Expert Picks for Travelers Championship
With the season's second major in the books, the bulk of the game's elite (including the newly-crowned face of the Tour, US Open champ Rory McIlroy) are set to enjoy a week off and the fantasy faithful may be prepared for a challenging week without reliable commodities. Think again. The Tour is set to send their talents to Connecticut, home of the TPC River Highlands and the Traveler's Championship.
Designed by the renowned Bobby Weed and the PGA Tour Design Service (along with the guidance of professional golfers Howard Twitty and Roger Maltbie), River Highlands has consistently rated as the best golf course in the New England area. The tees set for the professionals bring a smaller layout (just 6,841 yards) than the typical Tour track, yet golfers who hit the links at River Highlands quickly find a challenging test of overall golf skills.
The Tour has targeted this course as a venue of choice during the warmer summer months, attempting to give the loyal sports fans of the greater northeast a PGA event to be proud of. The use of native Pennway Bentgrass is the trademark feature that runs throughout, while natural waste areas lace the course as obstacles. There is water to be found, but not nearly as much as you will find on the courses of the south. The wind can be difficult to overcome as any physical feature on the course while the greens, undulated and sloped to test the best putters on the Tour, could be the deciding factor between success and failure.
Past champions include Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Paul Azinger, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, Greg Norman, Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Woody Austin, JJ Henry, Hunter Mahan, Kelly Perry, and defending champ Bubba Watson.
Bubba Watson [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #9
The defending champ returns from a disappointing week at the US Open to protect one of the titles that has earned him respect as one of the best golfers on the rise. The challenges of a TPC course are among the more daunting a golfer can see during the season and clearly Watson isn't afraid to take those challenges on.
Jim Furyk [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #31
We are taking a slight risk in ranking Furyk so high when he owns limited history at this event, but after a troubled performance at Congressional we struggle to believe he will find frustration for a second week. We've seen Furyk do damage on the TPC tracks hosting other events, but more importantly, we know to trust Furyk as one of the best commodities in this or any other field he joins.
Ryan Moore [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #32
Moore isn't enjoying as much success as we hoped this season but he is still young, he's still on the rise, and we've seen just enough to know a track that suits his tastes could be the catalyst needed to get momentum going. The River Highlands could be that course as Moore has enjoyed noteworthy success on these links over the recent past. He's one of few we trust due to both history and ability.
We were shocked to see Watney fall so short at Congressional last week, expecting he would use that tourney as the start of a run any fantasy owner would appreciate. Instead he filed one of his first missed cuts at that course, and now we wonder if the motivation based on that frustration won't push him to swing for the oversized check this week. He doesn't own much work at River Highlands, but his talent and focus bring us around.
Like Watney, we expected so much more out of Mahan last week at the major only to leave with major disappointment. However, we erase that memory and wonder if the fifth spot isn't an insult to Mahan, a golfer who has been a regular in Sunday competitions at the River Highlands (as well as other TPC tracks) in the past. Last year's performance is the only hurdle we struggle to clear in ranking him higher.
While we have plenty of names to consider this week, the field thins quickly in terms of performance in 2011, leaving Crane as one of the most reliable golfers on the market for the TPC River Highlands. He is meticulous to the point of exhaustion, but that approach can be a gift on the TPC tracks found on the Tour schedule. We'd like to have more history on this course for Crane, but his ability cannot and should not be ignored.
The lanky Australian has been more active this season than in recent campaigns we've seen, and this is one particular start we are a bit surprised to see Ogilvy grab. That said (and despite his lack of reliable history on the track), it is clear he is driven and working to increase his respect on the Tour. If he can maintain accuracy off the tee and keep his putter pure, Ogilvy could be one of the best value options on the board this week.
We've enjoyed a resurgent David Toms in 2011, already touting one Tour win on his resume for the season with several pushes to compete for others along the way. This week we wonder if we shouldn't rank Toms as the favorite as he is one of a few we have targeted for starts at this event in the past. He has a clear and undeniable connection with this course and could be one of the best candidates for employment as a result.
Ian Poulter [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #141
Anyone who has followed this season may look at this rank and question our sanity. Poulter comes off another disappointing performance at the US Open after filing multiple performances of disappointment coming towards it. He may be one of the most disappointing golfers of the 2011 season, but his decision to stay and tackle the River Highlands shows he is working on his game. He's too good to stay this bad for too long.
It was the Travelers that brought de Jonge into the middle of our radar last year as the young talent had posted several noteworthy finishes despite a severe lack of experience, and he proved to be as valuable as hoped with a top finish to reward the faith at River Highlands. This year we note de Jonge has shown signs of cooling a bit, but he certainly continues to draw our interest with continued consistent play. This week, he's one of our favorites.
Padraig Harrington [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #99
Padraig is one of the few we would list as a "regular" at the TPC River Highlands, taking his turn to swing at this course every year despite it's proximity to the major. Last year we anticipated trouble as Paddy had struggled throughout the season while also owning a difficult performance at the US Open. He proved us and his history at this track incorrect, and as such we wonder if he can't get right again in the return to the Travelers this season.
Aaron Baddeley [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #137
Baddeley was another we would happily list as a major disappointment at Congressional last week, defying history and missing the cut at the second major as we anticipated he would shine. Our faith is a bit shaken, but we want to blame the USGA (and as such we turn to Baddeley again for a course we would normally target him for regardless). He knows this track and his game is on the rise.