Birdies were flying all day at TPC River Highlands as the 2022 Travelers Championship got underway Thursday. Leading the charge, both on and off the course, was none other than world No. 2 Rory McIlroy. Signing for a bogey-free 8-under 62, the Northern Irishman has positioned himself atop yet another leaderboard.
Victorious just two weeks ago at the Canadian Open, a "disappointing" top-five finish at the U.S. Open has done nothing to damper the spirits of the 21-time winner on the PGA Tour. Coming into this tournament as the betting favorite, McIlroy's price has shortened considerably from 9-1 to 9/4 at Caesars Sportsbook as he and co-leader J.T. Poston hold a slim one-stroke lead over Xander Schauffele and Martin Laird.
"Anytime you start with a 62, you're going to take it," said McIlroy, whose 62 matched his lowest round of the season. "I feel like the start I got off to was sort of slow in a way. I birdied the two holes on the back nine that you should, 13 and 15, and then made a nice one on 18 to turn in 3-under par. Then once I got going on the front side there, that's when I started to really feel it and started to hole some putts and hit some quality shots ... overall a really good round of golf and a great start."
McIlroy was not the only star to shine in the opening round of the Travelers Championship. Schauffele was terrific from tee to green en route to his 63, and his good friend Patrick Cantlay was sharp in the afternoon with a 64. While they thrived, Jordan Spieth dwindled and finds himself at 5 over with plenty of work to do just to make it to the weekend.
1. Rory McIlroy (-8): The Travelers Championship marks McIlroy's fourth consecutive week of competition as he has not taken a break since the week following the PGA Championship. As such, there were discussions of possible fatigue both leading into the tournament as well as after his opening 62. This isn't anything new for the 33-year-old as he plans to put his full force behind the remaining 54 holes before taking some much deserved time off.
"I didn't hit any golf balls Monday and Tuesday. I flew back down to Florida for a day, spent the night in my own bed, flew back up Tuesday, didn't come to the course, and then [Wednesday] playing the pro-am in the rain wasn't really great preparation, but I feel -- I played well at Brookline," said McIlroy. "I'm not going to lose it in two days. I knew my game was good. I think at this point it's just -- energy levels are OK. I'm feeling a little under the weather, but it's just concentration at this point. I've got three more rounds left until I have a couple of weeks off and prepare for The Open Championship. I'm going to put everything into those three rounds."
T2. Xander Schauffele and Martin Laird (-7)
T5. Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson, Charles Howell III (-6)
T8. Matthew NeSmith and Cameron Davis (-5)
T10. Harris English, Wyndham Clark, Hank Lebioda, William McGirt and Keith Mitchell (-4)
From a statistical standpoint, Schauffele was the most impressive as he ranked second in strokes gained tee to green Thursday. We will get to Schauffele, but I wanted to touch on Simpson, who is slowly but surely rounding into some form. After carding the round of the day in the third round of the PGA Championship, the 36-year-old went on to finish in a tie for 20th and then collected a top-30 result the following week at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Signing for a bogey-free 64, Simpson is well-positioned to contend for his first title on the PGA Tour since the 2020 RBC Heritage. Two years removed from his most recent triumph and ascending as high as fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings, the now-world No. 60 has a fantastic opportunity to get back to his winning ways.
"Yeah, it was a great start. ... It was a fun day," said Simpson. "No bogeys. I can't remember the last time I had a bogey-free round, so it feels nice. Tried to make bogey on the last but got up-and-down. But you know, it wasn't easy. The wind was swirling. It's picking up a little bit right now. So, I feel great, solid all around I would say."
Xander hits all 18 greens in regulation
It was an excellent day for the five-time PGA Tour winner and current Olympic gold medalist. Hitting 18 of 18 greens in regulation, Schauffele eventually signed for a 63, one back of the leaders. In what may be the most shocking statistic on the PGA Tour, Schauffele has not won a full-field individual stroke-play event since his very first back in 2017 at the Greenbrier Classic and will hope to change that over the course of the next three days.
"I've done it in practice back at home, but it's a totally different thing, obviously, with the wind kind of being a lot of crosswinds," said Schauffele of hitting every green in regulation. "Sometimes, it's OK. I think 9 is a good example, if you go just over the green on the right it's not that hard of a putt, so there's spots out here where it's OK to miss the green and be on the fringe."
Travelers Championship odds, picks
Here is a look at the updated odds after 18 holes of play, via Caesars Sportsbook.
- Rory McIlroy: 9/4
- Patrick Cantlay: 5-1
- Xander Schauffele: 5-1
- Webb Simpson: 14-1
- Scottie Scheffler: 16-1
- J.T. Poston: 16-1
- Keith Mitchell: 22-1
- Martin Laird: 28-1
- Charles Howell III: 35-1
- Seamus Power 35-1
- Cam Davis: 40-1
The pricing at the top of the market is fairly aggressive but should come as no surprise given the name value. The presence of McIlroy, Cantlay, Schauffele and Scheffler may be daunting, but it does provide a solid opportunity to load up on players down the board. Harris English (-4) at 80-1 is of considerable interest as the defending champion made his return to competition a couple weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament after undergoing hip surgery in the winter.
He missed the cut at Jack's place but was present over the weekend at the U.S. Open and even ranked inside the top 15 in strokes gained approach in the middle two rounds. From a strokes gained perspective, the ball-striking was not all too impressive on Thursday, but the elementary data was strong as he peppered fairways and greens in regulation. It may still be a touch too early for English, but I'd rather be early to the party than miss the cake entirely.
Rick Gehman and Patrick McDonald recap Thursday's action at the Travelers Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.