Friday's golf: Bubba Watson overcomes snapped driver at Travelers

Associated Press

We pause now to fondly remember Bubba Watson’s neon pink driver, which broke apart mid-swing on the second tee in the Travelers Championship on Friday.

And, if the three-time Travelers winner is going to have luck like this over the weekend, please spare a thought for the rest of the field at the TPC River Highlands, too.

Bubba Watson watches his shot off the 15th tee during the second round of the Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC River Highlands, Friday, June 25, 2021, in Cromwell, Conn.

Watson recovered after snapping his driver to make birdie at No. 2 on his way to a second straight 66 that left him at 8 under, one stroke behind 36-hole leader Jason Day.

“It was a perfect tee shot right down the middle. Chipped it in there and made the putt for birdie,” Watson said wryly. “Ho-hum.”

Day shot 62 for the day's low score and a chance at his first top three finish in more than three years. The former world No. 1 missed three straight cuts before he tied for 44th at the PGA Championship, then withdrew from the Memorial with a back injury and did not qualify for the U.S. Open.

Day seemed to fidget with his back on the course Friday, but still had eight birdies in a bogey-free round.

“Sometimes when you do have sort of an injury or stiffness, even if you’re sick, sometimes you can come out and play some good golf,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to not really get in my own way today.”

First-round co-leader Kramer Hickok was at 10 under before flying the green on the par-3 16th hole and then three-putting from 18 feet for a double bogey; he finished with a 69 to tie Watson for second.

Justin Rose and Kevin Kisner each shot 63 and were among seven player tied for fourth at minus-7. Satoshi Kodaira, who was 7 under after the first round, shot a 2-over 72 in the second.

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A total of 79 players made the cut at minus-2 on the 6,841-yard, par-70 course outside of Hartford. Just squeaking in on the number: defending champion Dustin Johnson and two-time winner Phil Mickelson.

Watson, who won the tournament in 2010, ’15 and ’18, started at No. 10 on Friday morning and was 1 under for the day when he arrived at the par-4, 350-yard second hole.

That’s when his driver fell apart — but he didn’t.

After making contact with the ball, Watson’s clubhead came hurtling off the shaft, landing short of the gallery to the right and leaving him with a broken shaft in his hands.

“Luckily ... it didn't reach the crowd so nobody got hurt," he said. “Nobody in my group knew were the ball was. Once you hit, you’re focused on where the driver head goes."

Despite a fairly pronounced fade, the ball landed in the fairway, about 50 yards from the pin. Watson pitched to 11 feet and holed the putt.

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Watson said it might have been the travel, going from hot to cold, or overuse that caused the club to break right above the hosel where the shaft connects to the head. His caddie, Ted Scott, tried to pry out the remnant of the shaft so the head could be reused; Watson had a spare driver in his car trunk in case of just such an emergency.

Rule 4.1 allows Watson to replace the club. After hitting a 3-wood on the 437-yard, par-4 third, he had his backup in time for the 479-yard, par-4 fourth.

“It’s one of those things that happened before and I always have a backup. They brought me the backup two holes later and I played with that the rest of the day," he said. "I knew there was only a couple drivers left, so really wasn’t too big a deal.”

Watson added birdies on the fifth and sixth holes before holing a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 7 to take the lead at 9 under. He gave that shot back with a missed 3-footer on the final hole.

“I was trying to get some extra ones if I could," he said. “Just one of those things that went the wrong way.”

Bryson DeChambeau shot 66 on Friday and was at minus-5, one shot better than social media nemesis Brooks Koeplka, who had a 67 in the second round. Koepka's brother, Chase, a minor league tour regular who qualified for the tournament last year but withdrew because of COVID-19 protocols, shot 73 and missed the cut at 3 over.

LPGA

Nelly Korda realized there were low scores available Friday at Atlanta Athletic Club. For the longest time, she couldn't find them in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

And then the birdies came in bushels, one after another, six straight to close her second round that put her in the record book with a 9-under 63 and gave her a one-shot lead over Lizette Salas going into the weekend.

“Golf is easy when you have days like this,” Korda said. “But it's not always like this.”

It sure seems that way of late. Korda shot 62 in the third round last week on her way to winning the Meijer LPGA Classic, making the 22-year-old American the first multiple winner on the LPGA Tour this year.

This round might have been even better.

Over her final six holes on the front nine, Korda made birdie on both par 3s guarded in front by water. She had eagle putts on consecutive holes — one of them on the par-4 sixth, with the tee moved up to make it play 229 yards — and narrowly missed them both.

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On the hardest hole on the course, she had to deal with a tree root in front of her ball to get to the green and then made a 45-foot birdie putt. Korda closed out her round with a pitching wedge into 8 feet.

“I guess I just blacked out, a little like last week,” Korda said.

She was at 11-under 133, one shot ahead of Salas, who hit all 18 greens in regulation, shot another 67 and has yet to make a bogey through 36 holes.

Korda tied the championship record, last set a year ago when Sei Young Kim closed with a 63 to win at Aronimink. She had the third round of 63 at Atlanta Athletic Club in a major, joining Steve Stricker in 2011 and Mark O'Meara in 2001 at the PGA Championship.

And Korda still has work left in front of her if she wants to win her first major.

Salas didn't come close to a mistake with her steady diet of fairways and greens. That was her plan coming in, and the 31-year-old American has executed it brilliantly.

“I’m definitely satisfied,” Salas said. “We came in with some goals, and we’re reaching them. I think overall my attitude has been pretty solid. It’s a major. It’s supposed to be tough. It’s supposed to test you in several different ways, and I think I’m handling it quite well. And back-to-back 67s, I’m not going to complain.”

Celine Boutier of France drove the sixth green to 8 feet for an eagle on her way to a 64 that left her four shots back at 7-under 137 with Cydney Clanton (67) and Alena Sharp (68).

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Still lurking was seven-time major champion Inbee Park, rounding into form as she goes for another gold in the Olympics, who holed a chip for eagle and shot 68. She was six behind.

Korda, with five LPGA Tour victories, has never won back-to-back and spoke about how draining it was earlier in the year after she won at Lake Nona.

Having spectators on the Highlands course has helped, and she gave them plenty to cheer with her 10 birdies, which followed her lone bogey at the start of her round at No. 10.

“I definitely saw some low ones,” Korda said of the morning scores. “On my front nine I was like, ‘Where is everyone making birdies?’”

She found them, including two reachable par 5s and the drivable par 4.

Korda's big finish began with a 7-iron to 20 feet. She followed that we a 7-wood onto the green at the par-5 fifth — her caddie told her not to go at the pin, but she couldn't resist — and then the 7-wood to the green at the reachable sixth and her best shot of the day, a 5-iron to 5 feet on the par-3 seventh.

The surprise was the big putt on No. 8, and the final birdie was the ideal way to close out a round like that one.

Korda isn't one to linger on the previous week, even if it resulted in a trophy.

“When you win, it’s hard,” she said. "I’ve never won towards the end of my stretch, I’ve always won kind of like at the beginning. It doesn’t even kind of soak in that I’ve won. In a sense you kind of don’t even get to enjoy it because I won and then, ‘Hey, it’s a major championship, like get ready.’

“They’re two completely different golf courses and two different strategies. It’s just good golf that I’ve been playing, and hopefully I can continue on with that.”

Maria Fassi lost two strokes to a penalty for slow play, turning a birdie into a bogey on the 18th as she made the turn. The former NCAA champion from Mexico had a 77 and she missed the cut by one shot.

Champions

Steve Stricker increased his lead to five strokes in the Senior Players Championship, following an opening 7-under 63 with a 68 at breezy Firestone in Akron, Ohio.

The 54-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain had a 9-under 131 total on the difficult South Course, playing bogey-free for the first two rounds.

The tournament is the third of the five majors on the PGA Tour Champions schedule. Stricker has six senior victories — two of them major championships — after winning 12 times on the PGA Tour.

Paul Broadhurst was second at 4 under after a 69. The 55-year-old Englishman has five Champions wins — two of them majors — after winning six times on the European Tour.

Marco Dawson (69) and Ken Duke (71) were 2 under.

Defending champion Jerry Kelly (70) was 1 under with Jim Furyk (68), Ernie Els (67), Jose María Olazabal (69), Paul Goydos (69) and Kevin Sutherland (69). Kelly is coming off a victory two weeks ago in the American Family Insurance Championship in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Europe

Niall Kearney took a two-shot lead after the second round of the BMW International Open in Munich.

Kearney shot a 4-under-par 68 to finish the day on 11 under as he chases what would be his first European Tour title.

Viktor Hovland, Bernd Wiesberger, Masahiro Kawamura, Adrien Saddier and Jorge Campill share second place on 9 under, with U.S. Open runner-up Louis Oosthuizen and two-time major winner Martin Kaymer part of a group two shots further back.

Sam Horsfield and Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez were the leaders when the first round was completed on Friday morning after play was suspended on Thursday due to the threat of lightning. Garcia Rodriguez finished the second round on 7 under, while Horsfield dropped back to 3 under for the tournament after shooting a 5-over 77.