The PGA Tour flies across the country this week, and given that it’s a week after a major with a long trip, the field for The Travelers is surprisingly good. Hard to blame them for wanting to play though, it’s been voted the players’ favorite tournament for a couple of years in a row, which probably stems from that sweet challenge they do on “15 1/2”, where they hit shots onto a floating red umbrella. Really, who wouldn’t want to try their hand at that? Anybody can go out to a course and try and skip their ball across the water onto a green, but how many opportunities do you get to try and hit a hole in one on a floating umbrella? The course itself is pretty short and the past leaderboards are filled with long and short hitters; both accurate and wild. Bubba Watson wins this thing like every other year, but short and safe guys like Russell Knox and Kevin Streelman have won recently too, so it’s obviously a course that’s going to favor guys who find the most success on shots that take place after the tee shot. Since the course is short, guys are likely going to be hitting a lot of wedges into greens, so I am going to focus on guys that are good on short approaches. The course is going to be wet as well and scoring opportunities will be there, so I think birdie makers will set up well too. Here’s who I like this week:
Sure Play: Justin Thomas (DK 9,800 / FD 11,200)
It’s not often I pick a guy that’s not one of the top couple priced guys on the slate, but similar to what I wrote last week I think J.T. is very underpriced for the caliber of player he is. It didn’t work out last week, but he now has a couple more really competitive rounds under his belt since the wrist injury and he’s in a field that isn’t even half as good as the U.S. Open. Plus, he even said on Twitter to a fan that his wrist is feeling great and he thinks he’s “close to great golf”, so that’s got to be good for something, right? He’s second on tour in approaches from 125-150 yards, which I think is where a lot of these wedge approaches will come from, but overall he’s eighth on tour in Shots Gained – Approach. He also leads the tour in birdie or better percentage. Unlike some other guys that might have some fatigue from last week, J.T. should be coming in fresh, ready to put on a good performance, and show that his game is back up to speed.
Hit or Miss: Phil Mickelson (DK 8,700 / FD 10,100)
I can only write Jordan Spieth’s name in this section so many times before I have to write about someone else. Phil fits the bill in this section this time around. He’s been playing bad golf as of late and it seems the only positive in the golf world for him right now is his social media accounts. Highly recommend “Phireside with Phil” on Twitter/Instagram if you haven’t seen it yet, by the way. Although he hasn’t been playing great golf, Phil seems to be a guy that tends to play well on courses he’s had success on in the past, especially where his driver can’t get him in a lot of trouble. Although he hasn’t played in over ten years, he has won this event twice back in the early 2000s. Maybe it’s just because they’re lefties that are long and inaccurate off the tee, but Bubba Watson’s game reminds me a little of Phil’s, and Bubba has won this event three times too. I think that wild and aggressive style of play from the wrong side of the tee box just works here. He’s ninth on tour in my favorite approach range: 125-150, and he’s 30th on tour in birdie or better percentage. Again, he’s not playing the greatest golf right now but if there’s a place coming up he’s likely to turn it around, this should be one of those places.
Mid-Tier Favorites: Jason Kokrak (DK 8,300 / FD 9,300) Charley Hoffman (DK 8,100 / FD 9,700)
Kokrak: As I write about him every time he’s featured, his game is built around his irons which should suit him well for this tournament. He’s 30th in approaches from 125-150 and 11th in Shots Gained – Approach. He has also been making a lot of birdies this year, coming in at 33rd on tour. His hot streak had cooled down recently, but he got last week to rest and re-focus for a course that plays to his strengths. Although he doesn’t have great history in this tournament, he’s playing at a higher level of golf this year so the past results may not mean as much for him.
Hoffman: He may go a little overlooked this week, being priced around guys like Streelman (past winner), Kokrak, Reavie, and even cheaper guys like newbie Hovland and Grillo, but Hoffman might be my favorite play in this price range. He’s another guy that has a lot of success with his iron play, but unlike Kokrak that I mentioned above, he actually has some really solid history on this course. He finished 15th last year and third the year before. He also has a second and a seventh-place finish in past years and hasn’t missed the cut since 2007. This year, he’s the tour leader in approaches from 125-150 and 28th in Shots Gained – Approach. It’s hard to find a reason to think he won’t continue his streak of good play at this tournament.
Other Favorites: Emiliano Grillo (DK 7,900 / FD 9,900) Ryan Moore (DK 7,800 / FD 9,400) Cameron Smith (DK 7,200 / FD 8,700)
Grillo: One of my favorite guys to play most weeks. He’s one of the best iron players on tour (sixth in Shots Gained – Approach), makes a lot of cuts and has a lot of solid finishes, and he’s almost always priced favorably so you aren’t hurting your salary much to get him. He’s got two straight made cuts at this event and finished 19th last year. It’s no secret that a good approach game is important on this course and typically I’d think in an event like this he’d be owned by basically everyone. However, Viktor Hovland makes his pro debut this weekend and has the same price as Grillo. He’s coming off of a very nice showing at the U.S. Open which is generating a lot of excitement, deservedly so. Undoubtedly, people will gravitate towards something that’s new and cool and shiny (Hovland, Wolff, Morikawa, Suh, etc) and ignore those who have proven their game on tour for some time. Personally, I’ll take the elite iron player with a good record on the course this time around and wait to see what kind of player these new pros turn out to be now that they have real pressure and money on the line.
Moore: Big surprise here, another guy known for his play with his irons. If you look at the season he’s having, you’ll notice a handful of good finishes and a handful of really bad ones. It appears he’s having a very up-and-down season, but if you look at the events he did well at and the ones he didn’t, most of the courses he struggled on were places that were built for the long hitters. Of course, that’s not the case this weekend, so he should be in line for a good showing. He’s got some good finishes in this tournament in the past, too. Although he missed the cut last year, in the seven appearances prior to that, he’s got four finishes in the top ten and made all seven cuts.
Smith: After a really good 2018 season and a good start to the 2019 season, Cam put on the breaks and has really been struggling. His best finish in the last seven events is a 51st at the Masters. However, statistically, he’s still putting up some good numbers especially in the approach category that are promising, and I think part of the reason he’s had some bad recent finishes is from playing stacked tournaments that favor long hitters. Although this is a good field, it isn’t a GREAT field, and it’s going to suit his game well. Plus, the price is pretty favorable considering this season he does have five finishes in the top 15, including a win on the European Tour.
Good Luck! Hope you win hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands!