TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP: Like the RBC Heritage, the Travelers Championship has carved out a reputation as an enjoyable post-major comedown, when the stresses and difficulties of the previous week give way to a friendlier setup both on and off the golf course. Both tournaments are warmly embraced by the local community– Hartford, Connecticut in this case– and both have been held on the same sub-7,000 yard courses for decades. The Travelers in particular has become known for exciting Sunday finishes, with the winner being decided either in a playoff or by a single shot in 13 of the past 17 years, including last year, when Dustin Johnson (-19) held off Kevin Streelman (-18) to pick up his 21st PGA Tour victory.
The pandemic-related shuffling of the schedule in 2020 pushed this tournament out of its customary post-U.S. Open slot, which might’ve led to a slightly stronger field, but things are back to normal now and tournament organizers have to be happy with the turnout considering 5 of the world’s top-10 players will be in attendance, including market leaders DJ (11.0) and Bryson DeChambeau (11.5) and fan favorites like Brooks Koepka (16.5), Phil Mickelson (49.0), and Keegan Bradley (36.0). We can expect lots of low numbers and large, enthusiastic galleries (I’ve heard from a reliable source that event organizers have found a way around the 10,ooo-per day spectator limit… and that they won’t be the first PGA Tour event this year to have done so).
The course, TPC River Highlands, is a par-70 that measures just 6,840 yards, making it one of the shortest tracks on Tour. That being said, a variety of different styles have won this tournament over the years, from bombers like Johnson and Bubba Watson to short ‘n straight types like Chez Reavie and Russell Knox, so there are several different ways to dissect the Pete Dye/Bobby Weed designed River Highlands, which is a positive trait for any course to have in my opinion. The greens are small and speedy and can be difficult to hold from the rough, so putting the ball in the fairway will be important this week, but if players are hitting their spots they can really take it low, as Jim Furyk proved with his record-setting 58 here back in 2016. This is a straightforward test– it’s all out in front of you, and there are no difficult stretches to slow your momentum. The winner this week will be a player who gets on a roll and rides it, not one who perseveres through tremendous difficulties. This ain’t the U.S. Open.
The top of BETDAQ’s Win Market is crowded this week, with eight players currently trading at shorter than 20.0, but as mentioned this tournament has produced a mixed bag of champions over the years, so there may be some gold waiting to be found a bit further down the board. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Abraham Ancer (26.0)- While a missed cut at Torrey Pines may have thrown some off the scent, I’m not too troubled by Ancer’s Friday 77 at one of the longest U.S. Open courses in history, especially when you consider his recent play– five consecutive top-20 finishes heading into last week, including a runner-up at the Wells Fargo and a T8 at the PGA Championship. TPC River Highlands is a much better fit for his game than Torrey Pines, and after a T58 and a MC in his first two appearances at this event Ancer seems to have figured the course out, finishing T8 and T11 the last two years. His Sunday 63 in 2019 tied the lowest final round of his PGA Tour career, so he knows how to get it rolling at River Highlands, and with the way he’s been hitting the ball this season, ranking 6th on Tour in driving accuracy percentage and 11th in GIR percentage, it should be a shooting gallery out there for him this week. I’m fairly enthusiastic about Ancer here at a price like 26.0.
Sam Burns (74.0)- It’s been a banner stretch for Burns, as he followed up his first career victory at the Valspar Championship last month with a runner-up in the Byron Nelson in his very next start. He narrowly missed the cut in last week’s U.S. Open, but this is a different week at a totally different course, and Burns has shown promise in two career appearances at this event, finishing T43 in 2019 and T24 last year, when he shot 68 or better in all four rounds. The winner will have to take it low this week and Burns has certainly proven capable of doing that, ranking 1st on Tour in birdie average, 1st in birdie or better percentage, and 16th in “Actual” scoring average. This guy has all the tools– long off the tee (305.8 yds per drive) and great with the putter in is hands (5th in putting average), his days in the spotlight have just begun. Don’t be surprised if he gets hot this week and makes a run– and if he does, you’ll be happy you got him at 74.0.
Brendon Todd (110.0)- Todd has one obvious handicap in relation to his competitors: he’s one of the shortest guys on Tour, averaging just a shade over 271 yards per drive. This means that some weeks– like last week at Torrey Pines, for instance– he’s simply non-competitive. When length off the tee is not required for success, however, Todd is tough to beat, as he leads the Tour in driving accuracy and ranks 2nd in strokes gained putting. TPC River Highlands is one of his spots– in his last three starts here he’s found the top-15 twice, including a T11 last year. He’s only three starts removed from an 8th-place showing at the Charles Schwab Challenge, so there’s no reason to be concerned about the state of his game, and with the way he rolls the rock there’s always a chance that he catches fire at a place like River Highlands and takes it super-low– he’s posted six rounds of 63 or better across the last two seasons. Todd is one to watch this week and an excellent value at better than 100/1.