Travelers Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Jordan Spieth has already achieved many remarkable things in his short career. Most of us still wonder at the way he regained his composure during that extraordinary finishing stretch at The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2017 when he started making birdies and eagles for fun to end the spirited challenge of fellow American Matt Kuchar.
But ja few weeks earlier he produced an incredible shot during a playoff at the Tavelers Championship to defeat Daniel Berger. The two men had finished all square after 72 holes at TPC River Highlands and had to return to the 18th. Spieth, still only 23 at the time, put his approach into a greenside bunker and looked like he was going to struggle to make his par. He had other ideas, however, and holed the shot before a memorable celebration with his caddie and close friend Michael Greller. Spieth threw his club in the air, leapt out of the sand and chest-bumped Greller as the huge crowd surrounding the green went crazy.
We should not have been surprised. It is the sort of thing Spieth has been doing ever since turning professional. It marked his 10th victory on the PGA Tour and it meant he joined Tiger Woods as only the second man to achieve that number of wins at 23 since the second world war. Woods won 15 times before turning 24, and we all know what he has gone on to achieve.
“That was one for the ages,” said Spieth afterwards. He had held a one-stroke edge after each of the first three rounds. He closed with an even-par 70 to match Berger, who birdied three of the final six holes for a 67, at 12-under 268. Berger, who was left shaking his head after Spieth’s heroics, then narrowly missed a 50-foot putt from just off the 18th green left that would have forced a second playoff hole.
"Jordan does Jordan things," Berger said. "So there's not really much you can say. I'm obviously disappointed, but happy to be in the position I was in today.”
Berger began the round in third place, three shots back. He tied Spieth for a lead with a 5-foot birdie putt on 15 as Spieth was making bogey on 14 and tied him again with a birdie from 8 feet at 17. The pair, playing a group apart, both hit their approach shots on 18 into the same greenside bunker. Both chipped out close to the hole and both saved par to force the playoff.
Berger hit his drive on the first playoff hole left and into the crowd behind a fairway bunker. Spieth seemed to clip a tree left landing in the fairway but about 150 yards short of his normal drive and 230 yards from the hole. Spieth's approach fell into bunker while Berger's ran off the green to the left.
Spieth actually had to back up after hitting his bunker shot to see the hole. When the ball rolled straight in the cup he threw his club and did a flying chest bump into Greller.
"If I was in Daniel's shoes, I would be cursing Jordan Spieth right now for the break off the tee and then holing a 30-yard bunker shot, that's a lot of luck," Spieth said.
In winning, he became only the third golfer to go wire-to-wire alone in the lead at the Connecticut event. Gene Littler did it in 1959 and Tim Morris in 1982. Spieth's only other wire-to-wire win was the 2015 Masters.
So the Open champion will return to the venue with some pretty sweet memories. But he is not the only one.
It was won in 2011 by Freddie Jacobson, in 2012 by Marc Leishman, in 2013 by the veteran Ken Duke, in 2014 by Kevin Streelman, in 2015 by Bubba Watson, in 2016 by Russell Knox and last year by Spieth.
And it turns out that Watson is something of a course specialist. Apart from his victory in 2015, he also won the event eight years ago and was runner-up in 2012. He has enjoyed a remarkable return to form this year after a long spell in the doldrums and will be one of the warm favourites as he bids to achieve a hat-trick of victories.
The list of past champions proves without doubt that you don’t need to be a bomber to win here. Of course Watson is one of the longest drivers of a golf ball on the planet, but Jacobson, Streelman, Duke and Knox are among the shorter hitters the game has seen. And when Duke won in 2013 he was well into his forties and his average drive was in the region of 270 yards - about 40 yards shorter than Watson.
Streelman is a golfer who is capable of stringing together some incredible bursts of scoring, making birdies for fun. It helps that he is among the most accurate drivers of a golf ball on Tour. But you still have to make the putts.
This is a golf course that should be made for former Masters and Open champion Zach Johnson and it would be a big surprise if he is not in contention coming down the stretch on Sunday. This season has seen the emergence of some wonderfully talented young golfers on the PGA Tour, as well as some remarkable success from European golfers, with Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy all returning to the winners’ circle.
But you can’t keep a good man down, and Johnson is certainly that. His accuracy with all clubs is well enough known but it is his putting that makes him stand out. While most tour pros will have no qualms about changing putters from week to week - and sometimes in the middle of tournaments - Johnson has stuck with the same old faithful throughout his career. And when he has his eye in, he is a very difficult man to beat. He still harbours ambitions to be a member of Jim Furyk’s Ryder Cup team in September - if he is to achieve it, he needs to start making a move soon, and a victory here would be a good move towards that.
Jordan Spieth. Ready for first win of 2018
Rory McIlroy. Will surely bounce back from US Open horror show
Ryan Moore. As consistent as they come
Jordan Spieth. If he has his putting boots on...
Rory McIlroy. Conditions should suit his game perfectly
Ryan Moore. Hits fairways and greens all day long
Zach Johnson. Will bore you to death with his accuracy
Ollie Schniederjans. That maiden win cannot be far away
Brandt Snedeker. Slowly getting back to his best
Paul Casey. Enjoying another great season
Bryson DeChambeau. Still doing it his way
Marc Leishman. Popular Australian is now world-class
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