Martin Mathews previews the final round of the Travelers Championship, where the man in front may prove hard to peg back.
With bad weather in the forecast tee times on Saturday for the Travelers Championship were brought forward meaning the third round was done and dusted by 2pm local time and well before darkness fell in the United Kingdom.
The men who enjoyed the early morning start the most were Brendon Todd and Dustin Johnson, who both shot career low rounds of 61, and it is Todd who holds a two-shot lead over Johnson going in to Sunday’s final round.
Todd’s story is a remarkable one. After his initial success on the PGA Tour he developed the yips off the tee and completely lost his way to the extent that he missed 39 of 44 cuts in the big league, his career in ruins. Then, in 2018, he turned to player-turned-coach Bradley Hughes and with his guidance began a comeback journey, which culminated in back-to-back wins in Bermuda and Mexico earlier this season.
When posting both of these victories, Todd was like a metronome from tee to green, barely missing a target, and after two missed cuts since the Tour's return, the Todd last seen in Mexico has - somewhat out of the blue - turned up in Connecticut.
Todd’s long game has been imperious this week, finding 41 of 42 fairways and 47 of 54 greens, and not unsurprisingly he leads the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green. The question therefore is can he keep it going for another 18 holes to bag his third trophy of the season?
The main factor in his favour is the fact that he led or co-led going in to the final round on the way to both of his wins last November, so he has plenty of relatively recent experience in this situation, and when his game is on he is clearly comfortable in front.
Conversely there are two main negatives to consider.
The first, with all due respect to the likes of Harry Higgs, Carlos Ortiz, Adam Long and Vaughn Taylor, who were Todd’s main foes en route to both of his recent wins, is that the company he will keep tomorrow represents a different ballgame altogether. It is one matter taking down a PGA Tour rookie in an opposite field event; it's another entirely to go head-to-head with a resurgent former world number one.
The other is the track record of 54-hole leaders in this event, which offers the chasing pack encouragement. Aside from last year’s winner Chez Reavie, who entered the final day with a six-shot lead, only two more 54-hole leaders in the past 10 years have gone on to clinch victory. Furthermore during that period there have been as many as three Sunday comeback wins from six shots behind, one from four back and one from three back. As hinted at during Saturday's third round, this is a course you can play catch-up on.
If Todd is to falter then his nearest challenger, Johnson, looks ideally positioned to pounce - and those who jumped onboard prior to the off based on Ben Coley’s pre-tournament preview will naturally be hoping he delivers.
After a sluggish opening round on Thursday, Johnson has really found his range over the past couple of days and from tee to green he sits second only to Todd despite struggling off the tee in round one.
Of concern to Johnson’s backers will be his most recent efforts when in the final pairing on Sunday - a 77 at the Heritage last year and a 74 at the Valspar a couple of weeks prior serve as a reminder of his potential frailties, and it may just be that of the two that he is the one who struggles more with the time honoured problem of following up one low round with another.
There is no doubt that Johnson is trending in the right direction towards another win after knee surgery last fall, but I am not convinced it will come this week and he looks short enough in the betting.
Behind this pair sits Kevin Streelman, who was victorious here in 2014, and at three back he is one closer going in to Sunday than he was that year, while four and five shots back sit Mackenzie Hughes, Bryson DeChambeau and Kevin Na.
All of this quartet are more than capable of making a run and it is surely only a matter of time till it all clicks for DeChambeau to return to the winner's enclosure, however unless they produce the sort of heroics that Todd and Johnson did today they are going to need some help from the man on top, something which to be frank he doesn’t like giving them.
In summary if Todd’s ball striking continues in the same vein he is sure to give himself plenty more birdie looks on a course with greens further softened up by overnight rain, and another round in the mid-60s looks a distinct possibility. On that basis he looks solid value and I am happy to take the 15/8 available that the Georgia man bags his third win of a remarkable campaign.
Looking briefly at the final round two-balls and I am happy to take a chance on Wesley Bryan against Brian Stuard, ahead of their 1735 BST tee-time.
Bryan was sidelined for a long time with a shoulder injury, however he returned to the main tour last week playing all four rounds at the Heritage. He's since said he's excited by the shape of his game and has pushed on here, leading the field in approach play.
Stuard to be fair has also looked pretty solid this week, however with Bryan playing on a medical extension in need of some strong finishes he looks a shade of value at odds-against.
Posted at 2215 BST on 27/06/20
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.