Travelers Championship: Course specialist Bubba a must play, says The Punter

Bubba Watson - The Punter's sole selection in the Travelers
Bubba Watson - The Punter's sole selection in the Travelers

We're off to Connecticut on the PGA Tour this week for the Travelers Championship where our man fancies Bubba Watson to put up a bold defence. Read Steve's comprehensive preview here...


"Bubba Watson heads the market and the only surprise is that he isn’t a shorter price. He missed the cut here on debut in 2006 and didn’t return in 2007 but his last eight consecutive starts have yielded form figures reading 6-14-1-38-2-4-31-1."

Tournament History

The Travelers Championship (formerly the Insurance City Open) has been in existence since 1952. Since 2007, the event has been played one week after the US Open but with an adjusted schedule to fit in next week's Olympics tournament, it immediately follows the USPGA Championship this year.


Venue

TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut


Course Details

Par 70 - 6,841 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 69.38

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 dramatic backdrop for what's usually a very theatrical finish. The par four 15th is drivable but the water is in play for anyone straying left. The par three 16th is played back over the water and is tough enough and the 17th hole has water to the right off the tee and approach shots to the green are played back over the lake. Last year it ranked as the second toughest hole of the week, with only the par four fourth playing harder.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 20:00 on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2015 - Bubba Watson -16 (playoff)
2014 - Kevin Streelman -15
2013 - Ken Duke -12 (playoff)
2012 - Marc Leishman -14
2011 - Fredrik Jacobson -20


What Will it Take to Win The Travelers Championship?

This is a really tricky event to get to grips with statistically. Bubba Watson hit it further than anyone else last year, as he did in 2010 when he won, and Scott Henry topped the Driving Distance stats in 2006 but the average DD ranking of the four winners between Bubba's two victories averaged 40.75 for DD. Those four winners had an average Driving Accuracy of 12.75 but last year's two playoff protagonists, Bubba and Paul Casey, only ranked 70th and 61st so I can only conclude that neither length nor accuracy is vital.

Brian Harman, who finished third last year, ranked second for Greens In Regulation and Casey ranked first but Bubba managed to win with a GIR ranking of 42nd and Ken Duke won here in 2013 with a GIR ranking of 62nd so relentlessly finding greens isn't the be-all-and-end-all either.

Bubba ranked first for Scrambling and he also ranked number one for Putts Per Round last year and five of the last ten winners have ranked first for Birdie Average. It's basically a putting competition and tournaments like this are always tricky. The Birdie Average Stats may help but knowing quite who is going to have a good week with the flatstick on any particular week is never easy.


Is There an Angle In?

Swerve the Baltusrol contenders. The first three home last year had all played at Chambers Bay the week before but none of them had figured. Paul Casey had finished down the field in 39th and Watson and Harman both missed the cut and that was typical. In the nine years that this event has been played in the week after the US Open nobody that has contended the week before in that major has been anywhere close to winning the Travelers. This is a very different test to that posed at a major championship and it may make sense to disregard anyone in the line-up that was even remotely in-contention at Baltusrol.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

After Jason Day withdrew, just before the off, Bubba went off favourite last year but this is not usually an event to side with the fancied runners. 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 get-go two 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. We've already seen some big-priced winners on the PGA Tour this season, including last week and there's every chance we'll get another one here.

Bubba is obviously prolific and the 2014 winner, Streelman had won once before, at the Valspar Championship a year earlier, but six of the eight winners before him were all winning on the PGA Tour for the very first time.

Five of the last 13 Travelers winners have been over 40 and had KJ Choi, who traded at just 1.728/11 in 2014, held on, that would have read six from 13. 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 of the last 13 renewals.

Don't be afraid to back a wily old vet.


In-Play Tactics

The third round leader or co-leader has gone on to win only three times in the last 12 years. Six of the last seven 54-hole leaders have been beaten and some of the winners here have come from absolutely miles back.

Marc Leishman trailed by six four 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 three years ago and Streelman was four back and trading at 55.054/1 two years ago.

Harman only traded as low as 3.9 last year and Casey dipped no lower than 1.625/8, and he was the only player other than Bubba to hit odds-on, but this is normally a tremendous event to trade in-running. Three players hit odds-on two years ago without winning - K.J Choi, Aaron Baddeley and Sergio Garcia. Three 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!

We often get a tight finish and six of the last 12 renewals have gone to extra time.


Market Leaders

Bubba Watson heads the market and the only surprise is that he isn't a shorter price. He missed the cut here on debut in 2006 and didn't return in 2007 but his last eight consecutive starts have yielded form figures reading 6-14-1-38-2-4-31-1. He's missing the opening ceremony at the Olympics in order to defend his title and it seems his appearance here was never in doubt.

"It was a no-brainer never to miss the Travelers. This was never coming off the schedule. We've always planned on being here. No matter what happened, I was going to be here. So I'm missing opening ceremonies...so I'm just going to fly in for the golf tournament and then fly out."

Bubba's a real horses-for-courses type of golfer and he's already won at Riviera and Augusta on two occasions. He's won this title twice already and I can see him winning it a third time.

He finished down the field at Baltusrol (tied 60th) and he hasn't been in the best of form of late but that was the case last year and this place could easily spark a revival. TPC River Highlands seems to really suit him...

"It's just everything else, coming here as a past champion, they treat you little different. They just treat you with more respect, even though I don't know how they can do more, but they do more, and then winning it for the second time, I can't wait to get back here again and just feel the excitement and get pumped up, get the goosebumps from all the cheers that I'm going to have this year, hopefully I'll have this year. I'm always feeling good about it around here. I get excited. This golf course suits me."

Branden Grace and Brooks Koepka are fighting out second favouritism but I'm not keen on either. As highlighted above, being in contention at the USPGA Championship last week will probably prove a negative and neither player performed well here on debut. Grace missed the cut last year and Koepka finished 51st in 2014.


Selection

I've had success at this event laying all the market leaders before the off and then building a book around them and I wouldn't put anyone off adopting those tactics.

I may yet do that myself but having had a busy three weeks, with two major championships to concentrate on, I'm tempted to take it easy this week. If I change my mind I'll kick off the In-Play Blog early (on Wednesday) and highlight my starting position then but whether I do or I don't, I'll be keeping Bubba onside.

He's not made a brilliant fist of defending a title yet and that's a negative but his course form is so strong that I felt I couldn't leave him out.


Selection:
Bubba Watson @ 15.5


I'll be back tomorrow with my Paul Lawrie Match Play preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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