This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $1.332M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Cromwell, Conn.
Course: TPC River Highlands
2020 champion: Dustin Johnson
The Travelers Championship is one of the all-time great success stories on the PGA Tour. It's been around almost 70 years. It's not played in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. And yet year after year, the fans come out in droves. And now this year those fans will be rewarded with one of the strongest fields in the history of the event. It's even more remarkable considering this is the week after a major – and a West Coast major, at that.
Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, defending champion Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed highlight the 156-man contingent that will bring together five of the top-10 in the world rankings, 11 of the top-25 and half of the top-50. Other names of note include Rickie Fowler, Matthew Wolff, three-time winner Bubba Watson and South African sensation Garrick Higgo. This appears to be the second strongest field ever for the Travelers, behind only last year, when the tournament was the third event back after golf resumed and almost every top guy was playing every week. Of course, there were zero fans on site then, so this year's vibe should be especially raucous.
Positioned right after the U.S. Open, the Travelers has served as an unofficial launching pad to pro careers. Two years ago, Wolff and Viktor Hovland made their pro debuts there. In the past, so did Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Webb Simpson, Cantlay and others. This year, Austin Eckroat, a four-time all-American and former teammate of Wolff and Hovland at the Oklahoma State powerhouse program, has been granted a sponsor exemption. This actually will be the third pro event for Eckroat, who has played the past two weeks on the Korn Ferry Tour and impressively tied for seventh, then 13th. As an amateur, he missed the cut at the Valero in April but also tied for 12th at Mayakoba late last year. If he is anything like Wolff or Hovland, you might want to play him at $6,600 or scoop him up in your season-long league. Another former college sensation, John Pak ($6,400) makes his second start after a missed cut at the Palmetto Championship.
The Travelers Insurance Company has been affiliated with the tournament since its inception way back in 1952. It became the title sponsor in 2007 – after years of Sammy Davis Jr. holding that distinction in the 1970s and '80s – and recently re-upped to continue at least through 2030. It knows a good thing when it sees it. The tournament 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. In 2017 and 2018, Tour members voted the tournament its Players Choice Award for "services, hospitality, attendance and quality of the course."
The players may love the hospitality, but they wouldn't come if they didn't like the course. TPC River Highlands came on the scene in 1984. It checks in at a mere 6,800ish yards. The Pete Dye design chokes off the longest hitters by pinching the fairways, with drives averaging under 300 yards (that hasn't hurt three-time winner Bubba Watson, though). That, plus tree-lined fairways and severe rough around the smallish greens, keeps scores from getting too low. The course ranked in the top half on the difficulty meter last season, as the 19th hardest of 49 tracks. 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. Cantlay holds the record for an amateur at 60. Last year, Mackenzie Hughes opened with a 60 en route to a tie for third and Johnson shot a third-round 61. One of the most fun holes on Tour is par-4, 296-yard 15th. There isn't a lot of water at River Highlands, but there is on five holes, including that risk/reward hole where virtually the entire field goes for the green. There are only two par-5s, one only 523 where you better birdie or even eagle it. There are nine par-4s in the 400-450-yard category. The bentgrass/poa annua greens average 5,000 square feet and, with some changes a few years back, they speeded them up past 12 on the stimpmeter.
Weather-wise, some rain was forecast for Tuesday but otherwise it will be dry the rest of the week. Temperatures will warm from the upper 70s into the mid-80s over the course of the tournament with moderate wind. It doesn't appear weather will be a factor this week.
Fun Travelers Factoid: The tournament is nearly 70 years old, yet there have been only two host courses. From 1952 to 1983, they used Wethersfield Country Club. In 1984, they moved about six miles to TPC Connecticut (renamed TPC River Highlands in 1991), and they've played there ever since.
Key Stats to Winning at TPC River Highlands
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee/Driving Accuracy
• Par 4 Efficiency 400-450
The last four times the tournament was played immediately following the U.S. Open, the winner had played in the Open (not last year). Don't fret if your guy is way back after Thursday. Johnson was nine strokes off the pace and outside the cutline, as was Watson in 2018, when he was seven behind the first-round leader. Things changed at River Highlands three years ago, when the greens ran faster and poorer putters lost an advantage, or perhaps "equalizer" would be a better word. With gnarly rough uncharacteristically so close to the green, that puts a premium on greens in regulation. This is a second-shot golf course. 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 – long and short hitters have both emerged victorious. Four 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. Two years ago, Reavie put on a clinic and was simply masterful across the board, ranking third in driving accuracy, seventh in GIR, sixth in proximity, second in scrambling and 10th in SG putting. Johnson club down significantly to hybrids off the tee and it paid off. He was only 27th in driving distance. But he also putted out of his mind, ranking in the top-5 in the field. The over/under on the winning score on golfodds.com is 262.5 – 17.5 under par.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 12-1)
Johnson lost his No. 1 ranking when Jon Rahm won the U.S. Open, but he can regain it with at least a three-way tie for fifth, according to Twitter OWGR guru @VC606. It certainly seems doable. DJ has shown signs of reversing his 2021 funk, contending at the Palmetto Championship and notching a top-20 at the U.S. Open. He smartly took his foot off the gas here last year, using a lot of hybrids off the tee, and it obviously paid off. But he also putted great, and that's no sure thing to repeat.
Bryson DeChambeau - $11,100 (12-1)
DeChambeau has already teed it up five times at River Highlands, and he notched top-10s the past three years. Unlike Johnson, he continued to pound the ball off the tee a year ago, ranking third in distance at 316+ yards. He also was top-10 in putting, a scenario easy to envision happening again. It might be hard to pull the trigger on DeChambeau after witnessing his finish the other day. Think of it another way: He was leading the U.S. Open on the back nine on Sunday.
Patrick Cantlay - $10,400 (16-1)
Cantlay had an uncharacteristically terrible tee-to-green week here last year, ranking 43rd in the field. He still finished 11th, his third successive top-15 in the tournament. He's currently ranked fourth in SG: Tee-to-Green, plus he's also second in par-4 400-450. He quietly followed up his Memorial win with a tie for 15th at Torrey Pines.
Paul Casey - $9,900 (16-1)
While the three guys above are attractive, Casey might be the most attractive – and most highly-rostered. He's finished top-5 four times here in the past six years, two of them as runner-up. Pro tip: On any second-shot golf course, a guy ranked third on Tour in SG: Approach should do well. Casey also had a great U.S. Open, tying for seventh.
Tier 2 Values
Matthew Wolff - $9,300 (40-1)
If Wolff can do so well at a major after a two-month absence, imagine how well he can do after getting some tournament golf under his belt. His season-long stats won't be a good indicator; all we have to go on is an outstanding golfer suddenly finding the joy to get back in action. He probably can't wait until Thursday.
Abraham Ancer - $9,100 (30-1)
Here's another guy bound to be a popular pick. And even missing the Open cut probably won't dissuade gamers. Here's why: Ancer is ranked sixth on Tour in driving accuracy, 11th in greens in regulation and fourth in par-4 400-450. Here's also why: He was 11th here last year, eighth the year before.
Brian Harman - $8,800 (30-1)
Harman's tie for 19th at the U.S. Open was his seventh top-20 in his past eight starts. At close to 1,000 yards shorter than Torrey Pines, TPC River Highlands should be much more to his liking. He missed the cut here last year, but was top-10 the two previous years. He's ranked fifth on Tour in scrambling, 17th in putting and 19th in par-4 400-450. His approach numbers aren't great, but they should be vastly improved on a shorter track – like they were a few weeks back at Colonial, where he ranked fifth in greens in regulation and finished in the top-10.
Charley Hoffman - $8,600 (50-1)
Hoffman's turnaround season has slowed the past two tournaments, though he still made the cut at the Memorial and U.S. Open. He's made nine of 11 cuts at the Travelers, with three top-10s and four other top-30s. He's ranked 10th in SG: Approach and 19th in Tee-to-Green. He's another guy who likes the shorter par-4s, ranked 27th in the 400-450 category.
Tier 3 Values
Doc Redman - $7,600 (80-1)
Redman tied for 11th in his maiden visit to River Highlands a year ago in a loaded field. That's not enough to sway us. What really helps is four straight made cuts, two of them top-10s, including a runner-up last time out at the Palmetto. Throughout his sophomore slump, Redman has still flourished on the short par-4s, ranking top-25 in the 400-450 range.
Harold Varner III - $7,500 (80-1)
This has been a decent but not great season for Varner, who keeps waiting for his first big breakthrough on Tour. He's made four of his past six cuts, one of them being a runner-up at the short Harbour Town track. He's ranked 34th in par-4 400-450. Varner has made the River Highlands cut the past two years, tying for 32nd and before that, 21st.
Rickie Fowler - $7,300 (60-1)
It's curious to us that Fowler is priced so low. His odds are more reflective of where he should be. Even though he missed in a U.S. Open qualifier, he's clearly found something that was missing, with a tie for 11th last time out at the Memorial and a top-10 at the PGA. The season-long stats don't reflect his recent turnaround. As someone who'd always played in the Open, Fowler is back at the Travelers for the first time in eight years. He tied for 13th his past two trips.
Chris Kirk - $7,300 (100-1)
Kirk is back at River Highlands for the first time since 2013, which is odd because it seems a great fit. His game is well-versed, ranking top-60 on Tour in every strokes-gained category but putting, and he's still decent there. He's ranked fifth in par-4 400-450. Kirk had a few subpar weeks of late, but he got back on track last time out, just missing a top-25 at the Memorial.
Talor Gooch - $7,000 (100-1)
Not sure why a guy ranked 70th in the world who has made five straight cuts, including the PGA Championship, and top-20s in his past two starts at Colonial and the Memorial, is in long-shot territory – but we'll take it. Like with Fowler, his odds are more reflective of his worth. Gooch is top-50 on Tour in both SG: Approach and Tee-to-Green. He's missed the cut in his first visit and withdrew last year.
Chez Reavie - $7,000 (125-1)
Reavie had missed a whopping six cuts in a row when he entered the rugged Brookside U.S. Open qualifier – lo and behold, he was the co-medalist. Then he had a top-15 at the Palmetto and made the cut at the Open. And now he's back at River Highlands, where he won two years ago. That's his only top-10 in 10 visits, but he's made eight cuts. Putting is what's been killing him this year, but he's also third in driving accuracy and 26th in SG: Approach.
Vaughn Taylor - $6,600 (250-1)
This will be Taylor's 17th go-round at the Travelers. He's made 13 cuts, almost always without a high finish but he was fourth two years ago. He can do here what he has trouble on most other tracks because he is one of the absolute shortest hitters on Tour, averaging under 280 off the tee, which is ranked outside the top-200. Yowza. But he's 20th in accuracy, top-40 in putting and middle of the pack in par-4 400-450, which should add up to at the least weekend play.
Austin Eckroat - $6,600 (200-1)
What, after that big buildup up top, you thought we wouldn't pick him? In his top-10 and top-15 in his first two pro events on the Korn Ferry Tour the past two weeks, Eckroat has bombed it off the tee, has not been a great greens-in-regulation guy, but has been an excellent putter, ranking top-5 in both events. Of course, this is a huge step up. But as we mentioned above, he not only made the cut at the short Mayakoba track last fall, he tied for 12th (yes, the field was far weaker than it will be this week).