Adam Svensson
Adam Svensson

Ben Coley's golf betting tips: Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches preview and best bets

Ben Coley has had a 300/1 winner plus play-off losers at 125/1 and 175/1 in the event now known as the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches. Get his selections.

Golf betting tips: Cognizant Classic

2pts e.w. Daniel Berger at 40/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

2pts e.w. Adam Svensson at 50/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Brendon Todd at 80/1 (William Hill, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Brandon Wu at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Ben Silverman at 200/1 (Sky Bet, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. Nico Echavarria at 350/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. Max Greyserman at 400/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches, they say. Honda Classic at PGA National, we say. Whatever the event is called, it marks the arrival of the PGA Tour in Florida, having stopped off in Mexico en route from the west coast. Conditions are key in this sport, and there are many who will benefit enormously from a return to bermuda grass and eastern time.

Last year's renewal serves as an ideal demonstration. Eric Cole, a PGA Tour rookie who had been chipping away nicely without making a real impact, very nearly won at a course he knew so well from his (seemingly ongoing) mini tour days. He was beaten by Chris Kirk, a Georgia boy who elected to skip a far more prestigious event in Los Angeles because he felt this one presented a better opportunity.

It also reminds us what this course is all about. Neither Kirk nor Cole are powerhouses, each more reliant on what they do after the tee shot. PGA National won't be overpowered, not least because it removes driver from a player's hands often enough. Instead the key is to avoid disaster, largely with approach shots which, at holes 15 and 17 in particular, can meet the harshest form of punishment.

Winning scores are kept in check thanks to the famed Bear Trap and that persistent Florida breeze. In fact to rub just a little more salt into that Cole-shaped wound, his 14-under par total would've won every other renewal since the event moved to PGA National. Unfortunately for him and for us, his failure to get up and down at the par-five 18th meant that while 14-under did still win, it was Kirk's name on the trophy following a play-off.

Scoring will look better this year because the 10th hole, previously a tough par-four, has been lengthened slightly and will play as a par-five. Thought exercise: does this make the course easier or harder? The answer, of course, is harder, and if you got that right you may keep reading.

Keen to keep busy, Rory McIlroy heads the betting on his return from six years away. Champion here in 2012 and runner-up two years later, more recently he's elected to skip it for reasons self-evident: the schedule, the purse, the field strength, perhaps even the nature of the course. The trouble for backers is that part of his cunning Masters plan appears to be to play badly in the run-up, although we should expect him to take another step forward here.

Still, this is the sort of venue at which you have to take him on and, in general, it's a good event in which to roll the dice. When one mishit approach shot can quickly spiral into a double-bogey or even worse, volatility is baked in, and as well as 300/1 winners Russell Henley and Michael Thompson, there have been play-off defeats for Daniel Berger (125/1) and Cole (175/1), plus innumerable surprise contenders.

Along with Sepp Straka and Kirk, this is a bunch of generally weaker drivers whose approach play can be exceptional. The same goes for Shane Lowry, a little unfortunate not to win in 2022, and while we're at it, it's worth noting how often players synonymous with majors have popped up here, testament perhaps to their ability to not hit it where you're not meant to hit it, or at least to remain patient even while swearing.

Many will give Cole the opportunity to make amends and it would make sense were he to do so, but I wouldn't underestimate the size of the mental hurdle he'll have to clear. It's one thing turning up as a rookie knowing you're set to benefit from home comforts; it's quite another to return with high expectations and the knowledge that you probably ought to be the defending champion.

Svensson set for second win

My preference is for ADAM SVENSSON, who plays out of Palm Beach Gardens and knows this course almost as well as Cole does.

Svensson dominated Qualifying School here in 2015, an event played across two courses and concluding at the Champion Course, which he overcame to earn Korn Ferry Tour membership for the first time at the age of 21.

He opened with a round of 64 at the Champion that week and never saw another rival, benefiting from the fact that he was a prolific winner in college nearby and at this course, too, so having remained in the area this is very much a home game even if he is part of the in-form Canadian contingent.

Svensson said back then how eager he was to play in the Olympics so that'll be motivating him again right now along with a home Presidents Cup, and he returns on the back of 10th place at Riviera, his best performance of the season despite a misbehaving putter.

Adam Svensson can make a splash at Twin Cities
Adam Svensson is a strong fancy for this week's event

We'll need some improvement from that club but there's hope to be found in the fact his two positive putting performances so far this year came on bermuda grass, and he putted well enough on all three Florida starts last year, culminating in an excellent effort at Sawgrass.

Here in what was the Honda, he led the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green en route to ninth place two years ago, and in three appearances has always been in the mix at halfway, so he has translated that experience from lower levels to the PGA Tour.

With his sole victory to date having come at the RSM Classic, which features easier layouts but ones that are still exposed and with bermuda greens, Svensson looks a prime candidate to take a step forward now landing back on the east coast, especially as his approach work has never been better.

I'll come back to the likelier winners later but Svensson leads nicely to the search for this year's Cole or indeed Berger, both of whom had won at PGA National just as he has. In fact, Svensson has also played it on the Minor League Golf Tour, which is where we managed to dig out Cole at 175/1.

Silver and Grey at big prices

BEN SILVERMAN, his fellow Canadian, also crops up if you spend enough time scouring their very minor-tour website and he rates a bet at 150/1 and bigger.

Silverman's profile is very similar to that of Cole in that it has a journeyman quality to it but he's back on the PGA Tour after an excellent campaign at Korn Ferry level, which saw him win the first event of the season and go close on several other occasions.

Like Svensson, he went to college in Florida and has loads of experience here, and I like the fact that he was third in the Suncoast Classic nearby, as that event had also been part of the case for Cole. It's a course with a different feel to it in some ways, but in others it's also very Florida.

Silverman does have some experience in the Honda, hitting it well when mid-pack in 2019, and he returns having bagged two top-20s in four starts since the season began, finally getting the putter warmed up in Mexico.

A sloppy finish there cost him plenty having been third entering the final round and eventually settled for 13th, but that was one of just two over-par rounds in 15 so far this year and he's been bang in the mix twice already.

Accurate off the tee and with a dynamite short-game, this looks a potentially good fit and he'll certainly have much more experience of PGA National than was the case for any of his previous starts, while in general he's looked more comfortable on the east coast than he has the west.

The other two players who stood out from those small, often 36-hole events held here down the years were NICO ECHAVARRIA and MAX GREYSERMAN, and both seem worth chancing.

Echavarria hasn't done much since winning in Puerto Rico but he's certainly taken steps forward since November, making six cuts in eight having missed 15 of the previous 17.

Last week he sat ninth at halfway and rallied on Sunday following a poor third round and 24th place is enough of a platform as he returns to his Florida base, especially as it came courtesy of some really solid ball-striking numbers.

As well as that win in Puerto Rico he's been 12th in the Sony Open, another short course vulnerable to wind and where many a Honda Classic winner has gone close, and these do look to be the right conditions for the Colombian.

He'll need more but took his chance well when it came along and we don't need to pay much to find out whether his knowledge of the Champion Course can help him sneak into the top eight or so come Sunday.

Greyserman would've been a selection I really liked but for the fact he withdrew during the second round in Mexico citing a back injury, at a time when making the cut wasn't impossible even if he did have some work to do.

He's another who plays out of Palm Beach and knows this course better than most. In fact, his first ever under-par round, at the age of nine, came here at PGA National.

Cole isn't the only one who has put that sort of thing to use, either, Brett Stegmaier and Justin Hicks others who played to a good level in this event, and Greyserman has been hitting quality approaches so far this season including in the first round last week.

Improvement with the putter for this return to bermuda greens seems possible and while he has to come with a health warning which may understandably dissuade some, I can't leave him out at 400/1. Keep stakes to an absolute minimum is my advice.

Returning to something a little more sensible, I find it difficult to row in with Keith Mitchell again at just a few points bigger than in last week's considerably weaker field and couldn't find reasons to take a positive view of fellow former champion Sungjae Im's form, despite desperately trying to.

His compatriot Tom Kim has the game for the course and looks more solid but I'd worry about a ruinous mistake or two along the way.

I'll instead take on board the risks attached to DANIEL BERGER, who has played only 10 rounds since returning from injury but has shown plenty of promise.

Berger was close to the lead over the first two rounds of the Phoenix Open last time out, hitting his irons particularly well on Friday, and form figures of 39-MC-28 represent an encouraging reintroduction to PGA Tour life.

I'm certain that he'll have been working backwards from Florida and as a precise driver whose iron play and putting on bermuda greens are his strengths, there's absolutely no doubt that PGA National in particular represents an ideal fit.

We've seen that ever since his closing 64 on debut was so cruelly denied by Padraig Harrington when we were on at three-figure prices, when he finished fourth behind Im in 2020, and when he rather blew it in 2022 having led through 54 holes only to shoot a closing 74.

That was after he'd been forced to miss the 2021 edition and having again been sidelined in 2023, he'll be itching to go out and make amends in front of friends and family, at a course where he won as a junior and really ought to have won at least once as a professional, too.

Backing golfers on the comeback trail comes with risks but we were probably on the right side of it with Will Zalatoris when he nearly hit the frame in a weak Farmers field before finishing runner-up at Riviera, and I imagine Berger will draw some encouragement from that.

At his best he's just a step above the likes of Mitchell, Kirk, Stephan Jaeger and so on, and Svensson for that matter, so at 40/1 generally I want to take a chance.

Georgia domination to continue?

Christiaan Bezuidenhout is playing wonderfully well but looks about the right price so I'm going to opt instead for BRENDON TODD, a similar type who has been overlooked somewhat at 100/1 in places and is a bet at 66/1 and upwards.

Those bigger prices are probably because his course record looks poor but two of his three missed cuts came when he was struggling everywhere, and rounds of 66 and 67 in other appearances suggest he can score here.

In fact Todd climbed more than 80 places on the leaderboard through the middle two rounds of his 2009 debut, just his fifth PGA Tour event, and then recovered from a poor start to finish mid-pack a couple of years ago.

The fact that he's played here five times in 15 years could be considered a negative but it also underlines why a glance at his course record can be dangerous and never before has he turned up with his game in the shape it's in now.

Brendon Todd
Brendon Todd

Todd hasn't missed a cut since June last year, and his performances at Riviera and Scottsdale recently represent some of the very best golf he's played at two courses which are never likely to show him in his best light.

One of the most accurate drivers in the field and certainly one of its best putters, this should be much more his thing and he would I'm sure love to follow up wins for Straka and Kirk, two fellow University of Georgia graduates with whom he's spent a lot of time since.

Todd's iron play would have to rate a possible negative having dipped the last twice, but again those courses aren't really for him. I suspect this one is and if he's solid in that department, he should be hanging around close to the lead at least.

Finally, I like BRANDON WU at three-figure prices.

He ranked third in strokes-gained tee-to-green when 14th here last year and went on to putt really well at Sawgrass as he bagged another top-20 finish at The PLAYERS.

Wu had also hit his irons to a high level here in 2022, recovering from a slow start when badly out of sorts with a second-round 66 which set him up for the following week's third place in Puerto Rico.

Second at Pebble Beach, second and third in Mexico and sixth in the Scottish Open, he's produced much of his best golf under exposed, breezy conditions and his Korn Ferry Tour win came at the demanding Victoria National, which actually correlates quite well with this.

Last week's T13 in Mexico comes with the caveat that he's always played that course well, but his iron play has been very good for quite a while now and when his putting does spike, he's very capable of contending on shorter courses such as this one.

He's preferred to PGA National specialist Lee Hodges and the solid Nicolas Lindheim, another adopted local who has a Cole-like record in mini-tour events but not so much at this course. Still, he's another longshot for whom a case can be made and that's very much the Honda – or the Cognizant – in a nutshell.

Posted at 1030 GMT on 27/02/24

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