CROMWELL, Conn. — 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 5 under, one shot better than social media nemesis Brooks Koepka, 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.