It’s time to go low.
Last week’s U.S. Open saw unusually low scores around the top of the leaderboard, but this week’s Travelers Championship will be even more of a birdie-fest.
TPC River Highlands, a par 70, is the second shortest course on the PGA Tour rotation at 6,841 yards. It wasn’t in the top 10 in terms of the Tour’s easiest courses last year, but it still yields its fair share of birdies.
As long as players hit greens and can make birdies, they should do well. For example, Jim Furyk hit every fairway and green in the final round last year, and he ended up shooting the Tour’s first 58. Since 2005, it’s taken at least 14 under to win every Travelers Championship but one (2013, when Ken Duke shot 12 under).
The field this year is stout as it includes Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, as well as young stars Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger. Defending champ Russell Knox is also back, but with no top 10s in four Travelers starts prior to win last year at TPC River Highlands, he’s not a great fantasy-golf option this week.
As for those player who are, here are my top 25 fantasy players for this week:
1. Justin Thomas: Ended up T-9 at Erin Hills after shooting 63 in the third round. T-4 at the Memorial before that. Leads the Tour in birdie-or-better percentage, as well as birdie-or-better percentage on par 4s, and is 19th in greens in regulation. T-3 last year at Travelers thanks to a final-round 62. T-30 and MC in other two starts here.
2. Marc Leishman: Love the big Aussie this week. 2012 champ has made all six of his cuts here, including a T-11 in 2014 and T-9 last year. T-27 at the U.S. Open and has made 7 of 8 cuts since his win at Bay Hill.
3. Jordan Spieth: Making Travelers debut, but I think he’ll take nicely to the course. He’s second behind Thomas in birdie-or-better percentage and third in GIR. T-35 at U.S. Open followed T-13 at Memorial and T-2 at Colonial.
4. Brendan Steele: T-13 at the U.S. Open and hasn’t missed a cut all year with a win and seven other top 20s. Five top 25s in six Travelers starts with five scores of 66 or better, including 62 in 2014 opening round. Top-15 player in birdies or better on par 4s and par 5s.
5. Paul Casey: Faded hard at U.S. Open, finishing 26th after holding a share of the 36-hole lead. Still that was his worst finish in his last six worldwide starts. Runner-up in Travelers debut and then followed with a T-17 last year. Fifth on Tour in GIR.
6. Rory McIlroy: Coming off MC at Erin Hills and has never played TPC River Highlands. Still, he is Rory McIlroy.
7. Tony Finau: T-25 in each of his two career Travelers starts. Seven of his eight rounds here have been in the 60s. T-40 or better in each of last eight Tour starts with just one MC during that span. 10th on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage and sixth in GIR. Good sleeper option.
8. Charley Hoffman: Missed his first Travelers cut, in 2007, but is perfect in six trips since with five finishes of T-27 or better, including a T-2 in 2012 and T-7 in 2013. Solo eighth at U.S. Open and eight top 40s in last 10 Tour starts.
9. Jason Day: He’s 13th on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage, but that is highly influenced by his par-5 scoring ability. He hasn’t played the par 4s that well this year. And he’s coming off a MC at Erin Hills. However, Day’s short game will be an asset this week. This will be just his Travelers appearance but he’s been solid at TPC River Highlands, finishing T-27 in 2008 and T-18 in 2014.
10. Brandt Snedeker: Three top 25s in five trips to TPC River Highlands. T-9 at U.S. Open and finally looks healthy.
11. Daniel Berger: Tied for fifth in his Travelers debut last year after shooting 62 in the third round and leading after 54 holes. He’s 17th on Tour in birdies-or-better percentage. MC at U.S. Open after his victory in Memphis.
12. Graham DeLaet: Bullish on this Canadian. He’s 5 for 6 in cuts made here, including two top 5s, in 2013 and ’15. Plus, he’s coming off a T-10 at Memorial and ranks in the top 25 on Tour in GIR and birdie or better on par 4s.
13. Webb Simpson: Seven made cuts in as many Travelers appearances, he’s been T-37 or better in six of those trips, including T-5 in 2013. Coming off T-35 at U.S. Open and has made five of last six cuts on Tour.
14. Brian Harman: Outside top 100 on Tour in GIR, but hit it really well at Erin Hills and finished T-2. Cracked top 7 in three of last five Tour starts, including his win at Wells Fargo. Made five straight Travelers cuts before MC last year. Was third in 2015.
15. Bubba Watson: Two wins (2010, ’15) among six top-14 finishes at Travelers. T-25 last year. Leading earner here at $3,411,346. But hasn’t been the same Bubba this year. However, I do like that he was T-6 at Memorial three weeks ago.
16. Zach Johnson: Gaining momentum with five straight made cuts on Tour, including T-27 at U.S. Open. Has made 9 of 11 cuts at Travelers. Makes birdies, but will need to hit more greens to contend here.
17. Xander Schauffele: Broke out last week with T-5 showing at U.S. Open. 24th in GIR and ninth in birdies or better on par 4s. He could be in store for another good week.
18. Patrick Reed: Last year’s T-11 was his best finish in five Travelers starts. He’s playing better and was T-13 at the U.S. Open, but don’t buy too high.
19. Keegan Bradley: Another good sleeper option. Has made six straight cuts at the Travelers, including his T-25 showing last year. 10th on Tour in birdie-or-better percentage on par 4s and a solid 32nd in GIR. Coming off T-60 at U.S. Open after he sectional-qualified in.
20. Chez Reavie: Has made five straight cuts at the Travelers with no top 10s but two top 25s. T-16 at U.S. Open followed T-4 in Memphis.
21. William McGirt: Two missed cuts to start his Travelers career, but has been T-30 in better in last three starts here. Not in best form, but was T-55 at U.S. Open.
22. Bud Cauley: This will be his fifth Travelers start. He has a couple of top 25s here, including T-11 in 2014. MC at U.S. Open, but had three top 10s and one other top 25 in five Tour starts before that.
23. Jamie Lovemark: Shot 63 in Round 2 in 2014 before finishing T-31. Other two Travelers finishes are a T-69 in 2012 and MC last year. Still, he’s been playing well – T-27 at U.S. Open, T-10 at Memorial and T-18 at Byron Nelson.
24. Kyle Stanley: Four missed cuts in seven starts here, but he does have two top 20s. And he’s in good form with six finishes of T-27 or better in his last eight Tour starts. Second on Tour in GIR.
25. Kevin Streelman: Three missed cuts and a win in last four trips to Travelers. Sixth highest earner in tournament history. Playing most consistent golf of the season with T-13 at Memorial and T-18 at Colonial.