Tournament Preview Travelers Championship

2021 Travelers Championship Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About TPC River Highlands Before Tee Off

Happy Major hangover week! In true hangover fashion, I’ve been sluggish to finish this article and am releasing it a day later than usual. That’s equal parts due to me being actually hungover for most of this weekend, caring too much about the US Open to look away, and…because Fantasy National did not upload the Travelers field until Saturday night. It takes all three of those obstacles in conjunction for me to miss a Sunday evening Tournament Preview post, but with that comes just a little extra time to grind out some further research on TPC River Highlands for the 2021 Travelers Championship.

Did I need the extra time for research? No, not really. The players who have found success at The Travelers over the years have tended to either be playing the best golf in the world at the time (Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth), or Pete Dye Specialists, and in particular, Short Course specialists (Kevin Streelman, Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, Chez Reavie, Brian Harman).

While the winning score does not tend to reach the 20s here, you can go very low at TPC River Highlands. In 2020 there were 12 rounds of -7 or better, including an opening round 10-under 60 from Mackenzie Hughes. So while this is not going to be a full blown birdie fest, targeting players with the ability to go low would seem to be a sound strategy for this week.

I’m looking for very good iron players with strong history on Short Courses and Pete Dye Courses this week. Here’s a look in more detail at everything you need to know ahead of the action at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands Course Specs

  • Yards: 6,841
  • Par: 70 (4x 3’s / 12x 4’s / 2x 5’s)
  • Scorecard
  • Greens: Bent/Poa blend
  • Architect: Pete Dye
  • Historic Cut Line: -1 to -3
  • Comp Courses: Harbour Town, Pebble Beach, PGA West (Stadium Course), TPC Sawgrass, Wailalae CC, Innisbrook (Copperhead), TPC Twin Cities, TPC Deer Run, Sherwood CC
  • Recent Past Winners: Dustin Johnson (20), Chez Reavie (19), Bubba Watson (18, 15, 10), Jordan Spieth (17), Russell Knox (16)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Marc Leishman (12), Stewart Cink (08, 97), Phil Mickelson (02, 01)

What a whirlwind this is going to feel like for a player like Dustin Johnson, who has played in each of the last 3 weeks’ events. Congaree was a long course featuring wide open fairways, Bermuda greens, and no rough. Torrey Pines was an even longer course across the country with the longest/thickest Kikuyu rough we’ve seen all year and extremely tight fairways. Now the Tour travels back from San Diego to Connecticut on one of the shortest courses on the schedule at just over 6,800 yards, nearly a full 1,000 yards shorter than Torrey Pines, with long rough and easy-to-hit fairways. The Travelers Championship is always played the week after Father’s Day, which means that aside from last year when the US Open was pushed to September, this event has always immediately followed the US Open. If you’re thinking of fading players in last week’s US Open due to fatigue from grinding through a Major event and/or the cross-country travel, Chez Reavie’s victory in 2019 to follow up his T3 finish the week prior at Pebble Beach may be enough reason to stay on players like Mackenzie Hughes and Russell Henley who surprised last week and have excellent history at TPC River Highlands.

Ignore the 844 yard disparity and 3 hour time difference between Torrey Pines and TPC River Highlands, and we at least have continuity in the form of Fast Poa greens and long rough. Similar to what we saw at Pebble Beach and Harbour Town already this season, this course does not need to be “bombed & gouged”, so players will get around here by clubbing down for less-than-driver on most tee boxes, making the thick rough much less of a factor than what we just saw at Torrey Pines. I am the opposite of an expert on grass, but according to the grapevine, not all Poa grass is the same, and looking at Total Poa putting may actually be skewed by West Coast Poa, as opposed to the East Coast Poa we will see this week. Removing the West Coast Poa tracks like Riviera and Torrey Pines, the Top 5 East Coast Poa Putters in the Field are Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Mackenzie Hughes, Harris English, and Beau Hossler. Players whose strong overall Poa putting numbers are skewed heavily on the West Coast and have not translated as well on the East Coast include Nick Taylor, Max Homa, Si Woo Kim, Carlos Ortiz and Tony Finau. Given all the grass nuances this week, I’m going to be looking at weighted putting form between TOT L36, Total Poa, East Coast Poa, and Travelers Putting History. With this weighted mix, the Top 10 Putters going into this week are Brendon Todd, Adam Hadwin, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Kisner, Patrick Rodgers, Mackenzie Hughes, Harris English, and Vaughn Taylor.

In terms of Comp Courses to TPC River Highlands, Harbour Town jumps out as the best proxy for this week. Both are shot maker courses played the week immediately after a Major on a sub-7,200 yard Pete Dye Course. The similarities have also translated to cross-over success, as looking at the last 5 winners of the Travelers Championship, all 3 who played the RBC Heritage earlier that year finished T30 or better at Harbour Town. In addition to Harbour Town though, Waialae CC, Stadium Course, Pebble Beach, Port Royal, Sea Island, PGA National, and El Camaleon are each sub-7,200 courses played earlier this season that may offer some similarities to TPC River Highlands. Looking at 2021 form on sub-7,200 courses, the Top 10 players SG: TOT are Patrick Cantlay, Chris Kirk, Matt Jones, Si Woo Kim, Charley Hoffman, Brendan Steele, Joaquin Niemann, Russell Henley, Paul Casey, and Max Homa. Equally as important to Short Course History this week will be Pete Dye Course History. We’ve seen no shortages of Dye courses this season between TPC Sawgrass, Austin CC, TPC Louisiana, Harbour Town, Stadium Course, and (though not at all applicable) Kiawah Island. With all Pete Dye tracks come decisions to be made off the tee and an emphasis on your second shot, favoring ball strikers and shot makers. Every Pete Dye Specialist has impeccable history at TPC River Highlands; the Top 10 SG: TOT L36 on Pete Dye Courses are Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Abraham Ancer, Jason Day, Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey, Adam Scott, Brian Harman, Patrick Reed, and Justin Rose.

There are three multi-winners of the Travelers Championship in the field this week, and they have 3 wins on Tour this season between them. They are of course Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Stewart Cink. Looking more recently, the list of players who have fired multiple T15s here over the last 5 years includes Paul Casey, Bryson DeChambeau, Brendan Steele, Kevin Streelman, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Patrick Cantlay, Keegan Bradley, Brian Harman, Kevin Tway, Jason Day, Abraham Ancer, Russell Henley, and Danny Lee. Notable players with consistently poor Course History here include Talor Gooch, Luke List, Max Homa, Matthew Wolff, Cameron Tringale, and Carlos Ortiz.

Key Stats

  • Recent Form (SG: T2G)
  • SG: APP / SG: BS
  • SG: OTT
  • Prox 150-175
  • SG: T2G: <7,200 Courses
  • Par 4 Scoring (400-450)
  • Birdies or Better Gained
  • SG: Putting (Poa, East Coast)
  • Course History (TOT)
  • Pete Dye Course History (T2G)

Stats To Avoid

  • Par 3 Scoring
  • Par 5 Scoring
  • Prox 200+
  • SG: ARG
  • Sand Saves Gained

Looking at the top correlated stats with success at TPC River Highlands, we have yet another week to emphasize SG: APP, as this jumps from 15th on average up to the 8th most important stat of the week. On a short, Pete Dye track, that makes plenty of sense. It’s just as logical to see that P4: 400-450 makes a notable jump to the 6th most important stat of the week, as 7 of the 12 Par 4s fall within this range. There are an additional 3 holes that are under 400 yards long this week, so players who typically struggle on long Par 4s will get themselves a break. Just 5 players rank Top 40 in P4 Scoring from 0-350, 350-400, and 400-450: Abraham Ancer, Scottie Scheffler, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter, and Cameron Tringale.

Beyond the usual Top 10 stats like T2G and SG: Par 4, I think Birdies or Better Gained and/or Opportunities Gained will be crucial to contend this week on a track that yielded so many scores in the low 60s last year. Though outside the Top 10, Prox 150-175, Doubles Avoided and Driving Distance do also pop as historic indicators for success at TPC River Highlands. The Distance stats may be skewed a bit by the wins from Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, so I’m looking more for general SG: OTT this week to narrow in on players who set themselves up well for their second shots off the tee.

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Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at TPC River Highlands
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT (Tour Average)

This week, I’m really looking to hone in on players who play well on short courses and Pete Dye Courses, thrive on Par 4s 400-450, are great SG: APP, and set themselves up to make Birdies or Better. There are 10 players who rank Top 30 SG: APP & Bridies or Better Gained and Above Average on P4 400-450 and the Pete Dye / Short Comp Courses: Scottie Scheffler, Emiliano Grillo, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka, Abraham Ancer, Patrick Cantlay, Kevin Streelman, Keegan Bradley, Charley Hoffman, and Paul Casey.

Taking the Top 10 Correlated Stat categories for this week, there are just 9 in the field who rank above average in every one of them: Scottie Scheffler, Chris Kirk, Harold Varner III, Tony Finau, Si Woo Kim, Abraham Ancer, Patrick Cantlay, Keegan Bradley, and Paul Casey.

Spotlight: Stewart Cink

Stewart Cink, 47, sets 36-hole scoring record at RBC Heritage - The Boston  Globe

There are a lot of players worthy of the spotlight treatment this week. Any of the Pete Dye Specialists (Paul Casey, Kevin Streelman, Abraham Ancer, Brian Harman, Si Woo Kim, Patrick Cantlay) would have done just fine here. But you already know these guys will be the consensus most talked about players this week and dominate ownership on Draft Kings, so in order to avoid redundancy, I’m putting the spotlight on a guy few people will proudly talk about, but probably should, Stewart Cink.

Guess who won the Travelers Championship the week after the last US Open was played at Torrey Pines?

Guess who won the last event played immediately after a Major on a sub-7,200 Pete Dye Course?

Guess who can tie the record for most career Travelers Championship victories with a win?

Guess who puts himself in pole position to be 2021 PGA Tour Player of the Year with a 3rd win this season?

Stewart motherfucking CINK.

We are not going to find the gaudy 150-200/1 numbers we saw for Cink before the RBC Heritage again this week, but I would still expect to see him float around 80/1 range, and if he does, I’m pulling the trigger.

Over the last 36 rounds, Cink is #3 SG: APP, #24: SG: P, #9 Opportunities Gained, and #11 GIRs Gained. When Cink has not been winning events this year, it has really only been because of his OTT game, which ranks #111 in this field, despite having the Driving Distance (#25). But even despite the poor OTT numbers, he’s still been great in terms of Good Drives Gained (#21), where he hasn’t gotten himself in enough trouble off the tee to prevent him from still reaching greens in regulation. If we dive even deeper into his OTT performances, he’s been at his best on short courses where he’s been able to dial it down for accuracy. There have only been 3 occasions in 2021 where Stewart Cink gained 1+ strokes OTT and each of them came on courses shorter than 7,200 yards. In those three instances, he finished T19 at the Sony Open, T19 at the Honda Classic, and 1st at the RBC Heritage. With Cink, it’s a pretty simple formula: If he can gain strokes OTT, his strength in Approach and reaching GIRs will allow him to contend, and if you put him on a short course, he’s likely to gain OTT.

While Cink has not won here since 2008, he just finished runner up to Bubba Watson two starts ago in 2018, so he isn’t far from rekindling his old form again like we just saw at Harbour Town. There are going to be books who slip up and forget that Stewart Cink is BACK, and those books are where you’ll find me when odds open on Monday.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Travelers Championship

PGA Tour: Dustin Johnson hits lucky 21 with Travelers Championship win

It’s going to be a very interesting week ahead at the Travelers Championship. As it stands, we have a loaded, top-heavy field highlighted by Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, and Brooks Koepka. It would surprise me if every one of these players committed to make the cross-country trip from Torrey Pines to TPC River Highlands, so like Daniel Berger, I expect a few other US Open contestants to bow out over the course of the week. For the players that do remain however, this is shaping up to be an exciting tournament, which has proven that anyone from Chez Reavie to Dustin Johnson can win in a given week, as long as your Ball Striking is sharp and the putter can get hot.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

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I will not be the first or last person to throw Abraham Ancer’s name out there this week, but he has found himself at #1 in my model, thanks to Top 10 ranks in SG: APP, OTT, Par 4 Scoring, Short Course History, Pete Dye History, Prox 150-175, and GIRs. The only reason not to bet Ancer this week will be because he’s never won before, but if there were ever a situation to change that, this would be the time. My model spit out Jon Rahm at the top last week (whose didn’t?), but if Ancer opens anywhere past 20/1, I’ll be looking to follow the numbers and chase the same result. To round out the rest of my model’s Top 10, we have Paul Casey, Patrick Cantlay, Emiliano Grillo, Kevin Streelman, Charley Hoffman, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau, and Dustin Johnson.