Expert picks: RBC Canadian Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 24, 2012, 8:00 pm

The PGA Tour heads to Ontario this week for the RBC Canadian Open, in search of valuable FedEx Cup points as the regular season nears its conclusion. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams; staff writer Ryan Lavner; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Ernie Els: An emotional letdown could be expected, but the Big easy doesn't usually take it easy after wins. He has a strong history of following up one title with another.

Group 2: Robert Garrigus: Hamilton Golf & Country Club isn't really a big bomber's course, but Garrigus will navigate the tight confines just fine.

Group 3: Graham DeLaet: No Canadian has won the Canadian Open since Pat Fletcher in 1954. DeLaet is playing well enough to change that.

Group 4: Gavin Coles: The Aussie's strengths should be accentuated on a course that demands accuracy. He's showing signs that it's coming together.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Hunter Mahan: A two-time winner this season, Mahan is a ball-striking machine - fourth in total driving, third in greens hit - and the type of player who should thrive at claustrophobic Hamilton G & CC. He has finished outside the top 20 only once in his past five starts.

Group 2: Scott Piercy: Didn't play last week, which was too bad - few on Tour have been as hot as Piercy. In his past two starts at the Greenbrier and John Deere, he's finished T-12 and third, respectively. He was T-6 at this event last year, albeit on a different course. Maybe he's comfortable north of the border.

Group 3: Ken Duke: Hard to believe that the 43-year-old Duke has six - six! - top 10s this season, tied for second-most on Tour. Though his past two starts have been unspectacular, he has still shot in the 60s in 12 of his past 18 rounds.

Group 4: Hunter Hamrick: All he's done since leaving college was make the cut at the U.S. Open, then finish 10th at the True South Classic where he shot all four rounds in the 60s. Clearly, he's trying to follow in the footsteps of fellow Alabama alum Bud Cauley, who went straight from campus to the pro ranks.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Brandt Snedeker: Some players would suffer a letdown after a major title contention; Snedeker will use it as motivation.

Group 2: Scott Piercy: Solid ball-striker who can get hot in a hurry; if he's on his game, expect a lot of birdies this week.

Group 3: Graham DeLaet: Native of Canada may be a sentimental pick this week, but he's also a smart one; will win a tourney at some point in the next 12 months.

Group 4: Scott Brown: Mr. All-or-Nothing has missed a dozen cuts this season, but has finishes of solo seventh and T-5 in his last two starts.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Jim Furyk: Hamilton Golf & Country Club is a classic course and over his career Furyk has shown himself to be a player who is comfortable with, and contends on, classic layouts. The two-time RBC Canadian Open champ won here in 2006 and has recorded top-11 finishes this year at Riviera, Augusta National, Harbour Town, Colonial and The Olympic Club. I can see him winning this week.

Group 2: Bud Cauley: This young gun returned to a site of 2011 success last week in Mississippi and finished fourth in the True South Classic for his best finish of 2012. I like picking a hot hand whenever I can and Cauley certainly fits the bill this week.

Group 3: Billy Horschel: This young talent has had some injury issues but his game is showing many signs of life, as he finished third last week in Mississippi for his best career Tour finish. He would have had another big finish in the John Deere Classic if not for a final round 74. I have a feeling Horschel will have another good week this week.

Group 4: Hunter Hamrick: A former University of Alabama standout, Hamrick made the cut in his professional debut last month at the U.S. Open and then recorded his first top-10 finish in his second professional start last week. He has a lot to gain right now and he has already had a great year as part of the Alabama team that finished second in the NCAA Championship.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: Mr. Consistent finished tied for fourth in Canada in 2010 and is fresh off solid finishes in his last two starts, including a tie for ninth last week at Lytham.

Group 2: Spencer Levin: Has slumped lately after a solid start to the season but he closed with a Sunday 69 to finish tied for ninth last year in Canada and is among the Tour's best putters (15th in strokes gained putting). 

Group 3: Bob Estes: Surprisingly consistent season for the journeyman, he's missed just one cut since April and he's finished outside the top 15 only once out of his last four starts north of the border.

Group 4: Gavin Coles: Improved putting has helped the Australian cash checks in seven of his last eight starts and he needs a big finish if he's going to make the playoffs.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: Given that I'm suddenly trailing by a considerable margin, I'm hoping my competition invests elsewhere while I lean on arguably the most consistent golfer in the field. His T-9 at the British was his seventh top-10 of the season.

Group 2: Scott Piercy: Fulfilling every full-season gamer's expectations with 10 top-25 finishes. Rested after a season-best third at the John Deere Classic. Confident and aggressive, a nice tandem on a classic track with slow, receptive greens.

Group 3: Graham DeLaet: Riding Canuck synergy here. Recurring back discomfort is always a concern but he's held together nicely overall. Also took two weeks off since sharing 12th place at the Greenbrier Classic on a similar course.

Group 4: Matt Hill: Calculated flier. Sits atop the Canadian Tour's Order of Merit with a win, a second and a pair of T-8 finishes. Former collegiate superstar at North Carolina State, and has also posted top-15s in five of his last seven starts on the eGolf Professional Tour.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”