Six Share Lead at Travelers Championship

Keegan Bradley, seeking his fifth PGA Tour victory, fired a 5-under par, 65, sitting one-stroke back of the six players who shot 64 in the first round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.

CROMWELL, Conn. – The Travelers Championship has its best field since the insurance giant became title sponsor in 2007.

But while most fans trudging around rain-soaked TPC River Highlands on Thursday were following the exploits of luminaries such as Brooke Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay, guys named Armour, Burgoon, Lee, Ancer, Hughes and Sucher filled the top of the leaderboard after the first round.

The exception appeared as if it might be the tournament’s most successful player never to have won the biggest sporting event in Connecticut, Paul Casey. But the Englishman, who registered his second runner-up finish in four tournament starts last year, shared the lead until he stubbed a chip on the 18th hole and made his only bogey in the more difficult playing conditions in the afternoon to shoot a 5-under-par 65.

But on a leaderboard that resembled the I-84/I-91 intersection in Hartford at rush hour, Casey was one back of Bronson Burgoon, Ryan Armour, Kyoung-Hoon Lee, Abraham Ancer, MacKenzie Hughes and Ken Sucher and tied with Vermont native Keegan Bradley, Chez Reavie, Robert Streb. Scott Langley and Brady Schnell, who birdied the first four holes. Sucher, one of two Korn Ferry Tour exemptions by the Travelers, and Schnell were the last players to tee off on the first hole and finished in gathering darkness on a dank day in which players could lift, clean and place their balls because of the dampness. Sucher managed to make a 9-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to get his share of the lead.

And a 12-man logjam at 66 included 2012 champion Marc Leishman, 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Cantlay, who also got to 6 under until he hit “a little fat” tee shot on the par-3 eighth hole, his 17th, into the water and made double bogey.

In the opening of the 2019 Travelers Championship, Paul Casey shot a 5-under 65 and is T-7 after 18 holes.

But while Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson has 44 PGA Tour victories, including being the only back-to-back winner (2001-02) since the tournament began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open, the six pacesetters have a COMBINED two titles, Hughes in the 2017 RSM Classic and Armour in the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship. And their world rankings are No. 63 (Ancer), No. 126 (Armour), No. 197 (Burgoon), No. 200 (Hughes), No. 246 (Lee) and No. 505 (Sucher).

Mickelson had a roller-coaster ride that included a drive into the water at the par-5 13th hole that led to a bogey on his way to 67 and a tie for 25th. He also sliced a drive on No. 14 that appeared to be headed out of bounds but ricocheted back into play in the rough, leading to another bogey.

“It was a good start,” said Mickelson, playing in the tournament for the first time since 2003. “I didn’t hurt myself any, but I made a few mistakes that I have to clean up tomorrow. The drive on 14 was atrocious and should have been out of bounds but hit a tree, came back and saved probably as least one, maybe two shots. … I feel the round should have been three or four (strokes) lower, and if I can do that tomorrow, I’ll be right in it for the weekend.”

Mickelson said officials allowing the players to lift, clean and place was “a really good call.”

“As much mud as we got on the ball, the rules officials really did a good job,” Mickelson said. “And they did a good job of putting the pins in slightly high locations so that we didn’t have too much collection of water. I thought it was a really good day given the conditions.”

Thomas, ranked seventh in the world, shot a pedestrian 68 for a share of 42nd, Watson had putting woes in a 69 for a tie for 61st and Koepka felt fatigued while carding 71 for a tie for 112th. Spieth, the 2017 champion thanks to a 61-foot bunker shot on the first playoff hole against Daniel Berger, hit his drive out of bounds and an ensuing shot into the water in making a triple-bogey 8 at the 13th hole in a 73 for a tie for 136th that put him in serious danger of missing the cut on Friday.

Burgoon, 32, was the biggest surprise at the top, having missed 10 of 12 cuts after he tied for second in the CIMB Classic in November.

“It was good, but it has been kind of a rough year for me. I guess struggled would be an understatement,” a smiling Burgoon said after a 37-foot putt on the 18th hole gave him his sixth birdie of the day and second lowest score this season. “But it is what it is, so you’ve got to pick yourself up and keep going. My whole golf career has been an uphill battle, honestly. I feel like I’ve made golf a little more complicated than it should be. I’m trying to simplify things and get my mind where I can compete. One thing I can do is compete.

“Right after the Memorial Tournament (three weeks ago), I was in a pretty dark place when it came to my golf game. I took two weeks off and regrouped and refocused, got a lot really good work in and was really pleased with how I played today.”

Brunson worked with Pablo Del Olmo, who has been his coach for two years after he recovered from a wrist injury.

“We just kind of went back to the basics,” said Burgoon, who led Texas A&M to the 2009 NCAA team title. “I got pretty tangled up in a lot of different thoughts and trying new things almost every week, every shot, looking for something and just playing miserable golf.”

But Brunson found something good on Thursday.

“I drove it pretty good and hit solid irons but nothing too close,” said Brunson, who is 140th in the FedExCup points standings. “But I putted really well. The greens are so good that if you get the putts online, you have a good chance of them going in. And it’s always good to end with a birdie, so I’m pretty pleased with that.”

Armour, 43, parred the first four holes but then made three straight birdies, three more in a row at Nos. 11-13 and finished with his seventh at the 18th.

“I was most proud of my patience,” Armour said. “I didn’t make any (birdies) early but rolled one in on No. 5 and then it was unbelievable. Sports are a game of momentum, and golf is too. As soon as I made that first (birdie), the hole kind of opened up and I rolled in some 15, 20-footers, which I hadn’t been doing.”

Lee, 27, of Korea, hit 16 of 18 greens while shooting his lowest score on the PGA Tour.

“It feels very good,” Lee said. “I didn’t know (64 was his low), so I like it. Some weeks ago, I had some struggle with my driver shot, but today it was straight, so I’m so happy now. Making a 25-foot putt for birdie on 17 makes me more happy.”

Hughes, 28, a Canadian and avid fan of the Toronto Raptors who recently won their first NBA title, had “a great round” of six birdies and 12 pars. Hughes is closely follows Brooke Henderson, who recently won her ninth LPGA title to become the winningest Canadian golfer, male or female.

“It definitely wasn’t perfect by any means, but when I missed greens, I got up and down,” Hughes said. “I made two or three nice putts in the 15-to-20-foot range, which really gets your round going. Again, on the last hole, I had about 18 feet and rolled it in. Overall, I felt good about my swing and the way I was striking it, too. A lot of good things are going on (with Canadians), so I’m definitely trying to kind of ride off the coattails of some other great Canadians right now.”

Ancer, 28, had seven birdies, including at No. 9, his final hole, to grab his share of the top spot with his lowest score in seven rounds at TPC River Highlands by three strokes.

“I felt really good out there all day,” Ancer said. “The first nine holes was a little tough with the weather we got, some pretty good showers maybe three times. You just had to keep patient, and after the first nine holes, I kept hitting the ball well and saw some putts go in, which was nice.

“I think you use every club in the bag out here. It’s not a super long golf course, but it’s pretty penal if you’d like the right shots. It was a little different because I hadn’t played it this soft. It’s playing a little longer, so it’s a great test. I think it’s a great course because it showcases if you’re playing well.”

Sucher, 32, birdied four of his last five holes, and his only top-25 finish in 36 PGA Tour starts was a tie for 20th in the 2015 Barracuda Championship.

“The driver was the best part of the round,” Sucher said after hitting 13 of 14 fairways on the way to his lowest score in 36 PGA Tour rounds. “Playing the ball and the rough being thick, hitting fairways is huge and bogey-free is always nice. I missed a few (putts) I could have made on the front nine, but overall it was pretty solid from every part of the game.”

Sucher and Chris Thompson were the last two entries via Korn Ferry Tour exemptions. Sucher played in a Korn Ferry Tour event in Springfield, Ill., last week and didn’t know what to do about this week. On Friday, it seemed certain that he was going to get into the Travelers Championship.

“I got to one (spot) out, so I figured I was going to get in,” Sucher said. “It was nice to at least have an extra day to say I’m heading (to Connecticut) no matter what. So it’s nice to get a good round in the books, for sure. This year has been good I’ve been playing really good golf, and coming back from injury, I picked up some distance and felt great all year. It’s paid off a few times on the Korn Ferry Tour, but I haven’t had four full days on the PGA Tour. I know I can do it. I’ve played well enough this year, and I’m finally hitting it farther. That’s been huge for longer scores.”

Casey’s habit of good play at TPC River Highlands continued through the tough afternoon conditions.

“I’m still frustrated about the 18th because I tried to push things and made a total error, but despite that, it was a really solid day,” said Casey, who doesn’t like rainy conditions. “I did a lot of things well. I putted nicely. It’s clearly a golf course I like, and I’m favored on, so it was nice to deliver.

“I’ve got a number in my head this week. It’ll be a winning score. Put it this way: If I do three more 5-unders, it’s more than my number, so that’s a good thing. … It’s nice to get that momentum. In a way, finishing with a bogey makes me keen to get straight back out there. I like the quick turnaround (starting in the morning on Friday). I can try and keep the momentum going, and I’m going to be keen to try and put some birdies on the board and maybe set a number for guys to chase tomorrow.”

Patrick Cantley, ranked No. 8 in the world, is one of the hottest players on the planet shot 4-under par 66, and this season after finishing T-3 at the PGA Championship at Bethpage, Cantlay won the Memorial Tournament in early June after shooting a Sunday 64.

Cantlay, who shot a then-course record 60 in the second round in 2011 while a 19-year-old amateur playing on a sponsor’s exemption, started at No. 10, made for birdies in his first seven holes and got to 6 under when he made his sixth birdie on No. 7. But the watery double bogey at the eighth hole and a par at No. 9 left him two back.

“Everything was good,” said Cantlay, who rallied to win the Memorial Tournament three weeks ago and is now ranked eighth in the world. “I hit the ball really well tee-to-green and hit a lot of smart shots. You could be aggressive, but a couple of hole locations were a little dicey and you had to respect those. I didn’t actually make a lot of putts. I hit a lot of good putts but not a lot went in.

“My one missed shot (at No. 8) cost me two (strokes), but I’ll just take the ball striking to the next round and come out firing and see how many (birdies) I can make.”

Cantlay, whose 60 at TPC River Highlands eight years ago is the lowest score for an amateur in PGA Tour history, said the soft conditions from several rainy days made conditions rather easy.

“People are going to keep making birdies every day,” Cantlay said, “so you’ve got to come out with that aggressive mindset and make more birdies.”


Bubba Watson, trying to join Hall of Famer Billy Casper for most tournament wins (four), had a ho-hum 69 of three birdies, two bogeys and 13 pars that could have much better except for one club.

“And then to give one back on No. 8, my 17th hole, was pretty sad. But other than that, it was a pretty good day. I just never got the ball close enough all day. The par-5s I didn’t execute as well as would like to, so I made two pars. But anything under par is pretty decent. Any time you can play in a pro event and shoot under par you’re going all right, I guess.”

“I just didn’t make any putts,” said Watson, who played in one of the premier groups with Koepka and Tony Finau. “I made a couple early to save (par), but then I just couldn’t get the wedges close. A little bit of moisture on the ground and pins on some bumps made it tricky for me to hit my wedges close.

“And then to give one back on No. 8, my 17th hole, was pretty sad. But other than that, it was a pretty good day. I just never got the ball close enough all day. The par-5s I didn’t execute as well as would like to, so I made two pars. But anything under par is pretty decent. Any time you can play in a pro event and shoot under par you’re going all right, I guess.”

“And then to give one back on No. 8, my 17th hole, was pretty sad. But other than that, it was a pretty good day. I just never got the ball close enough all day. The par-s I didn’t execute as well as would like to, so I made two pars. But anything under par is pretty decent. Any time you can play in a pro event and shoot under par you’re going all right, I guess.”

Watson, who is tied for 61st, has won the Travelers Championship twice after he trailed by six strokes entering the final round. In 2010, he beat Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin in a playoff for his first of 12 PGA Tour victories and then shot a 63 in the final round last year to catch and pass Casey, whom he beat in a playoff in 2015 and tied for second last year with two-time champion Stewart Cink, J.B. Holmes and Beau Hossler.

“For me, it’s just about getting momentum,” Watson said. “There were a couple of shots that I let go just not thinking properly. Seems like it was a slow day out there with the groups kind of backed up, so I just lost my train of thought on a couple of shots.

“Going forward, I just have to try to make a couple more putts, birdies, and hopefully have a good round on Sunday. You just have to keep your head down and hopefully you get that (good) day earlier. But if it happens on Sunday where you shoot a low round and move up the leaderboard, it’s pretty good.”

Brooks Koepka, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, appears to be suffering from post U.S. Open exhaustion posting a 1-over par, 71, T-112, and probably won’t be around for the weekend.


Brooks Koepka had figured getting a good rest Wednesday afternoon and night after playing in the Celebrity Pro-Am would put him in good stead after an emotional week while finishing second to Gary Woodland in his quest to join Willie Anderson (2003-05) as the only players to win the U.S. Open three consecutive times.

Koepka figured wrong. He started on No. 10 and birdied the easy par-3 11th hole but made only two more while shooting a 71 and needing a good round Friday to make the cut.

“I thought I hit it good and putted good, but I was just tired, didn’t have any energy,” Koepka said. “You’re always tired after you’ve been in contention in a major championship, so it would have been better if I had a late starting time (he teed off at 7:35 a.m.). But it is what it is, and I bogeyed three of the easiest holes on the course (the second, sixth and 15th). I’m always dead the week after a major, and it’s mostly mental. But I like this course and this tournament a lot, so there was no way I wasn’t going to come.”

Koepka, who has won four of his last nine major championship starts, was the first player to commit to the Travelers Championship in January, and he’ll have to work hard Friday afternoon to get to play on the weekend.

Finau, ranked 16th in the Official World Golf Rankings and FedExCup points standings, also will need a strong Friday to make the cut after carding only two birdies in a 71. … Fairfield native J.J. Henry, the only Connecticut player to win the tournament, birdied his last hole for 70 and a tie for 87th.

Other New England players: Richy Werenski (67), Jim Renner (75), Peter Uihlein (76), Chris Tallman (78).

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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