Fantasy Golf Picks: Use Ball Strikers & Sleepers at Travelers Championship
The Travelers Championship
Defending Champ: Ken Duke
Erase the US Open from your memory. That’s in the past; it bears no resemblance to this week’s Travelers Championship (outside of being a Par 70, I suppose, but that’s it). Pinehurst’s undulating greens have been replaced by some of the flattest putting surfaces on Tour. TPC River Highlands is 707 yards shorter, oh, and there’s actually rough off the fairway this week – what a concept!
Putting always plays a critical role in determining the winner at any event, but subpar flat stick players (which coincidentally results in over par scores) won’t experience their usual struggles this week. The greens just aren’t that difficult. Ken Duke was one of the worst putters on Tour last year, and ended up in the Top 10 in Strokes Gained-Putting on his way to a playoff victory 12 months ago. The winning score is generally around -14 or lower, so birdie chances need to be piled up in bulk. Load up on players with an elevated GIR% and hope some of their putts start falling. There’s been a clear blueprint for success at the Travelers over the years: Distance and ball striking. No need to go against that now.
HIT THE LINKS
There’s only one link that matters: Roger Maltbie’s designated cart driver repeatedly drove into a state trooper, drunk. Then he was arrested. This blows up my theory that drunk driving on golf courses is legal.
Matt Kuchar & Bubba Watson – The Travelers is a fairly top-heavy field, and with a string of stronger tournaments looming, it’s best to load up on favorites and save the contrarian picks for those deeper events. Kuchar’s in the midst of his best season, grinding out Top 10 after Top 10 (except at Pinehurst, Kuch came 12th. BUM!!!!) and there’s no reason to think he won’t be in contention again this week. Despite underwhelming driving distance numbers (146th) his iron play still has him inside the Top 50 in GIR% and, with his fantastic putting stroke, he should take more advantage of those birdie chances than usual. I’m not worried about running out of Kuchar starts as long as I use them when he’s playing well. Those starts are there to be used; it’ll be no fun looking back at the end of the Fantasy Golf season seeing you still have some left. Plus, it’s a Pete Dye re-design, and Kuch destroys Pete Dye layouts... Let’s see, Bubba: first in driving distance, eighth in GIR%, seventh in scoring average, and most importantly for TPC River Highlands, fourth in birdie or better conversion percentage. None of these skills are new to Bubba, that's probably why he’s done so well in Hartford in his career. Since 2008, he’s played this event every year, never missing the cut, finishing outside the Top 15 once, and picking up his first career victory (2010).
Graham DeLaet & Dustin Johnson – Every golf commentator has been predicting DeLaet’s breakthrough for a year now, and it’s yet to materialize. That changes this week. The Canadian earned a bronze on this site last season, beginning his run of four Top 10s in eight tournaments, and he has the perfect style of play to hoist that glorious novelty check over his head come Sunday: first in GIR%, first in ball striking and eighth in driving distance. And, the easiness of the greens coupled with his experience at the course should have him wildly outperform his 131st ranked putting. Don’t forget, each of the past four victors in Hartford have been first-time Tour winners. DeLaet should run that to five… There’s a chance DJ suffers from a Major letdown, but, like DeLaet and Bubba, he has the type of game that thrives at this event.
Jason Day & Fredrik Jacobson – I faded Day last week because I was still concerned about his nagging wrist injury. After his T4 at Pinehurst, I’m no longer fretting. Yes, Day may be a Hartford neophyte, but his skills are too enticing to pass on. And there’s no need to concern yourself with using up his season eligibility, he’s only laced up the spikes six times this year, so you’re in no danger of running out of usages… Veering a little off course, the most triumphant putter in the field is a must-have. Freddie Yaks notched his only PGA win at this event in 2011 and followed that up with a T8 and T30 his past two turns, all because of his flat stick. Nothing’s changed in 2014 either; the Swede is eighth in SG-Putting and second in total putting this season. While Jacobson’s no Dustin Johnson in GIR rate, he gets exponentially better (not really ‘exponentially’, more like significantly) when he can attack the pin with a mid-iron. Overall, he’s 121st in GIR%, yet sits 19th from 125-150 yards and 37th from 150-175 yards out. If those reasons weren’t compelling enough, know that Yaks has made 10 of 11 cuts entering play with six Top 20s in those starts.
Charley Hoffman & Louis Oosthuizen – Charlie Hoffman tends to pop up on the leaderboard every fifth event or so. Why? Well, he hits a lot of greens in regulation, at the ninth-best rate of any player, to be exact. And it’s always something he’s put good use in Connecticut. Hoffman’s played the Travelers the last four years, never failing to qualify for the weekend, notching a T7 and T2 in his past two attempts… Injuries have derailed (not so) Lucky Louis for the better part of a year now, but I was encouraged by his final round 67 at Pinehurst. Normally, I wouldn’t put much stock into one round, especially at the toughest course of the year, yet here we are. Despite his overall struggles, Louis is still ninth in driving distance and eighth in GIR% from 100-125 yards, and if he can carry the ball striking and crisp putting stroke I witnessed Sunday over into this week, he’ll be in contention… no doubt.
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