PickGuru Golf: Travelers Championship

PickGuru Golf: Travelers Championship

This article is part of our PickGuru Golf series.

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Travelers Championship

The Travelers Championship is annually the second-most attended PGA Tour event behind only the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Those from the greater Hartford area will surely make themselves heard this week, as this will be the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the Travelers will have full attendance. They will be rewarded with one of the best fields in tournament history, as many of the top stars in the game will be making the short trek over from Brookline. TPC River Highlands has hosted this event since 1984, and the track features one of the most exciting closing stretches on Tour.

Profiling the Winner

Given the premium placed on distance these days, it is rare to see a course measure just 6,852 yards like TPC River Highlands does. That really opens it up for anyone in the 156-man field to compete. In recent years the tournament committee has elected to grow the rough up to around four inches, which will hold players accountable for missing fairways. With rain expected to fall during the week and a relative lack of wind, golfers will have to make a lot of birdies to keep up. The easiest way to do that is through strong iron play. The more looks you can give yourself inside of 20 feet, the more opportunities you have to sink a birdie.

There are a number of closely mown runoff areas around these greens, which can make for difficult chips if approaches wind up in the wrong spot. Even though this should still be a birdie-fest, I think this is a place where players with strong short games can make a difference. The greens at TPC River Highlands are Poa annua, which players saw last week at The Country Club. Expect those that had success with the flat stick at the U.S. Open to carry that over to the Travelers. Last year, Harris English ranked third in SG: Tee-to-Green and T4 in scrambling en route to his epic eight-hole playoff win over Kramer Hickok, who ranked second in SG: Putting and T5 in GIR for the week.

Category Picks

Hot Favorites

Players Included: Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay

Guru Verdict: Cantlay burst onto the scene at the 2011 Travelers Championship when he shot a 60 as an amateur. He faded on the weekend but ultimately finished T24. Since then, the former UCLA standout has racked up top-15 finishes in four straight attempts at TPC River Highlands. Cantlay is in the mix of a hot stretch finishing 2nd-1st-MC-T3-T14 over his last five starts. There are no holes in his game, and he can stack up birdies with the best of them at a course like this.

Front-Runners

Players Included: Sam Burns, Xander Schauffele, Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann, Jordan Spieth

Guru Verdict: Burns did not have a great final round at the U.S. Open, but I expect him to bounce back at TPC River Highlands. When it comes to hitting it close and sinking putts, not many in the world are better than Burns. He ranks fourth in SG: Approach, fifth in GIR percentage and 16th in SG: Putting. Burns has already racked up eight top-10s this season.

U.S. Stars

Players Included: Aaron Wise, Keegan Bradley, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Davis Riley

Guru Verdict: Riley has never seen TPC River Highlands before, but inexperience at a course was of little importance over the rookie's last few months. Riley's T31 finish last week at the U.S. Open was his first finish outside the top 13 in his last seven starts. Over that stretch he faced a number of different tests, and I expect him to pass this one with flying colors. Riley is now up to 10th on Tour in birdie average.

World Elite

Players Included: Mito Pereira, Marc Leishman, Seamus Power, Tommy Fleetwood, Christiaan Bezuidenhout

Guru Verdict: Power has been hit-or-miss this season. He is just 14-for-22 when it comes to cuts made, but he has not finished worse than T33 when he makes the weekend. The Irishman has been better as of late, going T17-T19-MC-T12 over his last four starts, two of which were major championships. Power used the flat stick brilliantly last week at The Country Club, ranking seventh in SG: Putting, and he should continue to feast on the Poa annua greens in Hartford. For good measure, he's ninth in GIR percentage, 17th in scrambling and 19th in birdie average this season.

U.S. Challengers

Players Included: Keith Mitchell, Brian Harman, Brendan Steele, Harold Varner III

Guru Verdict: Harman and Steele both have really strong records at TPC River Highlands, but I like Varner in a shootout. Varner ranks 14th in birdie average on the season, which is miles ahead of Harman or Steele. The 31-year-old is also 29th in SG: Approach, 12th in SG: Around-the-Green and ninth in putts per round. Prior to a missed cut at the U.S. Open, Varner had made nine straight cuts with seven finishes of T27 or better.

Contenders

Players Included: Maverick McNealy, Webb Simpson, Jason Kokrak, Denny McCarthy, Jason Day

Guru Verdict: There are only two golfers in this group playing consistent golf. The obvious one is McCarthy, who made the cut in his last 11 individual events, and the other is Day. The former world No. 1 made his last five cuts and notched two top-15 finishes in that span. He's also rested, having not played the last two weeks. Day has a sneaky good record at TPC River Highlands, with three top-12 finishes over his last four starts. The irons haven't always been sharp, but the short game and putter remain elite. Day ranks 20th this season in putts per GIR and will rack up the birdies.

Outsiders

Players Included: Kevin Kisner, Brendon Todd, Si Woo Kim, Mackenzie Hughes, Harris English

Guru Verdict: When Todd sees a course under 7,000 yards on the card he has to be licking his chops. The veteran doesn't have the distance to compete at a lot of Tour stops, but at a place like TPC River he has as good a shot as anyone. Todd ranks fifth in SG: Putting, fifth in driving accuracy and 11th in scrambling this season. He has been rolling over the last couple months, with top-26 finishes in five of his last seven starts, including a solo third at Colonial.

Wild Cards

Players Included: Aaron Rai, Joel Dahmen, K.H. Lee, C.T. Pan, Luke List

Guru Verdict: Rai has found his comfort zone on the PGA Tour. He made seven of his last eight cuts and recorded five top-30 finishes in that stretch. Rai has recently shown the ability to be elite in different areas of the game for an entire tournament. At the Memorial he led the field in SG: Putting and then went to Canada the following week and ranked second in both SG: Approach and GIR.

Editor's Note: Here's more advice from RW's Len Hochberg and PG's Matt Hardy:

Ryan's Selections

Hot Favorites: Patrick Cantlay
Front-Runners: Sam Burns
U.S. Stars: Davis Riley
World Elite: Seamus Power
U.S. Challengers: Harold Varner III
Contenders: Jason Day
Outsiders: Brendon Todd
Wild Cards: Aaron Rai

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan  Andrade
Ryan has covered golf and college basketball for RotoWire since 2016. He has also written articles for ProGolfNow.com.
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