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Sports Commentary 3/3/14: 104 Days Until First Tee

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Marc Leishman, 6th hole, Travelers Championship (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Marc Leishman, 6th hole, Travelers Championship (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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104 Days Until First Tee…

Whatever it may look like or feel like outside as you make your way to work this morning, think about this.  In 104 days Travelers Championship week officially opens at the first tee at the TPC River highlands in Cromwell.  Since last Thursday we’ve officially known that it will be the Travelers Championship for at least the next 11 years.  The announcement was accompanied by a lot of golf talk.

On the subject of the current date for the Travelers, the week after the U.S. Open, there was a time when that may not have been considered a prime week on the PGA Tour calendar, particularly depending on the location of the Open.  By offering free jet transportation for Open participants who are playing in Cromwell, Travelers has beefed up the field considerably in recent years and, with about a third of the Tour ranks made up of international players most of those players are likely to stick around for an event or two after the Open, rather than making a quick trip over and dashing back to the European Tour.  There is one scheduling quirk this year that will put a dent in the Travelers field.  The Irish Open is scheduled the same week.  Padraig Harrington will, of course, have to go home for that, as will Rory McIlroy, whom Travelers officials feel they are close to getting a commitment from in the near future.  But one Travelers official says, for now, they’re very happy with their week and, now that they’ve sealed the longest sponsorship commitment on Tour, Travelers should have at least some say on keeping a week if they like it or moving it if they don’t, but the primary flexibility still has to belong to the Tour.

Golf becomes an Olympic sport in two years and it might not seem like a great scheduling coup to get a week in close proximity to a period when many of the top golfers are in Brazil, but, as one Travelers official pointed out, pro sports that are featured in the Olympics always enjoy an Olympic bounce at the gate.

We’re still five weeks from the Masters and Augusta National officials are pretty closed mouthed about the damage to the course from the recent ice storms.  We do know two things.  The Eisenhower tree is gone, and if any one has enough money and power to practically rebuild a golf course in two months it’s Augusta National.  Golf insiders are confident we’ll be treated to the same, stunning, colorful backdrop for which we’ve become annually accustomed for the grandest of the majors.

Who’s ready for the Masters and who’s not is a subject for annual debate, and every year the name that surfaces at the top, though it’s been six years since he won a major, is Tiger Woods, and he is coming off his most substantial year in the last half dozen, but this year is not shaping up well.  He finished way back in the pack at one of his favorite venues, the Dubai Desert Classic, and failed to finish either of his two PGA Tour starts so far, missing the cut at the Farmers and walking off the course yesterday, after 13 holes of the final round of the Honda Classic, five over par for the round at that point, way out of contention and complaining of back spasms, which puts his defense at Doral this week in question.  Anyone who picks Tiger right now to win the Masters is living in the past, as is anyone who picks Phil Mickelson, who failed to make the cut at the Honda as many of the old tee to green bugaboos in his game reared their ugly heads.

Of four young golfers who made the playoff at the Honda the one who seemed to succumb to the pressure the most was McIlroy and suddenly the Masters is wide open.  The countdown to the Travelers is 104 days.  Right around the corner.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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