Jim Furyk’s record-setting 58 last August during the final round of the Travelers Championship was one of those “Where were you?” moments in modern golf history. All golf fans know where they were when Tiger holed that chip on 16 at Augusta, where they were when Jean Van de Velde took off his shoes on 18 at Carnoustie, where they were when Shaun Micheel hit that 7-iron at Oak Hill, and where they were when Furyk shot 58 at TPC Highlands. There are other similarly transcendent moments in golf history as well, but you get the point.
Now, 10 months later, the Travelers Championship is back, and in its usual slot on the schedule: the week after the U.S. Open (it was moved last year to accommodate golf’s triumphant return to The Olympics).
Connecticut’s biggest contribution to the game of golf, aside from legendary Nutmegger Glenna Collett-Vare, the Travelers has been a favorite PGA Tour stop since 1952.
Scores are generally not insanely low in this tournament, despite Furyk’s otherworldly Sunday last year, but now that players know that a sub-60 round is possible, expect to see nothing resembling conservative play in this edition.
TPC River Highlands made the mistake of letting its guard down once, and now professionals are going to give it all they have.
Among those pros is a cavalcade of elite golfers who could not fit last year’s dilatory event into their busy summer schedules, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth among them.
One of the things that makes this tournament so interesting is that McIlroy, Day, and Spieth were all enormous disappointments at last week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills, and they will be looking to get their world-class games back on track fast.
In addition to those three, the Travelers will also contain a number of players who were at, or near, the top of their games in the season’s second major, including Brian Harman, Justin Thomas, Charley Hoffman, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Brendan Steele, and Marc Leishman.
It is an incredible field for an always-entertaining event.
Running continuously since 1952, The Travelers Championship was originally called the Insurance City Open, a reference to nearby Hartford, Connecticut, which is colloquially known as the Insurance Capital of the World.
While that tournament name was dropped in 1967, its current name is something of a throwback to those days, as Travelers Property Casual Group is the third largest insurance company in Connecticut.
From 1967-2003, the tournament was known as The Greater Hartford Open, with Sammy Davis Jr’s name (he played in the event’s pro-am for a long time) even in the title for 16 years. While Travelers now owns the naming rights, locals still refer to it as the Greater Hartford Open. TPC River Highlands has been the tournament host since 1991.
The inaugural 1952 tournament was a four-stroke victory for Ted Kroll, a relative historical unknown who had eight career PGA Tour victories.
Notable winners of the Travelers include Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, and Phil Mickelson. Casper holds the tournament win record with four victories, two ahead of a group of six that most recently was joined by Bubba Watson, who won in 2010 and 2015.
The Greater Hartford Open might be most well-known for when Suzy Whaley qualified for the tournament (via local qualifying) in 2003, making her the first woman to make a PGA tournament field in nearly 60 years. Whaley missed the cut by 12 strokes, but it was still an historically notable event.
Name: TPC River Highlands
Where: Cromwell, Connecticut
Vitals: 6841 yards, par 70
Architect: Pete Dye
Winning Share: $1,224,000
FedEx Cup Points: 500
The defending champion of the Travelers Championship is Russell Knox. Three strokes behind Daniel Berger going into the final round, Knox fired a modest two-under 68, while Berger stumbled to a four-over 74.
Reaching six-under on his final round after 13 holes, local favorite Jerry Kelly got into the mix late, closing the gap significantly between he and Knox significantly, but after Kelly played the final three holes par, par, par, Knox ended up winning by a single stroke.
Justin Thomas used six straight Sunday birdies to also get into the mix, but he ended up finishing in a tie for third with Patrick Rodgers, two strokes behind Knox. Despite his final round 58, Jim Furyk finished T5.
Other Recent Champions
2015: Bubba Watson
2014: Kevin Streelman
2013: Ken Duke
2012: Marc Leishman
2011: Fredrik Jacobson
Lowest Final Score: 258, -22 (Kenny Perry, 2009)
Low Round: 58 (Jim Furyk, 2016)
Round 1: 3:30-6:30 PM (Golf Channel)
Round 2: 3:30-6:30 PM (Golf Channel)
Round 3: 1:00-2:30 PM (Golf Channel); 3:00-6:00 PM (CBS)
Round 4: 1:00-2:30 PM (Golf Channel); 3:00-6:00p (CBS)
Storyline 1: A Dejected Trio: Rory, Jason, and Jordan
The three highest ranked players in the Travelers field, according to the Official World Golf Rankings, #3 Rory McIlroy, #4 Jason Day, and #6 Jordan Spieth shared something unfortunate last week: they were all shockingly terrible at the U.S. Open.
Despite a field that was setting U.S. Open scoring records, the three were irrelevant in the Erin Hills story, as they were unable to find their usual games.
Spieth did have a very good final round, which is much more than McIlroy or Day can say, but sadly for Jordan, that round did not come until well after he had already lost the tournament.
Now, one week later, the trio is desperate to find a solution to their surprising major championship woes before the next one tees off in a month (The Open Championship). All three could make major strides this week by contending at TPC River Highlands.
Of the three, Rory’s U.S. Open struggles are probably the most forgivable. He has been limited to just eight events on the season, missing two significant 2017 stretches with a painful rib injury he suffered while testing clubs in the offseason.
The U.S. Open was his first start since a T35 at THE PLAYERS just over a month earlier. McIlroy was also trying to get used to new clubs (switching to TaylorMade just before THE PLAYERS), and a brand-new putter.
Even factoring in all that though, a 78-71 showing at Erin Hills that caused him to miss the cut by four strokes was extremely disappointing considering his undeniable talent and his world #2 ranking going into the week (he and Day have since been passed by then-#4 and U.S. Open runner-up Hideki Matsyama). McIlroy has never played the Travelers before, but is still one of the favorites, as he is in every tournament he plays.
Day’s 2017 season as a whole has been somewhere between mediocre and flat-out terrible, but his game really seemed to be coming back around prior to Erin Hills. In his two previous starts before the U.S. Open, he was runner-up at the Byron Nelson Classic, where he lost to Billy Horschel in a playoff, and then posted a T15 at The Memorial, by far his best career finish in the event.
He was a very popular pick to come out on top at Erin Hills, which would have been his second career major victory, but the then-world #3 never came close to getting anything going. Eleven holes into the U.S. Open, Day was already +7, and needed to birdie #18 to narrowly avoid shooting 80. He was only marginally better in round 2, carding five bogeys and a double on his way to a three-over 75. Day most recently competed in the Travelers in 2014, riding a 67-65 weekend to a T18 finish.
Jordan Spieth at least made the cut at the U.S. Open, but his performance was still very underwhelming. Spieth spent his first two days at Erin Hills hovering around even-par (73-71). He needed to make a big move in round three to get into the Sunday championship picture, but Spieth ended up losing significant ground on the field, only mustering two birdies and shooting 4-over 76.
Spieth’s final round 3-under 69 was bested by only four players on Sunday, but that difference was only cosmetic on final scorecard, bumping him up to just T35. Like McIlroy, Spieth will also be making his TPC River Highlands debut this week.
Storyline 2: Knox Defends
This may surprise many to hear, but Jim Furyk did not win the 2016 Travelers Championship. Furyk got the bulk of the attention and the accolades (and probably justifiably so), but Scotland’s Russell Knox was on top of the event’s final leaderboard, posting 14-under to win by a single stroke.
It was both Knox’s second career victory and second victory of the 2016 season. The win even vaulted Knox into the European Ryder Cup team conversation, although European captain Darren Clarke did not ultimately use of his captain’s pick on him (he probably wishes he had taken Knox over Lee Westwood, who was a disaster at the Ryder Cup).
Unfortunately for Knox, he has struggled to follow up a 2016 season that included two wins and two runner-ups. The 31-year-old was excellent in the fall series, finishing T10, T9, 3 in three events, but does not have a single top 10 since the calendar turned to 2017. He missed the cut at The Masters, THE PLAYERS, and the U.S. Open. He also shot a final round 81 at the WGC-Mexico Championship and stumbled to a 78-76 weekend at The Memorial.
The biggest difference between Knox’s 2016 and 2017 has been his putting, where he dropped from Tour average to well-below average. The worst of it has been on putts from 15-20 feet, which he has only converted 8.96% of the time. That ranks outside the top 200 on Tour.
At No. 57 in the FedEx Cup standings, he is a lock to make the playoffs, but after finishing No. 4 last season, his sights were probably higher than that.
Storyline 3: Furyk Returns
It is impossible to say too much about how great Furyk’s final round 58 was last year, the single lowest round among the millions that have been played in the history of the PGA Tour. The round included a ridiculous front-nine 27, 10 birdies, and an eagle 2 on the 3rd hole. He moved up 65 spots on the final leaderboard, skyrocketing from T70 to T5, a kind of move that is basically unheard of in golf.
Furyk’s return to TPC River Highlands will be much anticipated, but if he stays in recent form, fans should not expect much.
Now 47-year-old, the man with 17 career PGA Tour wins is suddenly looking his age. A T6 in November is his only top 10 in the 2017 season, and in the calendar year, he has nothing inside the top 20. His best 2017 finish came last week, shooting 3-under at the U.S. Open for a T23, but he had shockingly missed his previous six cuts.
Furyk is still fairly accurate, ranking 2nd on Tour in driving accuracy, but that accuracy is with an embarrassingly low 268.3-yard average, which ranks dead last on Tour (No. 205) by over three yards. He is still one of the best wedge players on Tour, if not of all-time, but the scoring has not been there this year, and his declining length is an enormous detriment to his results.
Other Notables In The Field
Very nearly capturing his first major championship last weekend, Harman was the 54-hole leader last week at the U.S. Open. The former Georgia Bulldog stayed in the championship mix until back-to-back bogeys on 12 and 13, combined with a back-nine birdie binge from eventual champion Brooks Koepka, eventually finishing in a tie for second with Hideki Matsuyama.
Despite the discouraging last seven holes, it was still, by far, Harman’s best career finish in a major. He will need to shake off what happened late on Sunday, and if he can, he is a tremendous fit for TPC River Highlands.
Harman notched his second career victory last month at the Wells Fargo Championship, and has six top-10 finishes in 2017.
A record-setting 9-under 63 on Saturday made Thomas the talk of the U.S. Open. Unfortunately for him, he completely lost his momentum early in the final round on the way to a 3-over 75 that dropped him from T2 to T9.
Even still, this season has been a monumental success for Thomas, with three victories, and top 10s in half (8 of 16) of his starts. The 24-year-old played very well at TPC River Highlands last season, as a final round 62 propelled him to a T3 finish.
I rarely express personal opinions in these primers, because they are meant to be objective pieces, but I have something I need to say about Xander Schauffele.
On Saturday morning, I said during a live podcast on Prime Sports Network that Schauffele’s great start in his first career major was unsustainable and predicted that he would end up finishing in the mid-30s. Schauffele finished 5th, proving me very wrong.
I apologize to Schauffele for severely underestimating his talents. The 23-year-old from La Jolla looked like the real deal at Erin Hills and will try to follow up that performance in Connecticut. Like the U.S. Open, this will be his Travelers debut, but I will not be betting against him.
Berger was the 54-hole leader at last year’s Travelers by three strokes, but a final round 74 left him three strokes back at the finish, tying for 5th place.
Berger won the FedEx St. Jude Classic just two weeks ago, successfully defending his 2016 FedEx St. Jude title. He was unable to carry any of those momentum to Erin Hills, however, shooting 78-75 and missing the U.S. Open cut by eight strokes.
At 7-under through two rounds at last week’s U.S. Open, Casey looked like a serious threat to win his first career major title, but a 75-74 weekend put an end to that.
On the season, Casey has made 15 cuts in 16 events with a high finish of T3. He finished T17 at last year’s Travelers, one year after his runner-up finish to Bubba Watson.
Speaking of Bubba, he has won this tournament twice, taking the title in both 2010 and 2015. In his last six events, he has alternated top 10s with missed cuts.
He did not make the weekend last week at the U.S. Open, and if the pattern holds, he will finish highly at TPC River Highlands. He was T25 at this tournament last year.
Lahiri did not qualify for the U.S. Open, which is unfortunate, because in his last PGA Tour action, Lahiri rode a 69-65 weekend to a T2 finish at The Memorial.
Prior to The Memorial, he had missed three consecutive cuts and had not finished in the top 40 since February. The 29-year-old from India will be making his Travelers Championship debut this week.