With three of four majors already in the books, time is really flying by with this new schedule.
Personally, I'm a big fan because it seems like one big event is always just around the corner. The next one is The Open Championship in just over a month. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, the Travelers Championship is in the spotlight this week.
Despite the cross-country travel, this event has drawn a very strong field. Part of that is due to the way the tournament is run. When golfers test this event out, they typically have great things to say about the tournament and tend to return to play it again. The course fits all styles of play. The new schedule could also play a role because it allows golfers to pad their start totals, work on their game, and then rest before one final prep start ahead of the season's last major.
The normal cut-line rules return this week as the field of 156 golfers will get trimmed down to Top 70 and Ties after 36 holes of action.
TPC River Highlands is the host course this week. It's a Pete Dye design that plays to just 6,841 yards as a par 70 on the scorecard.
As we typically see with Dye designs, distance is not a requirement to contend this week. Of course, Bubba Watson has won two of the last four editions of this event, so distance should not be thrown out the window, either. It's a fair test for all skill sets.
Off the tee, we'll see a relatively conservative approach from most golfers at this course but it does allow you to swing the big stick if you feel the need for speed. There is water in play on five holes but not a lot of big numbers recorded which tells us the water hazards aren't a huge concern.
The course is short and wind doesn't usually play a big factor here. To prevent a complete birdie-fest, they typically defend the course with tough pin positions. That puts a big emphasis on iron play this week and wedge play in particular, given the length of the course.
For turf, golfers will deal with poa annua greens that include some bentgrass in them. Given the time of year and Northeastern location, these aren't the plinko-style poa greens that are often complained about out on the West Coast. They will grow fast over the course of the day though, allowing for prime scoring conditions in the morning.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Rory McIlroy: "It’s a par-70, same sort of thing, quite short, you feel like you have a wedge in your hand every hole. But if you don’t hit it in the fairways and don’t put yourself in position, it can be a little tricky. You need to be accurate here and not feel like you can be super aggressive but just sort of reigning that back a bit but knowing that there’s plenty of opportunities and just to stay patient."
Patrick Reed: "if you get a little too aggressive you can miss some greens in the wrong spots, it makes it very hard to get the ball up-and-down. And also, with all just kind of the subtleties of the slopes and the tree-lined fairways and water areas and trees, it just seems like the wind will swirl a little bit here, and you just have to make sure you know exactly what you’re trying to do with the winds."
Wesley Bryan: "You have to work the ball both ways. It doesn’t demand a lot of length. But, I mean, Jordan’s hitting his driver great right now. I’m just thinking, man, if I could be playing from where he’s hitting some of these tee shots, it could play a lot of easier. But it doesn’t demand a lot of length. You have to be really precise going into the greens, especially where they were tucking some of those flags. "
Russell Knox: "I always think this course, if you tee off in the morning, the conditions, you can always shoot a mega low score. That’s what Jim Furyk did last year on Sunday. But as the day goes on, teeing off in the afternoon, especially on a weekend, shooting under par is a great score if you tee off at 1, 2 o’clock. So the course changes significantly as the day goes on, just the firmness of the greens. I think players like that."
Chris Stroud: "I’m not a bomber, so it’s nice to be able to have a lot of short irons into the greens. I even have a note in my yardage book, as long as I’m sharp from 100 yards to 165 this week, I can make a lot of birdies, and I’ve done that so far this week."
Overview: The golfers talk about how the course is short. You need to play boring, fairways-and-greens golf. There are a lot of wedge opportunities which means plenty of scoring chances if you miss a few. That being said, it's easy to push too hard if you get off to a slow start and you see others reaching 6-or-7 under early on a Thursday.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Augusta National (Masters)
Firestone CC (previously the WGC-Bridgestone)
Club de Golf Chapultepec (WGC-Mexico)
TPC Boston (Playoff Event)
Sheshan International (WGC-HSBC)
TPC Sawgrass (THE PLAYERS)
When we look at all the courses that show up here, we see instantly that TPC River Highlands would hold its own if it needed to host a major or WGC event.
One major theme here is the turf (bentgrass or poa). Only TPC Sawgrass breaks that theme, but that is another Pete Dye design where distance isn't required.
We don't have a large sample with Chapultepec but it seems like a perfect comp. It's a short course with poa greens and easy-to-hit greens. Of course, there is the added element of altitude.
Thursday: A 40% chance of showers with a high of 77 degrees and winds in the 6-to-10 MPH range.
Friday: A 30% chance of showers with a high of 77 degrees. Winds at 6-to-10 MPH.
Weekend: The threat of rain continues all weekend with temps remain in the mid-70s.
The course is set to receive a bit of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday so early-week scoring could be ideal. Of course, that could all change if they have to play through sloppy conditions on Thursday and/or Friday. This is a forecast to revisit as the week progresses.