W18: Patience, Perspective

By Jason SobelJune 27, 2011, 11:03 am

There’s a problem with the way professional golfers are perceived these days.

In today’s need-it-now society, with the speed limit apparently abolished on the Information Superhighway, there’s little room for patience when debating the wares of the world’s elite.

From the best to worst, the overrated to underrated, the biggest surprise to biggest bust, such declarations are pronounced on a weekly – if not daily – basis.

The problem? Golf isn’t a need-it-now pursuit. It takes an entire career to appropriately analyze the performances of most players. This edition of the Weekly 18 begins with a few recent examples of why patience is a virtue.

1. Patience ... patience

One week ago, Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by eight strokes. It was a victory hailed by many as the beginning of an era, with the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland ready to rule the world.

I compared the win favorably with that of Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters. No, it won’t – nor should it – have the socioeconomic and cross-cultural impact of Woods’ title at Augusta National, but simply from a golf perspective it’s easy to see the similarities. Rory was exactly 10 months older than Tiger when he won his first major and each was only surprising in that they took place so quickly, as both young players were lauded from an early age as possessing the skills necessary to win plenty of ‘em.

Of course, Woods followed that initial win by winning major titles again and again, but what’s often forgotten when we now look back on the early part of his career is that it took him 11 appearances to capture a second. By comparison, Arnold Palmer needed six starts between his first and second major wins; Gary Player needed four; Jack Nicklaus just three.

With those numbers in mind, at what point will McIlroy need to back up his win before the terms “one-hit wonder” and “major bust” start creeping up? Such notions seem impossible one week removed from the U.S. Open, but he could legitimately be 24 or 25, taking just as long to earn a second major victory as Woods, and be saddled with such labels from outside sources.

This idea is even more relevant considering the recent resurgence of Sergio Garcia. Once considered a mortal lock to win many majors, Garcia is now 31 and still without such hardware. Long been called an underachiever, he finished in second place at the BMW International Open this weekend and is already being considered by some as a favorite for the upcoming Open Championship.

This is after hitting a low that had gotten to the point where, when I recently told Golf Channel colleagues I believed Sergio would still win multiple major titles, my words were met with not only laughter, but nearby observers quickly pulling out their wallets in an effort to wager on my proclamation. Now, one T-7 at the U.S. Open and one runner-up finish in Europe later, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy proposition.

Moral of the story? Practice patience.

We’ve been down this road before – and we’re currently seeing it with other players.

Lee Westwood was once a perennial top-10 player, then sank to as low as 266th in the world. He climbed back to become No. 1, which should serve as inspiration for long-struggling Henrik Stenson, a former top-10er who posted his first top-10 of the season this weekend.

Matt Kuchar was a no-doubt-about-it, can’t-miss kid as an amateur. And then … he missed. Kooch won a tournament early on, but later played the Nationwide Tour before regaining his PGA Tour status and becoming the elite player everyone believed he’d be in the first place. Patrick Cantlay, the no-doubt-about-it, can’t-miss kid who contended at the Travelers Championship this week, should keep Kuchar’s plight – and resurgence – in mind when he does turn professional.

If we haven’t learned patience yet, maybe we never will. After all, we’re only two years removed from Tom Watson – 26 years after what was thought to be his “final” major victory – nearly claiming a sixth claret jug at Turnberry.

Rory McIlroy likely won’t have to wait until he’s 59 to win a second major and Sergio Garcia may not have to wait that long for his first, but their stories and others should once again prove that nothing is ever a finality in this game. Even in today’s need-it-now society, early proclamations should be considered premature. 

Three Up

Yani Tseng 

2. Yani Tseng

If you’re seeking parallels between Tseng’s fourth major title at the Wegmans LPGA Championship on Sunday and that of Rory McIlroy at last week’s U.S. Open, you’ll find ‘em in abundance. After all, both are 22 years old and won those tournaments by a million shots.

Look beyond the obvious, though, and you will notice what’s referred to in golf circles as a certain “bouncebackability” displayed by each of them.

At the Masters, McIlroy led by four going into the final round, but was undone by a triple-bogey on the 10th hole and eventually wound up in 15th place.

Meanwhile, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Tseng’s downfall wasn’t as precipitous, but it led to the same result, as she parlayed a two-stroke 54-hole lead into a three-shot loss.

Though with three majors already to her name, Yani may not have needed the lesson as much, but like her young counterpart she learned something about playing with a lead that day and stepped on the gas pedal the next time she climbed atop a major championship leaderboard.

At the Wegmans, she led by one after the first round, two after the second round, five after the third round and won by 10, kicking things into a gear – like Rory – over the weekend that most players are unable to find.

There will be many comparisons made between Tseng and McIlroy over the next few days, but their ability to bounce back after difficult major disappointments and lap the field when it mattered are more poignant than their age and winning margins.

3. Fredrik Jacobson

I wrote the following about Jacobson during his leaderboard climb at last week’s U.S. Open: “If this guy ever starts winning events, he’ll become a fan favorite, because his scrambling talent, outward excitability and irreverent look are both pretty fun to watch.”

Well, he went a long way toward accomplishing all of that by earning his first career PGA Tour title at the Travelers Championship.

Known as “The Junkman” for ability to get up-and-down from everywhere – or perhaps more appropriately, “The Swedish Seve,” as coined by countryman Jesper Parnevik – Jacobson lived up to the moniker with only a single bogey in 72 holes this week.

“Well, I'm just enjoying this moment now,” he said afterward. “I have no idea what tomorrow brings, but this is something I'm enjoying dearly and a very special moment and a special time where a lot of work and a lot of patience has come together.”

At 36, he isn’t going to turn into golf’s Next Big Thing anytime soon, but with a certain flair and now with that initial win under his belt, expect Freddy Yock to earn more acclaim from fans seeking an entertaining player to watch.

4. Sergio Garcia

He’s baaaack!

OK, so maybe it’s premature to say Sergio has returned, or immature – that’s the opposite of premature, right? – to say he ever left.

Though he hasn’t won anywhere in the world for nearly three years, Garcia appears on the verge of a 19th career worldwide title. He contended – well, as much as anyone not named Rory McIlroy – at the U.S. Open, finishing in a share of seventh place and went to a five-hole playoff at the BMW International Open before losing to countryman Pablo Larrazabal.

The finish guaranteed him a spot in next month’s Open Championship – a tourney in which he’s posted six top-10s and missed just one cut over the past decade.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s already talk that Garcia may be amongst the favorites at Royal St. Georges, where he was T-10 back in 2003.

Of course, let’s not overlook the way he lost Sunday’s playoff, three-putting that last green, including a missed putt from 4 feet away. All of which gets him a unique double-dip, also landing on this list…

Three Down

 Sergio Garcia

5. Sergio Garcia

Yes, he finished in second place. Yes, he finally seems back on the right path toward success.

Still, it seems like something is plaguing Garcia on his journey back to the winner’s circle.

At least give him credit for not blaming the “golf gods,” as he did after losing the British Open four years ago. In fact, he was downright humble following the runner-up finish.

“When you look at it, I'm pretty satisfied,” Garcia maintained. “I think that I'm sure that we can learn some good things from this week, and we just can move forward.” 

It shouldn’t go without noting that his final missed putt was from the exact range that has been his bugaboo for years, nor should it be forgotten that he holed a pair of very lengthy eagle putts in regulation. That may be the greatest quandary in Sergio’s game right now, the fact that he looks more comfortable over 40-foot putts than 4-footers.

It should come as no surprise that he ranks 176th on the PGA Tour in putts from 3-to-5 feet and 174th in putts from 5-to-10 feet.

Until he can consistently make those shorties, expect Garcia to consistently keep coming up a few strokes too short.

6. Ian Poulter

The scores were good enough to contend in – if not win – most other events. In his initial foray to the Nutmeg State, though, Poulter’s rounds of 68-68-66-67 left him well off the pace set during the week.

It wasn’t his golf that gets him on the “Three Down” list. It was a clerical error.

Poulter explained in tweet form:

“No mistakes apart from me picking my ball up on the first I forgot it wasn't preferred lie. What a plumb only bogey of the weekend.”

After playing lift, clean and place on the waterlogged course for the first three days, players were playing ‘em down in Sunday’s final round.

Well, all except for Poulter.

7. Anthony Kim

Considering the influx of young talent around the world, it’s noteworthy to examine the plight of this former phenom, whose game has fallen on hard times.

In his last nine starts – dating back to the Masters – Kim has missed five cuts, including this weekend in Hartford, with a best finish of T-54.

What’s been the problem? Well, I’ve joked with Kim that every time I speak with him, he tells me his swing feels “better than ever.” The results aren’t, though.

Just a thought: He’s a player who used to be noted for laid-back practice habits and little warm-up before rounds. He is now working much harder, but the results have been tougher to come by. Perhaps he has still yet to find the happy medium between not working hard enough on his game and working too hard.

It may sound strange, but too much work has been the downfall of many pros over the years who have struggled to find such a balance.

Of course, just because AK is struggling now doesn’t mean it will continue over the long term. As I wrote in the opening section of this column, we need to have a little patience in these matters. He’s too good not to turn things around, even if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel right now.

Three Wishes

Tiger Woods 

8. I wish the conjecture over the severity of Tiger Woods’ injury and his impending short-term future would subside.

Look, I get it. Woods is the most popular – that would be defined as well-known, not necessarily well liked – athlete on the planet. When he eats, sleeps or breathes any differently than in the past, we talk about it. I’m as guilty as anyone.

Now that he’s on the shelf for what seems to be an extended period of time, there are plenty of discussions as to what – if anything – this season has in store for him. We can guess at when he will return to competition, but it’s just that – a guess. Personally, I’d go with either at Firestone, then the PGA Championship or not at all until his own Chevron World Challenge in December.

Like I wrote, though, it’s only a guess. Really, my feeling is that even Tiger himself doesn’t know when or even if he’ll return to play this season. It all depends on how the injuries heal, what the doctors tell him and how his body feels. My hunch is that when he speaks at a news conference prior to the AT&T National on Tuesday, his standard reply to any questions about his return will be: “As soon as possible.”

I’m fine with the educated guessing, because, well, everyone’s entitled to a prediction. What really frustrates me, though, is the seemingly increasing number of people – media, fans, even a few players behind closed doors – who contend Woods “should” do this or “needs” to do that. I wonder how many of them would have – sight unseen – recommended he sit out the U.S. Open three years ago rather than try to give it a go. (He won that one, oh by the way.)

Not to oversimplify all of this rampant analysis, but here’s the deal: He’s sitting out because he’s injured. When he’s healthy enough to play again, he will.

Those are the only “should” and “need” necessary. He should rest up while he’s injured and he needs to return when he’s healthy. Any other conjecture as to how returning soon could affect his career long-term should be left to the guys checking his x-rays.

9. I wish the proclamations of a transformation within the golf world didn’t feel so premature.

Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by eight strokes – a grandiose feat for any golfer, but downright unbelievable for a 22-year-old.

Of course, the victory was met with a healthy measure of confidence that we’ve reached a new stage in the game, with Sports Illustrated’s cover calling this, “Golf’s New Era.”

As I wrote after the tournament, it very well may be. But to make such a statement after McIlroy’s first major title is more than a little overly hasty.

10. I wish every golf fan would get behind this great cause.

It began innocently enough, the entire goal being one guy wanting to play as much golf as possible.

Jim Colton is a member at Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club in Holyoke, Colo. – and one who thinks nothing of playing 54 holes in a single day. Last year, a few caddies from the private club decided to play 100 “just to get under my skin,” he recalls with a laugh.

Not wanting to be outdone, Colton set out to break the course record once again, aiming to play 108 holes – six full rounds – in one day.

There was no other cause nor motive behind the round other than personal enjoyment – until Colton heard about Ben Cox’s story.

A former five-star caddie at Ballyneal who started working there when the club opened in 2006, the 22-year-old Texas Tech student was skiing with his father earlier this year when he attempted a steep jump and fell, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

The story hit the tightly knit Ballyneal community hard – and all of a sudden, Colton’s marathon day of golf had a charitable cause behind it. And so one man’s desire to play a lot of golf turned into “The Ben Cox 108,” used to raise money for Fox and his family.

“I thought I’d email some golf buddies,” Colton says. “I figured if we raised $2,500, that would be great for his family.”

He surpassed that goal by just a little bit.

After the original Monday date was postponed due to a hailstorm, Colton teed it up this past Wednesday, raising more than $75,000 to date for his new friend mostly through word of mouth within golf circles.

“I hadn’t actually met Ben prior to the accident, didn’t have any relationship with him,” Colton explains. “But we’ve struck up a friendship through this whole process. I’m a changed person having gotten to know him and his family.”

That includes a touching moment on Father’s Day, when – with the help of a specialized cart – Cox was able to play two holes at Ballyneal in front of friends both old and new.

“Just seeing those two guys together,” Colton reports, “... there really wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

When he teed it up for “The 108,” Colton not only surpassed his monetary goals, but his golf goals, as well. Starting at 4:47 a.m. and using both a caddie and forecaddie, he completed his first 18 holes in one hour, 27 minutes and had played 108 by 3:30 p.m. Rather than stopping, he just kept going, playing a total of 155 holes that included a 75 and “a bunch of scores in the low-to-mid-80s,” he says.

Colton hopes the money raised will someday help Cox walk again. And he remains humbled by how one man playing a lot of golf can potentially better another man’s life.

“This has been literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me as far as my not-so-illustrious time as an amateur golfer,” he says. “To use my love for the game to make someone’s life better? That’s the ultimate achievement in my life.”

The money is still pouring in, too. Through his connections in the golf world, Colton has arranged for rounds at such places as Pebble Beach, Merion, Olympic Club, Harbour Town, Whistling Straits, Riviera and nearly five dozen other top courses to be raffled off at Ballyneal on July 9.

Those interested in purchasing tickets for the raffle or pledging donations can do so at Colton’s personal website: www.wegoblogger31.com

11. Stat of the Week:

Did you hear the one about the conditions at TPC River Highlands for the Travelers Championship? The course was playing so easy, it looked like a U.S. Open out there!

In all, 33 players posted four rounds in the 60s, which is only slightly less impressive when you consider that the course plays to a par 70.

That group includes rookie Joseph Bramlett, whose rounds of 68-67-69-69 were good enough for … a share of 52nd place. 

12. Stat of the Week II:

There weren’t many big names on the Travelers Championship leaderboard this week. As if the ol’ eyeball test didn’t prove that, just check the numbers.

The final top 12 were an average of No. 223 on the Official World Golf Ranking.

The highest-ranked was Ryan Moore (46th), followed by Brian Davis (95th) as the only other top-100 player.

The lowest-ranked was Michael Thompson, who was mired at 620th before finishing in solo fourth place.

13. Video of the Week

If this video clip looks familiar, it should. That’s because young Rory McIlroy draws comparisons to a young Tiger Woods, appearing on a talk show as a child, flaunting his talents.

14. Video of the Week II

If this video clip also looks familiar, it should. That’s because LET players Sophie Sandolo, Sophie Giquel, Cassandra Kirkland and Jades Schaeffer (aka “The Golf Girls”) draw comparisons to Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson, appearing in a music video for their single “Ah Ah Ah,” flaunting their, uh, talents.

15. Quote of the Week

Patrick Cantlay 

“I'm not thinking about that right now. So I'm going to try and take care of business this week and then see what's going on. But I'm going to stay amateur definitely for the Walker Cup, and my plans are to stay amateur, you know, until I finish college.” – Patrick Cantlay on whether he will soon turn professional.

Funny what a 10-under 60 can do for a kid, isn’t it?

Three weeks ago in this very column, the UCLA rising sophomore told me, “I’ll be there four years and get my degree.”

Following a T-21 as low amateur at the U.S. Open and a T-24 at the Travelers after holding the 36-hole lead, Cantlay may have other ideas.

Here’s my story about his excellent adventure over the past month – and how it will continue this week.

16. From the Inbox

@seak05 Are we in the Yani era? (I vote absolutely yes)

If we’re going to define eras in professional golf, the biggest determining factor is how well certain players fare in major championships. With four such titles at the age of 22 and three-quarters of the Grand Slam completed, Tseng has shown an ability to play her best golf on the most important weeks. That’s what the best players in history have done. And that’s why she’s defined the last few years – after the Annika Era and Lorena Era – as unequivocally, the Yani Era.


@DaveAndrews723 Is 22 the new 30 in pro golf?

Apparently so. In an eight-day span, we just witnessed a pair of 22-year-olds win major championships by a combined 18-stroke differential over the fields. The real question is: Does this mark a pattern or just a coincidence? Well, it’s no random result that one of the game’s best male players and the best female player each claimed major titles, but I think it has more to do with these really good players being that age than that age serving as any sort of prime for a professional golfer.


@jgolf1 If it's called a butter cut, is it called a margarine draw?

This one made me laugh. After posting a final-round 62, Michael Thompson went into the CBS booth and talked about the “butter cut” he was hitting throughout the day. The only thing I can think is that it’s a take-off on Phil Mickelson referring to that type of ball flight as “my bread-and-butter cut,” only without the “bread” and the “and” parts included. I like it, though. But to answer your question, I’m partial to a cream cheese draw – or as I like to call it, “pull-hook with a schmear.”

17. Photos of the Week

The following pics come courtesy of Oliver Wilson, who snapped ‘em prior to what was no doubt a raucous player party in Germany on Friday night.

Hey, when in Rome, right? Although, as Wilson told me, “They think nothing of it, do it every other week! I, however, won’t be joining again.”

Picture No. 1

Picture No. 2

18. Punch Shot

In lieu of a T-21 finish at the U.S. Open and a record-breaking 60 Friday at the Travelers Championship, Patrick Cantlay, 19, may want to reconsider his decision to stay amateur and finish out his four years at UCLA. Cantlay is out of luck – and a check – this week, but Randall Mell and yours truly debate whether amateur players should be allowed to declare professional status after a tournament has already started.

Getty Images

Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

Getty Images

Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

Getty Images

10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

Getty Images

Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”