(CBS New York/CBS Local) — The Travelers Championship brings the PGA Tour back east to TPC River Highlands, the tournament’s home for the last 35 years. Making the trip just days after the season’s third major is an A-list of players that includes world number one and U.S. Open runner-up Brooks Koepka and three-time winner and defending champion Bubba Watson.
The field overall features nine of the world’s top 20 — Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey and Jason Day among them — along with other big names like Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson. All but two of the last decade’s worth champions will also be on hand, joined by prominent college amateurs and possible future stars Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolfe. The winner will pocket $1.296 million of the $7.2 million purse along with 500 FedExCup points.
Will Koepka show up for a non-major? Honda Classic and AT&T Byron Nelson aside, he has a habit of disappearing when less is on the line. Can Watson win his fourth Travelers? Something about this course seems to agree with him. These are two of the many storylines this week. Another is the course itself, which helps attract a stellar field in a difficult spot on the calendar, making this tournament one of the Tour’s premiere events.
TPC River Highlands, overlooking the Connecticut River about 10 miles south of Hartford, was built in 1928. Originally called Edgewood Country Club, the course has since undergone many upgrades. Famed designer Pete Dye applied his touch in 1984 and Bobby Weed added 11 holes in 1991. Another facelift in 2015-16 improved the bunkers and greens. Modernized, yet still demanding throughout, this old-style course requires ball control and precision shot-making.
At 6,841 yards, the par-70 track ranks among the shortest players will face this season. Low scores can be achieved here, as Jim Furyk proved with his PGA Tour-record round of 58 in 2016. But they aren’t necessarily the norm. Difficult pin positions tend to counteract the length.
An important section at TPC River Highlands is the three-hole stretch known as the “Golden Triangle.” Holes 15, 16 and 17 are situated around a four-acre pond that forces some strategic choices. The 15th hole, a 296-yard par-4 flanked by water and sand, ranks among the PGA Tour’s most exciting. Driving for the green or laying up are both reasonable options on a hole where scores easily range from eagles to double-bogeys. The 16th is a scenic 171-yard par-3 with a sloping greens to challenge the short game. And the 17th, a difficult 420-yard par-4, runs between water and a challenging fairway bunkers.
Who are the favorites and TPC River Highlands?
Brooks Koepka (15-2)
The top-ranked player in the world tends to be a favorite wherever he plays. But which Koepka will show up this week? If it’s the dialed-in version that won the PGA Championship in May and contended at the U.S. Open last week and the masters in April, then he may add another win to the resume this week. If it’s the checked out version who managed a T50 at the Canadian Open, don’t expect a trophy. His best finish at the Travelers to date is a T9 in 2016.
Patrick Cantlay (12-1)
Cantlay has climbed 10 spots in the world rankings just this year and comes into TPC River Highlands at number eight. Strong showings at the RBC Heritage (T3), PGA Championship (T3) and Memorial (1) have certainly helped. He finished T15 last year, with four rounds in the mid to high 60s, which won’t earn him his third Tour win this week. However, as an amateur, Cantlay once shot a 60 here. So can he marshal his inner Furyk once again?
Jordan Spieth (14-1)
Spieth, currently ranked 29th, continues to work out his game. A win would certainly help. He debuted at TPC River Highlands in 2017 with a win punctuated by memorable bunker shot in the playoff and an even more memorable celebration. He checked in at T42 in 2018, amidst a year of disappointing finishes, but seemed to have rounded a corner in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open. A T65 at Pebble Beach was not what he’d hoped for, but the string of three top 10s that led up to it are reason to be optimistic.
And then there’s always Bubba Watson, with his three wins and two other top-five finishes. Can’t really argue with those results, even if his game suggests a less than perfect match.