CROMWELL, Conn. – Last week at Torrey Pines, carding a birdie was as easy as stealing a steak from a Rottweiler. The lowest score posted at the 2021 U.S. Open was 67, but this week at TPC River Highlands, site of the Travelers Championship, a 67 doesn’t feel special. On Thursday, Kramer Hickok and Satoshi Kodaira shot 63s, Talor Gooch shot 64 and five players shot 65.
The Travelers Championship is an annual buffet of birdies, open to bombers and shorter hitters alike. After two rounds, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Kramer Hickok have feasted like kings. Through six combined rounds, they have made 33 birdies so far.
Day made eight birdies himself on Friday afternoon and shot a bogey-free 62 that catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard. He will start Saturday’s third round at 9 under, a shot ahead of Watson and Hickok. Seven other players will start the third round two shots back at 7 under.
“I was fortunate enough to not really get in my own way today. I hit a lot of good quality drives and my tee to green was pretty solid, I thought. Then holed a lot of crucial putts out there,” Day said.
At the same time, the 33-year-old Australian’s back has been stiff this week, and he moved gingerly around the course. To compensate for pain when he shifts to the left side, he’s made a minor adjustment.
“I’ve been hitting a lot of flighted shots. You know, sometimes when I get a little bit too far left, everything has to go back and start crunching on the right lower part of my back again,” he explained.
Watson, playing in the morning wave, shot a second 66 of the tournament. He broke his driver on his 11th hole, but still managed to birdie it.
Watson has won this event three times, loves the course and the area.
“My first win (was) here, with my dad watching,” he said. “So many things that happened with my family at this place. This community, it just means so much to us, and so when I get here, I just feel energized. I feel like the people are behind me and they’re pulling for me.”
Kramer Hickok made nothing but pars on his opening nine, then holed a 23-foot putt for birdie on 10 and another 23-footer on 11 for birdie. He drove the green on the 279-yard, par-4 15th hole, then two-putted for a third birdie to move into the lead at -10. After hitting his tee shot on the par-3 16th long and into the rough, he three-putted for a double-bogey five and dropped from -10 to -8.
Among the other golfers shooting low rounds Friday were Charley Hoffman (63), K.H. Lee (64), Scottie Scheffler, Aaron Wise and Ryan Moore (65).
Many players have said that playing a week after the U.S. Open, handling fatigue and maintaining a good mindset are especially important.
“I think it kind of hit me on Wednesday. I thought I was good Tuesday, and then Wednesday, I remember feeling like, ‘Okay, that did take a lot out of me.’ (I) didn’t really realize it,” said Russell Henley, who was among the leaders heading into Sunday at Torrey Pines and shot 67-66 over the first two days here.
Kevin Kisner struggled at Torrey Pines and missed the cut. Thursday, he made 18 pars at the Travelers Championship, but on Friday made a birdie on the first hole, then made five more birdies and an eagle on the way to a 63.
“I think I probably hit the ball about the same, probably closer on the approach,” Kisner said. “I really didn’t make any putts yesterday. I rolled it nicely so I wasn’t that frustrated, but to see them going in early certainly helped.”
Justin Rose also missed the cut last week at the U.S. Open after shooting 73-77, but after a 1-under 69 Thursday, he shot a 5-under 30 on the front-nine
before making birdies at 10, 11 and 14. The Englishman finished the day with a 63.
“I putted great today. I made a lot of mid- to long-range putts, which obviously got my scorecard lit up,” Rose said. “But (it) probably started before that, just the mindset of not pushing too hard, not going to flags when I didn’t have the right number or kind of hitting driver off holes that I wasn’t front loading the gamble. Just being a bit more patient with my game.”
While some players feasted on birdies Thursday and Friday, it was a famine for others. Among the notable golfers who struggled this week and who failed to make the 36-hole cut Max Homa (69-71, even), Tony Finau (76,67, +3), Rickie Fowler (69, 75, +4) and Matthew Wolff (76,69, +5).