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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Travelers Championship

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The Travelers Championship gets underway this week. Unlike some events after a major championship, we will be treated to an excellent field. Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Brooks Koepka will all be in action at TPC River Highlands this week in what is without a doubt the most stacked field in this event’s history.

Unlike last week at Shinnecock Hills, TPC River Highlands is a short course, measuring just 6,841 yards. It should mean that all different types of players will have the opportunity to excel here. The par-70 includes 12 par-4 holes, eight of which measure between 400-450 yards. Those are birdie holes for this generation of players. Expect to see a lot of positional play off the tee with players then relying on their short irons to get the ball close.

Last year, Jordan Spieth defeated Daniel Berger in a sudden-death playoff with a stroke of genius from the greenside bunker.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Thomas 12/1
  • Rory McIlroy 12/1
  • Brooks Koepka 12/1
  • Jordan Spieth 14/1
  • Patrick Reed 16/1
  • Jason Day 18/1
  • Paul Casey 18/1

With just one missed cut in his last nine events, Webb Simpson (25/1, DK Price $9,100) gets the call to continue his excellent 2018. Simpson bounced back from his missed cut at the Fort Worth Invitational to deliver a top-10 finish at the U.S. Open last week. Simpson had a dismal Thursday. He looked set to miss the cut at Shinnecock Hills, but he performed excellently over his final three rounds. One of the most encouraging signs was his iron play over the weekend. Simpson gained over 5.5 strokes with his approach play over his last two rounds, which should bode well for this week’s challenge.

TPC River Highlands is a course that Simpson has played well in years past. He has recorded two top-10 finishes in his last three starts at the Connecticut event, and his form this year is better than it was in that period. Over his previous 12 rounds, Simpson ranks 13th for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Strokes Gained-Short Game, 17th for Strokes Gained-Putting and second for Strokes Gained-Total. All parts of Simpson’s game are in form right now, and on a course where he’s enjoyed success in the past, he should play well again this week. I don’t particularly like his outright price of 25/1, but as a DraftKings play at a salary of $9,100, Simpson is a rock-solid choice.

Another man who is enjoying a terrific 2018 is Bubba Watson (33/1, DK Price $8,800). Watson has won twice already this year, and although he has cooled off lately, he should be full of confidence heading to a track he adores. Watson has won this championship twice in his career and has missed the cut on just one occasion, which came last year when by all accounts he was struggling with his health.

Don’t read too much into his missed cut last week at the U.S. Open. It’s an event Watson doesn’t enjoy, and he’s now missed four of his last five cuts at the tournament. When he missed the cut at the U.S. Open in 2015, he won this championship the very next week, and there’s every chance he could do the same this week. Watson is sixth in Ball Striking over his past 24 rounds, and his record at Pete Dye-designed courses is excellent. Watson ranks 10th for Strokes Gained-Total on Pete Dye courses over his last 50 rounds, while his Strokes Gained-Total at TPC River Highlands over the past five years is better than anyone else. I expect Watson to bounce back from last week’s missed cut, and he looks an excellent price to do just that.

Emiliano Grillo (55/1, DK Price $7,700) may also have missed the cut at the U.S. Open, but TPC River Highlands is a course that is tailor made for the Argentine’s game. Grillo is first in Ball Striking and seventh in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds on courses measuring less than 7,200 yards. Over the same period on Pete Dye-designed courses, the Argentine ranks second in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green.

Grillo finished T43 on his first appearance here last year, although it would have been much better had it not been for a miserable week on the greens. Grillo was 13th that week for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. With the way he is hitting it at the moment, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him improve on that effort this week. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits eighth in ball striking, sixth for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, sixth for Strokes Gained-Putting and second for Strokes Gained-Total. At a top price of 55/1 and a DraftKings salary of just $7,700, the Argentine is well worth siding with this week.

Lastly, I’ll take Aaron Baddeley (160/1, DK Price $7,000) at a knockdown price to play well this week. Judging by his last two outings, the Australian’s game is slowly coming around. Notably, his irons look very good all of a sudden. Over his previous two events, Baddeley has gained over eight strokes with his approach shots, which is excellent. Baddeley has also played well at the Travelers in the past, recording a top-5 finish here in 2014. He has made the cut at this event in three of his last four attempts. With such a low price tag and his iron game nice and sharp, I’ll happily take a punt on Baddeley this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Webb Simpson 25/1, DK Price $9,100
  • Bubba Watson 33/1, DK Price $8,800
  • Emiliano Grillo 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Aaron Baddeley 160/1, DK Price $7,000
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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