The PGA Tour heads north this week for the third stop on its revised schedule at The Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn. As we’ve seen over the first two events at Colonial and Harbour Town, players are continuing to get in as much golf as possible after a three-month layoff. Nearly all of the top 10 players in the official world rankings will tee it up at TPC River Highlands in an event that is annually one of the favorite stops on the tour pro’s calendar. On Wednesday, Brooks Koepka, No. 4 in the world, announced that he is withdrawing from the Travelers Championship after his caddie, Ricky Elliott, tested positive for coronavirus. Recent RBC Heritage winner Webb Simpson (No. 5) has also withdrawn after a family member tested positive.
This week will mark the third consecutive event played without fans and the tournament will certainly have a different feel, as the Travelers has traditionally generated large crowds in the course’s amphitheater-like galleries.
In all, the 156-player field will feature three of the top five players in the world, as well as defending champion Chez Reaviel. One name once again missing from the field is Tiger Woods, who will sit out a third consecutive event since the Tour’s restart.
Here’s what you should keep an eye on this week at TPC River Highlands.
COVID-19 Testing Continues
It didn’t take long for a PGA Tour player to test positive for COVID-19 as Nick Watney became the first player to generate a positive test and withdraw from the tournament in Hilton Head. Under its rigorous testing program, the Tour has administered over 1,000 tests to players, caddies and staff over the first two weeks. As the pros continue to travel to events, more players are bound to test positive. Even though the Tour is offering a chartered flight to tournaments and has recommended staying in the Tour-sanctioned hotels, many players are continuing to do their own thing. Some have been flying private, others have driven to tournaments and many are staying at private homes or alternate hotels.
Players that I’ve spoken with say that the Watney situation wasn’t as jarring as many might think. It was almost expected. The biggest concern from fellow tour pros was for Watney’s health, as many expressed wishes for a quick recovery and return to the course. The PGA Tour seemed to handle things appropriately once Watney tested positive, but the question now is: What happens if players continue to contract the virus or if multiple players get sick while at a tournament? The Tour is continuing to navigate uncharted waters.
Phil at 50
Phil Mickelson was supposed to celebrate his 50th birthday at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot being serenaded by fans at the site of one of his greatest heartbreaks. Instead, with the U.S. Open postponed until September, the 44-time tour winner took the week off and spent his birthday with family and friends in the San Diego area.
Mickelson becomes PGA Tour Champions eligible this summer, but don’t expect Lefty to join the senior circuit any time soon. Phil seems dead set on competing and winning on the PGA Tour well into his 50’s, though his numbers of late have certainly not supported that idea. So far this season, Mickelson has just one top 20 finish, a T-3 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which is also the site of his most recent victory in 2019. He’s missed the cut in five of his last six starts, including the season re-launch at Colonial two weeks ago.
Mickelson is one of the great ambassadors in the sport and has been a fan favorite for decades. Does he have anything left in the tank? Well, he’s in the best physical shape of his career and is certainly not lacking any confidence, claiming to “hit bombs” off the tee on a regular basis. Does anyone really believe he won’t pull off one more victory before his tour days are done?
Bulked Up Breakthrough
One of the biggest…or bulkiest story lines over the first two weeks of golf’s re-start has been Bryson DeChambeau. More specifically, the new beefed up version of Bryson. The 26-year-old put on 25 pounds during the break and has returned looking more like the Hulk than a Tour pro.
If you’ve ever spoken with DeChambeau, or simply listened to him, you always know there is a method to the madness. His theory is basically swing with as much speed as possible, generate as much power and distance as he can, and dominate the golf course. Since January, DeChambeau has added a full 10 yards to his driving distance average, which now ranks second on Tour.
Equally impressive has been DeChambeau’s all-around game. He is so much more than beef and brawn. He reeled off top ten finishes at Colonial and Harbour Town despite admitting that the shorter, tight golf courses didn’t particularly suit his game. “It's good to try and learn how to adapt,” said DeChambeau after a final round 66 at the RBC Heritage.“It's amazing I can still adapt and lower my ball speed and still have the same control and control my irons and make a decent amount of strokes and still get the ball to go in the hole.”
He now heads to a much more driver friendly course in TPC River Highlands. Look out…we could be getting ready to see a DeChambeau run like the one he reeled off in 2018, when he won back to back Fed Ex Cup playoff events.
Win: Bryson DeChambeau
Converging trends of recent play, course set up and history in Connecticut. Finished T-8 last year at The Travelers.
Value: Paul Casey
After skipping the first two tournaments of the restart, Casey returns to comfortable surroundings at TPC River Highlands. Four top 10 finishes in five starts at The Travelers.
Sleeper: Brian Harman
Played solid through Colonial and Harbour Town without a single round over par. Consecutive top 10 finishes at the Travelers over the last two seasons.