(CBS New York) — The PGA Tour returns from the West Coast for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. After braving Torrey Pines at the U.S. Open, a strong field will face a different sort of course. TPC River Highlands offers up its fair share of scoring opportunities. Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a third-round 61 last year, which was still three strokes short of Jim Furyk’s course-record 58 in 2016.
Last year, the Travelers was the third tournament after golf’s COVID-forced layoff. But it was the first of the three events to occur on its originally scheduled date. No fans attended, of course. But this year, approximately 10,000 spectators will be on hand each day.
They’ll get to see how Johnson reacts to slipping to second in the world golf rankings. His win at last year’s Travelers was the first of three wins in a season that ended with the FedExCup. But his play has dropped off some this year. He tied for 19th at the U.S. Open last week and 10th at the Palmetto Championship the week before.
“He’s obviously got pretty good form,” noted CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch. “He just hasn’t finished off the last two weeks. He’s had a chance to win and just hasn’t finished it off.”
Johnson headlines a field featuring five of world’s top 10 players and 10 of the top 25. That includes Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay, and Brooks Koepka. DeChambeau, ranked sixth in the world, has only one top-10 finish in the last three months, a tie for ninth at the Wells Fargo Championship. But he’s cracked the top 10 at the Travelers each of the last three years. Cantlay won the Memorial Tournament three weeks ago but missed multiple cuts in the months prior. He’s never broken into the top 10 at this event. It’s been a feast-or-famine sort of year for Koepka, who is coming off a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open. His 10 PGA Tour events in 2021 include four top-five finishes and five missed cuts. He has only one top-10 at the Travelers.
A couple important names sit outside the top 25. Phil Mickelson will be looking for a little more of that PGA Championship magic after a poor showing at the U.S. Open. His TPC River Highlands resume includes two wins two decades ago, when the event was known as the Greater Hartford Open. Bubba Watson, however, has three. Though Watson has dropped to 66th in the rankings, he has found success at TPC River Highlands over the years. Another win would make him one of only two four-time winners at the Travelers.
“We talk about horses for courses, Bubba Watson is one of those around this particular golf course,” Baker-Finch said. “There’s a couple of others in the field. Paul Casey, Patrick Cantlay, Kevin Streelman, they all have played well here in the past.”
TPC River Highlands, a par-70 that measures only 6,841 yards, gives bombers somewhat of an advantage. This old-style test of golf mixes long and short holes. There are only two par-5s.
“If it gets windy, it can be very challenging,” Baker-Finch pointed out. “The greens get firm, and the wind blows. We’ve seen that happen over the years. Typically, the greens are in great shape, and they’re holding. The guys can take advantage. There’s a couple of par-4s they can reach. The par-5s are reachable. You’ve got to be very very careful on the 13th hole, out of bounds left, water up to the right, or short the green. The greens get very, very fast. So that is one of the main defenses for the golf course, wind and fast greens.”
The course is best known for its finishing stretch of holes, particularly the “Golden Triangle,” comprised of holes 15 through 17. The 296-yard par-4 15th is one of the PGA Tour’s more exciting holes, with players tempted to drive the green despite looming water and bunkers. That could result in an eagle or a birdie. Bisected by water, the 171-yard par-3 16th challenges players with narrow, sloped green. The 17th hole, a 420-yard par-4 covered mostly water, is among the course’s most challenging.
“The finish here is always exciting,” according to Baker-Finch. “I think that’s something that’s extra special about TPC River Highlands is the finish. Anything can happen in the last four holes, the excitement builds towards the end.”
Here are the favorites:
Dustin Johnson (12-1)
With Jon Rahm’s U.S. Open win, Johnson drops to second in the world rankings. He has only two top-10 finishes since the November Masters. But he did win at TPC River Highlands last year with a 19-under tournament score that included a third-round 61.
Bryson DeChambeau (12-1)
DeChambeau, ranked sixth in the world, struggled toward the end of last week’s U.S. Open, with a 44 on the back nine, en route to a fourth-round 77. He last won at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. DeChambeau has enjoyed success at TPC River Highlands, however, with a sixth-place finish last year in a crowded field.
Brooks Koepka (14-1)
The eighth-ranked Koepka tied for fourth at the U.S. Open and tied for second at the PGA Championship the month before. In between, he missed the cut at the Palmetto Championship. Koepka only has one top-10 finish at TPC River Highlands, which was a ninth place in 2016.