CROMWELL — For Jordan Spieth, the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands serves as what he calls, “an exhale.”
After missing the cut in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills this past week, Spieth is looking to rebound and become the first golfer to win back-to-back championships at TPC River Highlands since Phil Mickelson won the then-Canon Greater Hartford Open in 2001 and 2002.
“It feels good to be back,” Spieth said Tuesday. “I was able to play the back nine, and walking up to 18 it was really cool. The last time I walked up that hole was obviously in the playoff. Just this is a golf course that I have pretty much all good memories on. I don't have any bad experiences here.”
And he shouldn’t. A year ago, Spieth became just the fourth player to win the Travelers in his first start, joining Ted Kroll, Sam Snead and Phil Blackmar.
In addition to winning, Spieth’s iconic title-clinching bunker shot on the 18th hole to defeat Daniel Berger in last year’s playoff was named the PGA Tour’s “No. 1 Shot of 2017.”
“The course just seemed to come to me pretty easily,” Spieth said. “I hit the ball really well, but I really liked the shape of the holes.”
TPC River Highlands is quite different from Shinnecock Hills, where Spieth struggled, shooting 9-over and missing his second consecutive cut for the first time since May of last year.
“I knew if I squeaked by the cut line when I saw the scores, I was even more frustrated at my finish, because going out early Saturday and you shoot something under par — say 3-, 4-under — and I would have been in the last couple groups and had a chance to win the U.S. Open,” Spieth said. “That was a bummer for sure.”
Spieth is looking to learn from his tough start at Shinnecock that put him in a hole he was unable to climb out from.
“Thursday was just really difficult. I started 3-over through 2 — 4-over through 2, which I wish I started on the front nine through the first round. I kind of think I'd have a different golf tournament if I were late-early instead of early-late, even though that was the worst draw for me.”
Last year at the Travelers, Spieth had the lowest first-round score of his PGA Tour career when he shot a 7-under 63.
“I've kind of regrouped over the weekend,” Spieth said. “I've thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I've had to do too much from here on. And the only tournaments I shot, I averaged good scores in the first round and I've had a chance to win Sunday, and that's by not trying to do so. Just hit greens and let the flow of the golf course come to you.”
Travelers presents a much different challenge for Spieth than he faced at the U.S. Open. He said that even though guys are going to shoot low scores every day, you have to avoid scoreboard watching and just play the course.
“If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming,” Spieth said. “The last couple weeks I've played Muirfield and then (the U.S. Open), and I hit the ball really poorly and didn't give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work. I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and not try to do too much.”
Spieth will have his work cut out for him in his Travelers defense. He will be up against seven of the top ten players in the FedEx Cup standings.
The Travelers Championship won the PGA’s 2017 “Tournament of the Year” as well as the first ever “Players Choice” award, which played a part in having this year’s star-studded field.
“It's just such a well-run event, and the golf course itself kind of has two nines that take two different shapes to it. That always yields for an exciting finish,” Spieth said.
Spieth is looking to use this tournament to regain some confidence and as a springboard for the Open Championship in Scotland in July.
“I feel like there are good scores coming,” Spieth said. “In order for it to be ready, major championship ready for the Open Championship, I think being in contention this week would be a big key. It's tough to go win a major championship if you're not at least coming off of top 10 finishes in tournaments where you had a chance to win.”
He added: “There are tournaments on the PGA Tour that could be great fits for me and this is one of those. I just regret I hadn't been playing here my entire PGA Tour career.”