It has been a whirlwind two weeks since the return of the PGA Tour with two incredibly contested tournaments, and the rollercoaster continues this week at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
Last week at the RBC Heritage a whole host of names battled it out on the final day, but Webb Simpson eventually picked up his second trophy of the season, showing he is continuing where he left off before the PGA Tour’s three-month hiatus.
Seeing Simpson rally on Sunday’s back nine to win just one week after tipping him, in addition to watching Bryson Dechambeau suffer on the greens all week to finish just outside of the top seven, was a difficult pill to swallow.
However, with another week of golf in the bank and more form for specific players, this week is another bite at the cherry and an opportunity to pick a long-awaited winner.
Although there were no rewards from last week, it was both nice to see some picks in contention at some stages and great to see a fantastic tournament in general that went right to the wire to find a winner.
Unlike last week where Pete Dye designed Harbour Town was defenceless with no wind and soft greens, River Highlands is likely to show a bit more teeth this week.
Although it is similarly short in length, it’s a different layout to the unique Harbour Town and should produce a different type of winner to which we expected and saw last week.
It has not been too dissimilar to the Heritage with its slightly obscure winners like Chez Reavie last year, Russell Knox in 2016, Kevin Streelman in 2014 and Ken Duke in 2013. But, usually played a week after the US Open, I expect a different type of leaderboard this time around, with the world’s best all eager to get a victory under their belt.
Ranking sixth again last week in SG: Tee-to-Green, above tournament winner Webb Simpson, he is clearly playing some magnificent golf, arguably the best of his life. But unless there is drastic improvement on the greens between last week and here at the Travelers, it will be hard for him to get the job done.
Similarly, it’s tough to ignore Simpson’s (22/1) chances here, a place that he has finished eighth and fifth in two of his last four visits, in addition to the fact that his confidence will be sky high at the moment.
But, my first pick for this week will be Brooks Koepka (20/1) instead.
The world number four may have endured a difficult start to the 2020 season, but his game looks to be back on track after following up a 32nd at Colonial with a tie for seventh last week at Harbour Town.
Koepka’s comments after his final round last week were encouraging too, stating how hard he has been working with his coach Claude Harmon and that he believes his game is turning a corner. With that in mind, and given his past achievements, Koepka’s odds are too good to ignore at the Travelers.
In four visits, his form at the Travelers isn’t all that bad either. Going 51-9-19-57 since 2014 shows he has had numerous positive rounds at River Highlands, and coming in here after a 68-65 weekend finish at Harbour Town should help re-ignite some of that positivity.
Par 4 scoring is of optimal importance here at River Highlands, in addition to greens in regulations. With him ranking 11th in par 4 scoring average for last week and 26th a fortnight ago, Koepka’s approach play is clearly on the up, and I expect it to improve a little more this week.
Similarly, his greens in regulation percentage ranking rose up to sixth for last week, signalling once again that the vast improvements in his game are beginning to show and should hopefully continue into this week.
Fortunately, putting is not of optimal importance at the Travelers, with the crucial factor here being to give yourself as many chances as possible.
Koepka’s putting is not the strongest point in his game by any means, but he will give himself plenty of opportunities, which should see him reap the rewards on a course that focuses more on approach play than the short stick.
For my next tip I came so close to picking a personal favourite of mine and runner-up at the Travelers in 2014, Sergio Garcia (50/1), after a strong week at the Heritage.
However, instead of going with the experienced Spaniard, I’m going to go with the man he mentored in 2018 on his Tour debut at the Valero Texas Open, Joaquin Niemann (40/1).
The Chilean, despite eventually bogeying 17 and finishing three shots behind the champion, played some impressive golf throughout the four days at Harbour Town last week.
Niemann, like a young Garcia often did, was aiming directly at pins and being aggressive at every opportunity on Sunday at Harbour Town, where he played some sublime golf.
The majority of the plaudits following last week will understandably be aimed at his Presidents Cup teammate Abraham Ancer (35/1) after a consistent tee-to-green performance, but Niemann undoubtedly looks the man more capable of winning this type of event on the PGA Tour, and he is worth the gamble at a bigger price.
What made it even more encouraging too was that it was his first visit to the RBC Heritage. In turn, that makes it all the more promising he’ll be teeing it up at a more familiar River Highlands this week, where he finished fifth on his debut last year.
This course favours variety, and that is something that works enormously in Niemann’s favour, who likes to both shape it and play around with how he flights it too. This will give him a big advantage, as well as the return to bentgrass, the surface he won on at the Greenbrier.
This will make a welcomed change for Niemann, who claimed last week, despite a top five in Hilton Head, that he is still getting to grips with bermuda grass.
I really believe the state of his golf game, in combination with a return to a course that he likes, could potentially see him topple some giants and add to his Greenbrier title.
Brian Harman (70/1) is my next choice for the Travelers, and one that should be worth it from an each-way point of view come the end of the week.
Initially, the Heritage strikes people as the ideal venue for Harman, whose game is so focused on accuracy rather than length. However, he said himself that Harbour Town does not fit his playing style and that River Highlands is much more suited to him, which is music to my ears.
Back-to-back top-30s on his two weeks back, Harman has played well. Nothing spectacular of note throughout the last fortnight, but solid golf saw him post two respectable scores.
What is more intriguing than Harman’s form since the PGA Tour’s return is his previous success at the Travelers, with his record reading 3-MC-35-6-8 since 2015 here.
Harman has been playing impressively all year too, making ten out of twelve cuts and posting seven top-25 finishes since the beginning of the new season.
It could be said that form before the break should be dismissed, but with Simpson and Berger winning, two players whose games were clicking before the hiatus, you have to respect Harman’s faultless year so far.
With his game seemingly improving slowly in the build-up to the Travelers, I think a return to a golf course he loves could be the final step towards another top-10 for the year.
Finally, at a huge price, my final tip for this week is Patrick Rodgers (140/1).
Not for the first time, Rodgers is amongst my picks again this week, with River Highlands being a venue he has performed well at in the past, finishing third back in 2016.
With the quality of this field I don’t necessarily expect Rodgers to win, but at 140/1 he is a very strong each-way pick.
He is somebody who has lots of quality and the potential to win, unfortunately it just hasn’t worked out for him so far on the PGA Tour.
A star-studded youngster arriving on the tour, Rodgers was tipped for the big time, but at 27-years-old with just one Web.com Tour victory to his name, it has been a disappointing career so far for the American.
In the near future I do expect him to pick up a victory with how admirably he has performed in the last couple of years though, and this week should see him once again pop up with at least a top-20.
Since the Farmers, Rodgers has put together a string of consistent performances. Finishing outside of the top-30 just three times in his last 10 starts, which has included the Arnold Palmer, The Honda and the Genesis, 2020 has been good to Rodgers so far.
Although I have mentioned how putting is not the biggest factor here at River Highlands, it can still be a major advantage, and Rodgers’ putting will be just that this week. Heading into this week he ranks ninth in SG: Putting for the season, and with opportunities aplenty here, his putting will help him convert those chances.
He also ranks second in total birdies for the season, signalling that his game is in much better shape than many would actually think.
Rodgers is an extremely talented young player, and even though it hasn’t completely gone to plan for him so far on tour, who knows, this week could be the week he finally gets that deserved victory.
Brooks Koepka (20/1) – 3 pts e.w.
Joaquin Niemann (40/1) – 2 pts e.w.
Brian Harman (70/1) – 1.5 pt e.w.
Patrick Rodgers (140/1) – 0.5 pts e.w.