Ian Baker-Finch On Travelers Championship: ‘Produces A Lot Of Excitement’

By Dave Shedloski

After an arduous week of championship golf in the Pacific Northwest at the U.S. Open, 38 players populate the field in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.

The Travelers offers a $6.4 million purse and a chance for the U.S. Open competitors to exhale a bit on a golf course that yields good scoring. Kevin Streelman, who won last year after making birdies on the last seven holes, can attest to this. It’s also a good chance for a young player to break through; six of the last nine winners made The Travelers their maiden victory on the Tour.

Despite the withdrawal of Jason Day, who battled vertigo in a gutsy effort at Chambers Bay last week, nine of the top 30 in the FedExCup standings and five of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings are competing at TPC River Highlands.

Notables in the field include: Bubba Watson, Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia, Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers. Louis Oosthuizen, the U.S. Open co-runner-up, and fellow South African Branden Grace, who tied for fourth at Chambers Bay, will also play.

CBS Sports analyst Ian Baker-Finch sizes up the field at TPC River Highlands and assesses the week ahead.

What is it about TPC River Highlands that we have seen a lot of breakthrough winners there of late?

I think it’s because it’s a great course that’s right there in front of you. No tricks. It’s old style golf that is a very good test but gives up some low numbers. I think it sets up well for a lot of different kinds of players. It’s a really really good solid test, and the finish doesn’t fit any particular type of player. Just look at the playoff between Corey Pavin and Bubba Watson a few years ago. It produces a lot of excitement down the stretch.

Check out other golf expert interviews.

How do you think the players who competed in the U.S. Open will fare this week?

I think they will be in a relaxed frame of mind. This tournament will be like a breath of fresh air, just like at Harbour Town in the RBC Heritage after The Masters. Especially those who played well last week, their games are in good shape, but they are able to take a deep breath and just go play. I know when I played, I loved going to a tournament after a major. That’s when I played my best golf because I was really prepared for a major and my game was sharp but I was more relaxed.

Thoughts on your fellow Aussie, Jason Day, who had to withdraw from The Travelers after suffering vertigo at the U.S. Open?

What a gutsy effort to keep going and to finish in the top 10. That was pretty impressive. To play golf that well with almost, really, having constant seasickness. That’s what it was like for him, and to stick in there was very, very impressive. His stock is rising. He’s a great talent, and what he did last week just added to his story.

There are so many great young talents in the field. Justin Thomas has been solid. Connecticut native Peter Uihlein, the former U.S. Amateur champion, is playing on a sponsor exemption. Top amateurs John Rahm and Lee McCoy are in the field. What do you expect out of them?

We have a lot of great young faces on the PGA Tour and, obviously, more are coming along every day. It won’t be long for Justin Thomas to break through. Peter Uihlein, he’s had some success in Europe, and it’s only a matter of time before we see him start to win over here. You can go down the list and see potential everywhere. And how about Cameron Smith? What a great effort at Chambers Bay, getting his card. He has to be in the conversation.

Give us your favorites and dark horses?

I’m looking at some veterans. Brandt Snedeker played well last week. I think Keegan Bradley is due. Sergio Garcia always plays well in the summer, and I’m sure he’ll like the greens at TPC River Highlands a lot more than Chambers Bay. And I’ll give a little shout out to Ernie Els. I think he might just have a good week. As for dark horses, Marc Leishman is a past winner, and I think after getting through that scare with his wife’s health he’s ready to concentrate on golf some more. And I like Matt Jones. Not to root to much for the Aussies, but it seems like he’s ready to win again after playing well (T-3) at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.

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