Golfers

Patrick Cantlay ($11300): Ignoring his course history prior to his comeback – two MC and a 24 between 2011 and 2014 – seems like the right thing to do, as Cantlay is clearly fully back from injury and has been for a while, which puts him at a 1-for-1 at River Highlands with his 15th-place finish here last year. Cantlay has always been a good player at TPC or Pete Dye courses and is coming off a win at Memorial, one of his nine made cuts this year to only three misses.

Statistically, Cantlay is an absolute stud worthy of his price tag:

  • 4th in SG : Tee to Green
  • 1st in Par-4 Scoring (3.93!) / 4th in Par-4 Birdie or Better (20.87%)
  • -0.257 on approach shots between 50-125 yards (8th)
  • 23rd in SG: Putting / 13th in One-Putt percentage

He’s not the most accurate off the tee but leaving driver in the bag should help with that, and the common thought that Patrick “Can’tplay” around the greens is completely false: he ranks 1st in scrambling and 16th in SG: Around the Green.

Jordan Spieth ($10700): It’s never easy to recommend Jordan Spieth given how poor he’s ranked on the season so far – 147th SG: Tee to Green is about all that needs to be said – but he has flashed some stronger form recently and continues to be a stud on and around the greens. On the year he’s 7th in SG: Putting       and 45th in SG: Around the Green, he’s still scoring at a great rate (26th in BoB%, 13th in P4 BoB%), and he continues to be a very solid player on par-3s.

Beyond the 65th-place finish at the US Open this past week, Spieth had been on a mini run of good play with three straight top-10 finishes at the Memorial, Colonial and PGA Championship respectively. He gained strokes off the tee in all of those events although his irons continue to struggle. In the two times he’s played here, he’s finished 42nd and he won in 2017, which bodes well for this week even if his price is a bit high.

Others: Paul Casey ($9500), Chez Reavie ($8400)

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Ryan Moore ($7800): Although it doesn’t seem that way this season at an average of 4.04, Ryan Moore is typically a very good par-4 player – he ranked 10th at 3.98 last season – which is a perfect sign for a par-70 course. He’s had a ton of success throughout his career at Pete Dye courses and this year has picked up a solo third at TPC San Antonio, T20 at TPC Sawgrass and T41 at Harbour Town, three of his seven made cuts on the season.

Moore missed the cut here last year but has had some very good history here, with four top-7s between 2009 and 2014, a 17th in 2016, and then the MC last year. This year he ranks 25th in SG: Approach and is -68 relative to par when he find s the fairway, and ranks 46th and 5th in approach shots from 50-125 and 125-150 respectively. He’s also good on par-3s, and is one of the players in the field this week that should avoid the big numbers.

Emiliano Grillo ($7900): He had a horrendous weekend at Pebble Beach, but Grillo still has the right game for success this week: he’s an accurate short-knocker that’s absolutely crushing with his irons (6th in SG: Approach), and is solid on par-3s and this year aside, solid on par-4s. He ranks 12th in proximity from 50-125 and 40th from 125-150 and has hit 69.19% of greens in regulation, but the main concern with the Argentinian as always will be his play in tight and on the greens, where he ranks 156th and 200th respectively.

Grillo has only missed one cut this season – the Honda Classic – and is coming off finishes of T58, T9 and T19 over the past month and even gained strokes on the greens at Memorial. He’s played this event twice and finished 19th and 43rd so his history checks out.

Others: Viktor Hovland ($7900), Matthew Wolff ($7300)

 

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly June 17, 2019 20:08

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