Two majors down, two to go and attention turns to The Open.
Links golf, shaping shots in the wind, bump and run, and Peter Alliss bumbling on about seagulls. There’s a lot to love about golf’s oldest championship. Which is why Hartford, Connecticut is the obvious port of call this week as the PGA Tour resumes with the Travelers Championship.
It may sound tangential, a parkland course in New England on a manicured course in glorious weather at TPC River Highlands having relevance to the game’s most revered tournament.
Yet this time last year the Travelers was about to have a serious impact on events on the other side of the pond a month later.
Remember Jordan Spieth’s three-shot victory at Royal Birkdale. The audacious rescue shot from behind the equipment company trailers?
Spieth and fellow American Matt Kuchar were duking it out in the final round on Merseyside, stepping onto the 13th tee locked in the lead at eight under par.
And then Spieth hit his worst tee shot of the tournament, his ball missing wide right, so wide in fact that it came to a halt on the driving range, separated from fairway and green by the aforementioned trucks and a humongous sand dune.
Spieth took an unplayable lie on the same line of sight and much farther removed from his target. It was compelling viewing for everyone apart from poor Kuchar whose reward for a perfectly decent tee shot was an eternal wait for his playing partner to a) get his ruling, b) establish a preferable place to play his next shot and c) execute the shot after extensive consultation with his caddie.
When Spieth eventually struck his approach shot, it missed the green but gave the Texan enough leeway to chip on for a one-putt bogey.
Kuchar went a stroke ahead but his goose was cooked.
Which brings us back to this week’s Travelers.
Spieth won there 12 months ago and a month later landed his third major.
And it took a wonder shot there as well to get the job done. Spieth chipped in from a greenside bunker at 18 for a spectacular close-out to win a play-off with Daniel Berger and he is back in Hartford with similar intentions.
Normally a missed cut the weekend before is not a good reason to feel optimistic about the next week’s event but when the previous weekend took the world’s best golfers to Shinnecock Hills a bad two opening rounds is no real barometer for a player to be discounted.
Spieth is in a good place as he returns to a course he won on in his debut appearance last summer.
“It feels good to be back,” Spieth said after crossing Long Island Sound from New York to Connecticut on Tuesday.
“I was able to play the back nine, and walking up to 18 it was really cool. The last time I walked up that hole was obviously in the play-off. Just this is a golf course that I have pretty much all good memories on. I don’t have any bad experiences here.”
Don’t expect that to change this week.
Don’t fancy Spieth? Here’s three who’ll give the Texan a run for his money…
Brooks Koepka – 12/1
Talk about a feelgood factor. The big-hitting American could be expected to check out this week after securing back-to-back US Open championships at Shinnecock Hills over the weekend but will carry plenty of momentum onto a course better suited to his long game and where he shot a 64 on his last appearance, a T9 in 2016.
Rory McIlroy – 12/1
Just the course for the Irishman to get back on track after a missed cut at Shinnecock last week. Finished T17 last year on his TPC River Highlands debut, when he closed with a fourth-round 64.
Patrick Reed – 18/1
The Masters champion with three top-five finishes in his last three major championship starts is on an upward trajectory at the Travelers. Last Sunday’s US Open fourth-place finisher came tied for 11th in 2016 and improved to T5 12 months ago in his seventh appearance at the event, firing a final-round 66 on both occasions.