Travelers Championship 2021 Tips and Betting Preview


Founded as the Insurance City Open in 1952, and formerly known as the Greater Hartford Open, the Travelers Championship has been in existence for 69 years.

The tournament was moved to August to accommodate the Olympics in 2016 and last year it followed the RBC Heritage, after the disruption to the schedule caused by the pandemic, but in every other year since 2007 it’s been played in the week following the US Open.

As many as 56 players that contended at Torrey Pines last week are in the field this week.

This event has seen a number of records set lately. It’s now ten years since Patrick Cantlay set the course record with a ten-under-par 60, which is also the lowest round shot by an amateur in a PGA Tour event, in 2014 Kevin Streelman became the first player to birdie the last seven holes to win a PGA Tour event, and Jim Furyk shot the PGA Tour’s first ever 58 here in 2016.

Venue

TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut

Course Details

Par 70 – 6,841 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 – 68.63

Originally designed by Robert J. Ross and Maurice Kearney in 1928, TPC River Highlands was reworked by Pete Dye in 1982 and again by Bobby Weed in 1989. It’s not a particularly strong test and low scores are a common occurrence. Both the fairways and the smaller than average Poa Annua greens are fairly easy to hit and scoring is always in the double-digits under-par. The rough will be four inches high and the greens will run at 12 on the Stimpmeter.

RIVER HIGHLANDS 2021 4.jpg

Holes 15, 16 and 17, are nicknamed the ‘Golden Triangle’ and they wind around a lake, creating a dramatic backdrop for what’s often a theatrical finish. At less than 300 yards, the short par four 15th is drivable but it’s not a straightforward test and last year it only averaged 3.9. The green has tricky roll-offs and water is in play for anyone straying left. The par three 16th is played back over the water and is tricky (last year averaged 2.96) and the par four 17th hole has water to the right off the tee and approach shots to the green are played back over the lake. It was the third hardest hole on the course last year, averaging 4.04.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning on Thursday with Featured Group coverage at 11:45 UK and Ireland time and full coverage at 20:00.

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 – Dustin Johnson -19 30.029/1
2019 – Chez Reavie -17 80.079/1
2018 – Bubba Watson -17 32.031/1
2017 – Jordan Spieth -12 (playoff) 11.010/1
2016 – Russell Knox -14 60.059/1
2015 – Bubba Watson -16 (playoff) 15.014/1

What Will it Take to Win the Travelers Championship?

I’ve gone back ten years to work out the average rankings for the last ten winners and the picture is fairly clear (results below). It’s all about putting.

Average Rankings – Last 10 Winners
Driving Distance – 32.8
Driving Accuracy – 31.2
Greens In Regulation – 25.1
Scrambling – 19.8
Putting Average – 7.0
Putts Per Round – 6.7

As Furyk demonstrated in no uncertain terms five years ago, this is a track that offers up very low scoring and the event is basically a putting competition. The last two winners have ranked 10th and fourth for Strokes Gained Putting and the myriad of putting stats on the PGA Tour website may help but knowing quite who is going to have a good four days with the flat-stick on any particular week is never easy.

The last seven winners have all played the par fours better than anyone else so the Par 4 Scoring stats should be worth a look.

Is a Good Week at Torrey a Plus?

Given this event traditionally follows the US Open, I’ve looked back at the last decade to see how the winners of this event had fared the week before, or even if they’d played in the US Open.

Last year’s Travelers Championship was the first tournament on the PGA Tour that wasn’t cancelled or rescheduled following the three-month break due to the pandemic, so it didn’t follow the US Open, it followed the second event back after the shutdown, the RBC Heritage, where the winner here, Dustin Johnson, had finished 17th.

And the Travelers followed the US PGA Championship in 2016, where the winner here, Russell Knox, had finished 22nd but in every other year it followed the US Open so here’s how the last ten winners had finished in the US Open, or if they didn’t play in the US Open (DNP), how they’re figured in the previous start.

2011 – Freddie Jacobson – 14th US Open
2012 – Marc Leishman – DNP US Open – 58th Memorial Tournament
2013 – Ken Duke – DNP US Open – MC FedEx St Jude Classic
2014 – Kevin Streelman – MC US Open
2015 – Bubba Watson – MC US Open
2016 – Russell Knox – 22nd USPGA Championship
2017 – Jordan Spieth – 35th US Open
2018 – Bubba Watson – MC US Open
2019 – Chez Reavie – 3rd US Open
2020 – Dustin Johnson – 17th RBC Heritage

For the record, having not played in the US Open, Bubba Watson won the first of his three Travelers Championships in 2010 after finishing 33rd at The Memorial tournament.

Bubba Watson - 1280.jpg

In summary, the only two winners to play well in the US Open the week before they won here were infrequent PGA Tour winners, Freddie Jacobson and Chez Reavie. This is Jacobson’s only PGA Tour title and Reavie has won only twice. His victory here came 11 years after he’d won the RBC Canadian.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Taking on the fancied ones from the start and building a book from there used to be a great way to trade this tournament but the fields have been getting stronger of late and we haven’t seen a triple-figure priced winner in six years.

Historically, outsiders, PGA Tour maidens, and old-timers all have a good record at TPC River Highlands. Despite his strong showing at Pebble Beach the week before, Reavie was an 80.079/1 chance two years ago, Russell Knox went off at around 60.059/1 in 2016 and we’ve seen a number of really big-priced winners fairly recently.

Kevin Streelman was a 220.0219/1 shot before the get-go seven years ago and 12 months earlier, 45-year-old PGA Tour rookie, Ken Duke, won having been matched at 680.0679/1 before the off!

DJ, Bubba and Spieth are all prolific winners but Reavie in 2019, like the 2014 winner, Streelman, and the 2016 winner, Knox, had won only once before, and six of the eight winners before Streelman were all winning on the PGA Tour for the very first time.

A decade after he’d won the title for a second time, 45-year-old, Stewart Cink, finished tied for second in 2018, Jerry Kelly finished runner-up at the age of 49 five years ago and five of the last 18 Travelers winners have been over 40. Had KJ Choi, who traded at just 1.728/11 in 2014, held on, that would have read six from 18, and when Bubba won here for the first time he beat veterans Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin in a playoff so with a small twist of fate the aged pros could have won seven or even eight of the last 18 renewals.

And the last three winners can hardly be described as spring chickens. DJ is now 37, the same age Reavie was when he won 12 months earlier, and Bubba was 39 when he won this for a third time in 2018. DJ and Bubba have power in abundance but this short test does give the older guys a chance.

Winner’s Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 – Dustin Johnson – solo second, trailing by two 3.185/40
2019 – Chez Reavie led by six strokes 1.282/7
2018 – Bubba Watson – tied sixth, trailing by six 36.035/1
2017 – Jordan Spieth led by a stroke 1.768/11
2016 – Russell Knox tied second, trailing by three 6.25/1
2015 – Bubba Watson tied second, trailing by a stroke 3.259/4

In-Play Tactics

Although two of the last four winners were leading after 54 holes, being in front here isn’t always a plus. The third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win only five times in the last 17 years and nine of the last 12 54-hole leaders have been beaten.

Having trailed by two with a round to go last year, DJ hit the front and went odds-on by the fifth hole but he messed about with the lead. As soon as he’d caught the leader, he bogeyed the sixth hole and having steadied the ship and having hit just 1.081/12, he drove out of bounds on 13 before very nearly going in the drink on 15 off the tee. He recovered nicely and won by a stroke in the end but River Highlands is a hard place to convert.

Reavie had a seemingly unassailable six-stroke lead in 2019 and he eventually won by four but it wasn’t smooth sailing on Sunday and Keegan Bradley got to within a stroke with three holes to play.

It was similar story five years ago when Spieth won from the front but he wobbled badly having been matched at 1.091/11 earlier in the final round and he very nearly threw it away. Eventually beating Daniel Berger in a playoff thanks to this memorable bunker shot.

Paul Casey led by four with a round to go three years ago and he was matched at a low of 1.182/11 in-running before going on to get beat by three. Knox won from three adrift after the clear odds-on leader, Berger, shot a disappointing 74 to finish tied fifth five years ago but many a winner has come from even further back.

Marc Leishman trailed by six shots eight years ago, as did Bubba in 2010, and again three years ago, and the two veterans Watson beat in the playoff 11 years ago (Verplank and Pavin) came from six and eight shots back respectively!

When Brad Faxon won in 2005 he was trailing by 12 at halfway and by seven after three rounds. Phil Mickelson won from five back with a round to go in 2002 and Notah Begay and Woody Austin, like Knox, have both won the event this century from three off the pace. Duke sat in a tie for 6th and was trailing by two eight years ago and Streelman was four back and trading at 55.054/1 in 2014.

The third-round leader in 2015, Brian Harman, only traded as low as 3.9 and Paul Casey, who was beaten by Bubba in extra time six years ago, dipped no lower than 1.625/8. He was the only player other than Bubba to hit odds-on that year but as already stated, he was matched at just 1.182/11 in 2018 and this is normally a tremendous event to trade in-running.

Three players hit odds-on seven years ago without winning – K.J Choi, Aaron Baddeley and Sergio Garcia and eight years ago Bubba hit a low of 1.282/7 before messing up the 16th hole. And Charley Hoffman was two clear with two to play in 2012 but he played them in three-over-par!

We nearly always get a dramatic tight finish and seven of the last 17 renewals have gone to extra time.

And finally, don’t give up if your picks start slowly. Bubba sat tied for 77th and seven off the lead three years ago and DJ came from even further back 12 months ago. He sat tied for 79th and nine adrift after round one!

Market Leaders

Favouritism is being fought out by the defending champ, Dustin Johnson, and last year’s US Open winner, Bryson DeChambeau, but neither man make much appeal.

DJ hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for months now and although there have been encouraging signs of late, he was poor in-contention at the Palmetto Championship two weeks ago, having hit odds-on during round two, and he wasn’t a factor on Sunday at Torrey Pines, despite entering the final round trailing by only four strokes.

I’m happy to swerve the defending champ and despite strong and improving course form figures, reading 47-26-9-8-6, I’m also happy to avoid DeChambeau, who completely lost the plot on Sunday, finishing tied for 26th at Torrey Pines, having traded at less than 2/1 to defend the title. That will take some getting over and he looks like one to leave alone.

Having won the Phoenix Open from off the pace and having finished second at the WGC Workday Championship in February, it maybe time to stop assuming Brooks Koepka is only worth serious consideration when it comes to majors but I’m not convinced and his last four starts sum his usual application up perfectly.

He admitted last week that he struggles to stay focused at an ordinary run of the mill PGA Tour event like this one and the fact that he finish second at the US PGA Championship one week after a missed cut in Texas and fourth last week following a weekend off at the Palmetto could be an indication of what we may expect here.

Brooks has course form figures reading 51-9-19-57 and he looks well worth swerving after last week’s near miss.

Patrick Cantlay finished 24th when he shot 60 here in round two ten years ago but he missed his next two cuts in 2012 and 2014. He swerved the event for three years after that but he’s played well here in the last three years, finishing 15th, 15th and 11th.

Cantlay wins memorial again.jpg

Last week’s 15th at Torrey Pines was a decent effort in his first start since he won The Memorial Tournament for a second time and he should contend again but he’s no value to do so.

Selection

I’ll have one or two outsiders for the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow but having missed the reasonable prices about course specialist, Bubba Watson, for now I’ve got just one selection.

Having won the US Open in fine style on Sunday, Jon Rahm is no longer the best player in the world not to win a major and come Sunday night, I’m hoping Scottie Scheffler won’t still be the best on the planet yet to win on the PGA Tour.

The 25-year-old world number 18 is overdue his first title and despite his missed cut here 12 months ago, this event looks absolutely ideal for him.

Scheffler showed us just how special he is last August when he shot 59 at The Northern Trust (won by last year’s Travelers Champ, DJ) so we know he can go really low on an easy set-up and he arrives in Connecticut in stunning form, with a missed cut at the Charles Schwab, one week after he finished eighth in the USPGA Championship, his only recent blip.

That weekend off after a fine effort in a major is a slight concern given he was seventh last week at Torrey Pines but hopefully that was a one-off as prior to last week and following the MC, he finished third in The Memorial Tournament.

It took Scheffler a little time to overcome his defeat in the WGC Match Play final to Billy Horschel at the end of March but he’s firing on all cylinders now and he’s putting brilliantly too. He’s ranked first for Putting Average in each of the last two weeks and provided he hasn’t got too big a hangover from last week, he could very easily be the latest first timer to take the Travelers.

Scheffler currently ranks fourth on the PGA Tour for Par 4 Scoring so all in all, this looks like the perfect place for him to get off the mark.

Selection:
Scottie Scheffler @ 28.027/1

I’ll be back later today or tomorrow with my BMW International Open preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter