Travelers Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
DUSTIN JOHNSON maintained his remarkable record of winning at least once every year on the PGA Tour when he saw off Brendon Todd at last year’s Travelers Championship. It was the 13th successive year that the Dustinator had lifted a trophy above his head, which was in stark contrast to Todd.
Todd once missed the cut in 25 consecutive tournaments – nine to end the PGA TOUR season in 2009, all 13 Korn Ferry Tour starts in 2010, then the first three KFT events in 2011. Johnson has never gone more than 30 PGA Tour starts without winning.
Todd finally came good with a victory in 2014 but then missed 43 of 55 cuts. But he got it sorted out with the help of a new coach and a different mindset, winning twice during the 2019-20 season and taking a two-stroke lead over Johnson into the final round at TPC River Highlands.
We have become obsessed with Bryson DeChambeau and the vast distances he hits the golf ball and more recently Phil Mickelson has dominated the headlines with his remarkable victory at the PGA Championship at the age of 50. But Johnson’s consistency has been remarkable - and nobody else comes close since he joined the PGA Tour back in 2008. It is a measure of the man that questions are starting to be asked about his form because the he has failed to win since his epic triumph at The Masters back in November.
It was twilight at TPC River Highlands, with no more than a few dozen people on hand to witness Johnson’s 21st victory. Starting two behind, he made four birdies on the front nine, turned in 32 to overtake Todd, then seemingly headed towards a runaway victory with another birdie at the 10th.
But then he drove out of bounds at the par-five 13th and dropped a shot. He followed this by nearly finishing in the water at the 15th, where he had to remove his shoes and hack his second shot back into play.
“I hit tee shot very poorly at the 15th,” said Johnson, who did manage to salvage a par. “I don’t know what was going on with my tee shots.”
After a brief delay for dangerous weather, Johnson returned with his worst swing of the week – a sliced tee shot into a bunker at the par-three 16th. His third bogey of the day left him at 19-under, just one ahead of Kevin Streelman, who had burned the edge of the hole from 26 feet at the par-four 17th.
This is a man who collapsed in the final rounds of the 2010 US Open, 2011 Open and 2015 US Open. Were we going to see him fold again? Not a bit of it. He safely parred the tricky 17th and then smashed a 350-yard drive down the middle of the final hole, hit his approach to 18 feet and walked off with a par for a 67 and a winning total of 261.
Todd struggled horribly, failing to make a single birdie, shot 75, and plummeted into a share of 11th; Streelman couldn’t birdie any of the final five holes; and Mackenzie Hughes produced too little, too late to fall two shy.
For the record, only Arnold Palmer (17), Jack Nicklaus (17) and Tiger Woods (14) have started their careers with wins in more consecutive seasons.
And Johnson will be back to defend his title.
One of those seeking to deny him is Mickelson. Among his 45 career victories are two in Connecticut, where he won at TPC River Highlands in 2001 and 2002. Mickelson is the only player in tournament history to win in consecutive years.
“Phil has cemented his place among the very best to ever play the game of golf, and we are excited to have him join us this year,” said Travelers Championship Tournament Director Nathan Grube. “He’s been a fan favorite around the world for decades, winning every step of the way and thrilling spectators with his play and accomplishments. This is fantastic news for this year’s tournament.”
Last month in South Carolina, the 50-year-old Mickelson won the PGA Championship for his sixth major title. In addition to being the oldest player to win a major championship, he’s also the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event. He captured the first of his titles at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open as a 20-year-old Arizona State University student.
Mickelson has, of course, won The Masters three times (2004, 2006, 2010), triumphed at The Open in 2013 and won the PGA Championship in 2005. He is tied for eighth on the Tour’s all-time wins list. Mickelson has also represented the United States in 26 team events: He holds the record for the most Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup appearances (12 each) and was a member of the Walker Cup team in 1989 and 1991 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
“When a lot of fans think about golf, they think of Phil Mickelson, and I know they’ll be rooting hard for him again at TPC River Highlands,” said Andy Bessette, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Travelers. “Winning the PGA Championship at 50 is a tremendous accomplishment. I know Phil is excited to return to Connecticut and play in front of the fans who have always supported him.”
Mickelson joins a field that includes DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Marc Leishman, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler.
Koepka, who will be making his fifth appearance at TPC River Highlands, won back-to-back US Opens in 2017 and 2018, and consecutive PGA Championships in 2018 and 2019. Koepka earned his eighth PGA Tour victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this season. It was his first win since 2019, when he won three tournaments, including his second straight PGA Championship. In 2018, when Koepka won his first PGA Championship and his second straight US Open, he was named PGA Tour Player of the Year. Koepka has 10 top-5 finishes in major championships, including four victories. He has also spent 47 weeks at No. 1 in the World Rankings. His best finish at TPC River Highlands was a tie for ninth in 2016 and he will be looking to put that right.
“We want the best players in our field, and Brooks has arguably been the best over the past few years,” said Andy Bessette, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Travelers. “We appreciate his support and his willingness to add our tournament to his schedule in 2021. This is shaping up to be a fantastic Travelers Championship, and having a strong field helps our commitment to generate as much money from the event as possible for local charities.”
The tournament was won in 2015 and 2018 by Bubba Watson, in 2016 by Russell Knox, in 2017 by Jordan Spieth, in 2019 by Chez Reavie and last year by Dustin Johnson.
TPC River Highlands was redesigned by Pete Dye in 1982 and was further remodelled seven years later. It measures just 6,853 yards and it was here in 2016 that Jim Furyk recorded a round of 58, the lowest in PGA Tour history. It features corridors of maple, oak and pine trees, gently rolling fairways and plenty of ponds and lakes.
Abraham Ancer is still searching for that elusive first win but his consistency is remarkable - ahead of the US Open he had 14 top-25 finishes in 20 starts. Max Homa is hugely underrated. The 30-year-old has missed seven cuts but he has a victory and five top-10 finishes to his credit. Patrick Cantlay often flatters to deceive but was superb in winning The Memorial. He also won the ZoZo and has a second and third to his name this season.
Dustin Johnson. Loves this place
Bubba Watson. With two wins at River Highlands, Bubba will relish his return
Abraham Ancer. Will he ever crossing the finishing line? Of course
Five to Follow:
Dustin Johnson. A serial winner
Bubba Watson. Never a dull moment
Abraham Ancer. Fabulous temperament
Max Homa. Beautiful golf swing
Patrick Cantlay. Proved this class at Muirfield Village
Keegan Bradley. Has been showing some form of late
Ian Poulter, Needs to kick on soon
Mackenzie Hughes. Nine missed cuts, but three top-10 finishes
Aaron Wise. Looking more like the gifted player we all know he is
Chez Reavie. Former winner with an excellent record here
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