Any time a golfer can secure a win on the PGA Tour, that tournament becomes a special one for him.
Bubba Watson’s first PGA Tour win came here in Cromwell in 2010 at the Travelers Championship and he has added another two Travelers’ titles to his resume. Watson, who in contention for a record-tying fourth tournament title, is one stroke back at the halfway point of this year’s tournament after shooting back-to-back rounds of 66 at the Tournament Players Club-River Highlands.
Watson and Kramer Hitchcock each trail Jason Day, who shot a second round 62, by one stroke after two rounds.
And Watson shot his 66 after snapping his driver on his second hole of the day. He was pleased no fans were hurt by the flying driver and within two holes, he had a backup replacement driver in his bag.
It’s didn’t rattle the 12-time PGA Tour champion, who is very comfortable here in Connecticut at the TPC-River Highlands.
“Obviously with the new design there is couple bunkers that are tricky. As long as you stay out of the bunkers you can still move the ball forward and you feel like you have a chance to hit the green,” he said. “That’s really what I’ve felt over the years, is that I can play no matter where the ball ends up.”
It didn’t start off that easy for Watson, who didn’t have the best experience in his first appearance at the tournament in 2006 when the event was the Greater Hartford Open.
At the time, the tournament was struggling to survive and patched together a group of local sponsors to host the event. But it was desperately in need of a title sponsor – which they got the next year (2007) when the Travelers made their commitment to the event.
“The first time I ever played here I shot I think a 74, 74 without looking it up, and I was like, man, I’m never coming back here,” he said. It was actually a 73 and 72.
“Then, Travelers started coming around to everybody and saying, Hey, we’re going change the range. The old range here where you couldn’t hit driver(s). So, they said they were going to change that and start doing better for the players and caddies, trainers, physios. So there was a lot of things they were going to amp up and then golf was the last thing they were worried about.
“So (Travelers) brought a different atmosphere (to the tournament),” Watson said. “The crowd got behind it, the community. And then as you know, finding my way through life you do different things in your life that are so impactful, meaningful.”
The tournament has always given back to local communities. It’s been no different for the Travelers, which has delivered more than $20 million to more than 800 worthy organizations in Connecticut.
Watson has been touched by the tournament’s support for the Hole-in-the-Wall-Gang camp in Ashford, Conn., that was started by the late actor Paul Newman that helps seriously ill children and their families. He donated $200,000 after winning the tournament in 2018 and donated another $25,000 in February after a devasting fire damaged several buildings at the camp.
“(Going) to the different places around here, Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, seeing that, feeling that, the energy of these kids, listening to their songs that they sang for me and my wife at lunch, was amazing,” Watson said.
“So many things that happened with my family at this place, this community,” he said. “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. I feel like I can move the ball forward from any lie, so that’s always a positive trying to make a par or make a birdie.”
With three birdies on the back nine, Day’s 62 left him with a score of nine-under 131 after two days. It’s the first time he has held a share of the lead since the first round of the 2020 PGA Championship when he began the tournament with a 65.
Hickock shared the first-round lead after a 63 and was 3-under in the second round and alone in the lead at 10-under. But a double bogey at the par-3 16th hole dropped him back to 8-under.
Russell Henley (66 on Friday), Kevin Kisner (63), Seamus Power (67), Justin Rose (63), K.H. Lee (64), Brice Garnett (68) and Troy Merritt (65) were all tied for fourth at 7-under.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson and two-time winner Phil Mickelson both made the cut, as did Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay. Koepka had the shot of the day, holing an 8-iron from 159 yards for an eagle 2 at the par-4 18th hole.
Seventy-nine players made the cut (2-under 138) advancing to Saturday’s third round. The Golf Channel is providing live early coverage from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by CBS (WFSB-3) from 3 to 6 p.m.
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