Stat attack!: Travelers Championship preview


Patrick Rodgers Walker Cup Thumb

Paul Goydos, displaying the kind of understated comedic timing he is known for, was once asked about what was perceived to be a weak field at a PGA Tour event. "There are plenty of major winners, here," he replied. "They just haven’t won them yet.”

That line seems to fit this week’s Travelers Championship. Several of the best players without a major are in the field this week – Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar – as are some players so young that you have to squint to see their major potential from TPC River Highlands. Five players making their PGA Tour debuts as professionals are playing in Cromwell, Conn., and that potential is there. Led by top-ranked Patrick Rodgers (shown), all five are ranked in the top 33 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking as they make the transition to pay for play. They might not win this week, but they should hit the ground running.

Players making their PGA Tour professional debut at the Travelers Championship

 Player Amateur rank Amateur highlights
 Joey Garber 31 Captain at Georgia in 2014, T2 in 2013 Southern Am
 Oliver Goss 12 2013 U.S. Am runner-up, low amateur at 2014 Masters
 Patrick Rodgers 1 11 wins at Stanford, 2013 Western Amateur champ
 Cameron Wilson 4 2014 NCAA individual champ, 2-time Met GA champ
 Bobby Wyatt 33 2014 SEC Champion, once shot 57 in Alabama Junior

It’s not often that five players of this caliber debut at the same time. It’s doubtful they’ll all win majors, but like the NFL draft’s quarterback class of 1983, it’s almost certain there are some stars in the making.

The Travelers Championship is the perfect tournament to hold the week after the U.S. Open, where long holes and fast greens can vex even the most seasoned veteran.  At TPC River Highlands, the greens are flat and the course is more than 700 yards shorter than Pinehurst No. 2. The winning score of last nine champions was lower than 10 under. Hitting greens in regulation isn’t as key as it is at a major. None of the last four Travelers champions finished as high as T-27 in GIR.  In fact, two of the last four winners weren’t in the top 10 in GIR, fairways hit or strokes gained putting.

Statistics of Travelers Championship winners: 2011-2014

 Year Player Fairways hit rank GIR rank Str. gained/putting rank
 2013 Ken Duke T-10 T-62 T-10
 2012 Marc Leishman T-15 T-28 T-48
 2011 Freddie Jacobson T-9 T-34 1
 2010 Bubba Watson T-58 T-30 T-41

Duke won for the first time in his 187th career start last year. He was the sixth player to make the Travelers Championship his first PGA Tour win in the last eight years.

First-time winners at the Travelers Championship

 Year Winner Tour start
 2013 Ken Duke 187
 2012 Marc Leishman 96
 2011 Freddie Jacobson 188
 2010 Bubba Watson 122
 2007 Hunter Mahan 122
 2006 J.J. Henry 177

It looks like our quintet of professional novices doesn't have quite enough experience to win this week. But what winless players in the field have played about 100-200 events and might be considered contenders outside Hartford? Discounting players on medical extensions and those without full status on Tour in 2013-14, there are nine winless players in the field who have played between 90 and 200 events on Tour. Some have come closer than others to winning, especially this year.

Winless players in the Travelers field with between 90-200 PGA Tour starts

 Player Previous starts Best in 2014 Best Travelers
 Ricky Barnes 171 T-9 Puerto Rico T-5, 2010
 Kevin Chappell 114 T-10 Colonial No cuts made
 Chad Collins 97 T-6 Humana No cuts made
 Erik Compton 100 T-2 U.S. Open T-30, 2013
 Brendon de Jonge 199 T-6 Wells Fargo T-8, 2012
 Graham Delaet 97 T-2 Farmers, Phoenix Third, 2013
 Bobby Gates 94 T-80 Farmers No cuts made
 William McGirt 109 T-6 Northern Trust T-30, 2013
 Nicholas Thompson 182 T-10 Colonial Fourth, 2011

Players with medical extensions who fit this category include Kris Blanks, Doug LaBelle II, Spencer Levin, John Mallinger and Steve Marino.

Playing on a course with flat greens and where birdies come fast and furious, it might stand to reason that the eventual winner would putt well from long distance. Duke made 10 putts from more than 10 feet last year and made a tidy 50 percent of his putts from 15-20 feet in 2013.  There are five players in the Travelers field who averaged more than six putts made per event from beyond 10 feet. Keep in mind, this doesn’t count events, such as majors, where ShotLink lasers are not available on all courses.

Tour leaders in putts made per event of 10+ feet who are in the Travelers field

 Player Tour rank 10+ putts made per event
  Matt Kuchar 5 6.9
 Sergio Garcia 6 6.8
 Sang-Moon Bae 9 6.3
 Jason Day T-12 6.2
 Harris English T-12 6.2

One notable performance aspect at the Travelers Championship is that star players have multiple successes there. Bubba Watson won in 2010 and was second in 2012. Hunter Mahan had a win and two seconds in a three-year stretch. Ryan Moore has had a pair of seconds. The three players have outstanding records in this event.

Watson, Mahan and Moore at the Travelers

  Starts Top 10s Wins Seconds Scoring avg.
 Hunter Mahan 12   1 2 68.12
 Ryan Moore 8   0 2 67.73
 Bubba Watson 7   1 1 67.42

One final note: When Duke won a year ago at age 44 he was the oldest player to get his first PGA Tour victory since Ed Dougherty, who was 47 when he won the 1995 Deposit Guaranty Classic (now Sanderson Farms). Duke was the fifth player to win the tournament in a playoff in the previous 10 years.

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