CROMWELL, Conn. – Ah, the Exhale Open.
It’s more commonly referred to as the Travelers Championship, but when you sit on the PGA Tour schedule directly behind the U.S. Open, well, you are the tournament where guys are less up tight and relieved to have put major championship pressure behind them.
Location: TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Conn.
Purse: $6 million, winner’s share: $1.08 million
Defending champion: Kenny Perry
TV: Thu.-Fri. 3-6 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
Sat.-Sun. 3-6 p.m. ET, CBS
Padraig Harrington: It’s hard to believe, but the Irishman hasn’t won since the 2008 PGA Championship. Given how many times he’s put himself in contention, it’s time to start wondering just what is going on? He always seems to be tweaking some phase of his game and no one seems to smile when things go bad quite like Harrington. But he’s too good a player to be stuck in a winless skid.
Justin Rose: He finally broke through for his first PGA Tour win at the Memorial, so it will be interesting to see if the Englishman can capitalize and achieve the world-class promise he’s always seemed to have. He has talked about being the overlooked Englishman in a year when so many of his countrymen (Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Simon Dyson) have shined toward possible Ryder Cup spots, but the Memorial changed that picture. Will the Travelers offer a chance to continue the roll?
Rickie Fowler: An electrifying rookie on the PGA Tour, the colorful Fowler did not qualify for the U.S. Open, so he’s had two weeks to rest his busy game and prepare for a sprint of tournaments that could possibly get him into the British Open. It usually takes players a few years before they look ready to win, but not so with Fowler. He’s on the doorstep ready to bust it down.
Having had to contend with the demands of Pebble Beach – firm, fast and narrow fairways; small, firm and agonizing greens – the week before, PGA Tour players will relish the cozy confines of TPC River Highlands, where birdies are the norm.
Whereas level par won the U.S. Open, players know they’ll have to go deep into double-digit red numbers to win the Travelers Championship. In other words, let the smiles re-appear; the scowls and fits of frustration have been left on the West Coast.
“It was nice to come here,” said Kenny Perry, one of the many who made the coast-to-coast trip to play in the Travelers. “I played a practice round with Vijay Singh, Boo Weekley and Blake Adams. We had a nice little game, a lot of laughing. You didn’t have a lot of laughing last week.”
Of course, none of this is to suggest that players are so relieved to be out of the U.S. Open furnace that they forget how to play. Or, that they haphazardly make their way around the course the week after a major.
On the contrary, at the Verizon Heritage earlier this year, which was held right after the Masters, it was a veteran who won, Jim Furyk. Ditto last year when Perry went from the grind of a five-day U.S. Open to winning the Travelers the next week. Last year’s U.S. Open champion, Lucas Glover, followed up that magic with a T-11 at TPC River Highlands.
While only five of the world’s top 30 players are assembled, there are six in the field who’ve won this year, including Justin Rose. The Englishman did not qualify for the U.S. Open, so he’ll see if he can carry over some of that momentum that earned him a victory June 6 at the Memorial.
Also on hand are 11 of the PGA Tour’s top 30 money-winners, including Adam Scott. He’s making his first trip to the Travelers and was honest about what this week can be good for.
“I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing some putts go in,” said Scott, who shot 77-73 and missed the cut at the U.S. Open. “I think a lot of us will come out and make a lot of birdies and get our confidence back up from maybe getting beaten down last week.”
That’s why they call it the Exhale Open.