Travelers Championship 2019 picks: Our PGA Tour caddie gives a huge advantage to a specific type of player this week
(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Even for golf's best players, weeks off are few and far between. That's by choice this week—as a trip across the country from Pebble Beach to Hartford, Conn., awaited players who grinded through the year's last major in the United States ahead of the Travelers Championship. Yet we have one of the season's best fields of any of the non-major, non-WGCs, the result of a well-run tournament, yes, but it's a golf course in TPC River Highlands that tour players have come to love for its tendency to reward good shots.
Coming off two straight correct tournament predictions (Rory McIlroy at the RBC Canadian Open and Patrick Cantlay at the Memorial), our expert panel didn't pick Gary Woodland last week, but we're still predicting winners at a 25-percent clip, which is pretty unheard of in golf. At a familiar golf course this week, we like our chances to increase that mark, as our our expert picks this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's Travelers Championship, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Our PGA Tour caddie thinks TPC River Highlands is playing longer and softer than he's ever seen—so favor the long-hitters perhaps more than you normally do. Here are our full panel's picks for the Travelers Championship:
2019 Travelers Championship Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Francesco Molinari (18-1) — He’s obviously a great ball striker and a good putter. That’s a great combo to possess at TPC River Highlands. This place isn’t super long – there are only two par 5s. Don’t get me wrong, length has an advantage here – something Molinari lacks -- but he doesn’t have many weaknesses. He’s so steady.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Emiliano Grillo (41-1) — Did Grillo waste his best week of the season at the US Open? Potentially. Grillo was second in the field, trailing only Martin Kaymer, and tied with winner Gary Woodland, with gaining 8.4 strokes on his approaches. He just happened to lose a pitiful 6.3 strokes putting. Even for Grillo that’s unusual. (Patrick Reed and Kyle Stanley were other big gainers in ball-striking who couldn’t drain a putt all week, by the way). That all gets lost in his T-58 finish, though. Still, Grillo has missed just a lone cut all season and was riding three straight top-25 finishes before Pebble Beach. He’s never missed the weekend in two starts at the Travelers, sits third in strokes gained/ball-striking over the past 24 rounds and is 15th in scoring on par 4s from 400-450 yards. If you can get an average-to-lucky week on the greens, Grillo will return substantial value.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Paul Casey (16-1) Casey ranks fourth in the field in strokes gained/tee to green over the past 100 rounds on Tour, according to FantasyNational.com. He’s also third in strokes gained/approach and sixth in greens in regulation, two key stats for scoring opportunities, which TPC River Highlands yields. Winners go low here, and Casey should be able to do so this week. Additionally, Casey has course form on his side with a pair of runner-ups (2015 and 2018), plus a 17th (2016) and 5th (2017) to his name at TPC River Highlands.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Thomas (17-1) — Of all the favorites, Thomas’ odds are the only ones not overpriced. I have his price projected at 19-1, so you’re getting slight value here. Sure, we missed the cut last week at Pebble Beach. But his ball-striking was still there. JT gained two strokes on the field off the tee and 1.9 strokes on his approaches, continuing with his elite numbers for the season—he's first in strokes gained/off-the-tee over the past 50 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com, and he's fifth in strokes gained/approach. There was probably some rust last week at Pebble Beach. But I wasn’t on him there. I will be on JT at the Travelers, where he can bomb and gouge it and pick up a big advantage on shorter hitters.
Golf Digest editors: Bryson DeChambeau (27-1) — It had been a bad run for Bryson DeChambeau, as the Mad Scientist missed three straight cuts after the Masters. He's found something in his past two events, especially at Pebble Beach, where he gained four strokes on the field on approach shots. Bryson returns to a place that's somewhat comfortable for him at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-9 last year. We've learned to ride Bryson when he gets hot (credit Pat Mayo's co-host Geoff Feinberg for that, and he's back in the Northeast on a tree-lined golf course, just like Ridgewood Country Club where he won last year, so we can get behind him here.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted seven of the season’s 28 events. We’ve picked two of the past three winners, with Brandon Gdula hitting Rory McIlroy (9-1) at the RBC Canadian Open and our Golf Digest Editors predicting Patrick Cantlay (16-1) at the Memorial. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA. And our Golf Digest editors also correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) earlier in the season.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Travelers Championship (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Viktor Hovland (50-1) — It’s going to be sloppy out there with the possibility of limited golf Thursday due to weather. I've never seen this course so soft, ever since I had my first Hartford experience in 1997. The fairways are super slow right now. I would look for a bomber to do well. Hovland is a total bomber, gaining 12.6 strokes off the tee at Pebble Beach to lead the field. And as we saw last week at Pebble, he didn’t back down and made a little golf history with the lowest 72-hole total (4-under 280) ever in a U.S. Open by an amateur. This is his pro debut. He’s a player to look out for.
Mayo: Adam Hadwin (80-1) — Following a mid-season lull where the Canadian never finished better than T-33 (with a pair of missed cuts), Hadwin appears to be rounding back into form at a track suited perfectly to his skill set. He historically has performed well at Riviera and Copperhead before this year, with his lone PGA victory coming at the Valspar; and his ball-striking deficiencies have righted themselves again. In his struggles after the AT&T Pebble Beach in February, Hadwin lost strokes on approach in five consecutive events, losing strokes around the green and putting in four of them. Quite atypical. Since the Wells Fargo, however, old Hadwin as retuned. He’s gained in all four strokes gained metrics in three of past four events and finished inside the top 11 of strokes gained/tee-to-green in two of his past three starts: fourth at the Canadian Open and 11th at the PGA Championship.
Gdula: Jason Kokrak (60-1) — Kokrak was lingering for a while as major season got underway, but his ball-striking could generate scoring chances needed to contend. Kokrak is 20th in strokes gained/off the tee and seventh in strokes gained/approach. He’s also 17th in good drive rate and fourth in greens in regulation. With a solid putting week, he could get that elusive first tour victory.
Riccio: Brandon Harkins (350-1) — OK, we're going deep on the board here. Stay with us. Harkins is 20th on my model this week, with projected odds of 66-1. So at 350-1, this is worth a couple bucks. Harkins, a second-year tour pro, hasn't had any results to be entirely proud of. But his strokes gained/off-the-tee and tee-to-green in his past four events. Putting has been his weak point. On these rather benign putting surfaces for Pete Dye standards, it could take one hot putting week, and Harkins could find himself into contention.
Golf Digest editors: Chesson Hadley (100-1) — These seem like really high odds for someone who exhibited complete control of their golf ball last week at Pebble Beach. Hadley's best-ever major finish (ninth place) came on the heels of gaining 10 strokes on the field, including 4.6 strokes off-the-tee, and 2.5 strokes on his approaches. Those numbers are back to how he was striking the ball earlier in the season, where he had second-place and seventh-place finishes in the same month. We'll take a chance on Hadley staying hot at the Travelers at these high odds.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Patrick Reed (37-1) — Why don't I like Reed this week? He doesn’t quite seem settled with his equipment after last week’s episode. It’s a perfect example of how hard the game is. I don’t know what’s going on with him—making some changes, perhaps? I don’t know. It just seems things are really hard for Reed right now. There’s something going on, and he’s not getting the results he’s used to seeing on tour. If you look at his stats, he broke the wrong club last week. He should be breaking his driver. He’s 113th in strokes gained off the tee and 10th in strokes gained around the green. But with him, things can turn around very quickly. He’s a world-class player who’s used to success ... something he hasn’t had much of so far this season.
Mayo: Brooks Koepka (7-1) — Brooks is clearly the best player in the field, and while he’s performed well at this event in the past, he’s never sniffed the winner’s circle, and 6/1 is a short price to back at any non-major where Brooks likely just doesn’t care. I envision something like a T-13 finish. Good, but not a win.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (14-1) — Eventually, fading Spieth will come back to haunt me, but the asking price is too steep. He broke a five-event streak of losing strokes via approach play when he gained 0.2 at the U.S. Open. However, he still lost strokes tee-to-green overall. His putter didn’t bail him out last week, and some negative regression could be hitting him. He’s a roughly average tee-to-green performer right now (48th among the field), and that’s not someone I want to back at such a low number.
Riccio: Brandt Snedeker (39-1) — My model say Snedeker should be in the 100-1 range, but he's more than half that price. It's a pretty easy stay away for me. His driving stats aren't consistent enough to justify the spend here. This field is deep, and Snedeker just isn't elite enough off the tee to warrant taking someone below 40-1.
Golf Digest editors: Bubba Watson (20-1) — Yes, we know the narrative about Bubba exceeding at these "Bubba courses," and TPC River Highlands is probably the prime example. Still, Bubba is way overpriced, and hasn't finished better than 63rd since April. This could be the place he heats up, but you're taking a real chance on that happening. We'd rather stay away.
2019 Travelers Championship: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Sepp Straka (+115) over Troy Merritt (Sportbet) — Sepp absolutely murders the golf ball, and he’s on a heater lately. He’s made his last three cuts in a row, including a T-28 at the U.S. Open. He went super low in the sectional qualifier in Canada to medal and make the Open. That was good for him. This place is lush and wet. He smokes it. Length will be an advantage this week. There won’t be any roll.
Mayo: Emiliano Grillo (+100) over Brandt Snedeker (Bet365) — Third week playing in a row for Sneds, and he’s been lifted supremely by that pop putting stroke over that time. At a course which rewards ball striking over all else, as long as Grillo doesn’t three-putt from six feet every hole, he should dispatch Snedeker handily.
Gdula: Francesco Molinari (+104) over Jordan Spieth (FanDuel) — Molinari grades out 17th in strokes gained/approach over the past 100 rounds and is sixth in good drive rate, giving him a path to scoring chances due to tee-to-green play. Spieth ranks 56th and 145th in those stats, respectively.
Riccio: Bryson DeChambeau (-110) over Tommy Fleetwood (Sportsbook) — This really isn't the type of golf course that will suit Tommy Fleetwood's game. And we're seeing a resurgent Bryson—he gained 4.4 strokes on his approach shots last week at Pebble Beach. So we know his ball-striking is returning to last summer form. Bryson also has the course history advantage here—making the cut in three tries here, including a T-9 last year.
Golf Digest editors: Matthew Wolff (+105) over Kevin Tway (Sportsbook) — After watching his teammate Viktor Hovland tear it up at Pebble Beach last week, Matthew Wolff will surely see this week as a chance to prove he
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Patrick Cantlay (+130) over Dustin Johnson); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Ian Poulter (-125) over Bubba Watson); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Adam Scott (-116) over Francesco Molinari); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Kevin Na (-115) over Bubba Watson); Perry/Action Network: 0 for 1; Riccio: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: Action Network guest picker: 6 for 7; GD Editors: 14 wins, 7 losses, two pushes; Riccio: 11-9; PGA Tour Caddie: 13-10; Mayo: 10-9-2; Gdula: 9-12-1.)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Patrick Cantlay (+115) — Lock him up for a top-10. He loves the place, shot 60 here as an amateur, and I’m sure he’s disappointed in the U.S. Open performance (T-21). But he got it back on track over the weekend with 68-70. With the way he’s playing this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a bit of rest after this week to recharge for the final push. Maybe there’s a sense of urgency to play well here before that break.
Mayo: Ryan Moore (+550) — He might've missed the cut at this track a year ago, after three straight top-20s, including a pair of top-10s, and heads to Cromwell with his game, like Hadwin, slowly returning to its career baseline. Per FantasyNational.com, Moore sits 13th in this field in strokes gained/approach over the past 24 rounds and ranks top 10 in the field in par-4s 400-450 yards, strokes gained/tee-to-green, and strokes gained/approach over his past 100 rounds. So, both long- and short-term, the approach game is on point. Lately, the issue has been the driver. He’s bled strokes to the field off the tee in three straight. That could be course dependent, though. Trinity Forest, Bethpage Black and Muirfield Village aren’t exactly courses that scream Ryan Moore. In the three events preceding that, Heritage, Valero, Valspar, Moore gained an average of +1.53 strokes off-the-tee. Strangely, gaining so few strokes with his driver at TPC River Highlands actually would be an outlier for Moore; he’s gained an average of +2.86 strokes gained/off-the-tee in his past five Travelers starts.
Gdula: Russell Knox (+650) — Knox won here in 2016 and is in good enough form to post another strong outing. He’s lackluster off the tee (88th) over the past 100 rounds but is 11th in strokes gained/approach and seventh in greens in regulation among the field.
Riccio: Tony Finau (+290) — Finau is fourth on my model this week, mostly because of his par-4 scoring numbers—as there are just two par 5s at TPC River Highlands. Finau missed his last two cuts, but before that, nearly found the winner's circle at Colonial. He's gained 4.4 strokes on the field in his past 20 rounds, despite the two missed cuts, so this is a bet on him returning to his consistent form on a short golf course, making a top-10 bet at nearly 3-1 odds great value
Golf Digest editors: Emiliano Grillo (+430) — Really strong odds for someone whose ball-striking numbers were so great at Pebble Beach. If the putter wakes up, Grillo could absolutely contend. And even if he doesn't win, more than 4-to-1 on your money are great odds for Grillo.
(Top-10 results last week: Lou Riccio: 1 for 1 (Justin Rose, +275); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Adam Scott, +275); Everyone else: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Action Network: 3 out of 6 (+196, +800, +1000 hits); Mayo: 7 for 21; GD Editors: 6 for 21; Gdula: 5 for 21; Riccio: 5 for 21; PGA Tour Caddie: 5 for 22.)
Mayo: Currently the owner of the longest cuts made streak on tour (probably a kiss of death), there’s a distinct possibility Jason Kokrak missed his winning window for a win during his hot stretch from March through the end of April. But in a stacked field like this, he doesn’t need to win to return value. And there’s a chance TPC River Highlands might fit his eyes. He’s made four of five career cuts at the Travelers, has consecutive top-10 finishes at the Valspar, a similar course fit, and has made his past five weekends at Riviera, with top-25 finishes three of the past four years. He bottomed out on the weekend at Memorial, but now has had two weeks off to recharge and possesses the exact ball-striking prowess to contend again this week. And with all the attention on Viktor Hovland this week, Matthew Wolff, and especially Collin Morikawa, are just getting ignored by the public, and by their DraftKings price. Morikawa turned pro for the Canadian Open, and in consecutive weeks, at National Opens, he’s gained over +1.5 strokes gained/approach on average with T-14/T-35 results. Last year, at an amateur at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he gained +3.3 strokes with his irons. Kid is legit, and at his price all you need is a made cut, plus you get all his upside.
Jason Kokrak ($8,300); Emiliano Grillo ($7,900); Ryan Moore ($7,800); Adam Hadwin ($7,600); Collin Morikawa ($6,900).
Top-5 most trending golfers for DraftKings this week, according to FanShare Sports: Paul Casey, Emiliano Grillo, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas and tied between Bubba Watson and Kevin Streelman.
Riccio: My picks for DraftKings this week:
Jordan Spieth ($10,700); Justin Thomas ($9,800); Tony Finau ($9,000); J.B. Holmes ($7,300); Martin Laird ($7,000); Brandon Harkins ($6,200).
Golf Digest Editors: I'd fade the top half of the field until you get to Paul Casey, who's more of a sure thing on this course where he finished runner-up last year and has such strong course history. I really like the rest of this group to get through the cut and make it to the weekend, with the first three guys having a strong chance to win.
Paul Casey ($9,500); Bryson DeChambeau ($9,200); Tony Finau ($9,000); Kevin Streelman ($8,200); Chesson Hadley ($7,400); Cameron Tringale ($6,700).
Gdula: This week, your lineup starts with a decision: Brooks Koepka ($12,600) or no Brooks Koepka. Either are fine, but Patrick Cantlay ($11,500) and Paul Casey ($11,300) are cheaper and likely fit the course better.
The real target area for me is the mid-range, including a lot of names to like, primarily Chez Reavie ($9,900), Emiliano Grillo ($9,900), Russell Knox ($9,700), Kevin Streelman ($9,500), and Jason Kokrak ($9,300). A balanced lineup at a course with birdie chances seems like the best way to go.
Riccio: My FanDuel lineup this week:
Jordan Spieth ($11,400); Justin Thomas ($11,200); Tony Finau ($10,600); Phil Mickelson ($10,100); Martin Laird ($8,400); J.J. Spaun ($8,000).
GD Editors: The consistency of Casey and Molinari are great ways to start your lineup at the top. Reed is a little risky—his frustration manifested himself in that club snap on Friday. He could miss the cut, or he could use that anger to spur him to a win. You can shift to someone else in this price range, but we like his course history and him seeming to come around. Berger lost the playoff here to Jordan Spieth two years ago, and he's playing well the past month. Homa and Moore are solid plays to round out the lineup.
Paul Casey ($11,300); Francesco Molinari ($11,000); Patrick Reed ($10,300); Daniel Berger ($9,800); Ryan Moore ($9,400); Max Homa ($8,000).
Top-5 most trending golfers for FanDuel, according to FanShare Sports: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Paul Casey and Justin Thomas.
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Valspar Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
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