By Dan Reardon
The Travelers Championship, which tees off from TPC River Highlands on Thursday, is one of the biggest draws on the PGA TOUR. And it’s easy to see why.
This year’s field features seven of the top 10 in FedExCup standings and five of the top 10 in the world. The reigning Travelers champion, Jordan Spieth, happens to be one of the game’s biggest names. The 24-year-old played the shot of the year in 2017 on TOUR, when he holed out from the bunker in sudden death to defeat Daniel Berger. Brooks Koepka, fresh off his U.S. Open win, will also be on hand.
The tournament also seems to have a special relationship with the players, which may be one reason for the strong field a week after a major. That special relationship is partly due to the extra personal touches the players receive, which go beyond the special treatment they get on weekly TOUR stops.
CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch talked about the course, the field, and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka in previewing CBS Sports’ coverage on Saturday and Sunday (3:00-6:00 p.m. ET).
What stands out about TPC River Highlands as a tournament golf course?
It’s the finish — 15 through 18. Anything can happen on those holes. The 15th is a drivable par 4, with water on the left. And everyone has a go at it. The big hitters can get there with a three wood. It’s compelling, because it is such a good, short par 4. It’s an exciting risk/reward kind of start to the closing stretch.
And then you play around the lake at 16 and 17. The 16th is a great little par 3 with a tricky green. At 17, double [bogey] awaits if you get too aggressive. It’s a really hard hole. If you are trying to make a birdie to win, anything can happen. And therefore, if you need a couple of pars to win at 17 and 18, it’s not easy to do.
That’s what I like about River Highlands. It’s a course where there are low scores. We saw 58 from Jim Furyk a couple of years ago. We have seen a 60 from Patrick Cantlay. Marc Leishman shot 62 to win there half a dozen years ago. But it is also the kind of golf course [that], if you have to par the last three holes to win, it is not a gift.
Let’s talk about three big names in the field starting with Jordan Spieth.
He needs something to rekindle his flame. He’s lost something, and coming back to a place where he won in such great fashion last year may be what he needs. Is it the short putts that he keeps missing? Is it something [else] that is just not there? This could be the week when he finds it. Coming back. Defending. Great memories.
He doesn’t know why he is missing so many short putts. It’s not far away. It’s never that far away when you’re a great champion like Jordan. So this might just be what he needs to figure it out.
Next, what about Jason Day?
It was a disappointing week at the Open, when we thought it would suit him well. This may be a week when he can be aggressive. He’s an aggressive sort of attack player, so this course might suit him as well. It is not an overly difficult course. There isn’t anything tricky about it. It’s all there in front of you. So that suits his game.
Your partner Nick Faldo has talked about Jason only playing the ball one way. Can he win at Travelers with only playing the ball right to left?
What Jason does is hit it long, high and hard, and he is really good around the greens. That’s his style of play, and he should stick to doing what he does. I wouldn’t change anything.
What about Rory McIlroy, coming off a missed cut at Shinnecock?
It’s usually hard for these superstars, playing after a U.S. Open rather than looking forward to a week off. Rory fought back well with a 70 last week at Shinnecock after the disappointing 80 in the first round. Maybe a little bit of practice over the weekend helped him get ready for a course where he can be aggressive. [He can] bomb it out there and play his game.
Both Rory and Jason struggled last week. They had the length around the course, but it was so tough that it just shocked them that first day. This week will be a little bit more relaxing. So look for him to perform a lot better.
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And then there’s Patrick Cantlay, a player you mentioned earlier, who is getting a lot of attention these days about picking up another win.
Great memories. Seven years ago, he shot 60 here… the only amateur to shoot 60 on TOUR. It was a course record until Furyk shot 58 two years ago. So he has fond memories here, and he is fit and healthy and playing well. He should do well here. He could quite easily have won a couple of weeks ago at Jack’s event at Memorial. He continues to put himself there. This is another one where I would expect him to do well.
Overall, for the week after a major, it’s a good field.
I am really happy and proud of Brooks Koepka for honoring the commitment to come play. These days, when a player wins a major, they often don’t play the next week. I am obviously happy to have the U.S. Open champion in the field. I think it’s fantastic.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.