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Lefties Mickelson, Watson look to add to wins at Travelers

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) Phil Mickelson joked Wednesday that TPC River Highlands is clearly a left-handed golf course.

Mickelson and fellow lefty Bubba Watson have combined to win five times in Connecticut since 2001. That's 28 percent of the tournaments played in Cromwell this century.

The two will be playing in the same Travelers Championship for the first time on Thursday, part of a field that includes 16 of the top 30 golfers in the world rankings.

Mickelson won back to-back in 2001 and 2002, but hasn't played the tournament since 2003. Watson, the defending champion, will be looking for his fourth win here since 2010.

There have been eight other top-10 finishes by left-handers since the tournament moved to TPC River Highlands in 1984. Watson accounts for three of those, tying for sixth in 2008, tying for second in 2012, and finishing fourth in 2013. Brian Harman had a third-place finish in 2015 and was tied for sixth in 2018. Steve Flesch tied for fifth in 2000 and tied for ninth in 2006. And Nick O'Hern finished third in 2007.

The PGA Tour says about 5 percent of the golfers on tour are southpaws. So why are they so successful in Connecticut?

"I don't know why that is," Mickelson said. "Bubba has played some great golf in his career and he hits the ball long and this course rewards that. When you're on, you can make birdies and eagles and that's the way Bubba likes to play. It's the way I've always liked to play."

But, there might be a bit more to it than that.

Ron Scheyd, the head professional at TPC River Highlands, said the course really does set up well for left-handers, especially on the longer holes.

"We have a lot of left-to-right dogleg holes," he said. "For a left-handed golfer, hitting that left-to-right draw shot, the ball is typically going to travel farther. If a right-handed player hits that same shot, from left-to right, the ball usually doesn't go quite as far."

Watson said he's not sure it's a left-handed thing, but he's always felt that the course favors his game. His favorite holes, he said, are actually the ones that go right to left, where he can cut the ball into the pin.

"For me, it's just the perfect blend, where I can hit shots," he said. "There are about four holes that get into my head, tough off the tee. Other than that, it's a pretty generous golf course for me, the way I play golf."

He also joked that the fact Mickelson has won here twice says nothing about left-handers.

"Isn't he right-handed, but he plays left-handed?" Watson said. "He's faking it. He's not left-handed."

As for Mickelson's game in Cromwell, where the 49-year-old hasn't played since 2003:

"It was so long ago when he turned pro," Watson said. "I'm not sure I was born yet."

The two won't be playing together on Thursday. Watson tees off in a featured group with top-ranked Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA Championship last month, and Tony Finau. Mickelson will be playing with two other former Travelers champions, Marc Leishman (2012) and Jordan Spieth (2017).

Updated June 19, 2019

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