10 Players to Watch: Travelers Championship

  1. Justin Thomas, United States — Coming off his best result in a major championship, a tie for ninth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, Thomas is high on the list of players to continue the trend of seven straight first-time winners on the Grand Slam tournaments. He has eighth top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including three victories, sits third in the FedExCup standings and is knocking on the door of the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings at No. 12. The 24-year-old Thomas has placed in the top 10 in three of his last four tournaments and will try to keep that going when he makes his third start in the Travelers Championship this week. He recorded his best finish at TPC River Highlands last year when he reeled off four scores in the 60s, including a closing 62, to finish two strokes behind winner Russell Knox in a tie for third.
  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — The sixth-ranked player in the world has run hot-and-cold for much of this season and he did both last week while finishing in a tie for 35th in the U.S. Open, closing with a 69 that was his best score of the week at Erin Hills. That came after he tied for second in his title defense in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and tied for 13th in the Memorial, but he’s been good enough that his six top-10 results this season have him at sixth in the FedExCup point standings. Surprisingly, Spieth is making his first start in the Travelers Championship, but the 23-year-old has been a quick study since he turned pro in 2013 and almost immediately earned his PGA Tour card. He has nine victories on the best tour in the world, including two majors and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year.
  1. Jason Day, Australia — After missing the cut last week in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, Day gets the chance to bounce back right away in the Travelers Championship and is making his third appearance at TPC River Highlands. He tied for 27th in his tournament debut in 2008, opening with 67-67-66 before sliding down the leaderboard with a closing 71, and rallied in 2014 by shooting 69-67-65 to tie for 18th. The fourth-ranked Day, coming off a back injury at the end of last year and dealing with his mother’s battle with cancer early this season, played well before the second major of the year by finishing second in the AT&T Byron Nelson and tying for 13th in the Memorial Tournament, but needs some high finishes to kick-start the second half of the season leading up to the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
  1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — Following a missed cut in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, there have to be questions about the nagging rib injury that has bothered McIlroy this year. After tying for seventh in the Masters, he tied for 35th in the Players Championship before shooting 78 in the first round at Erin Hills, but he bounced back with a 71 and hopes for better this week in the Travelers Championship. The third-ranked player in the world, who is down at 69th in the FedExCup standings, needs to add some tournaments to his schedule and will play for the first time in the Travelers Championship this week at TPC River Highlands. McIlroy took time off for his injury and his wedding to PGA of America employee Erica Stoll, and must get healthy and kick his game into gear with the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale on the horizon next month.
  1. Bubba Watson, United States — So far, it’s been a so-so season for Bubba, but if nothing else he will have some good vibes when he shows up at TPC River Highlands for the Travelers Championship. He has claimed two of his nine PGA Tour victories in the tournament, both in playoffs. In 2010, Watson earned his first victory on the circuit with a par on the second playoff hole to beat Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank. In 2015, he opened with a 62 and three days later made a birdie on the second extra hole to turn back Paul Casey of England. Watson is making his 11th start in the tournament and also tied for second in 2012, finished fourth in 2014 and tied for sixth in 2008. Watson has had some good results lately, finishing in the top 10 on three occasions, but also missing the cut three times in his last six starts.
  1. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Snedeker will show up at TPC River Highlands following a tie for ninth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, only his fourth top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this season. However, he does have seven top-25 results so he’s not far from the form that has taken him to eight victories on the circuit. He is making his sixth start in the Travelers Championship and has played his best the last two years. A year ago, he shot 63 in round three and was fourth heading to the final round, but closed with a 71 and wound up in a tie for 10th. In 2015, he opened with a 65 and closed with a 64 to finish in a tie for 11th. Snedeker has shown he can go low at TPC River Highlands, also shooting 63 in the second round three years ago on his way to a tie for 24th.
  1. Charley Hoffman, United States — With his eighth-place finish at Erin Hills, Hoffman wound up in the top 10 for the first time in the U.S. Open and this week he will play for the seventh time in the Travelers Championship. His best result at TPC River Highlands was a tie for second in 2012, when he started with three 67s and had a 66 in the final round before losing by one stroke when Marc Leishman of Australia took the title by closing with a 62. That’s not the whole story, as Hoffman held a two-stroke lead after 16 holes in the final round, but hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th en route to a double bogey and then made bogey on the last hole. He came close to his sixth PGA Tour victory earlier this year when he again wound up one shot behind Leishman in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
  1. Marc Leishman, Australia — Returning to the site of his first victory on the PGA Tour, Leishman will make his seventh start in the Travelers Championship this week. He closed with an 8-under-par 62 in 2012 and waited for two hours to see what it meant, and wound up with a one-stroke victory when Hoffman blew a two-stroke lead by closing double bogey-bogey. Watson also finished one shot behind Leishman. The Aussie also held the 36-hole lead in the Travelers last year after opening with 65-68, but played the weekend in 71-68 to tie for ninth, in addition to tying for 11th at TPC River Highlands in 2014. Leishman picked up his second PGA Tour victory earlier this season, sinking a 51-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole that held up for another one-stroke victory over Hoffman and Kevin Kisner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He has won 10 times as a pro in addition to losing to Zach Johnson in four-hole aggregate playoff in 2015 at St. Andrews.
  1. Brian Harman, United States — The left-hander should be brimming with confidence after posting his best result in a major championship, a tie for second — four shots behind Brooks Koepka — in the U.S. Open last week at Erin Hills. Harman, who claimed his second PGA Tour victory earlier this season in the Wells Fargo Championship by one stroke over top-ranked Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez, has climbed to 10th in the FedExCup standings with six results in the top 10, and 11 in the top 25 this season. He is making his seventh start in the Travelers Championship and recorded his best result two years ago, when he opened with 66-66-65 at TPC River Highlands to take a one-stroke lead after 54 holes. However, he closed with a 69 and finished solo third, one stroke out of the playoff in which Bubba Watson defeated Paul Casey of England.
  1. Brendan Steele, United States — Steele’s tie for 13th at Erin Hills is his best finish in the U.S. Open although he seemed headed for his first top-10 in the majors before stumbling to a 73 in the final round. Still, it’s been another solid season for him with four finishes in the top 10 and eight in the top 25, including his second PGA Tour victory in the Safeway Open, and he is 13th in the FedExCup standings. Steele, who also won the 2011 Valero Texas Open, will tee it up for the seventh time in the Travelers Championship, and his best result was a tie for fifth in 2014, when he held the lead after the first round with a 62. He has finished in the top 25 in all but one of his appearances at TPC River Highlands, shooting 74-69 — 143 to miss the cut by three strokes in 2012.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

Tom LaMarre

Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor for more than 50 years, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times. He was the Tribune’s beat writer for the Oakland Raiders for seven seasons in the 1970s, highlighted by their 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and collaborated on a book, Winning Offensive Football, with quarterback Ken Stabler. He also covered the Oakland Athletics when they won three consecutive World Series during the 1970s and the Golden State Warriors when they won the NBA championship in the 1974-75 season. With the Times, he wrote columns on golf, football and skiing. These days, he is the Golf Editor for The Sports Xchange. LaMarre graduated from Skyline High in Oakland and attended the University of San Francisco.

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