Past three major champs, rising stars on display

June 20, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

Here's a look at this week's Featured Groups at the Travelers Championship. For a complete list of all groups and tee times, click here. Which groups are you most interested in following this week? Let us know.

Tee times
Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley Rd. 1: 12:55 p.m. ET (1st tee) Rd. 2: 7:45 a.m. ET (10th tee)

CROMWELL, Conn. -- The state of American golf is in good shape with U.S. players having won the last three major championships. So is the Travelers Championship, where that aforementioned group of Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley are paired for the first two rounds.

Simpson of course is the latest to join the list of major champions following his victory last week at the U.S. Open.

Now he'll try to carry that momentum to TPC River Highlands.

It's certainly not an impossible task -- three years ago, Lucas Glover won the U.S. Open, then tied for 11th here a week after his victory at Bethpage Black.

Simpson has also had success at TPC River Highlands, where he tied for 13th a year ago. And with the exception of a couple of missed cuts leading into the U.S. Open, Simpson has played well of late with a tie for 13th in New Orleans and a fourth-place finish at Quail Hollow.

Watson, on the other hand, is trying to regain his momentum and manage what's become a much more hectic life after becoming a major champion.

Since winning the Masters, he's played just three times, missing the cut twice.

Maybe being here will help. Watson got his first career victory at the Travelers Championship two years ago when he beat Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin in a playoff.

Similarly, Bradley has struggled of late with just one top 25 since the beginning of April. As a result, he's slipped to ninth in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings.

Tee times
Patrick Cantlay, Ryo Ishikawa, John Peterson Rd. 1: 8:29 a.m. ET (10th tee) Rd. 2: 1:39 p.m. ET (1st tee)

Bradley does, however, lead the PGA TOUR in the all-around ranking and that could come in handy at TPC River Highlands, where birdies are abundant.

Patrick Cantlay is making his pro debut this week, and he'll do alongside a couple of fellow rising young players in Ryo Ishikawa and John Peterson.

A year ago, Cantlay shot a course-record 60 here in the second round before eventually finishing in a tie for 24th. It was the lowest score ever recorded by an amateur on the PGA TOUR -- and a sign that Cantlay was ready for the pro game, which is why he's foregoing his final two years at UCLA.

"I realized for the first time that if I played really well, I could compete on any stage," Cantlay said. "[The decision] was a combination of being comfortable with being a professional and taking it to the next level."


Even though Ishikawa is the same age as Cantlay -- 20 -- he's well-seasoned, having turned professional four years ago.

Still, the Japanese star is just starting to find his footing here on the TOUR, where he is a special temporary member and on the cusp of earning full status for next year.

Ishikawa finished second in Puerto Rico earlier this year and a few weeks ago tied for ninth at the Memorial tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. He also ranks 36th on TOUR in strokes gained-putting, which is certainly a key statistic at TPC River Highlands.

Peterson, meanwhile, was a standout for LSU last year, winning the NCAA Championship.

This is just the sixth start of the year for Peterson, but he comes in with some serious momentum after a tie for fourth last week at the U.S. Open in what was easily the best performance of his young career.

Other Featured Group
Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Johnson Wagner Rd: 1: 7:34 a.m. ET (10th tee) Rd. 2: 12:44 p.m. ET (1st tee)

With just nine weeks left until the FedExCup Playoffs, the group of Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Johnson Wagner are all well-positioned to move to the top of the standings with a strong performance this week.

Mahan ranks second, Kuchar seventh and Wagner 15th.

TPC River Highlands should be a welcome sight to Mahan. He won here in 2007, then finished second each of the next two years.

Mahan already has two wins this year.

Kuchar, meanwhile, won THE PLAYERS Championship last month and is making his first start in the Travelers since 2008.

Wagner, who topped the FedExCup standings early in the year following a win in Hawaii and a runner-up in Palm Springs, has struggled of late. He's missed four of his last seven cuts and two of his last three.