A phenomenal follow-up to last week’s thrilling U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Club, the Travelers Championship hosted the playoff that would not end. But eventually, it had to, and after eight(!) grueling extra holes, Harris English claimed victory over new fan favorite Kramer Hickok.
The marathon event at TPC River Highlands tied four others, of which only one that happened in the past 38 years, for the longest sudden-death playoff in PGA Tour history that actually had a solo champion. The only longer playoff was the 1949 Motor City Open, where Tour legends Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff agreed to be co-winners when darkness made further play impossible.
English’s fourth career Tour victory came in spite of the physical and emotional toll of contending at last week’s U.S. Open (he finished solo-third), having to fly from San Diego to Cromwell, Connecticut, and having nearly the entire crowd actively rooting against him.
It was the 31-year-old’s second victory of the 2021 season, having also taken January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in a playoff over Joaquin Niemann. His previous two victories had come in the 2013 calendar year.
English earned this victory, make no mistake about that, but while he will head into next year’s tournament as the single defending champion, this tournament truly had no real loser, as the previously-unknown Hickok matched English clutch shot for clutch shot through the entire, exhausting ordeal.
Hickok came into the week at No. 331 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), and fought until the very end, despite never having contended in a PGA Tour event before. The 29-year-old had recorded just two career top 10s, with both coming in opposite-field events outside the United States: a 2019 T10 in the Dominican Republic and a T10 in Bermuda last November. He has yet to have even qualified for a major championship.
With an amazing birdie on the 72nd hole, Hickok was able to force a playoff and succeed in what many in his position fail to do: hold onto a 54-hole co-lead. His stellar Sunday also came in spite of playing in the final pairing with Bubba Watson, a man with two green jackets, who has three victories and a runner-up in this event alone.
Along with Watson, among those within three shots of Hickok’s 54-hole co-lead were a trio of former major winners in world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, 12-time Tour winner Jason Day, and 27-year-old 8-time Tour winner Bryson DeChambeau.
While Hickok did not officially win, his $806,600 check for second place is sixty-one percent of what the University of Texas product had earned in 67 previous starts on Tour. He virtually locked up his Tour card for next season, and gained an enormous amount of fanfare in the process. The ubiquitous screams of “Kramer” in the crowd was incredible for a man only hardcore Tour fans had heard of four days earlier.
It was a life-changing runner-up.
Back to English, he came into the final round in a share of sixth place, two strokes behind Hickok and Watson. He got off to a quick start, with a birdie on the first, and two others on his front nine, allowing him to make the turn at 3-under.
The leaderboard was very crowded on the back nine, but while some of the bigger names faded, English – a University of Georgia product, was among those who stayed composed. Midway through the back nine, the 42-year-old Watson was in the driver’s seat to notch his fourth career Travelers win, holding the solo lead at 13-under with just five holes to go. Watson then inexplicably imploded down the stretch, finishing bogey, bogey, bogey, double-bogey, bogey to fade into a share of 19th.
English, meanwhile, was out front after a birdie on 16, but a subsequent bogey on 17 – a hole he struggled with badly the day prior, tied him with Australia’s Marc Leishman, who held the clubhouse lead at 12-under par.
Then, a 28-foot birdie putt from English on the par-4 18th put the finishing touches (in regulation anyway) on a Sunday 5-under 65, putting him one shot ahead of Leishman. English looked like a good bet to win without extra holes, until Hickok followed up a pristine approach on 18 with a nine-foot birdie putt of his own to force overtime.
Both English and Hickok parred each of the first seven playoff holes. Both looked especially strong on the greens, sinking one pressure-packed putt after another. English survived a badly-plugged lie in a greenside bunker on one hole, in addition to two lipped-out birdie putts from Hickok to stay alive going into the tournament-record eighth playoff hole. He nearly won on the sixth extra hole, but missed a seven-foot birdie putt attempt, seemingly his only missed putt of the day.
The two were noticeably exhausted after seven extra holes, but with shadows getting longer on the 18th hole, the sixth time they played it in overtime alone, English sunk a 16-foot birdie putt to clinch the victory. English gave enormous credit to the fans for keeping him going, despite the fact that they were overwhelmingly rooting for his competitor.
Final Top-10 Leaders
1. Harris English -13 (-5)*
2. Kramer Hickok -13 (-3)
3. Marc Leishman -12 (-6)
4. Abraham Ancer 11 (-5)
5. Kevin Kisner -10 (-7)
5. Brooks Koepka -10 (-5)
5. Hank Lebioda -10 (-4)
5. Brian Harman -10 (-3)
5. Brice Garnett -10 (-2)
10. Beau Hossler -9 (-6)
10. Sepp Straka -9 (-4)
10. Jason Day -9 (E)
13. Guido Migliozzi, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Sam Burns (-8); 19. Bryson DeChambeau, Russell Henley, Bubba Watson (-7); 25. Chez Reavie, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson (-6); 30. Stewart Cink, Maverick McNealy, Brendon Todd, Cameron Smith (-5); 36. Joaquin Niemann, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Satoshi Kodaira (-4); 47. Carlos Ortiz, Scottie Scheffler, Kevin Na (-3); 54. Ryan Moore -2; 61. Phil Mickelson (-1); 66. Aaron Wise (E); 70. Lanto Griffin +1
How Harris English Won The Travelers Championship
It is always difficult to predict how a player will follow up a week in contention at a major, particularly when they have little major contention experience, but English kept his energy going much better than others who had contented at Torrey Pines, particularly U.S. Open 54-hole co-leaders Mackenzie Hughes, who finished 76th this week, and Russell Henley, who stumbled late with back-to-back double bogeys on 15 and 16 to drop from T3 to T19.
Of English’s 18 tournament birdies, 12 of them occurred on the weekend, as he notched six in each of the final two rounds. He had just five bogeys for the week, with three of those in the third round, and nothing worse. The former Georgia Bulldog hit 13 of 14 fairways on Sunday, and was finishing holes as well as he was starting them, gaining 3.3 strokes on the field with his putting. His flat stick continuously kept him alive in the playoffs.
His best stat for the week was his third-place finish in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Harris English’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 297.0 yards (43rd)
Fairways: 75.00% (42/56) (T17)
Greens: 75.00% (54/72) (T19)
Putts/GIR: 1.685 (17th)
SG: Off Tee: 3.681 (9th)
SG: Approach Green: 1.486 (32nd)
SH: Around Green: 2.863 (8th)
SG: Putting: 3.959 (18th)
SG: Tee to Green: 8.029 (3rd)
SG: Total: 11.988 (T1)
What It Means For English
The win adds further relevance to English’s tremendous recent profile. He nearly lost his Tour card after a mediocre 2019 season, but has been among the best on Tour since the start of the 2020 season, with 13 top 10s among 24 top 25s in 41 starts. English has finished T21 or better in four of five major championship starts over the past two seasons, including top-5s in both U.S. Opens played.
English has never played on a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, but that appears on the verge of changing. He now ranks 8th in the Ryder Cup standings, and while there are only six automatic qualifiers for this year’s event, he stands to have an excellent chance of being among the six Captain’s picks of U.S. Captain Steve Stricker. He proved today that he is more than capable of match play proficiency.
Harris English’s 2021 Season
Cuts Made: 17
Wins: 2 (Sentry, Travelers)
Top 10s: 7
Top 25s: 10
Earnings: $5,529,727 (5th)
FedExCup Pts: 1,889 (2nd)
World Rank: 12th (Career High)
Ryder Cup Rank: 8th
Sunday’s field-low final round came courtesy of Kevin Kisner, whose 7-under 63 was his second such score of the week. Kisner parred his first eight holes of the final round, but then exploded with a birdie on 9, and then five more consecutively before adding another on 16. That back-nine was in stark contrast to his Saturday back nine, where he bogeyed five of seven holes (no birdies) from 11-17.
In Friday’s second round, Kisner’s other 63, he birdied 11, 12, and 13, and then eagled the par-4 15th. That 63 was bettered just one player the entire week: by Jason Day, who had a second-round 62.
Kisner rocketed 40 spots up the final leaderboard, from T45 to T5, which came on the heels of an eight-start stretch where he had six missed cuts, a T40, and a T55.
Also finishing T5 for the week after a great Sunday was four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, who will go into a planned vacation off a 5-under 65 that was bogey-free over the final 17 holes. Bryson DeChambeau was among those he passed when he jumped 22 spots up the final leaderboard.
Hickok’s Sunday 3-under 67 was actually not the best round from a Texas Longhorn alum. That honor went to former collegiate star Beau Hossler, who was bogey-free during his 6-under 64, which jumped him from T45 to T10. It was the first top 10 in 24 starts of a very disappointing 2021 season for the 26-year-old, who still finds himself just 150th in the FedExCup standings.
Watson’s close was the most disappointing, and by a considerable margin, but Bubba’s blunders were far from the only poor Sunday outing. Defending champion Dustin Johnson, who just lost his No. 1 world ranking to Jon Rahm at last week’s U.S. Open, looked ready to end his 2021 funk as he sat just three strokes back of the 54-hole lead.
However, DJ went the wrong way on Sunday, shooting a 1-over 71 that dropped him T9 to T25. He also fell apart on Sunday at the U.S. Open when he was on the first page of the leaderboard through three rounds.
Even worse than Johnson was Australia’s highest-ranked player, Cameron Smith, who again, showed a proclivity for not being about to put four rounds together. Heading into the final round, the 27-year-old was just one off the lead, but saw his chances evaporate with a double-bogey on 8 and a triple-bogey on 12. His 4-over 74 dropped him from T3 to T30.
Sunday’s biggest drop, though, came from K.H. Lee – the man who won last month’s AT&T Byron Nelson. Lee was an absolutely abysmal 10-over 80 in the fourth round, the worst in the field, to plummet 67 spots from T6 (just two off the lead) to T73. He looked a far cry from the golfer who eagled two holes in a three-hole stretch on Friday.
“I knew I had to stay in it. I was tired; back was getting sore a little bit, but I knew anything could happen. You just have to grind out there. 17 and 18, both downwind holes, both pretty difficult pins to get close to, and Kramer and I made some great putts. Hats off to him for a good fight. We were both righting. It seemed like every hole we played, one guy had the advantage, and the other ended up making a 6- or 7-footer to keep it going”.
– Harris English, Travelers Championship Winner