- Kevin Maguire, Golf
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CROMWELL, Conn. -- Amid sweltering heat that saw temperatures reach nearly 100 degrees, the hottest pairing in the opening round of the Travelers Championship did not disappoint.
The 12:55 p.m. starting time Thursday included the past three major winners -- Webb Simpson (U.S. Open), Bubba Watson (Masters) and Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship). All three got early birdies on their scorecards and finished their rounds under par with Watson and Simpson tied for fifth at 4 under. Bradley carded a 2-under-par 68 and stood T-25.
"I missed the last two cuts, so any time you get to start out hot, [that] gets you focused on golf again, and I did," said Watson, who trailed 18-hole leader David Mathis by two shots. "I made two solid birdies the first two holes and I just played solid all day."
Simpson, just four days removed from his one-shot triumph at the Olympic Club, admitted that playing with two other recent major winners made things go more smoothly in his first round of competitive golf as the U.S. Open champion.
"It took a lot of pressure off me because I'm not the only stand-out guy in the group, obviously," said Simpson, who discussed the challenges of winning a major with his playing partners. "Keegan winning a major and Bubba winning the Masters, so I think it did relieve a little stress."
Marquee pairings don't always pan out with fireworks on the leaderboard, as was the case last week at the U.S. Open when Watson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played the first two rounds together. Watson missed the cut at Olympic for a second straight tournament, while Mickelson was a non-factor and Woods fell back to the middle of the pack after leading through 36 holes.
Thursday's threesome, though, brought a few raucous cheers to the TPC River Highlands course.
The highlight came from Watson on the par-4 10th hole when he holed a sand wedge from the rough for an eagle. That got the 2010 Travelers Championship winner to 5 under but he couldn't go any lower, playing his final eight holes at 1 over.
The key to Watson's first sub-70 score since Round 3 of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April? His putter.
"I didn't make any putts the last couple weeks that I missed cuts," Watson said. "[I] made some key putts today to keep the momentum going."
The most crucial stroke on the greens might have been a 7-footer for par on the 13th hole. After his drive on the par-5 found the pond that buttresses the right side of the fairway, Watson had to take a penalty drop all the way back near the tee box. A solid third shot and then an approach to the green that had laser-like accuracy kept his round from spiraling downward.
While Watson's putter was nearly overheating, Bradley's was not. He saw plenty of opportunities to climb the leaderboard but struggled with his flatstick. The Vermont native, who considers the Travelers Championship a pseudo-home tourney, amassed 31 putts, including a 3-putt par on the 13th hole.
Combined, the threesome made 12 birdies and an eagle along with four bogeys.
How hot was it Thursday in southern New England? Caddies were given the option of not wearing their bibs due to the heat and all three in the Simpson-Watson-Bradley pairing availed themselves of the opportunity to wear one less layer of clothing.
With the past three major winners pulling in the largest galleries on the course, they gave the fans exactly what they came to see.
Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be contacted at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.
9hZach Jones, ESPN Stats & Information