The U.S. Open effect at The Travelers' halfway point as Harman leads
CROMWELL, Conn. – I liked science and biology in school but only to have the peripheral facts and phenomena explained to me. I left dissecting frogs to others.
That background will set you up for my unscientific study of Round 2 of the Travelers Championship today at TPC River Highlands. In short, my theory is if you played the U.S. Open the week before a tour event, the Travelers specifically, you have a better than 50-50 chance of making the cut and, most encouraging, of contending.
A common thread all week has been a focus on how players who roughed it out at Shinnecock Hills last week in green conditions that received a lot of criticism, along with the usual U.S. Open mischief, would do on a shorter and more forgiving River Highlands course.
Travelers halfway leader Brian Harman is a case in point of how making the cut and contending at the National Open gets your game in excellent shape at your next event. He tied for 36th at Shinnecock but leads by one at the Travelers at 10 under par following a four-under 66 Friday in ideal scoring weather. Matt Jones, Russell Henley and Zach Johnson are tied for second, and guess what, they all played at Shinnecock. At eight under are Beau Hossler, Bryson DeChambeau and Paul Casey, and yes, the latter two were at Shinny.
The trend continues: the three at seven under, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Lanto Griffin, all played the U.S. Open and all three missed the cut but here they are tied for eighth.
In summary, 50 players who were at Shinnecock are playing The Travelers. Half of them missed the cut on Long Island, but 15 of them are playing the weekend at Cromwell. Of the 25 who made the cut, 13 made the cut at The Travelers and five others missed the cut, which came at two under, by two shots or less.
Sure, it’s unscientific, and a guy who missed the cut at the U.S. Open might just be on a slide and those who made both cuts on a roll. The reasons for and against believing you are more likely to do better the week after you played the U.S. Open are ripe for dissection, but that would require analyzing each player on a case by case basis and their aptitude for how they deal with tough conditions. Perhaps some players, such as tenacious Patrick Reed, only excel in tougher conditions. He, Xander Schauffele and Webb Simpson were in the top 10 at Shinnecock but are down the road this week. Interestingly, on Wednesday Reed had talked about how he found Shinnecock fun in its own way and that River Highlands would be fun in its own way. “This week it’s guns blazing,” he said. “Everyone is going to be firing at flags…and last week it was more like, all right, let’s try to survive the week.”
McIlroy had also said before the first round that there is just a nice familiarity that comes with the event after a major. “I think that’s why this tournament works so well,” he said, “because it is directly after a week like last week and guys can get back into a normal routine, whether it’s seeing good golf shots being rewarded or putting some red numbers on the board, that sort of stuff. It just gets you back into a nice routine, and obviously it makes you feel a bit better about yourself when you’re shooting some under-par scores.”
The player who was in his own category, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, could have withdrawn or dogged it through two rounds, but he hung in there and made the weekend at three under par.
No matter whether my theory holds water, The Travelers will have a great group of 74 golfers on the weekend. Losing Reed was the biggest hit to a very strong field, with the rest of the main attractions still around. That includes defending champion Jordan Spieth, who backed up a 63 with a 73 Friday, which featured an 8 on the par-5 13th.
Scene of the Day: Whenever a tour player makes contact with a young fan, it makes an indelible memory. Two boys waiting at the back of the ninth green along the roped-off area that allows players to get to carts for transportation to the scorer’s building had a special day when Sam Saunders came through. Saunders had started with 72 in Round 1 and for a time looked like he was going to have a hard time getting to two under, but he played his back nine (the front nine) in 31, birdieing the ninth hole to make the cut on the number.
As he walked past the two boys, he handed one his ball and the other his glove. The looks on their faces were like they were halfway to the next Christmas, which we are. When someone asked them if they knew who that golfer was, the glove recipient said, “Yes, Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson.” It’s hard to imagine boys that could be more excited, unless it was from the site of their mother coming with the hot dogs right after the big moment.