Newly-crowned Major champ Jimmy Walker sits out the Travelers Championship to count his $1.8m pay-check from last weekend in a tournament that Bubba Watson has owned.
The World No. 6 dodges the opening ceremonies in Rio as he chases his third title here in seven years at the new-look Connecticut track after seeing off last year’s debutant Paul Casey in a play-off
Here are the 7 players attracting the love on Tuesday night as tee approaches on Thursday.
1. Bubba Watson
Bubba’s form has been more erratic than his personality this year but he’s still managed to trouser the Northern Trust Open in February and returns to a track where he is ‘the man’.
A first Tour win here in 2010 has been followed by form figures of 38-2-4-31-1 where his putting – as well as his tee-box booming – has served him well.
Joins fellow golf Boy Rickie Fowler as well as Matt Kuchar and the irascible Patrick Reed on Team USA in Rio.
2. Branden Grace
A big fancy for the Open Championship, the South African’s late run at Baltusrol left those who went all in on him at Royal Troon with the feeling of dread you get when randomly selected for a cavity search at the airport.
Grace eventually finished T4 behind Jimmy Walker to better his best finish in a Major this season by two places and registered his sixth top 10 finish Stateside this year – from just 14 starts – in the process.
Already a winner of the RBC Heritage post Augusta this term but did miss the cut on his first visit to this track last season.
3. Webb Simpson
The 2012 US Open champ has started to re-emerge form the doldrums of a win-less 2015 and took another step forward when T13 to Walker in New Jersey.
Simpson’s game suffered after the 4am ‘textgate’ business with Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson in 2014 before Europe subsequently handed the States their ass at Gleneagles, and he needs to get winning soon if he wants to make the frame on merit in September.
Despite a missed cut at the US Open, the world number 62 has posted two top 5’s among four top 15’s since June and graced the Top 5 here in 2013 behind eventual winner Kevin Streelman.
This is his first visit since and with the birth of his fourth child in May, a delayed nappy factor can see Simpson register a first Tour victory since the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in 2013.
4. Paul Casey
Had to flash his Player pass at security last year when debuting at TPC River Highlands, but only Bubba Watson denied him the over-sized cheque in a play-off.
Casey dropped off the grid a little after a nice run of form saw him finish T4 at the Masters to compatriot Danny Willett before showing some of his old sparkle to rattle home in T10 in the USPGA Championship last weekend.
Gave any thoughts of qualifying for the Ryder Cup the flick early in the season so has no added pressure ahead of the September showpiece. Still chasing a second US Tour win since the Shell Houston Open in 2009 though.
5. Padraig Harrington
The man with the best Happy Gilmore impression in the business is showing signs of life again similar to when he won the Honda Classic last year to end a seven-year winless drought.
Harrington’s T13 in the USPGA Championship last weekend saw the three-time Major winner bumped up 26 places to 124th in the world rankings. He comes here with a solid piece of pre-re-design course form in the bag when fifth to Bubba Watson in 2010.
Had three weekends on the bounce free before finishing just outside the Top 30 at the Open Championship and another good show here would set him up nicely for before Rio.
6. Daniel Summerhays
Posted his best finish in a Major, like, ever, when three rounds in the 60s saw him finish third to JW last weekend.
Now up to a career high 53 in the world rankings (from 117th at the RBC Heritage in April), Summerhays had already boasted a T8 at the US Open two months ago, in what is turning out to be a break-out season for the 33-year-old Tour maiden.
DS fired five birdies in his last seven holes to rocket up the leaderboard at the weekend and is edging back to the form that proves Top 10 finishes at the Barclays & Deutsche Bank Championship last year were no fluke.
Guaranteed a place at the Masters next season, now could be the time he breaks his Travelers Championship hoodoo on his fifth start and makes the weekend at least after three consecutive missed cuts.
7. Zach Johnson
Last weekend’s T33 was the first time Johnson hadn’t hit the Top 20 in five starts and he’s a frequent fly to River Highlands.
His sixth-place berth last season was his second Top 10 in his 10 visits to Connecticut and the two-time Major winner will be looking for another solid performance to anchor a Ryder Cup spot.
ZJ was bumped down the Ryder Cup rankings at the weekend from a comfortable fourth place to a slightly looking-over- your-shoulder sixth, after the season’s final Major.
With the chasing pack led by JB Holmes, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed all teeing it up at the Travelers, the man in the perma-shades can’t afford to concede too much ground to those rivals this week.