PGA Tour Picks: Travelers Championship

By TOM LaMARRE

Second-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland was frustrated again in a major championship when he tied for fifth in the 122nd U.S. Open Championship on Sunday at The Country Club in Brookline. Mass.

Nevertheless, McIlroy (pictured), who has won four major titles but none since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., will attempt to continue what has been a solid season this week in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.

“Yeah, the game’s there,” said McIlroy, who has won the CJ Cup the Summit and the RBC Canadian Open in addition to finishing second in the Masters among seven finishes in the top 10 this season to give him 21 victories on the PGA Tour and 30 in his professional career.

“Another top five in a major. I guess that doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve got one more start this week in Hartford before I go to the (150th) Open Championship (on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland next month).

“I’ll get two weeks of good rest before the Open and play some links golf, and prepare and look forward.”

Before that, McIlroy will play for the fourth time in the Travelers, where he has had three solid finishes.

He tied for 17th in 2017 by opening with a 67 and closing with a 64 at TPC River Highlands, tied for 12th after opening with a 64 and posting four rounds in the 60s in 2012, and opened with a 63 last season en route to a tie for 11th.

“I love designs like this,” McIlroy said of TPC River Highlands. “If I had to play a golf course every day for the rest of my life, it would be something like this, tree-lined, traditional. You need to be accurate . . . you feel you can be super aggressive but (need to) reign that back, knowing that there’s plenty of opportunity and just to stay patient.

“The golf course is great. I can see why Jim Furyk shot 58 here (in the final round to tie for fifth in 2016) and why guys can go so low. If you’re on with your scoring clubs, it gives you a lot of opportunities.

“I’ll get two weeks of good rest after this before the Open and play some links golf and prepare and look forward. I’ve got one more opportunity this year to try to get a major, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Harris English will defend his title this week in the Travelers after defeating Kramer Hickock on the eighth hole of a playoff last year after both made birdies on the final hole of regulation to force extra holes.

It matched the second-longest playoff in PGA Tour history. The record is 11 holes in the 1949 Motor City Open, when Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff were declared co-winners by mutual agreement due to darkness.

English, who shot 65 in the final round and claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory, sank a 28-foot putt on the final hole of regulation before Hickock holed a seven-footer to tie him, and they both made seven straight pars in the playoff until English sank a 16-footer to win.

Also in the field this week are top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, fifth-ranked Justin Thomas, sixth-ranked Patrick Cantlay, ninth-ranked Sam Burns, 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist Xander Schauffle, and former Travelers champions Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman of Australia, Bubba Watson, Chez Reavie, Stewart Cink and Russell Knox of Scotland.

Even though McIlroy and Scheffler have not won the Travelers, they appear to be he clear favorites.

BEST BETS

1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – The second-ranked McIlroy has five-top-10 finishes in his last six starts, including second in the Masters, a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open and his second victory of the season in the RBC Canadian Open. He is making his fourth start in the Travelers Championship,  having tied for 17th in 2017, tied for 12th in 2018 and tied for 11th last season.

2. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The Masters champion, who is the top-ranked player in the world, made a bid for another major title before tying for second last week in the U.S. Open. Scheffler, the FedEx Cup points leader, has four victories among nine results in the top 10 this season. He missed the cut in the 2020 Travelers before tying for 47th last year after a 69-65 start.

3. Justin Thomas, United States – The reigning PGA champion, ranked fifth in the world, didn’t have his best stuff when he tied for 37th in the 122nd U.S. Open last week, but he has nine top-10 finishes this season and is fourth in the FedEx Cup standings. Thomas’ only top-10 finish in seven starts in the Travelers was a tie for third in 2016, when he closed with an 8-under-par 62.

4. Patrick Cantlay, United States – The defending FedEx Cup champion, who is ranked No. 6 in the world, finished in a tie for 14th in the U.S. Open last week and missed his eighth top-10 finish of the season by two strokes. Cantlay is making his eighth appearance in the Travelers, and has five results in the top 25, the best a tie for 11th in 2020 and a tie for 13th last season.

5. Sam Burns, United States – The ninth-ranked Burns, who has won three times on the PGA Tour this season, struggled to a 76 in the final round of the U.S. Open and slid to a tie for 27th after he seemed headed for his ninth top-10 result of the season. He is playing in the Travelers Championship for the fourth time and recorded his best finish with a tie for 13th last year.

6. Sungjae Im, South Korea – A two-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the Shriners Children’s Open earlier this season, Im finished in the top 25 in five straight events including a tie for eighth in the Masters before he shot 72-72—144 and missed the cut in the U.S. Open. He is making his third start in the Travelers, tying for 21st in 2019 and tying for 58th in 2020.

7. Xander Schauffele, United States – The 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist tied for 14th in the U.S. Open for his fifth consecutive top-20 finish, including a victory in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans along with teammate Patrick Cantlay, and has 10 finishes in the top 25 this season. Schauffle’s best in three Travelers starts were a tie for 14th in 2017 and a tie for 20th in 2020.

8. Seamus Power, Ireland – A six-time winner as a pro, including the 2021 Barbasol Championship on the PGA Tour, Power is coming off a tie for 12th in the U.S. Open and a tie for ninth in the PGA Championship, and has 12 top-25 finishes on the circuit this season. He recorded his best result in four starts in the Travelers when he tied for 19th last season.

9. Jordan Spieth, United States – Slipped out of the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings to No. 11 when he closed with a 74 to tie for 37th in the U.S. Open, but the has seven top-25 finishes this season, including his 13th PGA Tour victory in the RBC Heritage. Spieth claimed another of those titles in the 2017 Travelers Championship after he opened with a 7-under-par 63.

10. Marc Leishman, Australia – Closed with a 2-under-par 68 last Sunday to finish in a tie for 14th in the 122nd U.S. Open, his eighth finish in the top-25 on the PGA Tour this season. Leishman has 12 victories in his pro career, including six on the PGA Tour, claiming his first one in the 2012 Travelers Championship by closing with a 62, and he also was third last year.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tony Finau, United States; Joaquin Niemann, Chile; Harris English, United States; Si Woo Kim, South Korea; Keegan Bradley, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Jason Day, Australia; Aaron Wise, United States; Carlos Ortiz, Mexico; Joel Dahmen, United States.

SLEEPERS

1. Denny McCarthy, United States – 2017 Web.com Tour Championship finished 68-68 to T-7 in U.S. Open after a T-5 in Memorial. Shot 68-68 in middle rounds to T-47 in 2018 Travelers.

2. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South AfricaSeven-time winner as a pro has seven T-25 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, and his best was solo seventh in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

3. Davis Riley, United States – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour started 72-67 in U.S. Open but closed 73-74 to T-31 after a T-13 in the PGA, and has six T-10s this year. Travelers debut.

4. Callum Tarren, England – Was T-2 after starting with a 67 in U.S. Open, and only a 78 in round three cost him a high finish at he wound up T-31. Was T-5 in Puerto Rico Open in March.

5. Hayden Buckley, United States – Winner on Korn Ferry and PGA Canada tours started 68-68 and finished T-14 in U.S. Open. Has five T-25s this season, including T-4 at Sanderson Farms.

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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