Travelers Championsip Preview, Picks & Analysis
Bubba Watson is overdue a return to the winners' circle and he showed at the Memorial Tournament recently that his game is coming back to somewhere like the sort of form that secured him two victories at The Masters. And if he is going to pick up a trophy again anytime soon then there is every chance that it will be at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, where he was the champion in 2010 and 2015, and runner-up in 2012.
The big-hitting left-hander just loves this place. Golf is all about confidence and if you come to a venue that fits your eye and where you have done well in the past the chances are that you are going to go out there and do so again. With such an idiosyncratic golf swing, Watson was never going to be the most consistent golfer on the planet but his recent slump has taken everybody by surprise.
There is no doubt that he was deeply affected by being left out of the US Ryder Cup team last year at a time when he was the world's seventh-ranked player. Most judges felt that he was a shoo-in as a captain's pick for Davis Love III but rumours persist that Watson is not a team player and that many of his fellow professionals do not get on with him. He is a proud American and he won many admirers when, after missing out on the team, he asked Love if he could perform a role as a non-playing vice-captain.
Watson threw himself into the role with such gusto that he found his way back into the hearts of American golf fans. He also began a fitness drive that saw him lose a great deal of weight, but not only did he lose pounds, he also lost his game.
Watson has always done things his own way and insisted that he was on the right path. Most of us doubted it until he arrived at Muirfield Village and started to play like the Bubba of old. He has never hit a straight golf shot in his life and the key thing is that he now seems to have rediscovered the art of controlling his hooks and slices and, best of all, he holed a lot of putts during the Memorial.
River Highlands is a shotmakers' course. Watson won here is 2010 and 2015, Freddie Jacobson in 2011, Marc Leishman in 2012, Ken Duke in 2013, Kevin Streelman in 2014 and Russell Knox in 2016. Apart from Watson, all of these guys are renowned for being short-ish hitters who keep the ball in play. And that is the way to go low here.
Another man who will return to the Travelers with great memories in Jim Furyk. The tournament was won 12 months ago by Scotland's Knox, but the final-day headlines were all stolen by the veteran Furyk, who became the first man to produce a round of 58 on the PGA Tour. Like Watson, Furyk has had a disappointing season, but he is now having to deal with everything that goes with being named American Ryder Cup captain for 2018. He spent a long time out of the game last season because of a wrist injury and hoped that his performance at TPC River Highlands signalled a return to form, but it hasn't really worked out that way.
Furyk is a both a battler and a cussed character, however, and it would be foolish to start writing the obituaries for his career just yet. He will look around him on the PGA Tour and be absolutely thrilled at the wealth of young talent at his disposal when the USA defend the Ryder Cup against Europe in Paris next year. Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas will both surely be key members of his team. Both have tasted victory this season and great things are predicted for them in the years ahead.
It is well known that Thomas hits the ball miles with what is generally regarded as a textbook swing. Berger's swing could never be so described but he is a brilliant shotmaker who thrives on tough golf courses. When Knox won 12 months ago, he did so with a 72-hole total of 266 so you could argue that this is anything but a tough course, especially when you throw Furyk's 58 into the mix. It may only measure 6,841 yards, which is extremely short by modern standards, but it was redesigned in 1984 by Pete Dye and he has never had anything to do with an easy golf course.
A surprise entry is Rory McIlroy, desperately trying to find some momentum after yet another season that has been hit by injury. Considering that we are now almost halfway through the year, the Northern Irishman, who missed the cut at the US Open, is seriously undercooked after twice being sidelined with a rib injury. The irony is that he suffered the injury by hitting too many golf balls when testing new equipment. There is no more exciting player on the planet than McIlroy but he needs an uninterrupted run of tournaments if he is to have any chance of re-establishing himself as the world's best golfer. This is a course that, under normal circumstances, would be made for him.
And the same applies to Australia's Jason Day. The 29-year-old has had a troubled and highly emotional year off the course as his mother battles terminal cancer. He has always been a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and it is surely no coincidence that he has started to play well again at precisely the time that his mother has begun to respond well to treatment. The world of golf wishes Day and his family well.
It is a surprise that Brandt Snedeker has never won this tournament, and I expect him to put that right this week. Put simply, he ticks all the boxes. To do well here you need to find a lot of fairways - check! You need to be able to hit the ball close with a mid or short-iron in your hands - check! Oh yes, and you need to be able to putt - check! In other words, if you were asked to put together the identikit golfer to win here, the person you would come up with is Brandt Snedeker, chased all the way to the title by Matt Kuchar.
To Win: Brandt Snedeker. Course is made for him
Each Way: Matt Kuchar. Mr Consistency
Each Way: Rory McIlroy. Let's hope he stays fit
Brandt Snedeker. Could go very low here
Matt Kuchar. Back to his best
Rory McIlroy. Needs a good week on the greens
Jason Day. Glorious golf swing
Bubba Watson. Feels like he owns the place
Jordan Spieth. Should love it here
Russell Knox. Could do with a good week
Marc Leishman. Another big fan of the course
Patrick Reed. Needs to get season on track soon
Justin Thomas. Came close 12 months ago
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