After the drama of Torrey Pines, the PGA Tour returns to regular action and a gentler test at TPC River Highlands.
Despite measuring less than 7,000 yards on the card, the Pete Dye track has been far from a pushover down the years. However, the last three champions won with -19, -17 and -17 so that’s a clear difference to the US Open where -6 was the winning number for Jon Rahm.
This tournament usually fills the post-US Open slot on the schedule although that wasn’t the case last time when Dustin Johnson took victory. However, that tournament was still played in June (it was the US Open that moved) so don’t put an asterisk next to the 2020 results.
Johnson returns to defend and, somewhat surprisingly, the field includes Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler and Paul Casey among others.
Jordan Spieth (not taking part) won in 2017 but, overall when the tournament has followed the US Open, it’s been an opportunity for some of the slightly lesser lights to bag the win.
As for player types, the last three winners – DJ, Chez Reavie and Bubba Watson – show that both long and short can thrive on this track where both power and plotting are legitimate strategies.
My main pick is Harris English.
On first glance, this looks like a case of a player whose price has been collared due to a very conspicuous big finish in a major: English finished strongly at the US Open to bank tied third.
However, let’s stop and think for a minute: Harris is the World No.19. That’s one position higher than Casey, who is 14/1. True, Casey is a course specialist but even so.
One of the things I like about English this week is that his third place turned into a third place: he wasn’t under the gun all week.
An opening 72 left him outside the top 40 and he then worked his way through the field to post his best ever finish in a major thanks to a closing 68.
They’re very different types with different profiles but Reavie won this event the week after a third place (his best major finish) in the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach so the path I’m hoping English can take has already been trodden.
Did going from poa annua to poa annua help Reavie? A little maybe. Pebble, Torrey Pines and this week’s track, TPC River Highlands, all use that grass and English putted nicely on it in the US Open, ranking 15th for Strokes Gained: Putting.
His strong display in California continued a recent revival in form that started with a tied 13th in May’s Byron Nelson Championship and was followed two appearances later with tied 14th in the Palmetto Championship.
English explained at the Palmetto: “I hurt my back at The Players. I never really had any back injuries before I had to pull out of The Players, and I haven’t been 100 percent since then.
“It’s a long year. I know, 31 years old, I’m bound to have a couple injuries. But it’s been close. I played well at the Byron Nelson, got 13th, shot 9-under on Saturday. I feel like it’s been trending.
“I had the last couple weeks off to get ready to go, and I’ve been working with my trainer a lot, working with my swing coach, and just getting my body feeling good again. It’s been all good coming into this week, and it’s helped.”
The US Open was confirmation that everything is working well and although he’s had a rough recent run here, English was tied seventh in 2014 and made the top 25 again the following year. Even the MC on his latest visit in 2019 included a Friday 66.
Hopefully the Sentry Tournament of Champions winner can bag a second win of the season.
Par 4 Scoring has been a key pointer at TPC River Highlands with every winner back to 2014 finishing top in that category.
English is 34th on the season-long Par 4 stats so that adds to his case.
Up at tied 11th in Par 4s (3.99) is Patton Kizzire and that helps me pick him out from a number of players at three-figure prices.
Kizzire didn’t contest the US Open which is perhaps no bad thing given that he’d taken a bit of a step back with missed cuts at Memorial and the Palmetto.
But if he’s hit the reset button, hopefully he can tap into the form he showed in middle/late May when posting back-to-back finishes of tied third in the Byron Nelson Championship and Charles Schwab Challenge.
His round scores in those two events included a 63, a 64 and a 65 and those are the numbers required for TPC River Highlands.
Earlier in the campaign he shot bookend 64s when tied seventh at the Sony Open and there’s a pattern that he does his best work when scoring is low.
Kizzire didn’t find the right formula for TPC River Highlands on his early visits but last year he opened with a trio of 66s and then closed with a 67 to crack the top six.
“My putting is the best part of my game by far, so when I start hitting the iron shots close I can go low, and I did today,” he said after his recent 9-under 63 at the Byron Nelson.
He’s 11th for Strokes Gained: Putting this season and 19th in Birdie Average so definitely has the right profile to do well in an event like this.
Add it all up and the 100/1 looks pretty decent.
Ian Poulter finished third in the Charles Schwab Challenge at the end of May which is good news on two fronts.
First, it’s a welcome sign of recent form and, second, it came the week after the PGA Championship so it shows he can perform strongly after a major.
Poulter was tied 30th at Kiawah Island, tied 25th in the Palmetto Championship and played some nice golf at Torrey Pines before slipping back to tied 40th with a closing 77.
A third-round 68 had led Poulter to say “I’ve kind of put myself back in there” and that wasn’t too unrealistic as he was 14th with 18 holes to play.
In short, the Englishman is playing some solid golf and this may be a good time to catch him.
Poulter played this event three times from 2011 to 2013, posting tied 24th on debut and making all three cuts. He left it off his schedule before returning last year when it was the third event back after lockdown. Again, he made the cut.
However, I prefer to play him when the engine has been running and also when his putter is hot: that’s the case right now.
Looking at his stats, Poulter has been in the top 12 for SG: Putting in three of his last four events, gaining 5.140 strokes on the greens at Torrey Pines.
Widening that out, he’s 8th in SG: Putting this season while also 18th for SG: Around The Green.
He’s got some notable form on Pete Dye tracks too. The 45-year-old is a two-time runner-up at Sawgrass and has four top 15s in his last five starts at Harbour Town. He was also third on Dye’s Kiawah Island in the 2012 edition of the PGA.
Take Poulter at 70/1.
At bigger prices, I looked at 80/1 Brendon Todd, 125/1 Brendan Steele and 250/1 Satoshi Kodaira.
Back at the top end, Scottie Scheffler is 8th in Par 4 Scoring and ranked 1st for SG: Putting in the US Open where he was tied for seventh.
The 22/1 is fair but he’s still to win and missed the cut on debut so I’ll go into battle with English, Kizzire and Poulter.