CROMWELL -- There are only a handful of PGA Tour golfers who move the needle, so to speak, who are household names people who have very little interest in golf would go watch play at a tournament.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are two of the obvious golfers. Bubba Watson normally draws the largest crowds at the Travelers Championship each year. He's going to have some serious competition this year.
Rory McIlroy, the world's third-ranked player and owner of four major championships, is expected to have one of the largest galleries Thursday and Friday, even with a 7:50 a.m. tee off time in the opening round, his first in this tournament.
"The golf course is great. I can see why Jim Furyk (shot) 58 last year and why guys can go so low," McIlroy said Wednesday. "If you're on with your scoring clubs, it gives you a lot of opportunities."
A new rule on the PGA Tour this season requests golfers try to play a new tournament they haven't played in the previous four years. Golfers who played in at least 25 events the previous year are exempt from the rule.
Since McIlroy, who also plays on the European Tour, fell short of the required 25 events, he became the first big name to commit to the Travelers in late February.
"It's nice to be able to play an event you haven't played the last few years," McIlroy said. "It makes you go to different places. This year, it's Hartford. I mean, I may come back next year because I like it so much."
This isn't the first time McIlroy has played TPC River Highlands. In August of 2011, he visited the property while in the area to watch former girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play in the New Haven Open tennis tournament.
"(The course) is a hybrid of Akron (Ohio, site of the Bridgestone Invitational) and Quail Hollow (site of this year's PGA Championship) sort of together," McIlroy said. "It's a bit of Akron that sort of reminds me of the front nine that goes up and back, and then the last three holes around the lake, 15 which is driveable, sort of reminds me of a flatter version of 14 at Quail Hollow. And then you got the holes around the lake at the end, so it's sort of a hybrid, I guess. I like it, it's nice, a nice little golf course."
McIlroy has had just a so-so year, in large part due to the injuries -- stress fractures in his ribs -- limiting him to just six tournaments on the PGA Tour in this calendar year.
His best finish is a tie for fourth place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He finished tied for seventh at the Masters and missed the cut at last week's U.S. Open.
"I always felt (20)17 was going to be a bit of a transitional year, with obviously, Nike going out of the golf equipment business and getting married, moving and changing residences, and all that sort of stuff, it was always going to be a transitional year," McIlroy said. "I didn't factor an injury into that as well."
McIlroy said he feels fine. Working more on his short game and less on beating balls at the range has helped. How the body holds up for the rest of the tournament remains to be seen.
But with the Travelers normally following the U.S. Open on the calendar, there exists the possibility McIlory will be back.
"I actually think it's a great time to have an event straight after a U.S. Open. Honestly? If there's one event that I'm going to, one major tournament that I'm going to play the week after, it probably would be the U.S. Open," McIlroy said.
This article is written by Joe Morelli from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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