We have a very “week after a major championship” leaderboard at the Travelers Championship this week as well as some interesting debuts from golfers you’ve heard of and head-scratching play from established stars. A lot happened on Thursday at TPC at River Highlands because a lot of big names are in the field. Let’s jump into a detailed look at what went down in Round 1.
First place — Ryan Armour, Bronson Burgoon, K.H. Lee, Abraham Ancer, Mackenzie Hughes, Zack Sucher (-6): If your assignment was to draw up the perfect leaderboard for the first PGA Tour round following the U.S. Open, you have achieved your task. Six golfers from four different countries and nobody in the top 50 in the world. Premium randomness, and I’m dubious that any of them will roll until the end on Sunday.
Last place — Chris Tallman, Brandon Hagy (+8): Tough scene here. Tallman came up short on the back nine of the course with a 42. Hagy was 155th from tee to green (which is his strength).
Other contenders — Paul Casey (-5), Patrick Cantlay (-4), Tommy Fleetwood (-4), Marc Leishman (-4), Louis Oosthuizen (-4): No surprises here. Cantlay is on a heater and was my pick to win, and the other three are world-class ball-strikers. But back to Casey, who is the leader in strokes gained at this event over the last nine years. He bogeyed the last or would have shared the lead. Incredibly, he’s never won here, but he’s an auto-top 10, should contend for his first W and will be there until late on Sunday.
“You know, it fits my eye,” Casey said. “Great championship. The support by all the crowd we get out there, you know, this is just a joy to play this golf event. Travelers does such a great job. It’s a golf course I play well, and it’s not an easy golf course. … It’s not that easy. It’s a very good golf course that rewards good play.”
Who had a great day? Vikor Hovland’s pro debut was a success. He shot a 3-under 67 and is just three back of the Round 1 lead. And while I don’t want to overreact to one round, there have been whispers for the last few months about whether Hovland, and not teammate Matthew Wolff, actually has the higher professional ceiling. Hovland clipped him by three strokes in their first professional rounds together, which means absolutely nothing until you start staring at the consistency Hovland has shown throughout 2019. Remind me of this when Wolff shoots 62 on Friday.
Who had a lousy day? Jordan Spieth was playing just fine going into the 13th hole. He made an eight there after hitting his tee shot out of bounds and his fourth shot into the water in front of the green. It led to a 3-over 73 and T136 after Round 1. Not good times for the three-time major winner.
Shot of the day: Phil Mickelson was strong on approach shots on Thursday. He shot a 3-under 67 and is dancing around contention, too.
What about Koepka? He followed up his bid for three U.S. Opens in a row with a 1-over 71 at the Travelers Championship. I have no idea why or how this happened. He’s 112th in strokes gained tee to green, but he definitely wants us to know that he really cares (or really doesn’t).
“Let me set the record straight,” Koepka said this week referencing some comments he made about non-majors at the Canadian Open two weeks ago. “It’s not that I don’t care about the event. Some people wrote … took that and ran with it. Can’t believe everything you read. They will take a snippet here and go from the back.
“Every week, even last week it doesn’t matter. I don’t care where I finish. Last week it’s about the process of … how am I going to start it on line, finish it on line, and then make the putt? I know sometimes it doesn’t happen. I can’t control the result. I wouldn’t tee it up if I didn’t want to win. Not everything is results-based with me. It’s about the process. I think that’s why I’m able to play so well in the majors, because I’m not worried about winning.”
What to watch on Day 2: I’m genuinely intrigued by what Hovland does on Day 2 of his opening event as a pro. If he shoots another 67, he’ll legitimately be in it come the weekend. Also, I want to see if Spieth and Koepka grind to make the cut. The U.S. Open takes so much out of you — especially for Koepka — and it can be easy to hit the eject button. Those two aren’t known for doing that so I think we’ll see something in the 60s for both of them on Friday.