Webb Simpson and Abraham Ancer, two of our top picks at Harbour Town, did not disappoint, finishing one-two in an exhilarating stretch run after the final round of the tournament started with more than 20 players within three shots of the lead. Sungjae Im was the only one of our picks who didn’t make the cut, and it was his first missed cut on the PGA Tour this year. Note that Simpson missed the cut at the Charles Schwab before hoisting the trophy last week, and we’re not writing off Im this week either.
Our longshots fared so-so. Harris English and Matthew NeSmith made the cut, with English finishing top 20. Adam Schenk was only two shots off the cut line with six holes to play before a weather delay on Friday, but finished at 7-over after concluding his round bogey, quadruple bogey, bogey, double bogey, par, bogey. Not the finish we, or Schenk, were hoping for.
The Travelers Championship will be played at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut. It’s another Pete Dye course, playing par 70 at 6,841 yards. It’s one of the shortest courses on tour. The par-4 fourth plays at 489 yards, and is historically the toughest hole on the course, with almost one in four attempts resulting in a bogey or worse. Using Stats Perform’s database of PGA Tour metrics, the four that are most relevant to success at TPC River Highlands are Par 4 Performance, Greens in Regulation, Driving Distance, and Driving Accuracy. In spite of the short course, there are a number of opportunities for players to let it rip with the driver off the tee box. Unlike the last two weeks, scrambling is the least important metric for success.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WIN OUTRIGHT
First and foremost, our model and picks describe value. When we recommend players, we’re tipping those who are likely to outperform expectations. It’s unlikely that we’ll recommend top players such as Rory McIlroy or John Rahm every week, because they’re expected to do well. What we’re interested in are golfers who have the skills to overperform their odds, like Daniel Berger two weeks ago and Simpson and Ancer last week. If we had to back a favorite this week, we’d choose McIlroy. It’s a tough call between Rory and Bryson DeChambeau, who is playing arguably the best golf on tour right now, but McIlroy absolutely owns par-4 scoring and this course tailors to him.
Normally among the very top favorites, Xander has dipped a bit this week, and we think the time is right to back him. Xander snuck in at the cut line last week at RBC Heritage, finishing 5-under for the tournament. He drained 21 birdies, but found the water twice in the first round, twice in the second, and once on Sunday. This sunk his Strokes Gained on Approach numbers for the weekend. He gained strokes off the tee, and TPC River Highlands doesn’t offer the same number of hard penalties as Harbour Town. We expect a rebound from Schauffele.
Another player who’s battled some recent inconsistency issues, Johnson quietly finished top 20 last week. He was second in the field in SG: Off the Tee and 25th in SG: Approach, but in the bottom 70 in both Chipping and Putting. Neither chipping nor putting has historically been his strong suit, but they’re not as important at this course as tee shots and iron play. It’s a course that suits the former world No. 1, and his price is manageable this week following some underwhelming performances and a loaded field.
Simpson went from missed cut to winner’s circle last week, and we think Im has a great shot to follow that trend this week. He was uncharacteristically poor with his irons at the RBG Heritage, and lost almost 4.5 strokes putting. He’s still in the positives in SG: Putting this year (16.32), so we’ll look past his poor putting at Harbour Town and back him again this week.
No surprise to see Woodland here again. He was brutal off the tee last week, which is surprising for someone who is in the 60th percentile in Driving Accuracy and the 80th percentile in Driving Distance. His irons remained solid, finishing top 30 in SG: Approach, and if his driving comes back around he has all the skills to compete for the top spot at TPC River Highlands.
Like Dustin Johnson, Scottie Scheffler’s strength is his ball striking. He struggles around the greens but is fantastic getting there. He’s one of the longest drivers on tour, and he hits greens at the same clip as the likes of Justin Thomas. On a course where short game is less important, give me Scheffler as a long-odds pick to win.
FOUR PLAYERS TO SURPRISE
One of our favorite metrics is called Super Hole. For the mathematically inclined, it’s a player’s average hole score plus the variance of all his hole scores. For the rest of us, it’s sort of a boom or bust metric that describes players who hit it well enough on average, but also have their fair share of low rounds in their arsenal. Some top players who have high numbers here are Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson.
Higgs hasn’t missed a cut since mid-January, yet has just two top-20 finishes on the year. This is the course where we think he breaks through. His biggest strength is par 4s, gaining .073 strokes over the field on average. His Super Hole score is also among the highest of the longshots. If he were to play at his Super Hole level, he’d gain about 0.514 strokes each hole. Keep in mind that hitting that level even six times in one round is a longshot (roughly 1-in-13), so it’s not like we’re expecting him to shoot a 9-under all the time. What we are saying is he has some low scores in his bag, and this course suits him.
Muñoz came out on fire last week, finishing the first round just one shot back from clubhouse leader and matchup partner Ian Poulter. He’s highly unpredictable, finishing top 30 five times already this year, but also missing the cut 35% of the time. Unlike the other players featured in this article, he doesn’t do his best work on par 4s, but we see his value coming from his tee shots and converting enough scramble and putts to stay up in the field. He’s more of a top-20 pick than an outright winner pick this week.
Davis started 2020 by making six straight cuts, with three top-10 finishes. He missed the cut in his return at the Charles Schwab but shot a 68 in his second round after shaking off some first-round rust. His average drive was up to 321 yards, a gain of nearly 20 yards from his year average, and he hit two-thirds of his greens. Like most long hitters, his specialty is par-5 scoring. But with a lot of driveable par 4s at TPC River Highlands, we see a good fit for Davis.
Bramlett has made five of seven cuts in 2020, with a top-20 finish at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and a top-10 finish at the Puerto Rico Open. He can hit it far enough, and his iron play is great, hitting 69% of greens. He struggles converting scrambles and on the green, but once again, this course doesn’t require those skills as much as others.
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