Viktor Hovland
Viktor Hovland

Ben Coley's golf betting tips: Travelers Championship preview and best bets

Ben Coley is giving Viktor Hovland another chance after his second-round fightback in the US Open, as he previews the Travelers.

Golf betting tips: Travelers Championship

3pts e.w. Viktor Hovland at 20/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

3pts e.w. Patrick Cantlay at 20/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1.5pts e.w. Jordan Spieth at 50/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Denny McCarthy at 70/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Rory McIlroy withdrew from the Travelers Championship on Monday night, a decision surely nobody could argue with even in the age of the contrarian, and it's high time the PGA Tour made a similarly straightforward decision. Hosting 'Signature Events' the week before or the week after a major, an idea which the top players certainly helped create, increasingly looks like a bad one. Nobody needs this.

The thing is, the RBC Heritage and the Travelers were both fantastic tournaments anyway. Both did their own thing, they did it on courses so very different to the ones played a week earlier, and they benefited from players who wanted to be there. Scottie Scheffler happening to win the former doesn't change the fact that he should never have been made to play, and the same will be true if he happens to win again this week.

Last year, Matt Fitzpatrick won at Harbour Town, where he'd visited as a child and was always going to return. And then Keegan Bradley won here, having grown up as a New Englander desperate to get his hands on this particular trophy. "This has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid... it’s very rare that you get to live out your dreams," he said, and he meant it. More of that, less forced fun, please.

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Following McIlroy's withdrawal, Scheffler is about the same price as he was to win the US Open, which in many ways is also quite silly. Not only is this course less volatile, less of a threat, but he has far fewer opponents to beat. Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith and the handful of LIV golfers of the required class are absent, so it goes without saying this is a good deal easier even if you subscribe to the view that majors scare some players out of it.

Still, 7/2 around a short golf course when he's likely fatigued isn't my idea of fun and while I was impressed with the way Xander Schauffele fought for his top-10 finish at Pinehurst, taking 7/1 about him remains something to either think long and hard about, or dismiss very quickly. He too might suffer a letdown at some stage after an enormous five weeks.

River Highlands is in fact the shortest course played all year on the PGA Tour and while this tournament hasn't always been a shootout, it's pretty common for players to threaten to break 60. It was here that Jim Furyk in fact broke 59, shooting the lowest round in PGA Tour history, and there's a strong sense of risk versus reward at a more understated Pete Dye design.

Accuracy trumps power and you'll see that not just through Furyk but the likes of Russell Knox and Chez Reavie, yet Bubba Watson used to love it here and Dustin Johnson won having outclassed Brendon Todd in 2020. That's kind of the beauty of the course and was the beauty of the event: a full field would've all but guaranteed an eclectic leaderboard including some surprise contenders.

As it is we've the best of the best on the PGA Tour minus McIlroy and among them, VIKTOR HOVLAND rates the standout bet.

Siding with him last week proved a mistake as he was unable to do what Martin Kaymer had done, what DeChambeau went on to do, and overcome a poor short-game.

Hovland was beaten pretty quickly but he played fantastically in round two and once the numbers had been added up, it was very clear what had gone wrong: he was among the worst players in the field when missing greens, which undid a lot of good work.

Around here that might not matter so much and he'll surely feel a lot more comfortable chipping and pitching from longer grass. What we know for certain is that the course is a good one for him, as he led the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green in 2020, was the best driver on his pro debut in 2019, and excelled again off the tee last year.

Poor putting on all three visits has held him back but Hovland is generally comfortable on bentgrass/poa annua greens and has a strong record in parts of the US where you'll find similar ones.

As for courses which play similarly, among the top 10 comparable ones in the eyes of DataGolf, he's played nine, and they include wins at Muirfield Village and East Lake, second at The Concession, third at Copperhead, third at Sawgrass and fourth at Sedgefield.

The other three he's visited only once each and never finished outside the top 20 and while I've reservations about some of those courses being used as form guides, Sedgefield, East Lake, Sawgrass and Copperhead certainly make sense. He's won or threatened to win at all of those.

With his second round at Pinehurst enough to suggest that his work now back with coach Joe Mayo is paying off, I can't get away from Hovland at 20/1. He's said this is a great course and one where he feels he has a clear strategy and with no guesswork required this time, he can repay us for last week's mistake.

Can't get away from Cantlay

Ludvig Aberg was very good here last year and has come a heck of a long way since. He's shown a liking for classical courses and 14/1 earned a second glance, but I've wound up returning to a more obvious selection in PATRICK CANTLAY.

Ever since shooting 60 here as an amateur, Cantlay has had a particular fondness for River Highlands. He plays Dye courses well in general, actually, and I'd say that even goes for Sawgrass where his record suggests otherwise. Unfortunately he's just never putted well there in Florida.

Born and raised in California, Cantlay is more at home on greens like these and course form figures of 15-15-11-13-13-4 since he returned from injury speak for themselves. Two years ago, when 13th, he hit the front on the final day and traded as favourite; last year he was the best player in the field from tee-to-green.

It's not a given that last week's third place will prove a positive because some players suffer major hangovers, but for Cantlay it should. Firstly, he'd missed the cut a week earlier and hadn't played since the PGA, so his schedule has been light. Secondly, it was his best major performance, yet he never looked like or had a significant chance to win.

That means he should hopefully see it as a turning point in a disappointing season which has nevertheless seen him finish fourth and third in arguably his two favourite events to this point, the Genesis Invitational and, right after the Masters, the RBC Heritage. The latter is played on a Dye-designed course and both are places he'd contended before.

Returning then to River Highlands, which we know he loves, perhaps he can emulate Reavie, who won this after he'd been third in the US Open. That was in 2019 and I think we can draw encouragement from Cantlay's performances during the same period, as he followed ninth in the Masters with third at Harbour Town, then third in the PGA with victory at Muirfield Village.

In 2022 he was second after finishing eighth in the Open and last year he managed top-five finishes in three of his four post-major starts, so while some followed a short break, we know via his exploits here and in South Carolina that he can go again regardless.

Cantlay is just about as obvious as they come but this is a player whose wins all fall under that description and his chance is excellent.

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Russell Henley is less than half the price he was last week and represents one of the biggest movers in effect but it's probably justified, though I don't see any value left in 28/1 generally. Brian Harman would appeal more at 40s given his superior record at this golf course (five top-10s in his last six visits) and he's been ticking over nicely of late.

But I'm afraid I have to share with you that I'm genuinely excited by JORDAN SPIETH's prospects at 50/1.

At first, I was inclined to dismiss last week's statistics on the basis that it was a uniquely volatile test which doesn't compare with anything we've seen all year on the PGA Tour.

But when you look at them, it's striking how logical they are. Best driver? McIlroy, with Aberg second, Min Woo Lee third, Bryson fourth. Best irons? Tony Finau, who ranked fourth for the season entering the week. Second was Schauffele, who ranked sixth, and Scheffler was fourth.

In other words the best drivers still drove it the best and the best iron players still hit the best irons and therefore seeing Spieth produce his best tee-to-green performance in a year does seem to carry weight.

Perhaps more significantly, his approach play, good enough to rank fourth, was his best since he finished second in the Heritage last April. That's always been Spieth's strength and, maddeningly for him, it has been poor all year, just as his driving hits something like career-best levels.

Spieth is currently 11th in strokes-gained off-the-tee and that was probably the single most under-appreciated part of his game when he won two majors in succession in 2015, then a third in 2017.

Speaking of 2017, there are definite parallels here. Back then, I put him up for the Travelers at 10/1 after he'd left the US Open feeling like he could've won it, despite finishing mid-pack. He went on to win this and then, a few weeks later, the Open Championship, capitalising on everything coming together in the way we know he can.

Seven years on I won't for a second argue he's the same player, but if he does build on last week's ball-striking performance, he's certainly much more likely to win this tournament than the odds say he is.

Returning to those courses mentioned in the case for Hovland, Spieth has been first at Copperhead, first at Deere Run, first at East Lake, second at Sedgefield, third at Muirfield Village, fourth at Sawgrass and 18th at the Summit, never having played the rest, while he has Dye form of first at Harbour Town and second at Kiawah Island.

Much of this is of course dated, but Spieth is no lost cause and, if last week is anything to go by, he could be one to keep close this summer. Certainly, I can't resist him at 50/1 in a limited field, at a course where he's a past champion, where circumstances are very similar to 2017.

Finally, while I was happy enough to stick to three I do want to find room for DENNY MCCARTHY.

He opened with a round of 60 here last year on his way to seventh place and while powered of course by the best putter on the PGA Tour, he did also rank 21st off the tee and 18th with his approaches.

McCarthy was at the top of his game at the time but I don't think he's far away now, either, and his long-game was impressive during the middle rounds of the US Open, before a disappointing Sunday which at least saw his putter warm up again.

After a slow start to 2024 having admitted that his focus was elsewhere, McCarthy sprang to life when second on the eve of the Masters and perhaps he can produce a similarly opportunistic display here.

One of the best maidens on the PGA Tour, he'd be a worthy winner and if anyone can follow Bradley's lead and win this with the putter, it might be him.

Posted at 1100 BST on 18/06/24

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