Final four holes determine Travelers outcome


CROMWELL, Conn. – This year’s edition of the Travelers Championship may be complete, but there’s still plenty of work left to be done.

That’s because nearly every interesting, intriguing, entertaining stretch of holes on a PGA Tour venue – and even some that don’t qualify as any of the above – has been lionized with a nickname, a tangible way of distinguishing a tournament’s key holes from the rest of the course.

They range from the iconic (“Amen Corner”) to the literal (“Green Mile”), the traditional (“Hogan’s Alley”) to the kitschy (“Bear Trap”), the alliterative (“Horrible Horseshoe”) to the manufactured (“Snake Pit”).

If there’s one domain that truly warrants such designation, it’s the final four holes at TPC River Highlands, referred to by many competitors as the most exciting finishing stretch all year.

Leishman's early 62 holds up for Travelers win

They include the drivable par-4 15th, a 296-yard gem whose green is bordered by bunkers on the right and water on the left; the par-3 16th, which requires a mid-iron shot at worst into a heavily sloped green; the par-4 17th, a 90-degree bender where water is always in play; and the par-4 18th, a driver-wedge hole that annually plays stingier than it would appear.

Call it a cliché, but each of the four holes can easily be birdied and just as easily lead to double bogey.

In Sunday’s final round, four players in the eventual top-10 played this finishing stretch in under par, two played it in even par and four played it in over par. In fact, from that tensome alone, scores ranged from 2 under to 3 over, making it all the difference in the tournament outcome.

It should come as little surprise that winner Marc Leishman was one of the quartet under par on this fearsome foursome. It should come as even less of a surprise that others endured their demise on these holes.

Charley Hoffman finished double bogey, bogey to parlay a two-shot lead into a one-shot deficit. Tim Clark missed a two-foot par attempt on the penultimate hole. Roland Thatcher needed birdie on the last to force a playoff, but instead made bogey.

“It is a great tournament because of those last four holes, because of all the things that can happen in there,” said Thatcher, who played them bogey-par-birdie-bogey. “No lead is safe coming down the stretch. There's so many difficult holes, and there's some birdie opportunities there, too.”

“I love finishes like this because you can have a four or five-shot swing,” explained Brian Davis, who played them in 1 under to finish T-4. “Whenever you’ve got water, whenever you’ve got drivable par-4s and smelly little holes like 17, anything can happen – and obviously it did today.”

There’s no doubt it’s a great finishing stretch. The only thing wrong with these holes is that, well, they’re continually referred to as “these holes” as opposed to some literal or alliterative or, yes, even kitschy nickname.

And so even though this year’s edition of the Travelers Championship is over, there remains work left to complete.

We need to name the final four holes.

With such close ties to the surrounding community, it only makes sense that the closing quartet represents some local flavor. These holes need some sort of tangible connection to Connecticut.

A few ideas:

“Def-Conn 4.”

“Conn Job.”

“The Travelers Palaver.”

“Cromwell Death Knell.”

Kitschy? Sure. Manufactured? Absolutely. But if every other decent stretch of holes on the PGA Tour is allowed to be called by a specific name, then the determining factor for this tournament deserves similar recognition.

“They're awesome holes because every single one of them are birdie holes,” said Leishman, who played them par-par-birdie-par on Sunday. “Whether you're chipping to 15 or putting, you’ve got 8-iron into 16, 9-iron into 17 and then you hit the wedge into 18. So if you hit good shots, you can make birdies. You could realistically birdie all four of them. If you hit bad shots, like me and Charley both showed, you can double 17 in the blink of an eye. … It's a really good finishing stretch.”

Leishman understands just how volatile these holes can be. On Thursday, he played them in 2 over; on Friday, he was 1 under; on Saturday, he was 2 over; and on Sunday, he was 1 under. That’s a ticker line that reads as less steady than the stock market.

Turns out, he needed every stroke on those holes, claiming his first career PGA Tour title by a one-shot differential over Hoffman and Bubba Watson.

“I've played those four holes pretty bad all week,” Leishman admitted. “I doubled 17 one day.  … So that was a goal of mine to get through there under par.”

There. Them. Those holes.

The only problem with Nos. 15-18 at the Travelers Championship is that they don’t have a proper nickname, like so many stretches at other venues.

That’s why there’s still work left to complete. Hey, there’s only 51 weeks before the next edition of this tournament. Those generic references should be a thing of the past.