The First Look: Travelers Championship

The First Look: Travelers Championship

Bubba Watson defends his title and seeks to join the late Billy Casper as the only four-time winner of Connecticut’s annual PGA TOUR stop, as the circuit switches coasts back from Pebble Beach for its 36th visit to TPC River Highlands.

Brooks Koepka is slated to make the trek one week after his quest for a historic third consecutive U.S. Open title, while Phil Mickelson is set to end a 15-year absence from a place where he became the tournament’s only back-to-back winner in 2001 and ’02.

FIELD NOTES: Patrick Cantlay, whose first visit to Greater Hartford as a 2011 amateur featured a 60, is back for his fifth appearance. He’s just three weeks removed from winning the Memorial Tournament for his second TOUR win. … Paul Casey, who couldn’t close out a four-shot lead heading to last year’s final round, is back in search of an elusive Hartford win. He also was a playoff loser to Watson in 2015. … England’s Tommy Fleetwood will get his first look at TPC River Highlands. … Outgoing U.S. Amateur champ Viktor Hovland and Oklahoma State teammate Matthew Wolff are set to make their professional debuts. Two other freshly minted pros accepted invites – Collin Morikawa makes his third pro start and Justin Suh his second.

FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.

STORYLINES: Watson, who preceded last year’s victory with playoff wins in 2010 and ’15, now sets his sights on Casper’s Hartford standard. Casper captured what was then the Insurance City Open in 1963, following with victories in ’65, ’68 and ’73. … A Watson triumph also would lift him alongside Mickelson as the event’s only back-to-back winner. … Mickelson sets foot at River Highlands for the first time since 2003, when he tied for 58th in his bid for a three-peat. That’s when the event was played in August, rather than following the U.S. Open. … Each of the past five Travelers champions has won after playing the U.S. Open, though Russell Knox’s 2016 victory gets an asterisk. An Olympic shakeup that year moved the Travelers back to August. … Just four New Englanders have won in Hartford, though two came back-to-back in 2005 (Brad Faxon) and 2006 (J.J. Henry). The others are Paul Azinger (1987, ’89) and Bob Toski (1953). … The Travelers has gone to a playoff in each of the previous three odd-year editions – 2017 (Jordan Spieth), 2015 (Watson), 2013 (Ken Duke).

COURSE: TPC River Highlands, 6,841 yards, par 70. Located about midway between Hartford and New Haven, River Highlands is the third course to occupy the property and enters its 36th year as a PGA TOUR venue. Pete Dye oversaw a complete redesign of the former Edgewood Country Club in 1982, and Dye protégé Bobby Weed offered an upgrade nine years later in consultation with former TOUR pros Roger Maltbie and Howard Twitty. The spotlight falls on Nos. 15-17, which play around a four-acre lake and create a finish considered among the most thrilling on TOUR. River Highlands is the site of the TOUR’s only 58, when Jim Furyk reeled off 10 birdies and holed out for eagle at the par-4 No.3.

For those visiting Greater Hartford, must-play courses include Lyman Orchards GC (Middlefield, Conn.) and Richter Park GC (Danbury, Conn.). Book your reservations via TeeOff.com.

72-HOLE RECORD: 258, Kenny Perry (2009).

18-HOLE RECORD: 58, Jim Furyk (4th round, 2016).

LAST YEAR: Watson wiped out a six-shot deficit for the second time at River Highlands, chasing down Casey with a 7-under-par 63 for his third victory of the 2017-18 season. After posting 33 on the front side, the lefty heated up with five birdies after the turn. A birdie at the drivable par-4 15th lifted Watson into a tie with Casey, and he moved in front when his second shot at No.18 stopped 3 feet from the flagstick for a closing birdie. Casey followed up a Saturday 62 with a 72, falling into a share of second with Stewart Cink (62), Beau Hossler (66) and J.B. Holmes (67). Watson also overcame a six-shot deficit to win in 2010, eventually capturing a playoff with Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank for his first PGA TOUR victory.


HOW TO FOLLOW

TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-2:45 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (CBS).

PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. (featured groups). Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (featured groups), 3-6 p.m. (featured holes). International subscribers (via GOLF.tv): Thursday-Friday, 11:030 to 22:00 GMT. Saturday-Sunday, 13:00 to 22:00.

RADIO: Thursday-Friday, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-6 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com).