June 18, 2014 - 9:31am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Keegan Bradley
USA Today Sports Images
Keegan Bradley is on the record as saying it's all about the Ryder Cup at this point. This week at the Travelers Championship, he has the chance to pick up some much-needed points in his bid for a second U.S. Ryder Cup team appearance.

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.  

2014 Travelers Championship | Five players to watch
June 18, 2014 - 9:22am
Posted by:
PGA.com
dpurdum's picture
TPC River Highlands
TPC.com/ River Highlands
TPC River Highlands hosts the Travelers Championship this week.

The PGA Tour is in Connecticut this week for the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. It’s the largest annual sporting event held in the state of Connecticut, and first-year head golf professional Larry Antinozzi took time this week to share his take on the course setup and more with PGA.com.

PGA.com: What will golfers have to do this week to be successful playing the TPC River Highlands setup?

Antinozzi: The course setup at TPC River Highlands forces players to think smart off the tee. It is a shorter golf course, but the long rough and tricky greens force players to be accurate off the tee shot so they can be precise with their approach shots. 

MORE: Tour players' photos | Martin Kaymer's U.S. Open winning clubs

PGA.com: Where is the most popular spot on the course for spectators to catch the action?

Antinozzi: The most popular spot on the course for spectators are the 15th through 18th holes. All four holes offer a variety of different options depending on how aggressive you want to be. This final stretch provides one of the most exciting finishes on the PGA Tour. 

PGA.com: What are the most popular concession items for fans?

Antinozzi: One of the favorite concession items amongt fans are the Ben and Jerry ice cream bars served throughout the property. It’s a taste of New England that fans take full advantage of. 

Travelers Championship: Insider's take
June 18, 2014 - 9:01am
Posted by:
Doug Ferguson
mark.aumann's picture
Tiger Woods
USA Today Images
Tiger Woods will have a new sponsor on his bag when he returns to competitive golf.

DENVER -- Tiger Woods will have a new sponsor on his bag when he returns to competition, signing an endorsement deal with Denver-based MusclePharm Corp. that could include his own line of nutrition products.

MusclePharm, a performance and lifestyle sports nutrition company, announced on its website Wednesday that the contract includes sponsorship of his golf bag.

Here's the announcement from Tiger Woods' Twitter account Wednesday morning:

 

 

"We are excited to work with Tiger to bring more attention to nutritional science and how it can enhance strength and overall athletic performance, and most importantly, fuel athletes safely," said Brad Pyatt, the chairman and CEO, a former receiver for the Indianapolis Colts.

The deal starts July 1. When anyone will see the bag remains a mystery.

Woods has not played since March 9 at Doral, and he had back surgery three weeks later that so far has kept him out of the Masters and the U.S. Open. Speculation that he might return in time for the British Open has been fueled by news that Woods is able to take a fuller swing.

REPORT: Tiger Woods now taking full swings on the range

"That's just the start date of the contract," said Mark Steinberg, his agent at Excel Sports Management. "Yes, he is swinging more freely. Yes, he is expanding the range of his swing each day. That's a natural progression. He was never going to go from babying sand wedges 50 yards to teeing it up in competition. Because he's feeling very good, each day is a step toward an expansive swing. As soon as he's good for a number of days, and gets material reps at full-go mentality and physicality, he'll have a green light."

Woods is tournament host next week for the Quicken Loans National at Congressional. The British Open is July 17-20. Woods, who has not won a major since capturing his 14th in the 2008 U.S. Open, has never missed three straight majors.

MusclePharm replaces Fuse Science on his golf bag, which he had endorsed since November 2011. The company never gained much traction, and it was rare to see a sponsor have such prime space without any television commercials, or significant marketing campaign.

No one gets more TV time than Woods. A logo on the bag rates behind the cap, shirt front and shirt sleeve or collar in exposure. MusclePharm becomes only the fifth corporate brand to occupy that space on the bag behind Titleist, Buick, AT&T and Fuse.

It's the first significant endorsement deal that Woods has signed since Fuse.

"It's a cool company," Steinberg said. "We talked to these guys at MusclePharm a couple of years and didn't have availability. The attraction is they're a company about the athlete and helping the athlete perform better. When people think about Tiger, he was one of the first athletes in the sport of golf. Not it seems that everybody is an athletes. That resonated a bit with Tiger and I."

Among other athletes endorsed by MusclePharm are San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and New York Jets receiver Eric Decker.

Steinberg said there was potential for Woods to have his own line of products with the company. He once had his own line in a former deal with Gatorade. He said Woods will be promoted in print and electronic ads, as well as through social media.

"This collaboration would be fun and authentic," he said. "And from the MusclePharm side, their feeling is Tiger is helping them reach a whole new demographic."

 

MusclePharm to sponsor Tiger's bag
June 18, 2014 - 8:04am
Posted by:
Bernie McGuire
mark.aumann's picture
Rory McIlroy
USA Today Images
Rory McIlroy says he will represent Ireland in the 2016 Olympics.

CORK, Ireland -- After months of indecision over who to represent, Rory McIlroy announced Wednesday that he will play for Ireland -- not Britain -- at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The 25-year-old McIlroy, who is from Northern Ireland, was eligible to play for either Ireland or Team GB when golf makes its return to the Olympics in Brazil for the first time since 1904.

Having played all of his amateur golf under the auspices of the Dublin-based Golfing Union of Ireland, the two-time major winner opted to stay with Ireland for the Olympics.

"I have been thinking about the decision a lot and remembered all the times I represented Ireland as an amateur," McIlroy said on the eve of the Irish Open in Cork. "I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy, and I would be very proud to do it again."

McIlroy has twice played in golf's World Cup for Ireland, both times alongside fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.

"Just because I'm getting paid to play this great game now doesn't mean I should change (team)," McIlroy said. "So I'm very happy with my decision. It means I can look forward to the Olympics in a couple of years' time -- you know, if I qualify, obviously, for the team.

"I just thought it was the right thing to do. It was the right time to let everyone know. Now I'm really looking forward to Rio in `16."

McIlroy announced his decision ahead of next month's International Golf Federation meeting that will finalize the eligibility criteria for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.

"There's no point in delaying it and letting it linger any longer," he said. "Watching the World Cup in Brazil, thinking about Brazil in a couple of years' time, it just sort of got me thinking, maybe I should just go ahead and get it out of the way."

Still, McIlroy said, winning an Olympic medal would not match winning a major championship.

"The majors in our sport are the biggest and best prizes in the game," he said. "But as hopefully golf grows in the Olympics and becomes, say, bigger in four or five games down the line, then it might become bigger."

Citizens of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, can hold both British and Irish citizenship. Most of the Protestant majority is British, most of its Catholic minority Irish.

McIlroy, while raised a Catholic, grew up in the predominantly Protestant town of Holywood east of Belfast and once said he considered himself more British than Irish.

His 2012 comments -- suggesting he might prefer to join the British team -- provoked strong ill feelings from Irish golf fans. McIlroy initially said he might skip Rio entirely to avoid alienating fans further.

Two other top Northern Ireland golfers, Darren Clarke and McDowell, are Protestants who have identified with Ireland.

It was a good morning all around for McIlroy, who was finally reunited with his clubs -- which were missing from his United flight earlier in the week, but located by the airline and delivered Wednesday.

 

 

Rory will play for Ireland in '16 Olympics
June 17, 2014 - 3:20pm
Posted by:
Doug Ferguson
mark.aumann's picture
Tiger Woods
Getty Images
Tiger Woods was playing with obvious pain before having back surgery in March

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Tiger Woods is making progress in his recovery from back surgery and starting to extend his swing, his agent said Tuesday.

Woods already has missed two majors this year while he recovers from a microdiscectomy on his back on March 31. He last played on March 9 at Doral, when he closed with a 78 despite the pain in his lower back. Woods has said he has no idea when he will be healthy enough to return to competition.

SIDELINED FOR SPRING: Tiger Woods elects to have back surgery, misses Masters

A report on Golf Channel's morning show said he was taking full swings at the Medalist Golf Club in South Florida.

"Tiger is progressing like he expected," Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports Management said in an email. "Feeling good each day. As each day passes and he feels that way, he lengthens the swing a bit."

Woods is the tournament host next week for the Quicken Loans National at Congressional. It is not expected that he will play. The deadline to enter is Friday. This is the first year of title sponsorship for the Detroit-based company.

The next major is the British Open on July 17-20 at Royal Liverpool, where Woods won in 2006.

The last time Woods missed two majors in one year because of injuries was in 2011, when he sat out the U.S. Open and British Open to let his leg fully recover. That year, he returned at Bridgestone Invitational in early August, a World Golf Championship that has no cut.

INJURY INVENTORY: A complete list of Tiger Woods' injuries

In a promotional day for Quicken Loans last month, Woods said he was chipping and putting in a way that did not require rotation in his back. That was four weeks ago.

He also did not know how much time it would take for him to be ready for a tournament once he could take full swings with no pain.

"The more time you give me, I think the better I'll be," he said. "The great thing about what I've done so far and all my other previous surgeries is that I worked on my short game. Once I start expanding from there and start competing and playing, if I start spraying it all over the lot and not hitting it that great, at least my short game is solid. That's one of the positives to it."

Woods has slipped from No. 1 to No. 4 in the world ranking, and he is likely to fall a couple of more spots in coming weeks. He is at No. 207 in the FedEx Cup standings -- having finished 72 holes only once this year -- and the top 125 get into the playoffs that start Aug. 21.

The news comes one day after Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open with the second-lowest score in history at 271. The overnight rating for NBC Sports was 3.3, down 46 percent from the previous year at Merion.

 

 

 

Report: Tiger Woods taking full swings
Rory McIlroy
USA Today Images
Rory McIlroy flew to Ireland this week for the Irish Open, but his golf clubs failed to show up.

Rory McIlroy has a problem many frequent fliers face every day: Lost luggage.

But in this case, McIlroy was missing his golf clubs. That's a pretty big problem for a professional golfer.

McIlroy apparently flew from Newark, N.J., to Dublin on a United flight. But his clubs weren't in the cargo hold when the plane landed.

Here's Rory's tweet:

 

 

 

The good news? It appears United has located McIlroy's clubs and they should be en route.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, that still means McIlroy lost a lot of time to practice with his own equipment.

 

Airline loses, then finds Rory's clubs