TRAVELERS: After a memorable week in Los Angeles that saw a new major champion crowned, the PGA Tour resumes its regular schedule with an event that has thrived in its post-U.S. Open slot, the Travelers Championship. Formerly the Greater Hartford Open, the Travelers has been Connecticut’s only PGA Tour stop for more than 70 years, and it has been held at the current venue, TPC River Highlands, since 1984.
A par-70 that measures just 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands is one of the shortest tracks on Tour. That said, it’s not a one-trick pony, as a variety of different styles have won this tournament over the years, from bombers like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson to short and straight types like Chez Reavie and Russell Knox. 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. Xander Schauffele got the job done last year at 19-under, becoming the fourth champion in the past five years to post 17-under or better. River Highlands is a straightforward test that features plenty of wedges and short irons– 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 field is stronger than you’d expect at a post-major tournament, with the top of BETDAQ’s Win Market looking exactly like the top of the World Rankings: Scottie Scheffler (8.2), Jon Rahm (14.0), Rory McIlroy (17.0), and Patrick Cantlay (13.5) are all set to tee it up. While big names have traditionally fared well here, you do have the occasional surprise slip through, like Reavie in 2019 or Harris English two years ago. As mentioned, many different styles can thrive at River Highlands, which is generally the mark of a good golf course. This tournament has produced some exciting finishes over the years and it will be interesting to see what the 2023 edition has in store. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Viktor Hovland (22.0)- Hovland has skipped this event for the past couple of years but it certainly wasn’t due to poor performance, as he finished T11 here in 2020, his last appearance. The course seems like easy pickings for someone with Hovland’s ball-striking acumen– accuracy with the short and mid-irons is required at TPC River Highlands, and Hovland ranks 6th in Tour in proximity on approach and 17th in strokes gained on approach. His putting has long been regarded as a weak spot, but he’s been rolling it quite well lately, which is a big reason why he’s on a red-hot run of four consecutive top-20 finishes, including a runner-up at the PGA and a victory at the Memorial three weeks ago. He’s a blue-chip option this week and is well worth a bet at better than 20/1.
Tom Kim (46.0)- After a couple of disappointing missed cuts Kim responded in a big way last week, closing his U.S. Open with three consecutive sub-70 rounds to finish 8th. He’s now logged six top-10s and a victory in 19 starts this season, proving that he can go toe-to-toe with the best players in the world on a week-to-week basis despite being only 20 years old. This will be his first time seeing TPC River Highlands in competition, but given his ball-striking stats– 8th on Tour in strokes gained on approach, 7th in GIR percentage, and 2nd in proximity from 125-150 yards– he seems like a perfect fit for the course. There have been a handful of debutantes who won this tournament, and Patrick Cantlay shot 60 on debut as an amateur, so this isn’t the type of course that requires years of experience to master. Kim is a great value at a price like 46.0.
Denny McCarthy (110.0)- I’ve been on McCarthy several times over the past couple of months and I’m going to stick with it as long as he continues to be overpriced. This is a guy who has found the top-30 in 8 of his last 10 starts, including a runner-up at the Memorial three weeks ago, where he lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland, and a T20 at last week’s U.S. Open. He’s playing the best golf of his career and has had several close calls… it’s only a matter of time before he gets his first PGA Tour victory. And I seem to say this just about every week, but he’s the best putter in the world and has been, statistically speaking, for about 3 years now. McCarthy is a must-bet at better than 100/1.