Previewing the Travelers Championship

June 24, 2020
Justin Ray

Three years ago, Jordan Spieth delivered one of the most memorable playoff finishes in recent PGA Tour history when he holed out from the bunker to beat Daniel Berger at the Travelers Championship.

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His next start – the 2017 Open Championship – is his last win anywhere around the world. After winning 14 times worldwide in less than five years, Jordan is bearing down on 36 months without a victory.

There have been glimpses of his old excellence. Last week at Harbour Town, Spieth opened with 66 despite making a triple bogey on his third hole of the tournament. The momentum faded on the weekend, though, as Jordan finished tied for 68th place.

Maybe no statistic in golf today is more confounding than the splits between Spieth’s performance in rounds one and two and what he does on the weekend.

Consider this: since the beginning of last season, Spieth has a scoring average of 69.2 in rounds one and two, good for sixth-best on the PGA Tour. In rounds three and four, that scoring average skyrockets to 71.6, ranked 255th out of 279 players in that span.

Spieth is a combined 142 strokes to par worse in rounds three and four in that span than he is over the first two rounds. No other player has a difference worse than 90 strokes in that same stretch.

When Jordan won this event three years ago, he became the second player since World War II to reach ten PGA Tour wins before age 24, joining Tiger Woods. It seems difficult to believe now, but Spieth led the PGA Tour in final round scoring average in that 2017 season.

COURSE CHARACTERISTICS

Last season, this was the second-shortest course on the PGA Tour, measuring at 6,841 yards on the scorecard. Only Pebble Beach Golf Links’ setup for the AT&T Pro-Am was smaller. Despite that, distance tends to be valued higher than accuracy off the tee, with misses not being penalized as severely on most holes.

Last year, the field hit more than 1,100 approach shots at TPC River Highlands from 125 to 150 yards away, the third-highest total on Tour all season. Only TPC Deere Run and Detroit Golf Club had more approach shots from that range. That might be good news for Rory McIlroy, who leads the PGA Tour in average proximity from that distance, and players like Tyrrell Hatton (ranked 5th) and Justin Thomas (12th).

The 15th hole here is one of the more memorable drivable par 3s on the PGA Tour summer schedule. Statistically, there isn’t much debate on whether or not to go for it, though. Over the last five years, players to go for the green from the tee have a scoring average of 3.75 – those who lay up (and that’s less than 9% of players in that span) have averaged 4.41.

TOURNAMENT TRENDS

– Expect weekend fireworks: six of the last eight winners at the Travelers Championship trailed entering the final round. The Sunday scoring average of the last 15 winners at TPC River Highlands is 65.6.

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Paul Casey is a combined 58-under-par in this tournament the last five years, 19 strokes better than any other player in that span. Casey has averaged 1.99 strokes gained tee-to-green per round in this event since 2010, by far best of any player with a dozen or more rounds in that span.

– Ten years ago, Bubba Watson earned his first PGA Tour victory in this event. That week, there wasn’t a single player in the OWGR top-ten in the field. Compare that to this year, where nine of the top-ten will be teeing it up. Even without the post-pandemic field strength surge, this championship was trending upwards: the winner received 58 OWGR points last year – 20 more than in 2010. There’s a projected 72 going to the winner this week.

NOTES ON PLAYERS IN THE FIELD

– When the PGA Tour season stopped Thursday night at TPC Sawgrass, Brooks Koepka was ranked 208th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting, losing 0.71 strokes to the field per round. In the eight rounds of competition since the hiatus ended, he’s averaging 1.06 strokes gained putting per round, a remarkable turnaround. Koepka has averaged 4.88 birdies/eagles per round at TPC River Highlands, best of any player with 12 or more rounds since 2010.

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Koepka is one of four players to shoot in the 60s in all eight rounds since the PGA Tour’s return, along with Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick and J.T. Poston.

McIlroy will be playing in this tournament for the third time in his career, having finished in the top-20 in both 2017 and 2018. Rory has this place figured when it comes to full swings: he’s averaged 3.02 strokes gained tee-to-green and 2.35 strokes gained long game per round here. If he putts better here, look out: there are 352 players with eight or more rounds at this event since 2005. Of that group, McIlroy is ranked 345th (-1.14 per round) in strokes gained putting.

Rory’s fellow Ryder Cup stalwart Sergio Garcia put on a ball-striking clinic last week in South Carolina. Garcia racked up a field-best (and career-high) 27 birdies for the week – despite ranking 70th of 75 players in to make the cut in strokes gained putting. Garcia averaged a staggering 3.47 SG tee-to-green per round at Harbour Town.

Jon Rahm doesn’t stay down for long: last week marked just the fourth time in the last 20-plus months that Rahm has finished outside the top-ten in consecutive starts worldwide. Each of the previous three instances, he followed it up with a high finish: T-4 at the 2018 DP Worlds, T-6 at Valspar in 2019, and T-3 at last year’s U.S. Open.

Dustin Johnson showed glimpses of his old self last week at the RBC Heritage. DJ entered the week ranked 69th for the season in strokes gained tee-to-green per round. He was much better in his native South Carolina, ranking 9th in the field in that statistic (+1.74 per round).

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Justin Rose is tied with Berger for most birdies made over the last two weeks on the PGA Tour, with 44. Imagine making birdie on 44 of 144 holes in a two-week stretch and not winning either golf tournament. That’s what Rose – a three-time top-ten finisher here – has done in the last two tournaments.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

Only one player has recorded 40 or more consecutive rounds of par or better in PGA Tour history: Tiger Woods, when he had 52 straight in 2001-02.