After a sensational 61 in round three, Brendon Todd has struck the front in Connecticut but are the stats against him converting? Read Steve's final in-running thoughts on the Travelers Championship here...
“Although two of the last three Travelers winners were leading after 54 holes, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win only five times in the last 16 years and eight of the last 11 54-hole leaders have been beaten.”
10:25 - June 28, 2020
Brendon Todd began the third round of the Travelers Championship trailing the halfway leader, Phil Mickelson, by four strokes but after a nine-under-par 61 he now leads the field by two-strokes. Alone in second is Dustin Johnson, who also shot 61 in round three - his lowest ever round on the PGA Tour. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:20.
Brendon Todd -18 [2.92]
Dustin Johnson -16 [3.1]
Kevin Streelman -15 [11.0]
Mackenzie Hughes -14 [30.0]
Bryson DeChambeau -13 [11.5]
Kevin Na -13 [32.0]
Abraham Ancer -12 [42.0]
Phil Mickelson -12 [75.0]
-12 and [90.0] bar
Having been tied for the lead through three rounds, Brendon Todd was rock solid when winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic back in November. He shot a three-under-par 68 to win by one and he also won the Byron Nelson Championship back in 2014 by two strokes, having been tied for the lead with a round to go. He also won from the front on the Korn Ferry Tour 12 years ago but he was beaten by three strokes at the RSM Classic in November, having gone into the final round leading by two.
That defeat needs to be put into context though. It was a week after winning the Mayakoba and three weeks after he'd come from two back to win the Bermuda Championship. He was attempting to win three PGA Tour events in-a-row and that's quite an ask so he deserves a bit of slack. Todd is definitely trustworthy with the lead but this isn't an easy place to convert...
As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, although two of the last three winners were leading after 54 holes, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win only five times in the last 16 years and eight of the last 11 54-hole leaders have been beaten.
Chez Reavie had a seemingly unassailable six-stroke lead last year and he eventually won by four but it wasn't smooth sailing on Sunday and Keegan Bradley (matched at a low of [3.0]) got to within a stroke with three holes to play. It was a similar story three years ago when Spieth won from the front as he wobbled badly having been matched at just [1.09] early on in the final round and he very nearly threw it away. Eventually beating Daniel Berger in a playoff.
Bubba Watson came from six back to win here in both 2010 and 2018, as did Marc Leishman in 2012, and Brad Faxon was seven adrift in 2005 so it's certainly possible to go low and win from off the pace.
Dustin Johnson is obviously Todd's biggest danger but his recent record in-contention is abysmal. Since blowing a six-stroke lead at the HSBC Champions event in 2017, he's put in a few iffy performances and the last three, in particular, have been awful. He shot 74 in round four at the Valspar in March last year to fall from second to sixth, fell from first to 28th with a final round 77 at the RBC Heritage in April '19, and having sat tied for sixth and just two off the lead at the Genesis Invitational in February (at Riviera - a track he's won at before), he shot 72 to finish 10th. If Todd is going to fail, DJ may not be the man to capitalise.
Alone in third, Kevin Streelman is an interesting runner. He famously birdied the last seven holes to win here back in 2014, having begun the final day trailing by four, demonstrating in no uncertain terms how things can change and change fast at River Highlands. Those happy memories may inspire him today but he too could be a bit too close to the lead. He won the Valspar when tied for the lead back in 2013 but that's his sole success from 11 attempts when leading or within three strokes of the lead with a round to go. Extend it to four strokes and he's two from 18 and, as already stated, he needed a miraculous finish to win here when trailing by four.
First round leader, Mackenzie Hughes, played OK yesterday in the final three-ball. His playing partners were very poor and the Canadian missed a number of makeable putts as the rain fell and the greens changed late on. He could find the cup a bit more today and he looks a fair price at around [30.0].
Bryson DeChambeau is contending for the third week in-a-row and could easily come through to win but at three times the price on the same score, I prefer the price about Kevin Na.
Na has been quite prolific of late, winning twice in his last 18 starts on the PGA Tour and three times in total in the last two years. He's a streaky and often not great putter but the rest of his game is immaculate. As he demonstrated when firing 64 to win the Military Tribute at the Greenbrier almost two years ago, if the putter gets hot he can go really low (won by five having sat third with a round to go) and he looks a fair price at [32.0] this morning.
10:55 - June 27, 2020
Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau over the first two days at the Travelers Championship, Phil Mickelson, for one of the very few times in his long and illustrious career, would have been considered the lesser light in his three-ball but it was Mickelson that shone the brightest yesterday.
After an opening six-under-par 64, Mickelson started his second round slowly, playing his first four holes in one-over-par. It looked like it might be a case of a bright start to the tournament fading away for the veteran but the round was spectacularly rejuvenated with this chip-in birdie two at the par 3 fifth and he never looked back after that.
Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:50.
Phil Mickelson -13 [6.6]
Mackenzie Hughes -12 [20.0]
Will Gordon -12 [28.0]
Rory McIlroy -9 [6.2]
Xander Schauffele -9 [10.5]
Marc Leishman -9 [16.5]
Brendon Todd -9 [46.0]
Brendan Steele -9 [55.0]
Bryson DeChambeau -8 [10.0]
Abraham Ancer -8 [22.0]
Viktor Hovland -8 [25.0]
-8 and [27.0] bar
Hindsight is a marvellous thing but how many people are kicking themselves for not backing Mickelson here at over [200.0]? I know I am. Hard. He won the event back-to-back in 2001 and 2002 and although he missed the cut here last year, that was his first return since he finished 58th in 2003 when attempting the hattrick. He was a [75.0] chance last year and here's my preview's headline.
"Travelers Championship: Mickelson value on long-awaited River Highlands return"
It's no surprise that he's been an infrequent visitor. For years, winning the one major that's eluded him, the US Open, played in the week before the Travelers, has been his priority and missing out (often very narrowly - he's been second six times) would induce quite an intense sulk. That's not an ideal prep for an ordinary PGA Tour event - no matter how well the venue suits - so it's perfectly reasonable that he's skipped it so many times.
What isn't reasonable, is being a huge Mickelson fan, highlighting in your preview how well the course suits the older players, being an advocate of the significant birthday theory, knowing full well that Mickelson wins at the same venues regularly, and then completely ignoring him here, just days after he's turned 50! To coin one of the great man's own phrases, I'm an idiot.
So, what now? Will Phil go on to win?
The last five winners here have all been inside the top-eight places and no more than three off the lead but in the last ten years we've seen three winners trailing by at least seven strokes at this stage (Kevin Streelman, in 2014, trailed by eight) so it's a wide open event. There's a little gap of three strokes between tied second and tied fourth but with 25 players within seven of Phil, some of which are very highly ranked, we might see lots of change in round three today.
Rory McIlroy, who trails by four, still heads the market but I'm not convinced he should. He was getting quite agitated by the few spectators/volunteers/scorers present during round two yesterday and if someone's going to take this event by the scruff today, much like Chez Reavie did last year when he went from two back to six clear with a third round 63, it's more likely to Phil, who's four ahead of Rory.
Mickelson's record when leading at halfway is quite sensational. The last time he held a halfway lead was at the AT&T Pebble Beach last year and he went on to win by three, despite a fairly poor 70 in round three. He's led or co-led through 36 holes 31 times in total and he's only finished outside the top-three three times. He's finished inside the top-three on each of the last 14 occasions that he's led at halfway and he's highly likely to carry on contending. Odds of around 11/2 are perfectly fair.
Win percentage with outright 36-hole lead on PGA Tour:? Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) June 26, 2020
Phil Mickelson: 60.0% (12-for-20)
PGA Tour average since 2005: 32.9%
I'm not happy to have missed the massive pre-event prices available but I'm happy to play Phil at [6.8] given those stats. After that, it's hard to predict where the value might lie. I can still see Xander Schauffele contending on Sunday, Marc Leishman has already won this year (the Farmers Insurance Open in January) and loves it here, Abraham Ancer and Viktor Hovland are flying the flag for the up-and-coming stars and I thought both Brendan Todd and Kevin Na looked big this morning. And Brendan Steele looks a fair price too given how well he's been putting over the first two days.
There are some juicy prices to be had and it's a very open event still. The winner may not be listed above and there's a plethora of players that can throw their hat in the ring with a decent third round today so caution is advised but all things considered, Lefty at [6.8] is fair.
11:15 - June 26, 2020
Having backed Mackenzie Hughes in the first event back at Colonial at a huge price, and again last week at Harbour Town at a whopping [640.0], I can't begin to pretend watching him fire a ten-under-par 60 in round one of the Travelers Championship yesterday was anything but frustrating.
I wrote in the preview that I felt hot putting would be the key this week and that's certainly been the case so far. Hughes tops the Strokes Gained Putting stats, having needed only 23 wafts with the wand on his way to sinking a total of 143 feet! It's just possible that he might not be able to maintain that sort of performance for four days but a three-stroke lead is a fair early advantage and first round leaders have a decent record here.
As many as six men have led or co-led after round one and gone on to win here this century and only one player (Corey Pavin in 2004) has led by as many as three. He went on to finish sixth.
Having enjoyed the advantage of a pristine course with no wind yesterday morning, the Canadian tees off this afternoon today but with almost no wind forecast today, it doesn't look like the afternoon wave are going to be too disadvantaged. Yesterday's late starters shot an average of 1.14 strokes more than the morning starters but I suspect the differential will be less today.
I don't expect Hughes to putt anywhere near as well as he did yesterday but at [27.0], with a three shot lead on a course that's seen it's fair share of first round leaders go on to take the title, he's worth getting onside.
Sitting in a tie for second and three off the lead, Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele are the two big threats and of the two, I prefer the latter. Schauffele was poor last week but that was understandable after he'd gone so close to winning at Colonial the week before. Both putted nicely yesterday but I fancy Schauffele is fractionally more likely to post four good rounds. Rory has a bad habit of posting a poor one somewhere along the line and at just a shade over 4/1, he's too short for me.
Of my pre-event picks that actually started (Brooks Koepka withdrew on Tuesday), Russell Henley (-5) and Lucas Glover (-4) have began the event OK and other than the small Hughes wager, I'm going to leave the event alone for now.
First round leaders have faired well but a fast start is by no means essential and it's a wide-open event. In the last seven years we've seen three winners trail by at least seven strokes after round one (Ken Duke trailed by eight in 2013) so if your picks have started slowly, I wouldn't give up on them just yet.
I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the halfway stage.
Brooks Koepka @ [24.0] - Non Runner
Bubba Watson @ [38.0]
J.T Poston @ [140.0]
Lucas Glover @ [290.0]
Russell Henley @ [320.0]
Harry Higgs @ [610.0]
Lucas Glover 12/1 Top-10 & 11/2 Top-20 - Sportsbook
Mackenzie Hughes @ [27.0]
Phil Mickelson @ [6.8]
Kevin Na @ [32.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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