After four days of carnage out at Pebble Beach, the PGA Tour heads to the Northeast for the first time this season for the 2010 Travelers Championship.
While last week we saw the best players in the world look more like weekend hackers than U.S. Open participants, this week we are bound to see more than a few birdies.
Last year, Kenny Perry opened with a round of 61 and closed with a round of 63 en route to a 22-under-par four-day score of 258, which was only good enough for a three-stroke victory over David Toms, who shot 19-under-par.
Although birdies are abundant at TPC River Highlands, bomb and gouge golf has no place at this old-fashioned Northeastern track.
The way to overpower TPC River Highlands is through impeccable ball-striking and a hot putter.
The course is infested with twists and turns, and errant tee shots are more likely to sail out of bounds or be swallowed up by the thick forest than to land in short rough that could be mistaken for municipal course fairways.
Players who find the fairway with their tee shots will have an enjoyable week picking off flags sticks, which will be a welcomed change after last week’s Monterey Massacre.
Here are a few players to watch this week at the Travelers Championship:
No one on the PGA Tour has earned more money in Cromwell, CT than Hunter Mahan. Over the past three years, Mahan has won, tied for second, and tied for fourth at TPC River Highlands.
When asked last year why he has had so much success at TPC River Highlands, Mahan responded by saying, “I feel like I can read the greens really well. I just kind of have a great sense, a great feel for them. I can see the ball going in the hole.”
Confidence like that on the greens can only lead to success, and in Mahan’s case it has.
After a less-than-stellar start to the 2010 season, Cink appears to be heading in the right direction.
Cink finished inside of the top 25 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship and at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial before breaking the top 10 for the first time since February with an eighth place finish at The Memorial.
Cink won the 2008 Travelers Championship, and perhaps this week he can win for the first time since becoming “The Champion Golfer of the Year.”
The kid can flat out play, and TPC River Highlands certainly compliments Fowler’s knack for stringing together numerous birdies during the course of a round.
Moreover, TPC River Highlands is one of the few courses the 22-year-old rookie will see this year on Tour that he has already played during his amateur days.
After qualifying for the 2009 U.S. Open in Bethpage, NY, Fowler was given a sponsor’s exemption to the Travelers Championship, which took place the following week.
Although he missed the cut last year, Fowler’s game and confidence has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 12 months.
When asked yesterday about his strategy for playing the 296-yard par-four 15th, Fowler said, “You won’t see me lay up.”
Now that’s what we like to hear.
If it weren’t for Perry’s ridiculous display of golf last year at TPC River Highlands, Toms would be entering this week as the defending champion.
It’s not often that a guy shoots 19-under-par for the week and loses a golf tournament.
If there was ever a course that sets up perfectly for Toms, it’s TPC River Highlands, where a premium is placed on accuracy and putting.
Although Toms has been playing through a shoulder injury for most of the year, it hasn’t affected his ability to perform in any significant way.
After tying for 33rd at last week’s brutally tough U.S. Open, Toms will probably feel that TPC River Highlands is like a relaxing walk in the park.
Bo Van Pelt
No one on the PGA Tour has been hotter as of late than Bo Van Pelt.
He may even be worthy of the BPOTWAWTY label—best player on tour without a win this year.
Van Pelt is currently 15th in the FedEx Cup standings and has five top 10s in the past eight weeks.
A guy can only play so well for so long without eventually finishing a week at the top of a leaderboard.
Pavin may be 50 years old, and he may be slightly distracted by his Ryder Cup captaincy, particularly since Europeans have won the last three PGA Tour events, including the U.S. Open, but the guy still has what it takes to compete on the PGA Tour…at least on the right course.
And TPC River Highlands is without question a golf course that Pavin can still compete on.
Fairways and greens is Pavin’s game, which is precisely what is required to be successful at TPC River Highlands.
Pavin’s last start on the PGA Tour came at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, where he tied for seventh.
In his past eight rounds on the PGA Tour Pavin has failed to break 70 just once (the final round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship).
Needless to say, he will need to shoot in the 60s all week in order to have any chance whatsoever of surviving the four-day birdie barrage we are likely to see.
For a guy who is not even a card-holding member of the PGA Tour, Micheel has been on a tear in 2010.
He has two top-five finishes and tied for 22nd at last week’s U.S. Open, which included a final round score of 72 on a day where Woods, Mickelson, and Els all shot 73 or higher.
Micheel is also playing for something more important than anything anyone else in the field is playing for—he’s playing for his mother, who is currently battling cancer.
Micheel would love nothing more than to win one for Mom this week at TPC River Highlands, and as we have seen time and time again, that kind of motivation can spur players on to do some pretty special things.
Janzen’s number one goal for the past few years has been to regain his status as a fully exempt member of the PGA Tour, which is kind of strange to hear when considering that Janzen is a two-time U.S. Open champion.
Although Janzen may never regain the form that led him to become a two-time major champion, he does appear closer to regaining enough form to at least be competitive on the PGA Tour.
Janzen finished fourth earlier this year at the Zurich Classic and tied for 15th two weeks ago at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
Janzen has said on numerous occasions this year that he’s playing well enough to win but that he’s just been unable to string together four solid rounds together in one week.
Perhaps this is the week Janzen puts it all together.
Kelly has had an uneventful start to the 2010 season.
He has four top-25 finishes and has earned more than $673,000 this year, but he has yet to really find himself in contention on Sunday afternoon.
However, he appears to be inching his way closer to a breakout week.
Last week, at the 110th U.S. Open, Kelly opened with rounds of 72 and 70, and although he followed with rounds of 81 and 77 on the weekend, his ball-striking on Thursday and Friday was an indication that he may be on the brink of reaching his peak form.
The freewheeling, wearing-his-emotions-on-his-sleeve Kelly, is always a wild card, but as we all know, wild cards are very capable of pulling off stunning upsets.
Michael Fitzpatrick will be on-site at the Travelers Championship later this week, so stay tuned for further updates throughout the weekend.