T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
2014 Travelers Championship | Five players to watch
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 | 10:31 a.m.
A week after the pressure cooker that was the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the PGA Tour heads north to Cromwell, Conn., this week for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.
The intensity won't be quite what it was at Pinehurst No. 2 for last week's U.S. Open, but rest assured everyone in the field will be working hard to grind out a win.
If you're going to win at TPC River Highlands, you've got to go low. Consider this: Russell Henley fired rounds of 69-67-69-69 last year to finish at 6 under. That resulted in a tie for 13th.
With birdies a must, here are five players I think you're going to want to keep an eye on this week.
5. Bubba Watson
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Won the Northern Trust Open and the Masters
Reason to watch: Watson returns this week to the place where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010... It's also the place where he was involved in a pretty ugly situation caught on live TV in 2013, where he berated his caddie Ted Scott over what Bubba felt was a bad yardage. Watson looked to be in control of the tournament in that final round until becoming undone by a triple-bogey 6 on the par-3 16th hole, that left him two shots out of a playoff. Fast forward 12 months and Watson already has two wins under his belt this season, including a second major. There's no denying the fact that he's an elite player now (regardless of that missed cut at the U.S. Open). Watson likes TPC River Highlands and his record there proves it.
4. Louis Oosthuizen
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T5 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Reason to watch: With a swing like his, it's hard to believe that Oosthuizen has just one top-5 finish on the PGA Tour in 11 starts this season. In all fairness though, he has struggled with nagging injuries. Why do I like him this week, then? It's just a hunch. He shot a final-round, 3-under 67 at Pinehurst No. 2 Sunday to finish in a tie for 40th at the U.S. Open. It was his best round of the week by four shots and it was also an 11-shot improvement from his 78 in Round 3. So there you have it -- he's feeling better, if not good, about his game.
3. Marc Leishman
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T2 at the Farmers Insurance Open
Reason to watch: Leishman won the Travelers in 2012. And, as he heads into the 2014 tournament, he's playing some of his better golf of the season. Following a T23 at the Players Championship, Leishman tied for third in his next start at the Byron Nelson Championship. A week later, he tied for 21st at Colonial and -- in his last start -- tied for 37th at Memorial. I'm looking at Leishman this week because I feel he's itchy to get back out there after missing out on the U.S. Open. And, since he's so familiar with what it takes to win at TPC River Highlands, well, he's a logical pick.
2. Hunter Mahan
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T4 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open
Reason to watch: Honestly, despite four top-10 finishes this season, it really hasn't been one to write home about for Mahan. He's missed the cut three times in 15 starts and all of those have come within his last six starts, including last week at the U.S. Open. What's to like then, you ask? Easy -- his track record at TPC River Highlands: T11 in 2012; T4 in 2009; T2 in 2008; playoff win in 2007. Not too shabby.
1. Keegan Bradley
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Reason to watch: With the exception of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, this is as close to a "home game" as Bradley gets on the PGA Tour. Who doesn't want to play well close to home? On top of that, he's coming off a T4 at the U.S. Open -- Bradley's only top-5 finish in a major outside of the PGA Championship (he won in 2011 and tied for third in 2012). Also, his eyes are square on the Ryder Cup. He admitted as much after his strong finish at Pinehurst No. 2. Currently No. 17 in the U.S. standings, he's still very much on the outside looking in. Now is the time to snag points. Bradley is on a mission.
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