By Dave Shedloski
If it’s a week after a major, it must be time for the Travelers Championship.
But this time there’s a twist. Held annually at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, the Travelers Championship has come on the heels of the U.S. Open since the inception of the FedExCup in 2007. The revamped PGA TOUR schedule in 2016 places the long-running event after the PGA Championship.
TPC River Highlands has undergone a significant renovation since last year with the removal of 50 bunkers. Others have been repositioned to further complicate shots off the tee. Also the fairways have been pinched in slightly. Five greens on the inward nine holes were revamped, so all in all course knowledge isn’t the advantage it was in the past.
The field is led by defending champion Bubba Watson, No. 6 in the world. He defeated Paul Casey on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff for his second win at TPC River Highlands. Joining him are Casey, and three other top-20 players: No. 12 Branden Grace, No. 14 Patrick Reed and No. 15 Louis Oosthuizen.
Peter Kostis, who will flank Jim Nantz in the 18th tower for CBS Sports, provides his insights on the tournament storylines.
Six of the last 10 winners of the Travelers Championship were first-time PGA TOUR winners. What is it about the golf course that perhaps fosters breakthrough champions?
It’s the kind of golf course where you tend to play it well the first few times because you don’t appreciate where not to hit it. The more you play it, the more you realize where the trouble is. Until then there is no scar tissue. I think a good golf course is one that allows for different styles, and you have that this week. I go back to the Corey Pavin-Bubba Watson playoff in 2010. That’s about as divergent as you can get on golfing styles.
One of those first-time winners was Hunter Mahan in 2007. He missed the last three majors as he deals with a slump that includes seven missed cuts in his last eight starts. What does he have to do to turn it around?
I really don’t know. Anytime I see a player of that caliber struggle that much, my first inclination is an injury or something that is distracting him from playing well. But anytime you come back to a place where you’ve had success, you can get something rekindled, get some confidence. That might be just what it takes to get him over the hump.
Six players who are competing in the Olympics are in the field, including three from the U.S. — Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar. Does it help or hurt to play their way into the tournament in Rio?
I don’t think there’s any reason to go down there early. They have enough time to get ready. With our schedule this year, it’s been hard for players to get into a rhythm. It’s been tough to get into a flow. Coming off the PGA Championship, playing the Travelers and then going to Rio, it’s a good thing for them as far as preparation.
Bryson DeChambeau has had a lot of company among the younger crowd since he turned pro after the Masters. Jon Rahm is now a special temporary member. Other youngsters in the field include Lee McCoy, Jordan Niebrugge and Robby Shelton. Who do you like for a possible breakthrough?
It’s possible any one of them could win. Jon Rahm is the leader of the pack right now. He’s shown that in the last few weeks. Bryson, he’s running out of time. It looks like he might have to go to the Web.com Tour Finals. These other kids, it’s going to take a “W” to get membership status. The thing I like about them: they all competed against each other, and they are all coming out now knowing they can compete because some of their peers have already done it.
Give us your favorites and dark horses, please.
I like Paul Casey because he lost last year in a playoff, and I always like the guy who is coming off a near miss the year before. Plus he finished in the top 10 in the PGA Championship. I think Branden Grace is playing some really good golf. And you can’t dismiss Bubba. For a dark horse, I would look for the guys around 100 or 125 on the FedExCup points list. They need to knuckle down and play well. Matt Jones (124) is a guy in that category who could play well this week.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.