Steve takes a detailed look at this week's PGA Tour event from Connecticut where he fancies we could be set for yet another surprise winner. Read his comprehensive preview here...
“Don’t be afraid to back an old-timer at massive odds looking to win for the very first time – it’s happened before here and it could very well happen again.”
Originally called the Insurance City Open, the Travelers Championship was first staged in 1952. It's been played the week after the US Open since 2007.
TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut
Par 70 - 6,841 yards
Stroke Index in 2014 - 69.69
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. The greens are of an average size and fairly slow at just 10.5 on the stimpmeter.
Holes 15, 16 and 17, are nicknamed the 'Golden Triangle' and they wind around a lake, creating a pleasing backdrop for what's usually a very dramatic finish.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2014 - Kevin Streelman -15
2013 - Ken Duke -12 (playoff)
2012 - Marc Leishman -14
2011 - Fredrik Jacobson -20
2010 - Bubba Watson -14 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win The Travelers Championship?
This is a difficult event to analyse statistically but it seems accuracy off the tee is now marginally more important than power. The last four winners have had an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 12.75 and a Driving Distance ranking of 40.75. And that's quite a change. In the five years previous, the average DD ranking was 6.2, with both the 2010 winner, Bubba Watson, and the 2006 champ, J.J Henry, hitting it further than anyone else.
The average ranking for Greens In Regulation over the last decade is 23.3 and Ken Duke won ranking just 62nd two years ago so that's not a stat to dwell on too long either. This event is basically a putting competition (the last 10 winners have all ranked inside the top-11 with the flatstick) and it's all about getting hot with the putter and making lots and lots of birdies. Streelman made 26 in total last year and he was the fifth winner in nine years to make more than anyone else on the week. Checking out the Birdie Average Stats is as good a place to start as any.
Is There an Angle In?
Last week's US Open was a grind from start to finish and I won't be remotely interested in anyone lining up here that contended over the weekend there. Since this event switched to this week in the schedule, in 2007, nobody that's been in the thick of it at the US Open has looked like winning this.
Last year's winner, Streelman, had missed the cut at Pinehurst and a weekend off last week is a much bigger plus than a weekend in-contention and those that watched the gruelling test on TV may be better off than any of those that played at Chambers Bay.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Outsiders, PGA Tour maidens and old-timers all have a good record at TPC River Highlands.
Streelman was a 220.0219/1 shot before the off last year and 12 months earlier, Ken Duke won having been matched at 680.0679/1 before the get-go. The three PGA Tour events that preceded last week's major saw success for three players, Steven Bowditch, David Lingmerth and Fabian Gomez, that were matched at 890.0889/1, 770.0769/1 and 610.0609/1 respectively. Don't be surprised if we get another monster-priced winner here.
Kevin Streelman had won once before prior to last year's success, at the Valspar Championship in 2013, but six of the eight winners before him were all winning on the PGA Tour for the very first time.
KJ Choi traded at just 1.728/11 before getting caught by Streelman 12 months ago but had he held on, the record for the over 40s would read now read six winners in the last 12 years and just to emphasize the point further, when Bubba won four years ago, he beat veterans Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin in a playoff.
Don't be afraid to back an old-timer at massive odds looking to win for the very first time - it's happened before here and it could very well happen again.
This is definitely an event where off the pace is often the place to be on a Sunday morning. Five of the last six third round leaders have been beaten and only five third round leaders have won here this century. And some of the winners have come from absolutely miles back...
Marc Leishman trailed by six two years ago, as did Bubba in 2010, and the two he beat in the playoff (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 have both won the event this century from three off the pace. Duke sat in a tie for 6th and was trailing by two - two years ago and Streelman was four back and a 55.054/1 shot 12 months ago.
After the drivable par 4 15th, the last three holes used to pose a stern enough test but it's far from anything we witnessed last week and the par 3 16th was very accessible last year. It had been the hardest hole on the course in 2012 and 2013 but the pin was placed in the front left portion of the green in the final round and four of the first six home birdied the hole. And Streelman became the first in PGA Tour history to birdie the last seven holes to win.
It's a great event to trade in-running and three players hit odds-on 12 months ago without winning - the aforementioned Choi, Aaron Baddeley and Sergio Garcia. Two 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 played them in three-over-par!
Bubba Watson looked like Chambers Bay wasn't going to be his cup of tea the moment he double-bogeyed the 1st hole but he stuck to the task quite well on day one and finished up shooting level par. He appeared to give up a bit on day two, dropping shots like confetti on his second nine holes, and he'll be glad to tee it up somewhere that he knows he likes this week.
Bubba's come a long way since winning his first PGA Tour event here in 2010 and I suspect returning to River Highlands always puts a spring in his step. In addition to that win, he's also finished inside the top-six on three other occasions so he clearly likes it here but he hasn't been at his best since losing his way on the back-nine at Doral in February and he looks like one to swerve right now.
Brandt Snedeker's 8th placed finish at Chambers Bay was his third straight top-ten so he's riding a nice little wave of momentum at present and the hot-putting Nashville star looks destined to contend again. His course form isn't spectacular but his 11th placed finish last year was his best effort to date so it's no surprise to see him return. If last week's ordeal hasn't taken its toll he could be the man to beat but it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he struggles to lift himself after just coming up shy at Chambers Bay.
I was a little surprised to see Patrick Reed in the line-up here. His form figures read 47-18-MC so he's not exactly set the place alight before and if anyone is going to feel fatigued after last week it's him. I thought he looked a serious contender at halfway but he lost touch quickly on Saturday, eventually shooting a very disappointing 76. He rallied well enough on Sunday with a one-over-par 71 to finish the week and he's ranked inside the top-four for putting in each of his last three starts but I'm more than happy to take him on after last week. That was the first time the bullish Texan has contended in a major and it's asking a lot of him to bounce back so quickly.
Despite his whining about the course, Sergio Garcia finished the week with a two-under-par 68 to finish tied for 18th at Chambers Bay so last year's runner-up will arrive here quite pleased with how he's playing. He hit odds-on 12 months ago before Streelman swooped to win and the disappointment of his near miss at Sawgrass, when he lost to Rickie Fowler in a playoff, may just be out of his system by now. He could contend again here but he's never easy to get across the line in front and he's another I'm more than happy to take on.
Regular readers may recall that for the last few years I've put my laying boots on for this event and it's paid dividends so that's again the plan this time around.
With the exception of Zach Johnson, who looks too big at over 40.039/1, I'll be laying everyone trading at less than 100.099/1 before the off and I'll be tweaking my book as the week goes on.
I'll kick the In-Play Blog of tomorrow before the action even starts so that I can show what my book looks like before the event kicks off but I have picked out two to side with, the aforementioned Johnson and Jerry Kelly.
Chambers Bay was always going to me miles too long for Zach so it's to his credit that he even made the cut. He finished the week languishing in a tied for 72nd but interestingly, he ranked third for putting. And he ranked 6th for that stat when finishing 5th at the Byron Nelson Championship on his penultimate start. Zach's a dangerous player when he's putting well so I've had a tiny bet on him, as well as Kelly.
In 17 visits here, Kelly only has two top-ten finishes and he missed the cut last time out at the St. Jude Classic but prior to that he was in really good form and I thought a week off might have just have refreshed him to go again and that 160.0159/1 was big enough.
Zach Johnson @ 44.043/1
Jerry Kelly @ 160.0159/1
Lay Book details to be published in the In-Play Blog tomorrow.
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