We've all been there or will be there. On the cusp of something great, a defining moment, if you will, when the unthinkable happens. The car crashes. The target of affection denies our heartfelt advances. That promotion evaporates. The ball misses the hole. There's something universal in defeat, and while Dustin Johnson's loss to Jordan Spieth at the U.S. Open may have cost me dearly in some leagues, that's the sort of event that no one wishes on another human being. Think Max Scherzer losing a perfect game to an elbow-padded pinch hitter, for comparison's sake. I may not be a Nationals fan, but certain events draw sympathetic emotions from even the most ardent naysayer. The ending to the second major of the year, though, reaffirms that which sport has always played a role in defining - that despite our differences, we are all human, subject to the vagaries of a cruel and infinitely random world.
Risk and Reward
Speaking of defeat, and on a much lighter note, I pretty much ran the table for the U.S. Open over at GoDraft.com, which means I need more challengers! Click the link, join up, and come take my not-so-hard-earned winnings. Once the PGA games open for the week, you can find me in the We Talk Fantasy Sports league or in various other games as RiskRewardGolf. I promise to play nice. Maybe.
Let's bounce along like a late afternoon putt at Chambers Bay to this week's Travelers Championship, shall we? By comparison to the national championship held in the Pacific Northwest, TPC River Highlands is Muggsy Bogues to Shaquille O'Neal, measuring just 6,841 yards but playing to the same par 70. Typically, short courses bring a level of parity between long and short hitters, as, at a certain point, the advantage of hammering bombs is negated. Not so at the Travelers, where longer hitters have typically prevailed. Last year's winner, Kevin Streelman required a back nine for the ages, logging seven straight birdies to edge out a red-hot Sergio Garcia and resurgent K.J. Choi for the victory. Streelman, for the record, is no bomber, but his average is decidedly in the middle of the pack, measuring 288.4 yards per swing this season from the tee.
For those of you not familiar with my Power Rankings, I'll be listing the Top-15 with their Total Aggregate (TA), a number that combines recent performance with course history and some select other metrics, and the change (CHG) from the last tournament they participated in. Total Aggregate is out of 100, with a lower number indicating a better ranking.
- Tony Finau - TA: 27.125, CHG: (+17.2) - The flat-billed, long bombing Utah native has flirted with a breakthrough victory for most of his rookie year. Sure, he's never played here, but neither had he any experience at Chambers Bay where he finished 14th. He's got the arsenal to be successful here, and, paired with five straight finishes of 19th or better, he's looking as secure a bet as any rookie I've seen.
- Branden Grace - TA: 27.875, CHG: (+19.2) - I'll admit, I messed up. Not quite Chris-Kirk-taking-a-10 bad, but somehow I missed that Grace was in the field at the U.S. Open. By sheer happenstance, I picked him as a flyer in a few lineups, but I really should have featured him more prominently both here and in my leagues. With his fourth place finish, Grace now has four Top 11s in his last five starts. Grace is no maestro of any particular stat, though he's no dunce either. Worth a look despite a lack of course history, just know he might not come cheap.
- Billy Horschel - TA: 28.29, CHG: (+4.6) - There are few players that can match the intensity that Billy Horschel displays on a golf course. Likewise, there are few that can let their temper tantrums derail what should have been an otherwise productive weekend like Horschel can. Horschel pulled a 24th here in 2012, his last start the River Highlands, and coupled with five straight finishes of 25th or better, including a Top 10, he's still riding a serious hot streak.
- Francesco Molinari - TA: 29.75, CHG: (+1.4) - Despite being one of the shorter hitters on TOUR, Molinari acquitted himself quite well at the 7,700 yard course for the U.S. Open. While hitting fairways wasn't as much a premium as it usually is at the U.S. Open, Molinari continues to be the most accurate driver of the ball, beating out David Toms by nearly seven percentage points at 79.30%. Take about 900 yards off the course and he should find himself in contention this week.
- Paul Casey - TA: 31.50, CHG: (+12.2) - Never contended but never faded this past weekend, instead finishing in (a rather boring) 39th. With three Top 10s in his last five starts, Casey should fare well at the Travelers, ranking in the Top 50 in driving distance and in the Top 10 in greens in regulation. All he'll need is for his putter to heat up a little bit and he could run away with the tournament.
- Sergio Garcia - TA: 31.57, CHG: (-0.2) - By most accounts, Sergio should have finished much better at Chambers Bay, with the generous fairways helping his accuracy and the bumpy greens bringing a level of parity on the shortest grass. Instead, being a major and Sergio being Sergio, he bagged just one round, his last, under par. I can't fathom being so talented and yet coming up so woefully short on the biggest of stages. Wait. Yes I can. Let's just say there's a reason you won't see me in front of a live audience anytime soon.
- Bubba Watson - TA: 32.88, CHG: (-19.4) - I really thought Bubba was going to be around for the weekend this time. As usual for the ever-fickle Bubba Watson, the U.S. Open rankled his ire, drawing a 7-over on Friday despite shooting even-par on Thursday. Fortunately, I dodged that bullet like Keanu Reeves and benched Bubba in favor of... oh, Henrik Stenson. I suppose it could have been worse. Anyway, Bubba's won here before and has never missed a cut, including three additional Top 10s. Start him.
- Kevin Na - TA: 33.75, CHG: (-6.8) - Na-t going to be a top-pick this week, but if the value is there, he's a safe bet. He's this year's Matt Kuchar. With seven finishes of 13th or better since his last missed cut 12 starts ago, he's better than a coin toss for a solid finish, I'm just not convinced he's going to find his victory here.
- Jerry Kelly - TA: 33.875, CHG: (-16.4) - Had risen so far up my rankings that a missed cut at the difficult FedEx St. Jude couldn't even pull him out of the top 10. That said, he did miss a cut in his last start, the sixth of the season for Kelly. A shorter course should bode well for him, since he's not nearly the longest out there, but I'd still start with caution.
- Keegan Bradley - TA: 35.88, CHG: (-1) - This seems like a perfect time for Bradley to get back on the horse and pick up his first win in nearly three years. He's driving the ball as long and accurate as he ever has but his putting is still out of sorts since switching back to a non-anchored putter. He's never missed the cut here but he's also never finished better than 18th. Not exactly a dark horse, but maybe an idiosyncratic afterthought for most.
- Marc Leishman - TA: 37.25, CHG: (-18.2) - Leishman has been a little bit spotty in his last handful of starts. His two cuts mixed in with two Top 10s and a Top 25 aren't exactly confidence inspiring even if they show significant upside. It helps though, that Leishman's only career win occurred here and he has a Top 15 since. Statistically, he's a Texas pulled-pork sandwich - good, but messy.
- Russel Knox - TA: 37.38, CHG: (+7) - This year's fantasy third rail for me. Every time I start him, he cracks faster than a teen boy asking his crush to homecoming. When I don't, he posts four Top 25s in five starts, for example. Add in the salt of seven consecutive cuts since the last time I played him, and the burn still hasn't healed. By all means, start him, I just won't.
- Brandt Snedeker - TA: 37.875, CHG: (+3.6) - I understand my formula, I do, but it seems every week I'm surprised where certain players sit in the rankings. Three consecutive Top 10s, including a second place finish, and he finds his way down here? It may have to do with some of his other stats and a few weak finishes just prior to this streak, but he's also got a solid history here. He'll probably be highly used this weekend after a strong U.S. Open, but he's worth using nonetheless.
- Justin Thomas - TA: 38.00, CHG: (-17.8) - Sure, he missed the cut in his last start, but given how River Highlands favors longer hitters, there should be no worries about how Thomas will handle this week. Just so we're clear, we're talking go-cart handling, not your grandmother's 1981 Ford Country Squire handling.
- Louis Oosthuizen - TA: 38.33, CHG: (+3.4) - Almost the biggest story this weekend, clawing back from 9-over at one point on Friday to find himself one stroke off the lead on Sunday after posting 66-66-67 through the finish. He's looking as good as ever, though I won't ever fully believe his back his healed from his numerous injuries. Oh, and with that second place finish, Oosty has three finishes of seventh or better in his last five starts, so he's fairly on point coming into this week.
Thanks for reading and don't forget to sign up to play against me at GoDraft!