Five reasons why this week’s Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., is my new favorite non-major.
1. ‘It’s Our Time’
The tournament keeps turning into a victory lap for the U.S. Open winner. Justin Rose’s excellent press conference Wednesday at the Travelers shed more light on what he accomplished at Merion. He expounded on the influence of Masters winner Adam Scott, who is the same age as Rose (32), and whose text messages asserted “it’s our time” to seize the biggest prizes in the game. Rose said his career got a bump when he won the 2010 Memorial for his first PGA Tour victory, then reached another level when he beat Phil Mickelson at the Ryder Cup last fall. Rose went on to defeat Lee Westwood to win the megabucks Turkish Airlines World Golf Final, and when he fired a final-round, 10-under-par 62 at Dubai in November -- only to finish second when Rory McIlroy birdied his last five holes -- he was major-ready. Rose said he knew he was in good shape at Merion when he saw his ball in the fairway on 18 and heard a spectator in the crowd say all he had to do was hit the green and take two putts to win. “Although you should never listen to someone in the crowd,” Rose said, cracking up the scribes in Connecticut.
2. Everybody Comes to Dunkin Donuts
Cromwell is a suburb of Hartford, which is part of unincorporated Dunkin Donuts, Conn. The slogan for those places is “America runs on Dunkin,” and so, too, does Kevin Streelman. I ran into Streels at a little after 6 this morning at the Dunkin Donuts a few blocks from the Cromwell Crowne Plaza. We chatted about the U.S. Open -- Streelman missed the cut by two but said nice things about the course; summer vacation; and the heightened expectations that come with having a first, a T2, a T3 and a T6 in a two-month span, as Streelman did earlier this year. We’d have talked longer but I had to start my morning run, and I left him finishing up his oatmeal and opening up his iPad. The whole thing was so casual it was classic Travelers -- a decompression chamber the week after the U.S. Open.
3. Where Bubba Became ‘Bubba!’
The entire community supports the tournament at River Highlands, which is cool, but even if you live nowhere near Hartford, the Travelers is noteworthy as one of those sleepers that always manages to shift the golf landscape in some way. Bubba Watson got his first win here in 2010, won twice more in 2011, and went on to win the Masters in 2012. Marc Leishman, who fired a final-round 62 to nab his first Tour win at the Travelers last summer, was in contention at the Masters earlier this year until ultimately finishing in a tie for fourth with Tiger Woods. “[The win at the Travelers] definitely gave me confidence to know I was good enough to win and to play good under the pump,” Leishman said in his presser here Tuesday.
4. The Late Show With Justin Rose
The proximity of the Travelers to New York always leads to some fun, if random, golf-in-the-spotlight moments. Tuesday it was new U.S. Open champion Justin Rose wearing his red pants onto the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York to present David Letterman’s Top 10 list. (Rose did fine, but the writers of the Top 10 list didn’t do him any favors.) “To be in the hustle and bustle for a day was fun,” Rose said. “I was kind of trying my best to soak it in as a U.S. Open champion.” Bubba Watson was supposed to throw out the first pitch at the Yankees-Dodgers game, and tweeted a picture of himself with wife Angie in a helicopter on the way to Yankee Stadium, but alas, the game was rained out.
5. Beware the Happy Golfer
The Travelers seems to give us not just quite a few first-time winners, but also the odd, out-of-the-blue career revival. Corey Pavin was 50 and deep into his preparations to captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team when he very nearly won the 2010 Travelers. This year’s surprise could be Mike Weir, who is coming off a final-round 69 and a T28 finish at the U.S. Open. The 43-year-old Canadian, whose career has devolved into a succession of missed cuts, was smiling and laughing his way around TPC River Highlands on Tuesday, even after a mid-afternoon thunderstorm chased players off the course. He’s healthy and playing well again, and, from all appearances, happy again. Beware the happy golfer.
The Travelers Championship:
TPC River Highlights, Cromwell, Conn.
Purse: $6.1 million (Winner: $1.098 million)
Thursday: 3-6 p.m. Eastern, Golf Channel
Friday: 3-6 p.m. Eastern, Golf Channel
Saturday: 1-2:30 p.m. Eastern, Golf Channel
Saturday: 3-6 p.m. Eastern, CBS
Sunday: 1-2:30 p.m. Eastern, Golf Channel
Sunday: 3-6 p.m. Eastern, CBS
Thursday's Marquee Groups
7:40 a.m.: Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Harris English
7:50 a.m.: Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood. Kevin Streelman
12:50 p.m.: Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Zach Johnson