The major championship portion of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season came to a conclusion on Sunday at Baltusrol as American Jimmy Walker completed a wire-to-wire victory for the first major title of his career -- and thus making all four major winners this year first-timers.
Walker tied a career high with 19 birdies in the tournament and finished at 14-under 266 to edge out Aussie and world No. 1 Jason Day by a shot. Walker had to drain about a 3-foot par putt on No. 18 to avoid a playoff with Day, who made eagle on his 72nd hole to put the pressure on Walker. We also saw something were rarely do in a major as tournament organizers allowed preferred lies because of nearly four inches of rain during the week that saturated the Lower Course at Baltusrol. It was Walker's sixth career title overall and probably gets him a spot on this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team. He hadn't played well in the other majors this year, missing the cut in the U.S. and British Opens this year after tying for 29th in the Masters.
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Dating back to Day's win at the 2015 PGA Championship, that's five straight majors won by a first-timer. It's the longest streak since nine straight first-timers did so from the 2010 U.S. Open (Graeme McDowell) to the 2012 U.S. Open (Webb Simpson). It was the fourth runner-up finish in a major in Day's career along with the 2011 Masters, 2011 U.S. Open and 2013 U.S. Open.
I didn't have a great week as I thought Rory McIlroy would salvage a disappointing season with his third career PGA Championship win, but he missed the cut after rounds of 74-69. So did Dustin Johnson, whom I had for a Top 10. Also thought Rickie Fowler would contend, but he was T33.
This week the Tour heads to Hartford for the Travelers Championship. This tournament had been held the week after the U.S. Open since 2007 but was moved up this year both because of golf returning to the Olympics and because the TPC River Highlands course, a par 70 at 6,841 yards, had some renovations done late last year. It will move back to the week after the U.S. Open next year. A total of six players in the field are scheduled to go to Rio next week, including three-fourths of the U.S. team in Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar. The fourth is Johnson, who's not playing. Neither is Day, McIlroy or Jordan Spieth.
Watson, at No. 6 in the world, is the highest-ranked player in the field and also the defending champion. He made an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole last year to beat England's Paul Casey. Watson had to make about a 4-foot par putt on his 72nd hole to force the playoff. Watson had only three bogeys all weekend in becoming the seventh multiple winner of the Travelers Championship. He also won in a playoff in 2010 for his first career Tour victory. The only player to go back-to-back in Hartford is Phil Mickelson in 2001-02 and he's not playing, either. Brian Harman, who had a one-stroke lead after 54 holes last year, finished one shot of the playoff.
Golf Odds: Travelers Championship Favorites
Watson is the +1200 favorite at Bovada, and he's a true "Horse for the Course" here as in addition to those two wins, Watson also has a runner-up in 2012 and a fourth-place finish in 2013. Watson has one victory this season, coming in February at the Northern Trust Open. But he hasn't finished in the Top 10 since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March.
South African Branden Grace is +1600 with Brooks Koepka. Grace was fourth last week but has missed the cut in two prior trips to Hartford, including last year. Koepka was also fourth at the PGA Championship and was 51st here in his lone visit in 2014.
The favorites are rounded out by Kuchar and Reed each at +2000. Kuchar missed the cut last week and was 31st here in his last visit in 2014. Reed was 14th at Baltusrol and missed the cut here the past two years.
Golf Odds: Travelers Championship Picks
Six of the past 10 Travelers winners have made it their first tournament title, for what that's worth. For a Top 10, I like Watson (+150), Kuchar (+175) and Ryan Moore (+500). Head-to-head, go Watson (-120) over Koepka (-110), Grace (-140) over Reed (+110), Kuchar (-115) over Zach Johnson (-115), Paul Casey (-120) over Jon Rahm (-110), Jim Furyk (-115) over J.B. Holmes (-115), and Louis Oosthuizen (-115) over Webb Simpson (-115). I like Casey at +500 as the top European.
I'll go with Watson to win but will throw a few long-shot dollars on Moore at +5500. He's not playing very well right now but has three Top 10s here since 2011, when he was a runner-up. There is a prop on Watson, Grace and Koepka at +450 against the field (-750) and that might be the smarter bet than just on Watson.
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