Cromwell, Conn. — Each member of the marquee threesome in the first two rounds of the Travelers Championship cruised into the weekend at TPC River Highlands. Winners of the last three majors, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and Keegan Bradley played to enthusiastic crowds on Thursday and Friday and all were in the mix after second rounds of 1-under 69, 71, and 68, respectively, at TPC River Highlands.
Defending Travelers champ Fredrik Jacobson, at 9-under, was seeking to become only the second player to repeat in the event (Phil Mickelson did so in 2001-2002). As of late Friday afternoon, he held a slim one-shot lead over Nathan Green and Charley Hoffman. Simpson was four back, at 5-under, Bradley one shot behind Simpson, and Watson was at 3-under heading into Saturday.
Of the big three, Bradley had the hottest second round, with the Florida-like temperatures turning the course into a steam bath and, no doubt, making the New England native living in Jupiter feel right at home.
“It’s a long time since I can remember it being this hot. It was brutal out there, especially toward the end, the wind shut off and it got really humid out there,” Bradley told us after carding an opening-round 68. “This was Florida hot, yeah, this was up there.”
Southerner Webb Simpson was one of many golfers commenting on the weather, which, in the high 80s on Friday, was tempered somewhat from Thursday’s conditions, when the mercury topped out at 98 degrees — the hottest round on the PGA Tour this season.
“It was so hot, I was getting a little tired there at the end,” Simpson, a North Carolina native and resident, told reporters after Friday’s round. “But I’m glad we have the afternoon off and we’ll go back and rest up and maybe go to a movie.”
The venue itself, where Simpson is playing his fifth Travelers tilt, provided comfort for the newly crowned U.S. Open champ, who chose to participate in the event directly after earning his first major at Olympic Club in San Francisco.
“It’s helped being at a place I’m familiar with and getting in the ropes and really refocusing on this week,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest, but it’s been great, fans have been awesome, and had a good couple of days with Keegan and Bubba.”
Several other players with New England ties were in the field as well. Boston’s James Driscoll, who finished fifth at last year’s tilt, was hoping to kick-start his game again after two straight missed cuts. Driscoll carded an opening-round 68 and was 1-under for his second round through two holes on Friday, when lightning in the area halted play at least twice.
After missing the cut in seven of 15 tour starts in 2012, University of Hartford grad Jerry Kelly was also looking to the familiar surroundings for signs of better things to come. He was especially anxious to begin enjoying golf again.
“I’ve always got the desire,” Kelly said to the media Thursday, after carding an opening-round 66. “Sometimes I take it the wrong way and push myself a little over the top. I really wanted to reset myself, and I think the last couple of years I haven’t been that much fun to be around. I haven’t been that much fun to play with. I haven’t enjoyed myself a whole lot.”
Given his self-assessment, Kelly decided it was time to reevaluate his game. Playing near his old Hartford stomping grounds was helpful.
“Missing Augusta and the Open, had the last two weeks off and I had to take serious stock in my game. I had to figure out if I’m going to go one way or the other way,” he said. “And definitely just want to rededicate myself, both mentally and physically. And you know, that’s kind of the way I came out today and this week was to kind of reset the program a little bit and be a little nicer to myself and maybe everybody else.”
Kelly, who now resides in Wisconsin, also mentioned how difficult it was to play in such oppressive heat.
“I was hurting yesterday. That was a tough afternoon,” he said. “So straight to bed and room service and now I can kind of ‑‑ I gotta go into the rock pile a little bit right now. So it’s right back at it.”
At even-par through six holes of his second round, Kelly was maintaining his 4-under standing.
Members of Team New England faring not quite so well were Providence, R.I.‘s Patrick Sheehan (even-par and right on the projected cut line after rounds of 68 and 72); Tim Petrovic of Newington, Conn. (even for the week through nine holes on Friday); Fran Quinn from Northborough, Mass. (trunk-slamming, at 6-over after shooting 72 and 74); and Brad Faxon, on his way back to Barrington, R.I., at 12-over (76, 76).
Fairfield, Conn., native J.J. Henry also hoped for a better start than Thursday’s 73 but complained that he couldn’t buy a birdie.
“I hit 15 of 18 greens, so the ball-striking was there,” Henry said in a press conference following his Thursday round. “I thought the pins were pretty tough today. They were tucked along some ridges and on some slopes, close to one of the runoffs….I just didn’t give myself enough putts, and when I did, it just was kind of 15-footers that are breaking two feet right to left or left to right.
“It was just one of those days where they didn’t want to drop,” said Henry, who had some ground to make up if he hoped to play on Saturday. He was 1-over for the week after nine holes on Friday.
Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminerWHAT'S YOUR REACTION?