2021 Travelers Championship leaderboard: Stars start slow as Kramer Hickok, Satoshi Kodaira share Round 1 lead

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There seemed to be a bit of a U.S. Open-induced fog for most of the stars in the field at the Travelers Championship on Thursday in Round 1. None of the bigger names in the field went super low and most of them — including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka labored toward something around even par just to try and set up a made cut Friday in Round 2.

Satoshi Kodaira and Kramer Hickok co-lead after Round 1 (just like we all predicted), and both had one thing in common throughout their rounds. They putted the lights out. That likely won’t last all week with several horses behind them picking up some steam over the next few days, but let’s take a look at a nice Round 1 for both of them as well as where the stars sit going into Friday.

T1. Satoshi Kodaira (-8): Jim Furyk’s course record of 58 was never truly in jeopardy, but Kodaira ran it to 8 under early and was incredible despite finishing tepidly. And he did it all with basically nothing off the tee at a place where how you play off the tee matters more than most places. This is what happens, though, when you gain five strokes with a putter that won’t stop smoking. Staying power, though? Maybe not at the top spot, but Kodaira has been hot of late with three top-20 finishes in his last three starts.

T1. Kramer Hickok (-7): The former Texas Longhorn is trying to walk in the footsteps of his old roommate, Jordan Spieth, and win the Travelers. Spieth won it back in 2017 right before taking the Open Championship, as well, and while Hickok has a long way to go, he had a mental shift early in the event that could make for contention come Sunday.

“I got off to like the worst warmup session of the year this morning and was just hitting it everywhere, and so I really changed my strategy,” Hickok said. “I was just trying to play a little bit more conservative, hit greens, and once the putts started to fall, I just knew it really freed me up. So felt like I made a lot of good putts today, and the greens says are rolling so good that just the holes look big.”

3. Talor Gooch (-6): The low former Oklahoma State Cowboy and third-lowest on the leaderboard, Gooch putted it worse than anyone else in the top three on this board but he hit his irons wonderfully. Gooch has been on a nice little run. He’s missed just one cut since the Phoenix Open and is up to No. 70 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Of the current top three on this board, I would be the least surprised about him winning Sunday.

T4. Maverick McNealy, Brice Garnett, Beau Hossler, Henrik Norlander, Patrick Rodgers (-5): I watched Rodgers on the range for a while at the U.S. Open last week. He absolutely flushes it. No surprise there given his pedigree, but it’s always startling in person . He finished first in the field on Thursday in strokes gained on approach shots and talked after his round about the importance of remaining patient as he’s put in the work on his swing over the last few years. He has just nine made cuts in 19 starts worldwide so far in 2021, but I think he’s the guy to watch of everyone in this top 10.

T9. Sepp Straka, Kevin Stadler, Zach Johnson, Sam Burns, Bubba Watson (-4): I’m disappointed I didn’t see the Watson thing coming. He played so well last week at Torrey Pines and has been spectacular at TPC River Highlands over the course of his career (fourth in strokes gained over the last 11 years). Watson did the lion’s share of his work Thursday in the ball-striking category, and is unsurprisingly the new favorite to win this weekend (which would be his first since … the 2018 Travelers Championship.

T25. Patrick Cantlay (-2): There’s a reason Cantlay is currently second behind Watson as the favorite to win, according to William Hill Sportsbook. Rick Gehman pointed this out earlier in the week, but Cantlay has three straight top 15s here and three straight top 25s overall. He seems to have rebounded from what plagued him during a bizarre “three missed cuts in four outings” run in the spring, and his name would fit nicely on this list of past champions. He’s probably the most important guy to watch in Round 2.

T45. Bryson DeChambeau (-1): It wasn’t terrible for DeChambeau, but it also wasn’t great. He finished outside the top half in the field in strokes gained off the tee – mostly because of a water ball on the drivable 15th – and anytime that happens for him it’s usually a sign that something has gone very badly. He should make the cut and certainly has the firepower to run any of these guys down from behind, but it was not the start I’m sure he envisioned to exorcise that ghastly 44 on the back nine at Torrey Pines.

T45. Brooks Koepka, Chase Koepka (-1): The low-Koepka race is on. Both of them putted it terribly Thursday, and that’s been a theme for Brooks recently in non-major championship events. Going back to the AT&T Byron Nelson, he’s actually lost strokes putting in his last five non-major rounds across three different tournaments (he did not make the cut at the Nelson or the Palmetto Championship at Congaree). This will be a fun mini-game to follow Friday in Round 2.

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter to break down and react to Thursday’s first round action at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, CT. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.