By Sam McPherson
As the final round of the Travelers Championship started on Sunday morning, not too many experts had their eyes on American Bubba Watson. But the lefty shot one of the PGA Tour’s best closing rounds this season, coming from six shots down to claim his third Travelers title at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut. Watson’s blistering 63 gave him a three-stroke victory, as he finished at 17-under par and earned $1.26 million for his third victory on Tour this year.
England’s Paul Casey drew much of the attention after starting the fourth round at 16-under with a four-shot lead. However, he struggled all day, shooting 72 to finish in a four-way tie for second with Americans Stewart Cink, J.B. Holmes, and Beau Hossler at 14-under par. Like Watson, Cink also tore up the course on Sunday, posting a 62 to move up 20 spots on the leaderboard in the final round.
Twenty-one golfers shot all four rounds in the 60s at the Travelers this year, as the TPC River Highlands often surrenders a lot of birdies. Strangely, Watson was not one of those golfers. He followed up an opening-round 70 with a 63 on Friday and a 67 on Saturday before closing with another low round on Sunday. Watson previously won this event in a playoff both times, in 2010 over Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank as well as in 2015 over Casey. But he didn’t need extra holes to win this time.
The leaderboard was bunched up for most of the tournament, however, and it seemed quite possible extra holes might need to decide this year’s champion. Almost half the field (76 golfers) posted scores under par in the first round on Thursday. Two elite players, two-time major winner Zack Johnson and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, were tied for the lead at 7-under par. Behind them were four-time major winner Rory McIlroy as well as two Americans, Brian Harman and Peter Malnati, at 6-under.
Harman moved into the lead after Friday’s round, when the scores were a bit more tame. He posted a 66 to finish at 10-under par, while taking a one-stroke lead over three golfers. Russell Henley (65) and Matt Jones (66) went low to move up into the second-place tie with Johnson, who shot 68 on Friday. Meanwhile, McIlroy’s 69 dropped him into a tie for eighth place. Spieth struggled in the second round, shooting a 73 to drop 24 spots on the leaderboard.
The third round belonged to Casey, who shot a 62 to finish Saturday’s play at 16-under par. Henley’s 67 was enough to keep him within four shots of the lead, and three players finished the round at 11-under to give themselves a fighting chance on Sunday. That trio included Harman, who struggled to post 69 on Saturday, as well as both Holmes and India’s Anirban Lahiri after they shot matching 65s in the third round. But clearly Casey was in control at that point, although things didn’t turn out well for him on Sunday.
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Next On The Tee: Quicken Loans National
The Tour heads south to Potomac, Maryland for the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. Kyle Stanley is the defending champion after he defeated Charles Howell III in a playoff last year. It was the second time in the last four years this tournament needed extra holes to determine a winner, and no one will be surprised if it happens again in 2018.
The field for the 12th edition of this event features two-time former champion Tiger Woods (2009, 2012). In addition, Cink, Holmes, and Hossler will try to carry over their moment from the Travelers Championship. Stanley is back to defend his title, and 2016 champion Billy Hurley III also will play, as he tries to match Woods and Justin Rose (2010, 2014) as two-time winners of the event. Fan-favorite Rickie Fowler, currently ranked No. 8 in the world, also is scheduled to play.
Originally known as TPC Avenel, the circuit for this event originally opened in 1986, but underwent a complete redesign starting in 2007 and reopened in 2009. This is the second consecutive year the course has hosted the Quicken Loans National. Stanley won the event last year with a total score of 273, the third-highest winning mark in the event’s history. Look for this year’s winner to finish in single digits under par for the full tournament once again, as the course presents a manageable challenge to the field.
The TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm course plays 7,107 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes, Beau Hossler
Players to Watch: Stewart Cink, Kyle Stanley, Tiger Woods
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.