By Dave Shedloski
The Travelers Championship, after a year in which the schedule was rearranged to accommodate the Olympics, has been returned to its customary slot after the U.S. Open. It welcomes one of its strongest fields in memory, with a $6.8 million purse on the line.
Five of the top 15 players in the world are coming to TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, just 10 minutes south of Hartford, along with six players who finished inside the top 10 in last week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills outside Milwaukee. That group includes Brian Harman, who tied for second, and world No. 12 Justin Thomas, who tied for ninth. The others: Xander Schauffele (T5), Charley Hoffman (8), Trey Mullinax (T9) and Brandt Snedeker (T9).
In the top-15 crowd are major winners Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, No. 2 and No. 6, respectively, in the world rankings. Each is making his debut at TPC River Highlands. It will be just McIlroy’s eighth start of the year after battling a rib injury.
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Also coming is No. 3 Jason Day, another major winner, who like McIlroy missed the cut last week at Erin Hills. In his two previous appearances, Day has posted five rounds of 67 or better.
TPC River Highlands, a par-70 layout measuring 6,841 yards, is one of the toughest little courses on the PGA TOUR. Its reputation remains intact even though Jim Furyk impressively shot 58 there last year.
CBS Sports golf analyst Frank Nobilo provides his insights on the tournament’s potential storylines.
What is the one thing you like the most about TPC River Highlands?
It’s one of those courses where you can run the tables if you play well. We saw that with Jim Furyk. But you do have to play well. If you do, then you’re going to get 10-12 decent birdie looks, and maybe that can help you build some confidence. But the great thing is it doesn’t dictate one style of play.
Is there an adjustment for the crowd who just played 72 holes on the longest U.S. Open course in history, almost 1,000 yards longer than TPC River Highlands?
It certainly gives the players a chance after getting beat up at U.S. Open. But there’s not really much adjustment as far as playing. They have to pay attention to a few key holes. And you have to keep your nose clean on those closing holes. This is a great breather for everyone after a tough week, but they still have to hit shots.
Five of the top 15 in the world are competing this week, including No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Jason Day, both winless this year. Day, in particular, has played well here in the past, while McIlroy is making his first start. Good chance to pick off a win?
I think so. They can take a page out of Bubba Watson‘s book. Play smart, use your power when you need to, give yourself looks for birdies. If they get the putter going, they’re going to be in position there at the end.
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Speaking of shutouts, Bubba Watson has won here twice, but is also seeking a victory after a long drought. Why does he do well on this short course?
It’s no surprise to me that he has played well there. If he wins one more, he’s one behind Billy Casper. His ability to shape it around there, but also use his power when he needs it, is a huge advantage. Bubba obviously has a game plan figured out, and he’s very creative with his shot selection. It’s actually a great golf course for him to use all his abilities.
What can we expect this week from Jim Furyk?
When you speak about that, you think of where scoring has been going. We’ve had three sub-60s in less than 12 months. In the last few years, every major scoring record has been broken. Remember, Patrick Cantlay shot 60 as an amateur there, too. As for Jim Furyk, what he did last year will be the furthest thing from his mind. The goal for him would be to shoot mid-60s and then maybe you get more opportunities that make you think you might go lower. He’ll be prepared, and he knows if he wants to win, he has to have a better start than he made last year.
Give us your favorites and dark horses please.
Marc Leishman has played well there, 43 under par the last five years. We know what Rory and Jason are capable of. I expect Bubba Watson to play well as always. I’m curious to see how those top guys do. Chris Stroud is someone to watch; he’s 41 under par there the last five years. Brendan Steele has done pretty well around there, makes a lot of birdies. And it’s a good course for Patrick Reed, too.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.