With scattered wrecks of the U.S. Open still flaming in the rear-view mirror, the PGA Tour arrives on the more birdie-friendly confines of TPC River Highlands this week for the Travelers Championship. Ending in spectacular fashion last season, the Travelers Championship garnered “Tournament of the Year,” and “Players Choice” awards from the Tour, and this year’s star-studded field promises even more excitement. TPC River Highlands is a 6,841-yard, par-70 Pete Dye-designed track overlooking the Connecticut River, and routing on hole Nos. 15 through 18 provides the purest form of stadium golf on Tour. Here are five things you need to know about the 67th version of the Travelers Championship.
Inside the Field
Jordan Spieth returns to defend his title against a strong lineup that includes eight of the world’s top-15 players. Fifty players who teed it up last week at Shinnecock Hills have also made their way to Cromwell, including U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, World No.2 Justin Thomas, and Masters champion Patrick Reed. Koepka is the first player since Justin Rose in 2013 to win the U.S. Open and play the following week. McIlroy hopes to bounce back after a shaky opening day and missed cut at Shinnecock. Thomas didn’t make the Travelers cut last year but any given week he’s one of the best tee-to-green guys in the game. Reed continues to show he has the game to contend anywhere, as his final round charge Sunday on Southampton fell just short.
That 58 Ball that Almost Wasn’t
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk returns to TPC River Highlands this week, where he recorded the first 58 on Tour two years ago. Before the final round began, Furyk was in 70th place, had been on the road almost one full month, and just wanted to get home and sleep in his own bed. Fueled by seven consecutive birdies on hole Nos. 6 to 12 however, he went on to make stunning and unexpected history. Furyk donated his 58 ball to the World Golf Hall of Fame, however, it almost didn’t make it to St. Augustine.
Furyk’s playing partner Miguel Angel Carballo initially marked Furyk for a birdie on No. 14, when in reality Furyk only made a par. Fortunately, Carballo realized his mistake, erased the wrong number, and penciled in the correct one. Had this error not been fixed, there would be no 58 ball, Furyk would have been disqualified, and the story would be instead about the most gut-wrenching round in history.
Best Celebration Ever?
It’s mind-boggling that professional golfers can hole out shots further away than two football fields and sink putts longer than a basketball court, but when it comes celebrating they look more uncoordinated than a newborn giraffe taking its first steps. That’s what makes Jordan Spieth going bananas last year with caddie Michael Greller after his bunker blast on No. 18 even more amazing.
Spieth holed out, slammed his wedge into the ground, Greller tossed a rake into the air, and something really awkward seemed destined to happen. Instead, the two executed a perfectly-timed and spectacular chest bump that still gives fans chills today. Greatest chest bump in the history of golf? Absolutely. Then again, it might be the only chest bump in the history of golf. Either way, it was awesome.
Exciting Way to End a Tournament
TPC River Highlands is one of the shorter courses on Tour at just 6,841 yards, but it’s also a par-70 track that’s set up perfectly for drama down the stretch – particularly on hole Nos. 15 through 18. Fairway bunkers are shallow, greenside bunkers are deep, and the routing is superb. Most of the back-9 encircles a four-acre lake, making it ripe for scoring surges, but also significant collapse. Incredible vantage points and amphitheater settings around the greens keep the committed fan base engaged and almost part of every shot.
No. 15 is a drivable 296-yard, par-4 that produces eagles just as easily as double-bogeys with water all along the left side and sand to the right. No. 16 is a picturesque 171-yard, par-3 that requires a forced carry over water to a narrow green that’s protected by bunkers on both sides, with tricky shaved down areas, and slopes back towards the tee. The daunting 420-yard, par-4, No. 17 requires two perfectly executed shots with water in play right off the elevated tee, and then again on approach the entire way to the green. Although the tee shot on the closing 444-yard, par-4, No. 18 is fairly easy to keep in play, on approach the green runs diagonally from left to right with two deep bunkers on the right that are make-or-break time for victory or defeat.
35 Years of TPC River Highland
This will be the 35th year Travelers is played on TPC River Highlands, and even before Spieth’s sudden-death victory last year and Furyk’s record-setting 58 the year before, it’s been a lovefest of drama and sensational moments. In 2002 Phil Mickelson came back from five strokes down in the final round to become the events first and only back-to-back winner in front of record crowd of 323,000 fans. In 2010 an emotional Bubba Watson burst onto the scene with his first of what would be 11 Tour victories by holding off Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank in a playoff. In 2014 Kevin Streelman captured his second Tour win by becoming the first and only player in history to birdie the final seven holes on his way to victory.
Patrick Reed is the bad boy of the PGA Tour and knows he’s probably not The Masters champion everyone would have wanted. However, Reed seems to have accepted his role as the villain, and that’s undeniably fueling him to play the best golf of his career. Patrick’s 4th place finish last week at Shinnecock gives him seven top-10 finishes this season. He’s ranked 6th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, 19th in Strokes Gained: Total, and 8th in Final Round Performance. Reed is on the verge of substantiating his controversial “Top-5” proclamation four years ago, and a win this week will inch him even closer.