Travelers Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
TOURNAMENTS that immediately follow majors tend to struggle to attract the world’s best players. It is hardly surprising that a player who has given everything to a major would want to take the following week off, put his or her feet up and forget all about playing golf for a few days. So it is a measure of the respect with which the Travelers Championship is held that the likes of Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Marc Leishman have all committed themselves to competing at TPC River Highlands. Gary Woodland is skipping this week in the aftermath of his victory at the US Open.
It has been a particularly frustrating season to date for Thomas, who missed the US PGA Championship with a wrist injury and has struggled on his return to the game, missing the cut at The Memorial. He then added the Canadian Open to his schedule, where he finished in a disappointing tie for 20th place. After finishing in the top 10 in four of his first five starts of 2019, which included a pair of third-place finishes, Thomas has just one top 20 in his last six starts.
“The injury was at a weird time because all I could do was putt for a while,” Thomas said. “I think I could honestly say that I had too much time to putt because when you putt for two or three hours a day, you start thinking, maybe I should try this or do this, or how many times can I do this drill or do that drill. It was like, man, I think I actually am over-putting right now.”
Surprisingly, Thomas ranks a lowly 121st in strokes gained/putting on the PGA Tour this season after ranking in the top 50 each of the last two years. “The year has been been weird, it really has,” said Thomas, whose last victory came at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational last August. “I got off to a great start, consistency-wise. I had a couple of great chances to win. I felt like I really should have won in Los Angeles and I felt like I had a great chance to win Phoenix.
“I'm just trying to stay as patient as I can because I don't know if it will be this week, if it will be in August, if it will not be until next year, I don't know when it's going to be that I'll win again. But I know that I miss it and it feels like it's been a while and I'm ready to start doing it again.”
Watson can’t wait to return to TPC River Highlands, which he says feels like home. Last year he overcame a six-shot deficit to win thanks to a stunning final round of 63 for a three-stroke victory. It was his third win of the season and firmly re-established him as one of the best players in the world after a spell in the wilderness. He finished at 17-under 263. Third-round leader Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Beau Hossler and J.B. Holmes tied for second. Casey shot 72, Cink 62, Hossler 66 and Holmes 67.
Watson also came from six back to win the 2010 event for his first tour title and beat Casey in a playoff in 2015. "I feel like this is my home course," Watson said. "As soon as they put the schedule up, I sign up for this. I want to come back here. This means so much, not only from the golf side of it, but from the family side. My dad, it was the only time he got to see me win [in 2010]. He got to see me qualify for the Ryder Cup at this event. So all these things just mean so much to my family.”
Watson shot a 33 on the front nine, but really got it going on the back, with five birdies. He tied Casey at 16-under par by getting up and down from the bunker for a birdie on the course's signature 15th hole. Still tied on the par-four 18th, Watson hit his tee shot a barely-credible 366 yards, then pitched to three feet, giving caddie Ted Scott a big high-five before taking the lead with the putt. "Hitting some of those shots, especially the shot on 18, downwind, it was very difficult, but somehow pulling it off" Watson said. "And that's what we all try to do on Sundays is pull off the amazing shot.”
Casey, who shot 65, 67 and 62 to lead the field by four shots coming into Sunday, birdied his opening hole. But he gave that back on the fifth and had back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17 to end any chance he had of catching Watson.
The Englishman had finished in the top 20 in eight of nine tournaments heading into the Travelers. He was second here during his first visit in 2015, was 17th a year later and fifth in 2017. This is clearly a tournament Casey loves and he will be hoping to do well again in 2019. It’s been a strange season for Casey. He won the Valspar Championship, finished second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and was third at the WGC-Mexico Championship. But he missed the cut at The Masters and could only muster a 29th-place finish at the US PGA Championship and then withdrew from the Charles Schwab Challenge after being struck down by a dose of flu. He is now restored to health and is surely a banker for a top-10 finish here.
Spieth is another who will relish a return to this venue. He won here in 2017 and then crossed the Atlantic to claim The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale before embarking on a long winless streak. He is now back to his very best form and will fancy his chances of winning this tournament for a second time.
There is usually an unlikely story that unfolds each week on the PGA Tour. Last year it was written by Monday qualifier Chase Seiffert, who shot a 63 just to make the tournament. He recorded a 64 in the final round to finish at 12 under and tie for ninth. Seiffert's round included an eagle at the sixth hole. "I feel like my game's good enough to be out here full-time and kind of confirms that with the way I've been playing this week and last year here as well," he said. Sadly for Seiffert, that has yet to happen.
Paul Casey. Loves this tournament
Jordan Spieth. Holing putts for fun again
Jason Day. Beautiful ball striker
Paul Casey. Would love to win again this season
Jordan Spieth. It won’t be pretty - it never is
Jason Day. Ready for another victory
Bubba Watson. Light the blue touch paper and stand well back
Patrick Reed. Disappointing season to date
Marc Leishman. Consistent performer
Bryson DeChambeau. Looking to get back to his best
Justin Thomas. Still recovering from that wrist injury
Brooks Koepka. If he’s in the field he is looking to win
Tony Finau. More than a big hitter. Much more
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