The Travelers Championship is accustomed to following a major, just not the PGA Championship. Since the introduction of the FedExCup in 2007, the tournament was conducted in the week after the U.S. Open. This year, it was one of the handful of events displaced by the Olympics.
Capitalizing on the extra month since hosting the 2015 edition of the Travelers, TPC River Highlands underwent significant upgrades that will force many returning competitors to pause while standing on almost every tee. Fifty bunkers were removed mostly due to the fact that they were outdated. The remaining 69 are relevant and have been upgraded, reshaped, shifted or pinched into landing targets; most can check at least two of those boxes. Several trees have been removed, but fairways are also narrower in spots. Five greens on the inward nine alone were redone in part to create new hole locations. Spectator visibility is improved. And on and on.
While the track is still a par 35-35=70 with two par 5s and still tips at just 6,841 yards, golfers familiar with the old TPC River Highlands might be inclined to break in new yardage books. Risk-reward opportunities have been introduced to accentuate the playability and fun that the course already yielded, but course management will play a role. Knowing where to miss off tees and into new targets will require a learning curve, but it won’t take long for the best golfers on the planet to figure it out.
A year ago, TPC River Highlands surrendered a scoring average of 69.376. That’s standard issue for this course in Cromwell, Connecticut. Champion Bubba Watson led the field in distance of all drives and ranked third-to-last in accuracy off the tee, so it stands to reason that the modernization will challenge the two-time champion and tournament’s all-time earnings leader more than anyone else in the field. Overall, TPC River Highlands ranked a pedestrian 34th on TOUR in greens in regulation (68.01 percent, or 12.24 per round) but just 17th in converting those chances into par breakers (at 27.89 percent). So, in line with its reputation as a race track, short game and putting are keys for success. On cue, Watson led last year’s field in scrambling and ranked second in conversion percentage inside 10 feet, missing only two of 69 attempts.
The remaining energy from the inclement weather that played a prominent role during the PGA Championship will have moved through the Northeast by Tuesday night. The Travelers Championship will begin under the sun and the next threat for rain doesn’t enter the picture until late Friday night. It could extend into Saturday, but its impact is forecast to be brief. Moderate winds as it passes through cannot be ruled out. Summertime highs in the upper 80s will add to the sticky conditions.
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's events. Look for the following features later this week:
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone
THURSDAY: Most-picked players
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.