Where do pros go after a grueling week on one of the toughest tracks in the land?
Cromwell, Conn., evidently.
Despite winding tightly through the sister forests once opined on by Thoreau and Emerson, the TPC River Highlands must seem like a driving range compared to Merion. The Travelers Championship has been a mainstay on Tour for decades now, with its drivable par-4 15th and cart path-laden 18th probably two of the more recognizable holes at non-big time events on Tour. There's always a low score out there to be had; of the last five winners of this event, four have had at least one round of 64 or lower during their sprint to victory (Bubba Watson only had a 65 in 2010). It is a par 70, but over the last decade there have only been four total rounds in the 70's recorded by winners. There are birdie opportunities everywhere.
So rule No. 1 this week is to look for the birdie leaders. Another rule is to not use Justin Rose this week -- just assume that he's going to get about eight total hours of sleep on the week before his 12:50 pm tee time on Thursday. He might play well for a couple of rounds, but it's easy to see him fading by the weekend… and there are bigger fish (tourneys) to fry with him over the next couple of months.
Onto the picks. Remember to check the field this week, as there could very well be a couple of late WD's from tired US Open participants.
1. John Rollins. One of the most consistent ball-strikers on Tour, Rollins has flourished at The Travelers the last two years, with T4 and T2 finishes, respectively. He was one of the 'lucky' guys to miss the grind at Merion last week, so he's fresh and full of confidence, with two top-6 finishes in his last two events (St. Jude, Colonial).
2. Freddie Jacobson. The Cromwell Crusher, with a T8 and win in his last two appearances. His stroke average is just slightly north of 66 over that time on this course and his last over-par round here was in 2007. His recent form isn't fabulous, but his eighth-ranked scoring average in 2013 and history here is too much to ignore.
3. Charley Hoffman. In the top 10 on Tour in birdie average and has three top 10's and only one missed cut in his last eight events. He also finished T2 here last year, and the steady game he's demonstrated the last two months should help him avoid the big numbers that plagued him at this event in the past.
4. Nic Colsaerts. The Muscles from Brussels is making his maiden voyage to River Highlands, but his game is very similar to Bubba's: long off the tee, creative with the irons, and when his putter is hot he's tough to beat. Finished T10 at the US Open and will probably be pleased to let the big dog eat a little more this week.
5. Bubba Watson. The 2010 champ hasn't had much to hang his hat on so far in 2013, but a comfortable environment should suit him well. Also finished just one shot behind Marc Leishman last year, so he's become a horse for this course.
6. Kevin Streelman. He's been cold of late, but has a solid history here with two top-10's and no missed cuts. He's averaging 3.69 birdies per round, which puts him in the top third on Tour. A great iron player, he should excel this week.
7. Graham DeLaet. His third appearance in the 10-Fer in recent weeks, I've become a believer in the Candian's game. He's 22nd in birdie average, bombs it, and is very accurate both off the tee and with his irons. If he gets a few more putts to lip in this week, he could very well be your champ. Either way, it's only a matter of time for him. He has three top 10's on the year and hasn't finished worse than T26 in his last four events.
8. Bo Van Pelt. His game seems to be rounding into form, with seven consecutive made cuts, a T6 (Wells Fargo), and matching T21 finishes his last two events (Memorial, US Open). He has two top-15's at Travelers his last four trips, and his birdie average is a respectable 69th considering that he couldn't putt it into the ocean from January to April.
9. Tim Clark. A T4 finish here last year is really about all the evidence one needs for Timmy, although I'm not crazy about his current form. Still, he's a guy who is going to hit a lot of fairways and greens and make more than his fair share of putts. It's also worth noting that players like Clark who use the long putter are extra motivated to get a win -- and two-year exemption -- under their belts in the next 15 months before the ban takes effect (assuming the PGA Tour goes with it).
10. Hunter Mahan. He loves this place, with a win, two T2's and a T4 over the years here -- we'll call him the 'Highlands Hunter.' His T11 here last year, however, was his highest finish in Cromwell since 2009 -- and he wasn't coming off a high-stress T4 finish at the US Open last year. I'm putting a yellow light on him -- I could see him blitzing the field or bottoming out. Still, has to be on the list.
Player to avoid: Justin Rose. This isn't the place to use him in One and Done, but he's worthy of consideration in multi-player formats. Still, there are great spots to use him coming up, such as Bridgestone, the British Open, PGA, and FedEx Cup, where the purses are much larger.
Another note: Plenty of big guns are in this event, especially the Euros (Westwood, Poulter et al). Outside of Jacobson -- whose game cannot be pegged to one particular continent -- no Euro has won this event over the last decade. I am a subscriber to the 'don't use a big gun the week after a major' theory… just too many variables.
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