Thoughts in the wake of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands:
One thing we’ve learned from the Travelers Championship is to expect the unexpected. For the fifth time in seven years, a player earned his first PGA Tour victory at the event. In this case, it was Australian Marc Leishman, who started the day six shots behind, fired a 62 to finish 14-under, then watched as his challengers fell by the wayside.
Here was something else unexpected: Though there were a few low scores throughout the week — J.B. Holmes had a 62 in the second round, and Hunter Mahan had a 61 in his final round at the par-70 track — the scores weren’t nearly as low as might have been expected.
Since Travelers took over the tournament five years ago, three of the five winners have been at least 18 under par.
With Friday rains that softened the course and perfect weather conditions Saturday and Sunday, the stage was set for a lot of low numbers. Few were forthcoming. After the second round was completed Saturday, one caddie emerged from the scoring trailer wondering aloud how players weren’t routinely shooting 6 and 7 under par. In fact, Leishman’s 62 and Mahan’s 61 were the only two scores that truly jumped off the leaderboard over the final two rounds.
Maybe this is the secret: In his post-round interview Saturday, Matt Kuchar, who shot a 66, summed up TPC River Highlands this way: If you’re playing well, you can score. If you’re not playing well, you’re not going to score.
Sounds obvious. But TPC River Highlands has the odd trait of being forgiving for those who hit it where they want and relentless for those who cannot. Particularly on the back nine, there is very little room for error. Bad shots will penalize a player.
This week, Leishman hit the fewest bad shots.
ONE BAD SWING: Here’s a perfect illustration of how TPC RH can crush a player.
Brendon Todd, the 2011 Q School winner, was at 2-under par when he made the turn for his second round. At the time, the cut was even par, so Todd had some margin for error — just not any big ones.
On No. 10, he made a big one.
He pushed his drive right into some trees. After much deliberation, he decided to try and hook his ball through the trees and onto the green. Turned out to be a bad decision.
Todd hit a tree and watched in horror as his ball caromed into the woods and was lost. He wound up taking a seven on the hole, sliding from 2-under to 1 over. He never recovered and missed the cut.
WOE CANADA: Want another example of how TPC RH can torpedo a good round?
Canadian Graham DeLaet, playing his first full season following back surgery, had a stretch of four birdies (holes 12-15) in the third round to get to 8-under par. A good finish would thrust him into contention.
But on No. 16, disaster struck. He hit his tee shot on the par-3 hole short and into the water. He ended up taking a six on the hole, then bogeyd the 17th to stagnate at 4-under where he started his round. He never recovered; he shot a 75 on Sunday to finish third from last.
SMALL WONDER: Justine Karain drew more than a few comments and stares as she lugged Patrick Reed’s bag around TPC River Highlands. Karain is engaged to Reed, who has build a cult following by making it into four events via Monday qualifiers this season, and also serves as his caddie.
Karain, who played golf in high school, is no more than 5-foot-2 and probably 105 pounds soaking wet. To see her toting Reed’s bag was a marvel. And the fact that she did it for 35 holes Saturday was truly astounding.
Reed, who wound up finishing T45 in Cromwell to cash in his fourth of six tournaments this year, finished just one hole of his second round when rain stopped play on Friday. Karain told him Friday night that she wanted to carry the bag for 35 holes Saturday — 17 to finish round two and 18 more once he made the cut.
She got her wish. And after speaking with her briefly following the marathon, she didn’t seem the least bit winded or tired. Looked like she could go another 18.
REED THIS: Speaking of Patrick Reed: We may be looking at the next great young golfer.
Reed can hit the ball a mile. He has good touch around the greens. Most importantly, he has the personality and mentality to keep his cool. Once he gets some more experience, the sky could be the limit for this 21-year-old.
MAJOR ISSUES: Brad Faxon, a New England native, is always a favorite at the Travelers. Unfortunately, for the home folks, Faxon missed the cut.
The only good news was that it would give him a couple extra days to get ready for this week’s Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club outside of Pittsburgh. Also in the field for the Champions Tour major is former Travelers winner Kenny Perry, who also missed the cut at TPC River Highlands last week.
THE LAST WORD: England’s Gary Christian, a 40-year-old PGA Tour rookie, was asked if not being familiar with the courses on the Tour was a disadvantage. He said it would obviously help to have seen these courses 10 or 15 times, but success or failure all comes down to the state of one’s game: “When you’re playing good, you can play any course in the world blind and play good.”
– Chuck Curti