CROMWELL, Conn. — The 2017 Travelers Championship was the last tournament that Zack Sucher competed in before knee surgery sidelined him for nearly two years.
This year's Travelers Championship, just his fourth event since returning from injury, has heeded some of his best results on the PGA Tour yet. His first-round score of 64 is a career best, as is his two-day score of 129. On top of the leader board after Friday at 11-under, he's put himself in position to finish higher than he ever has on tour, a tie for 20th place back in 2015.
"First year I can remember in a long time where I'm pain-free and it's feeling really good," Sucher said. "It's nice to be out here."
His second-round 65, marked by four birdies, an eagle on the 13th hole, and one bogey on six, gives him a 2-shot lead over Keegan Bradley and Chez Reavie, each tied for second at 9-under. Ryan Moore and Bronson Burgoon are tied for fourth at 8-under, while a host of names including Paul Casey and Jason Day stand within striking distance at 7-under, tied for sixth.
Three-time champion Bubba Watson made a push on the back nine, with birdies on his first five holes, but recorded back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes to drop to 4-under, tied for 26th.
"I just feel a lot better in my game right now," Sucher said. "After being out a year and a half on injury, just this year in general I've felt a whole lot better."
At 3-over through two rounds, and 6-over on Friday, Phil Mickelson missed the 2-under cut in his first start at TPC River Highlands since 2003. Jordan Spieth, who won in 2017, also missed the cut at 2-over.
Mickelson said that with the PGA Tour schedule change, he'd be interested in playing at the Travelers again in the future.
"I didn't really right the ship very well," Mickelson said. "But again, I feel like I've had a couple good breakthroughs and my ball-striking game is much closer than it's been. I want to keep playing now because I feel like it's closer. Today was just not what I expected."
Spieth, who shot 1-under for the day and 2-over overall, noted that if he wants to get back on track, his ball-striking needs to improve.
"I started to drive the ball better last week and this week," Spieth said. "My iron and wedge play is just, it's way below my normal standard, and so that needs to significantly improve."
Bradley finished Thursday at 5-under, and carried that momentum into Friday to post a 4-under score.
"I've been playing well this whole year, I just haven't really put four rounds together," said Bradley, who's had two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season. "What a better place to do it than here in New England?"
His bogey-free round was marked with two birdies, and an eagle on the 15th hole. He fell a little short off the tee, but made up for it on the fairway.
"I was talking to my caddie about how it was wet, (the ball) was going to skid," Bradley said. "It landed a little short of where it normally would, and it went right in the hole."
Reavie matched Bradley's score through two days, with a 5-under first round and a 4-under second. He posted a bogey-free 18 holes on Friday to remain in striking distance heading into the weekend.
"I had to hit everything today," Reavie said. "Some of the holes played shorter that were downwind, but then coming in, 4, 7, 8, those holes played quite a bit longer than they have all week, so I hit longer irons in there. I hit probably the best shot of the day on 7. Hit a 5-iron from 197 to like a foot and a half."
Paul Casey said on Thursday that he has a specific number in his head that he needs to reach in order to be in position to win. A 5-under first round had him on pace. A 2-under second round knocked him off course just a bit, though he still walked off the course tied for sixth at 7-under.
He's tied with Day, whose 63 was the best score of the day, as well as Robert Streb, Collin Morikawa, Brady Schnell, Adam Long and Andrew Putnam.
"I'm maybe a fraction behind schedule," Casey said. "It's alright though. There's meant to be good conditions on the weekend."