The PGA Tour makes a rare appearance in the New England area this week with the Travelers Championship. TPC River Highlands plays host to this event every year and is one of the shortest courses on Tour. Pete Dye designed the course in 1982, with Bobby Weed re-designing the course in 1989. As with all Pete Dye courses, precision and finesse will be required in order to execute the proper shots. The narrow, tree-lined fairways allow short hitters to contend, while also giving golfers the option of attempting to overpower the course.
TPC River Highlands is a Par 70 that measures just over 6,800 yards. As a Par 70, there are only two Par 5s. The majority of the twelves Par 4s will play between 400 and 450 yards. Birdie-making will be imperative this week with the last three winners scoring -17 or better. The greens are 5,000 square feet which are pretty small, so strong Approach play will be crucial. This is a full-field event which means there are 156 golfers and the Top 65 and ties will make the cut. Low rounds are possible at this course, evidenced by Mac Hughes’s opening round of 60 last year, and Jim Furyk’s PGA Tour record-low round of 58 in 2016. The main defense for the course is the thick rough, and narrow fairways. Accurate players have had success here because they are able to manage the course and play efficiently. Pete Dye courses tend to require golfers to truly understand the course they are playing. There are right places to miss, and shot-making will be necessary.
My handicapping process for this week began by reviewing the scorecards of the last five winners of this event to try and find what stats will be important this week. The last five winners of this event are Dustin Johnson, Chez Reavie, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, and Russell Knox. Bubba Watson has won this event three times, so it’s worth noting that some degree of course history exists. The five former winners have shown that strong irons and a hot putter are the keys to a winning week. All five of these players finished inside the Top 10 in Tee-to-Green for the week they won. Par 4 Scoring is the most important scoring stat to look at this week. The five winners faced a total of 240 Par 4s and scored on 76 of them, a 31.76% scoring rate. They also combined to score on 50% of the limited Par 5s they faced. The general blueprint for this week is finding someone who is a birdie-maker and has the potential to get red hot with their putter. Greens-in-regulation is another key stat to look at this week because with low scores anticipated golfers will need to have a plethora of birdie chances in order to keep pace with the field.
All styles of golf are capable of contending this week. I will be targeting golfers who hit fairways and greens, and have a very high scoring upside. There are some courses that have shown to be correlated to TPC River Highlands. Innisbrook (Valspar) has seen strong cross-over leaderboards, Harbour Town Golf Links (RBC Heritage) is another short course where precision is key, and Pebble Beach is a short course where birdies are available to the field and the Approach/Putting combination is the path to success.
Key Stats: Tee-to-Green, Ball-Striking, Putting, Approach, and GIRs Gained
Scoring Upside: Birdies-or-Better Gained, Par 4s 400-450 yards, Par 4 BoB % / Scoring Average, and Bogey Avoidance
Travelers Championship Tips
Scottie Scheffler 28-1
Scottie Scheffler is going to win soon. He is an extremely talented player who has contended multiple times but has yet to close the door on his maiden PGA Tour victory. His current form is at a peak, with three Top 10 Finishes in his last four starts. In 23 total events this season, Scheffler has produced seven Top 10 finishes. He has incredibly high upside and is a natural scorer. The last time Scheffler played in the New England area, he rattled off a round of 59 at TPC Boston. In recent events where he has contended, Scheffler has seemingly melted down late on Sunday. At a course like this, I like Scheffler’s ability to go really low and set the pace while avoiding the pressure.
Looking at all rounds for the 2021 season, in this field Scheffler ranks: third in Birdies or Better Gained, tenth Tee-to-Green, eleventh in strokes gained on Par 4s from 400-450 yards, and 21st in Ball-Striking. Scheffler’s combination of both length and accuracy is intriguing on a short course like this where he is likely going to be playing a shorter iron into the green but won’t always be playing out of the rough. Scheffler has been particularly good on Par 4s where he is ranked eighth among all PGA Tour players in scoring average. Scheffler’s hot recent form and scoring upside will propel him to his first victory.
Joaquin Niemann 44-1
Joaquin Niemann is a great ball-striker and is a player who is best suited for low-scoring events. Niemann’s length this week will allow him to overpower the golf course this week and give himself plenty of scoring chances. Niemann’s length leads to missed fairways, but even with his poor accuracy he still manages to get himself onto the green-in-regulation. His biggest weakness is his inability to chip and play well around-the-green. This week I do not anticipate scrambling to be a key indicator of success which means this is a good course setup for Niemann.
Looking at all rounds for the 2021 season, in this field Niemann ranks: fifth in Ball-Striking, seventh in Tee-to-Green, sixth in Birdies-or-Better Gained, twelfth in GIRs Gained, fourteenth in Putting, and 21st in Approach. Niemann has a lot of good stuff going for him this week. This year he is also sixth in Scoring Average, and fifteenth in Total Strokes Gained. His ability to play consistently well will translate into a win and this is a great week for that to happen.
Harris English 50-1
Harris English has been playing really well in recent weeks. He spent most of the week in contention at Palmetto before finishing T14 and darted up the leaderboard on Sunday at the U.S. Open to finish in 3rd place. English is a very balanced overall player who does nothing exceptionally well, but he doesn’t do anything poorly. In 20 events this season, English has six Top 10 Finishes including a win. His lone win this season was at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua where he won in a birdie-fest at 25 strokes under par. Over his last 26 rounds, English is gaining strokes in every category and has gained 1.12 Total Strokes per round. English has shown to be a streaky player and while he is hot and in form, I will ride with him this week in hopes of another birdie frenzy like we saw back in January.
Sam Burns 70-1
I mentioned Valspar as a good comp for TPC River Highlands so it makes sense that this year’s winner of that event stuck out to me this week. Burns followed up that victory with a runner-up finish at the Byron Nelson. In his most recent events, Burns has struggled. However, this week the PGA Tour returns to an easier course setup which suits Burns high scoring upside much better than the PGA Championship and U.S. Open did. Burns is an extremely volatile golfer and has played in the final pairing multiple times this year.
This season, Burns ranks 20th in Approach and 22nd in Putting. Over his last 32 rounds, Burns is gaining .74 strokes per round in Approach, and .28 strokes per round in Putting. This is the perfect combination for this course. Birdie-making is the name of the game this week and Burns in the number one player in Birdie Average and the number one player in Par 4 Birdie or Better Percentage. Burns has the raw scoring upside to contend in yet another event this season and these are great odds for a player of this caliber.
Emiliano Grillo 95-1
Emiliano Grillo has made his way onto another one of my betting cards. He is a great ball-striker who plays especially well on shorter courses. Grillo’s game plan is to stay in the fairways and hit greens. Grillo is not a good putter but with small greens this week, he should have plenty of short looks at birdies. This season, Grillo is the number one player in Proximity to the Hole, which is a great way to neutralize a poor putter. Grillo is also riding strong current form with four Top 15 Finishes in his last seven events.
Over his last 24 rounds, in this field Grillo ranks: first in Approach, first in strokes gained Par 4s 400-450 yards, third in GIRs Gained, sixth in Ball-Striking, and eighth in Birdies-or-Better Gained. Grillo’s iron play has been scorching hot and he excels on Par 4s. With twelve total Par 4s this week, Grillo’s mastery of these holes should allow him to contend.