Comfort Zone In Cromwell

As always, John Daly is a colorful figure on the golf course as he plays in the Celebrity Pro-Am Wednesday at the TPC. (JOHN WOIKE)

Hunter Mahan says the air is more relaxed at the TPC River Highlands, a welcome respite from the rigors of the U.S. Open last week.

"I love coming here; I feel I can a birdie every hole," the 2007 champion and the tournament's career money leader with $2,294,918 said Wednesday. "I feel it every time I drive in here. Now that's a comfort level."

Mahan, two-time champion Stewart Cink, Ryan Moore, defending champion Kenny Perry and Justin Rose have a history of finishing well in the Travelers Championship.

It won't be a surprise if Sunday's winner comes from that group.

"It's the kind of golf course to where if you can get it going, you can go low," Perry said.

Perry, at age 48, tied the TPC River Highlands tournament record with a 9-under-par 61 in the first round last year. He secured the championship with a closing 63. His 21-year resume in Cromwell includes eight top-10 finishes.

Other candidates to win include Texas Open champion Adam Scott and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, in their Travelers debuts, three-time major winners Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington, and 2006 champion J.J. Henry.

Does past success mean success this week? Not necessarily, but it can help.

Perry says he loves the courses where he has won before, such as Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, where he's a three-time Memorial winner, and Colonial in Forth Worth, Texas, where he twice won the event now known as the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

"I know what to expect," he said of TPC River Highlands. "I know what's coming, and I know how to prepare."

Cink, who won at the TPC in 1997 and 2008, said driving is a priority. "It's the biggest thing for me," he said. "See it, hit it, put it on the green and it flows from there, when things are right."

For Moore, who tied for second in his first Cromwell appearance in 2006 and tied for fourth last year, said the course reminds him of his home state of Washington. "The grasses are just like home," he said. "I just feel in my realm."

Rose, who won the Memorial in his last start, almost won at the TPC in 2005 after opening with a 65-63.

"I finished third," he said, "but I finished one [shot] back. ... I think Brad Faxon came through with a 61."

Faxon won in a playoff over Tjaart van der Walt.

There was flowing confidence and compliments for the course Wednesday from Rose, Moore, Cink, Perry and Mahan.

But they know history alone won't give them the championship. For as easily as birdies can be made at the TPC River Highlands, there are danger spots.

"The fourth hole [481 yards] is the most challenging for me," Moore said. "Dogleg right with a tilting green."

For Cink it's the 462-yard par-4 10th. "Narrow landing area on your drive and real tight, narrow green," he said. "It's a challenge for me."

That's still part of the fun of the chase.

Rose and Mahan call the TPC River Highlands a fun course.

"I've always felt that [way] after the U.S. Open," Rose said. "It's like Hilton Head after the Masters. It's a nice week to come and play and get back to normal, get back to a golf course that you can go out and feel like your game can produce some birdies."

Mahan's favorite birdie hole is the par-5 sixth. "I like it at that point in the round because it's an eagle or birdie hole," he said. "It gives you nice momentum."

The Travelers Championship won't be won with pars. Perry's score last year was a tournament record 258, 22 under par.

"It's very challenging, and yet it doesn't have the effect like a Pebble Beach at U.S. Open conditions that will make you feel claustrophobic; the fairways felt 10 yards wide. … These fairways are narrow. Maybe my shot shape fits good here."