5 Things: Hoffman has been here before
CROMWELL, Conn. – There was unique noises coming from TPC River Highlands in Saturday’s third round of the Travelers Championship.
To Bubba Watson, what he heard from behind the 17th tee, a wise-cracking fan who disrupted the lefthander’s rhythm, was the worst noise.
“It was just too bad, because otherwise the fans here are great,” said Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott.
But to the remainder of the folks at the Travelers, what they heard was small horns beeping, the sort of sound you hear when trucks or buses are backing up. The noise was especially noticeable late in the day when the second-round leaders had the stage, because on this warm and breezy Saturday, the leaders struggled.
“It’s the worst nine he’s played,” Scott said of Watson’s inward trip of 3-over 38 that cost him his outright lead.
“Actually, he didn’t play bad, but bad things happened when he missed a shot.”
Having birdied three of his first six holes to get to 13-under and into a three-stroke lead, Watson seemed in control. At least until he went out of control. A wild drive left cost him a stroke at the par-5 13th, then he needed four putts from just shy of the green at the short, par-5 15th. And after the disturbance at 17 (“A fan made a noise on purpose, just as Bubba was about to swing,” Scott said), Watson made another bogey.
The good news is, Watson can at least lay claim to the lead, albeit a share of it with Graham DeLaet and Charley Hoffman. DeLaet got to 10-under by sharing the low round of the day, a 65, while Hoffman put himself there with a 66. Of course, they got help from the leaders, too, because of the seven names atop the leaderboard at the start of the day, only Nick O’Hearn (68) broke par. Watson, Tommy Gainey, and Hunter Mahan all shot 70, Tag Ridings went for 71, Padraig Harrington for 72, and Patrick Reed 73.
Here’s what else you need to know from a day that saw things tighten up:
1. Been here before: It depends on how Charley Hoffman wants to look at it. He is 10-under and tied for the lead, but when you shoot 9-under on the first day, part of you expects to be better than 10-under two days later. But Hoffman knows he’s got a chance to win and if that means people bring up last year, so be it.
“I committed to my golf shot and I didn’t hit and I hit a bad shot,” Hoffman said, discussing the shot he hit into the water at 17 with the tournament on the line a year ago. “I mean, I think about it, but . . . I think about a lot of other things.”
Hoffman has two PGA Tour wins and considers himself a good closer. Then, he adds, “but I haven’t closed a golf tournament in a while, though.”
He will play in the final pairing with DeLaet, who has never won on the PGA Tour, so on that front, one would consider Watson the favorite. But not to be overlooked are the two guys just one stroke back, Chris Stroud and O’Hern.
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2. Mr. Clean: We’re saying that because of his scorecard, though there’s no doubt that Ian Poulter is quite dapper, thank you very much. But during this year’s Travelers, few have played as consistently as the Englishman. Yet he’s not in contention to win, you say, being tied for 25th and six back?
Well, guess what? He wholeheartedly disagrees.
“I should be leading this golf tournament,” Poulter said, and not one bone in his body seemed to think otherwise. “I know where my golf game is right now.”
The problem has been that one part of Poulter’s game that is most dependable. His putting. “I haven’t holed a putt – and every putt has hit the hole.”
Poulter, who has put together rounds of 66-67 after his opening 73, knows people might question his perspective, but he firmly believes what he’s saying. “I hate doing this. I know I should be leading this golf tournament right now with the footage of putts I potentially had for birdie and the nine I had at 17 the other day.”
Ah, yes, the nine. A quintuple-bogey at the par-4 17th, his eighth hole of the tournament. At the time, he was 4-over, which at the Travelers seems like 400-over. But continuing his solid play from last week’s U.S. Open, Poulter steadied the ship. He ran off a stretch of 43 consecutive holes without a bogey and has spent the better part of two-plus days knocking down flagsticks.
Good stuff, for sure.
“It is good stuff,” Poulter said, though it would have been better had he made a bunch of those putts. But in Saturday’s third round, just for instance, he missed an 8-footer at the fourth, a 14-footer at five, then putts of 6, 9, and 15 feet coming in.
“The way I played today, I could have shot 12-under par, which sounds ridiculous,” Poulter said. But the putting? “Truly, madness.”
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3. Amateur hour: Either way, University of Alabama star Justin Thomas was going to be playing in a superb New England golf tournament these June days. It was either going to be one of his favorite amateur events, the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett in Rumford, R.I., or as an invited guest at the Travelers Championship.
The fact that he chose the PGA Tour stop here was one he wrestled with, though for only a short while.The fact that he shot a 4-under 66 in yesterday’s third round and pushed into view made him happy, as if he needed to justify his selection to play here. Fact is, he doesn’t, not when Thomas falls into a long line of premier amateur players who have been granted spots into the tournament field here.
Thomas has talked all week about “making as many birdies” as possible and he’s surely done that – 15 in three days. But the impressive thing has been the way he’s made them in bunches. He made five in six holes Friday, then ran off four in a row in yesterday’s third round. They were of the “low-stress” variety, too – a 3-footer at 12, then a tap-in at 13, a 12-footer at 14, and two putts after driving the green at 15.
No matter where he ends up in the final standings, Thomas insists he won’t look at the final column and cringe to know how much money he passed up. Someday, he’ll be out here as a pro and he doesn’t mind waiting. He’s got another PGA Tour spot into the John Deere Classic, then will turn his focus to the amateur circuit – the Southern Am, Western Am, and U.S. Am – all marquee lead-ups to what he’s truly been pointing toward, the Walker Cup.
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4. Caddie’s hat wins over fans: Julien Trudeau didn’t want to be part of the usual “Nature Valley” hat deal that many caddies take part in. So his boss, DeLaet came up with an idea: He’d buy Trudeau a hat in each town they play and Trudeau would wear that one.
This week “was a no-brainer,” Trudeau said, because this proud and passionate sports area has had just one professional sports team - the former Hartford Whalers of NHL fame.
Trudeau, like DeLaet, a Canadian, knew much about the Whalers, that they played in the World Hockey Association from 1972-79, then in the NHL from 1979-97; that they had quality players such as Kevin Dineen and goalie Mike Liut; and that they are still missed. So he was happy to wear the hat in honor of “The Whale,” and it easily has generated the most response of any hat he’s worn thus far.
Of course, his man’s five birdies against just one bogey has earned a spot in the final pairings, so Trudeau is likely to receive even more notoriety today.
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5. Short shots: Since 83 players had made the cut at even par, a second cut was required. This time, 74 advanced to Sunday’s final round, again at level parr. The second cut claimed nine victims – Ben Crane, George McNeill, Joe Affrunti, Stephen Ames, John Rollins, John Huh, Stewart Cink, Billy Mayfair, and Henrik Norlander. ... Rollins and Huh were in the same group and combined for one mess of a day – a quintuple-bogey, a triple-bogey, a double-bogey, and nine bogeys. Rollins made the only three birdies as they each shot 78. ... Rollins’ nine on the par-4 10th came when his second shot went long, left, and into a small jungle. His ball was beneath two vines that were tied together and after being told he could not untangle them, Rollins went into slash mode, taking several hacks until he finally got the ball to move enough so that he could advance it onto the green. ... Eagles at the 15th, the cozy, little drive-able par-4 were notched by Brad Fritsch and Tim Clark. It brings the total to nine for the tournament. ... The field average was 70.229, but clearly it takes a little nerve to keep things together. While the par-4 15th ranks easiest, the par-3 16th is sixth toughest, the par-4 17th is third toughest, and the par-4 18th is seventh toughest.