This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $1.296M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Cromwell, Conn.
Course: TPC River Highlands
2018 champion: Bubba Watson
Getting stuck behind a major on the PGA Tour calendar normally is like getting stuck behind a 6-foot-8 guy at the movies. You're in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there's something about the Travelers Championship that, year after year, after major after major, brings out some of the biggest names in golf. And we think it's more than just the cosmopolitan offerings of nearby Hartford, Connecticut. This year is no different, as more than half of the top 25 in the world rankings have NetJetted in from Pebble Beach, including world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, playing for a third straight week. Even Phil Mickelson is back after a 16-year absence, and he's still the only back-to-back winner in the history of the tournament (2001-02). More on the field in a moment.
The tournament has a rich history on the PGA Tour, dating all the way to 1952. It's been at TPC River Highlands ever since 1984, making this the 35th edition there. It annually ranks near the top of the PGA Tour attendance list – they treat the players great, which boosts the field strength, and in turn brings the fans on out. It's certainly a nice change of pace following the pressure-filled week of the U.S. Open. For what it's worth, the past four winners here – Jordan Spieth, Russell Knox and Bubba Watson twice – all played the last major, though none of them – for better or worse – dealt with the pressure of contending.
River Highlands checks in at a scant 6,800ish yards, the third short track the in a row. The Pete Dye design chokes off the longest hitters by pinching the fairways, with drives averaging under 300 yards. That, plus severe rough around the small greens, keeps scores from getting too low. That said, the lowest score ever recorded on the PGA Tour took place at River Highlands: Jim Furyk shot a 12-under 58 in the final round in 2016. That would be hard to do again under any circumstances, but two years ago they increased the speed on the traditionally slow greens, moving them past 12 on the stimpmeter. We'll discuss how that affects play in the Champion's Profile below. One thing that does stay the same is one of the more entertaining holes around: the drivable par-4, 296-yard 15th. There isn't a lot of water at River Highlands, but there is on that hole, where there were 134 birdies, but also almost 100 bogeys or worse.
Besides Koepka and Mickelson, this Little Tournament That Could will feature 2017 champion Spieth, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed, 2012 winner Marc Leishman and three-time winner Watson. That is quite a cavalcade of stars. There's even a quartet of potential stars of tomorrow. Viktor Hovland, fresh off a record showing at the U.S. Open, will make his pro debut, along with former Oklahoma State teammate Matthew Wolff, the 2019 NCAA Division I individual champion, plus two other college standouts who very recently turned pro in Collin Morikawa and Justin Suh. All four are on hand thanks to sponsor invites.
Weather-wise, it's forecast to be a rainy week, including thunderstorms on Thursday and morning showers on Friday. So, as lineup lock draws near, you'll want to determine if there are any advantages to certain tee times. Otherwise, temperatures will be in the 70s with moderate wind.
Key Stats to Winning at TPC River Highlands
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Driving accuracy/strokes gained: off the tee
Things changed at River Highlands two years ago, when the greens ran faster and poorer putters lost an advantage, or perhaps lost an "equalizer" would be a better word. Slower greens give the bad putters a fighting chance, since it's harder to putt on fast greens. Regardless, the greens are still small by PGA Tour standards, averaging about 5,500 square feet. And with gnarly rough uncharacteristically so close to the green, that puts a premium on greens in regulation. And with the greens small, many will be missed, bringing scrambling into play. Even though the modern-day pro finds a way to thrive despite poor driving accuracy, we're putting some emphasis on tee balls, since the fairways are a bit narrow and pinched to cut off long drives. Overall, though, it's hard to find a true profile – that contributes to the strong fields, as so many different types of players have a chance to win. Two years ago, Jordan Spieth had one of the oddest/worst stat lines you'll ever see for a winner. He did not finish inside the top-30 in the field in driving distance, driving accuracy, greens in regulation, proximity to the hole or strokes gained: putting. It's a marvel that he won. Even his "best" stat, scrambling, was only T19. Runner-up Daniel Berger conversely was top-6 in greens in regulation, proximity and scrambling, and putted far better than Spieth. All he got for his stellar play was a front-row seat to Spieth's 60-foot hole-out from a bunker on the first playoff hole, resulting in his now famous chest-bump with caddie Michael Greller. Last year, Watson eclipsed a quintet of runners-up by three strokes. He was almost last in the field in driving accuracy yet seventh in greens in regulation. Among those top-6 finishers, they were either top-12 in greens in regulation or strokes gained: putting, or both. Scrambling took a backseat last year, but we're not ready to remove it from the key stats.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Patrick Cantlay - $11,300 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 10-1)
Cantlay has played this tournament four times, meaning he was heading to Hartford before his long injury-related hiatus from the Tour. He famously shot a 60 here as a 19-year-old amateur in his second PGA Tour event back in 2011. But his best showing was last year's tie for 15th. Cantlay's tie for 21st at the U.S. Open broke his string of four straight top-10s, which culminated with his win at the Memorial. We like that he didn't face a pressure-filled week at Pebble, which is one reason, but not the only, we're passing on Brooks Koepka.
Francesco Molinari - $10,300 (18-1)
Molinari couldn't sustain his hot start at Pebble, but he did show some things that had been lacking in his game. He ranked 13th in the field in strokes gained: tee to green and was first in SG around the green. A continuation this week would serve him well. Molinari has played Hartford only twice, in 2015-16, and while he does have one top-25, it came before his career renaissance.
Jason Day - $10,000 (18-1)
Day was a big disappointment to us with last week's tie for 21st. But he has showed he can play well at River Highlands. Day tied for 12th last year, missed the cut the year before and tied for 18th back in 2014. He is ranked 12th in strokes gained: putting, which could be a difference maker this week. We have not seen official word that Steve Williams will again be on the bag, but based on Day's comments at the U.S. Open, the job will be a regular gig.
Paul Casey - $9,500 (16-1)
Of all the guys in Tier 1, we like Casey best. Which works out nicely since he's the cheapest. He's played the Travelers the past four years, with two runners-up, another top-5 and a top-20. Last year, Casey ranked fourth in the field in greens in regulation and seventh in strokes gained: putting.
Tier 2 Values
Bubba Watson - $8,900 (25-1)
Watson has had a poor season overall, missing the cut at the past two majors. But amid his struggles, he did tie for 12th at the Masters. So we have no reservations jumping on board at a track where Watson has won even more than at Augusta. And besides his three Travelers wins, Watson has three other top-6s here. 'Nuff said.
Brandt Snedeker - $8,600 (40-1)
Snedeker made the cut but not much else last week at Pebble. But he did have three straight top-20s before that, including a tie for fourth in Canada and for 16th at the PGA. Snedeker ran off three top-15s in a row in this tournament before missing the cut a year ago. His short game has been impeccable, ranking third in strokes gained: around the green and 10th in SG putting.
Patrick Reed - $8,500 (50-1)
We're a little surprised we're pulling the trigger here on Reed. But there were some things we liked from him last week (and we're not talking his club snap). He ranked 12th in the Open field in strokes gained: off the tee, 10th in SG tee to green and seventh in SG around the green. Woeful putting prevented a higher finish. Reed missed the Travelers cut a year ago but was T5 the year before and T11 in 2016.
Charley Hoffman - $8,100 (50-1)
This is a high price to pay for someone who has missed seven cuts in 18 starts this season. But hear us out. Hoffman has finished top-25 in five of his past six visits (the other was a T26), with two of them doubling as top-3s. And earlier this subpar season, he showed that he can still deliver at a favorite track, finishing runner-up at the Valero. Plus there was this little nugget we discovered in researching Hoffman: He leads the Tour in approach shots from 125-150 yards. It's not a key stat, but we think it's relevant this week.
Tier 3 Values
Viktor Hovland - $7,900 (60-1)
Well here we go. The pro debut for the now former top-ranked amateur in the world. Hovland tied for 32nd at the Masters, he tied for 12th at the U.S. Open last week. He's got game. And a big price tag. And he'll probably be highly owned.
Emiliano Grillo - $7,900 (50-1)
Grillo has missed only one cut in the past 11 months, spanning 24 tournaments. Of course, we need more than just reaching the weekend from a golfer costing nearly $8,000. That stretch does not include the Argentine's tie for 19th last year at River Highlands. With one of the top tee-to-green games on Tour this season – 26th in strokes gained: off the tee, sixth in SG approach and 15th in SG tee to green – Grillo is well positioned for another top-20, or better.
Lucas Glover - $7,500 (80-1)
Glover quietly has had a very good season, one that has seen him climb from 136th OWGR at the start of 2019 to 80th right now. He's made the cut in 13 of his 17 strokes-play events, and all but two of them have been top-25s. That's right, 13 cashes, 11 top-25s. That said, we're taking a leap of faith to back a guy who has played River Highlands 10 times and missed the cut in seven of them. It's remarkable Glover keeps coming back.
Abraham Ancer - $7,400 (80-1)
At this price, we're on the edge of long-shot territory, where making the cut is our primary goal – while hoping for a little more. Ancer has made five cuts in a row and 8-of-9. He's really straight off the tee, ranked 19th on Tour in driving accuracy, something that might give him a bit of an edge this week. Ancer is also a decent scrambler, ranked 58th. He's played River Highlands twice, missing the cut last year.
Matt Jones - $7,000 (125-1)
This will be the 39-year-old Aussie's nine jaunt around River Highlands. He's made half his cuts there, including his past two, one of which was last year's tie for 19th. This seems kind of crazy to us: While ranked 101st in the point standings, Jones stands 35th in strokes gained: total.
Peter Malnati - $6,900 (Field, 12-1)
Malnati has made nine of his past 10 cuts despite some horrible numbers off the tee. As a shorter hitter, Malnati should see those numbers improve this week. And he's among the best putters on Tour, ranked 19th in strokes gained: putting. Malnati has played River Highlands four times, making three cuts, including last year's T26.
Vaughn Taylor - $6,700 (Field, 12-1)
The 43-year-old has been coming to Connecticut for nearly one-third of his life, having made the cut 12 times in his 14 visits to River Highlands. Taylor has also made seven of his past eight cuts this season. A big reason why is because he's ranked eighth on Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Hank Lebioda - $6,700 (Field, 12-1)
Lebioda is an interesting guy. He has been battling all season to get inside the top-125 in the FedEx Cup standings, and he has finally done it, now 124th. He has done it by making seven of his past eight cuts, including all three of his top-25s on the season (one of them was at the Zurich). Lebioda doesn't stand out in any strokes-gained category, but he's decent in all of them except putting – 62nd off the tee, 59th approach, 40th around the green, 41st tee to green. This will be his River Highlands debut.