Travelers: Round 1 Three-Balls to Target

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The Travelers Championship is set to tee off tomorrow morning in Cromwell, Connecticut. An annual stop on the PGA Tour, TPC River Highlands has been known to reward different types of players. Over the years, players like Bubba Watson, Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson, Brendan Steele, Kevin Streelman, and Chez Reavie have all enjoyed success on this Pete Dye redesign.

While you have players like Watson and Johnson who have distance to spare, the same can’t be said for Reavie and Streelman. Despite their differences, they have all taken similar paths to good scores and will be the statistical profile we target in our Round 1 three-balls.

As with most weeks, iron-play is pertinent as birdies will needed and in order to do so, one’s irons must be locked in. That combined with competent putting and strong par-4 scoring is essentially the bones of our operation for the Travelers Championship.

That being said, I don’t believe off-the-tee play can be understated. Players will still need to find the short grass from the tee box as it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize it’s easier to hit approach shots from the fairway instead of the rough. And before you ask, no that was not a slight to Bryson DeChambeau.

The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have released numerous three-balls ahead of tomorrow’s first-round. The most prominent threesome consists of Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Tony Finau, where Johnson sits as a slight favorite over Koepka, leaving Finau as the heavy underdog. I'll go in-depth on this group and more as I outline the three-balls I will be targeting for tomorrow.

Round 1 Three-Balls (Odds via PointsBet):

Rickie Fowler (+134) over Francesco Molinari and Kevin Tway:

These days it’s a scary venture to side with Fowler every which way, but his recent string of success has me thinking this could be the Rickie of old. He is finally seeing the dividends from the swing changes he has implemented, but more importantly the putting stroke has returned to its purest form.

I expect Fowler to contend this week and from the sound of his pre-tournament press conference, so does he. Coming off a top-10 at the PGA Championship and a T-11 at the Memorial, this could be the spot for Fowler to finally breakthrough for the first time in two years, and that starts with a strong first-round.

Molinari presents the main threat to Fowler in Round 1. No disrespect to Tway, but his recent run of missed cuts has only been accompanied by the occasional top-50. The Italian is making the cross-country trek from California to make his Travelers Championship debut. With the fatigue factor possibly rearing its ugly head and the potential for a slight learning curve on TPC River Highlands, I’ll go with the motivated Fowler to get the job done on Thursday.

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Kevin Na (+170) over Matthew Wolff and Patton Kizzire:

Trying to predict what Na will do on a weekly basis has proven to be a fool’s errand. That being said, a course like TPC River Highlands, should be a spot where Na will thrive. This sentiment was proven to be true last year when he finished in a tie for fifth. While he is coming off a missed cut, I still believe a similar outcome could come to fruition this week.

That begins with a strong first-round. On shorter courses this year, such as Colonial CC and Waialae CC, Na has been able to find his iron-play, posting north of 5.5 Strokes Gained: Approach at both of those venues. The same clubs that led him to success in those weeks should do so once again this week.

Wolff and Kizzire are both real contenders in this threesome, but both have their flaws. While Wolff looked great in his return last week, his irons regressed over the weekend. That combined with some potential fatigue makes me think he could be sluggish in Round 1. As for Kizzire, the best of his golf may be behind him. After posting strong finishes in Texas, he has since missed two consecutive cuts with his iron-play abandoning him.

Tony Finau (+218) over Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka:

It would be a tall order to ask Finau to beat these two players on Sunday, but on Thursday it may be a completely different story. Everyone in this group has their pros, but also their cons. With this in mind, I have always found it prudent to side with the heavy underdog and in this scenario, it happens to be the player I like the most this week at the Travelers.

While Johnson and Koepka found themselves with late Sunday tee times at Torrey Pines, Finau was nowhere to be seen. A surprising missed cut left Finau outside the top-10 in a major for the first time in a long time. I’m willing to wager the extra couple of days off were to his benefit, allowing him to tinker with his swing and get out of the gates fast this week.

With the other two big hitters, Koepka’s mindset is always a massive question mark in non-majors and non-WGC events. He has been adamant, saying he needs to improve on his focus, but a week after the U.S. Open is the least likely time for this to come true. Johnson has been struggling really ever since the Tour came to the east coast. While he has strung together a couple solid finishes over the last two weeks, I’d rather go to the well with Finau at a hefty price.

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