Travelers Championship betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Patrick Cantlay
Patrick Cantlay

Golf expert Ben Coley found the winner of last year's Travelers Championship and has five selections as he looks for a repeat - headed by Patrick Cantlay.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Patrick Cantlay at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pts e.w. Brian Harman at 60/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Kevin Streelman at 100/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Brendan Steele at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Russell Henley at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

  • For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, click here

The Travelers Championship is golf's hangover cure, tomato juice and raw eggs for thudding heads. Whether last night was the time of your life or one you'll spend the next few weeks trying to forget, you need something pure, something wholesome, something simple.

Enter Pete Dye's TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, a classical par 70 which is tricky enough to keep 72-hole scoring under wraps, but willing enough to submit in bursts. Most famously, Jim Furyk shot 58 here; seven years ago a youngster named Patrick Cantlay fired a round of 60 while still an amateur; in between the two, Kevin Streelman closed out his final round with seven consecutive birdies to edge out Sergio Garcia and KJ Choi. Yet the last six champions average just short of 14-under, so this is not point and shoot.

Those names tell you quite a lot about the requirements at what is a short, shot-maker's golf course. For several years now, ever since Ken Duke's down-the-lense shock in 2013, winners here have arrived at something like their best from a ball-striking perspective. Russell Knox was among the leading green-finders in the field prior to his 2016 success, Bubba Watson likewise before and Jordan Spieth afterwards, and while the latter's success owed more to his ability to conjure spells, confidence in one's long-game is important.

It's that which gives Spieth hope of a successful defence at 14/1, four points bigger than he opened a year ago. He arrives as the field leader in greens hit at second overall this year, with former Cromwell winners Streelman (3rd), Knox (10th) and Watson (11th) all close behind, but the concern is that for all his gusto, results of late have been poor. Spieth said prior to the US Open that his game is "in the best shape it's been in a long time" but an opening 78 rendered his second-round fightback irrelevant.

By contrast, 12 months ago he felt he ought to have just about won the US Open, finishing instead outside the top 30. Perhaps significantly, this title is the only won he's won having finished outside the top 25 on his latest start, although he did finish second at Colonial last May on the back of two missed cuts. The truth probably lies somewhere between his bullishness and results; he may well be close to a better performance, but he's probably not in the shape required to win.

The same can hardly be said about Brooks Koepka, who was so impressive in becoming the first man since 1989 to land back-to-back renewals of the US Open, but he's easy to leave out of the staking plan. Last year he took a month off after winning at Erin Hills and it's hard to know how ready he'll be at a course which he's scored well enough at without demonstrating that it's perfect for him.

In fact, none of the market leaders appeal to me here. Justin Thomas closed with a round of 62 in 2016 and is a worthy favourite while Rory McIlroy saw enough last year to opt to return, but a technical par 70 just takes the edge off both and it's hard to argue that Jason Day or Patrick Reed are any more suited by the specifics of the layout. Paul Casey on the other hand absolutely is, but 18/1 is short enough.

Instead, Patrick Cantlay gets the headline vote despite being slow as a boat.

As mentioned, he carded a remarkable round of 60 here back in 2011 on his way to 24th place and two disappointing efforts subsequently are easy to forgive. In 2014, his appearance here was just his second following an enforced absence of more than six months, while in 2012 he was making just his fourth start of the year and first as a professional, and he responded well to a slow start with a second-round 67.

Clearly, he's in a much better place now and at 26th for greens in regulation this year, this all-rounder has the right sort of long-game confidence to make a big impression.

Last week, he ranked 12th for greens hit in a solid US Open performance, comparable to that of last year's champion. It's a long time since anybody contended in a US Open before winning here and a mid-pack finish like Cantlay's is probably ideal.

Earlier this month, the Californian finished third in the Memorial Tournament, another classical test in the north-eastern states, and his form at Riviera and Copperhead reads really well as both appear to correlate nicely with this event.

Indeed, the Valspar Championship in particular rates a solid pointer, Streelman having done the double, Casey having won this year's renewal of the former and lost a play-off to Bubba here, and Cantlay was beaten just a shot there in 2017 having pushed Adam Hadwin all the way.

Cantlay spoke of his love for a proper ball-striking examination at Muirfield Village and returning to TPC River Highlands, scene of his first PGA Tour start in 2011, first professional start in 2012 and the low round of his PGA Tour career, gives him the chance to gain what's an inevitable second title at this level.

All of this week's selections feature towards the top of the greens in regulation standings and next up is Brian Harman.

The left-hander currently sits 24th despite his form having dipped in the spring, but he's right back on track now having fired a round of 64 en route to 14th at Fort Worth before a very sound 36th in last week's US Open - remember, Spieth was 35th before winning here.

Harman finished third in this event in 2015, leading into the final round but just overpowered by Watson and Casey, and has long considered the layout to be one which offers him a fine chance to contend.

"I played this tournament as an amateur when I was 16, and I liked it then," he said. "So it's just always suited my eye. I really like the way the tee shots are framed. It's an extremely fair course. It's a good short hole, a good long hole. Just a great golf course."

As one of those close-to-elite players who has to scrap away against a power deficit, Harman has to wait for his best opportunities to win and this is very much one of them.

It's significant that two titles so far have come at the John Deere Classic and Wells Fargo, both on classical golf courses in the summer months, and only once in six visits has he failed to make the weekend here.

Last year, Harman got off to a fast start only to fade, but that's perfectly excusable as he'd been firmly in contention throughout the previous week's US Open. This time, his preparation is decidedly more low-key yet his game appears to be nearing the form which saw him start the season in such spectacular fashion.

At 12th in the US Ryder Cup standings, this former Walker Cup player is firmly in the mix for a place in Paris and he'll know that the coming month is massive when it comes to nailing down a debut in the event. Victory in the Travelers would go a long way towards taking care of business and is well within his reach.

Brian Harman: 7/4 favourite for Sony Open
Brian Harman looks primed for a return to form

I've already mentioned Kevin Streelman and I find the 2014 champion impossible to leave out at three-figure prices.

Streelman has frustrated several times this season, so often striping the ball only to finish on the fringes of contention, with sixth at Pebble Beach his best result of 2018.

As with Harman, the hope is that a return to this course makes the difference as ever since his debut a decade ago, Streelman has shown an affinity to the track, rounds of 62 and 63 back then followed since by four rounds of 64 and an average of 68.44.

That's a very strong return on a decade's worth of golf and while there have been some poor displays, last year's eighth to go with a win, sixth and 10th demonstrates that he's more than capable of mounting a charge.

What I particularly like is that Streelman's putter tends to warm up here - famously, he rode it to a seven-birdie finish when winning the title - and some modest recent efforts aren't particularly concerning. His victory here came after four missed cuts in succession, his previous success in the Valspar having also followed a missed cut, and he is the very definition of a streaky player.

Three times previously, these greens have helped Streelman unearth either his best or second best putting display of the year and if he can manage that again, this fairways-and-greens machine can once again find the low numbers required to go close.

Brendan Steele's scoring average at River Highlands is even better than Streelman's at 68.08 and he too can go well at a price.

Steele is 11th on the PGA Tour for greens in regulation and it's that long-game prowess which has helped produce six top-25 finishes in seven starts at one of the first events on his schedule.

In three of the last four renewals of this tournament, Steele has ranked second for ball-striking and while a poor final round saw him tumble down the leaderboard at the US Open last week, he was still towards the top of the greens hit charts.

Steele has broken par in 22 of his 26 rounds at the course and was particularly pleased to contend and finish fifth in 2014, as it was the first PGA Tour event in which he'd used a short putter following the anchoring ban which halted his momentum.

Two wins in the Safeway Open, a record of first, fourth, eighth and 13th in the Texas Open, four top-sixes in Phoenix and two in France confirm that Steele is a horses-for-courses type, so if he is to win again this season and earn a place in the Ryder Cup conversation, this place is as good as any.

The negative is that he's shot 80-plus in the final round of each of his last two starts, but Sawgrass has largely been a source of frustration and Shinnecock wasn't for everyone. He's better judged on some solid form elsewhere and his best two performances of the season, first at Silverado and third at Scottsdale, have come at those courses he knows and loves.

Finally, while I was tempted to throw a speculative point or two at Canada's Corey Conners, who contended at the Valspar, was eighth two starts ago and hits greens for fun, I'll end with the rock-solid Russell Henley.

I was really taken with the bullishness of Henley's interview after a fine start to last week's US Open and while he faded to 25th, that's another step forward on 29th at the Memorial and adds to a solid major record, which includes 15th at Augusta in the spring.

This three-time PGA Tour winner is 30th in greens hit this season and one visit to the Travelers offers great encouragement, as he led at halfway and sat second through 54 holes two years ago thanks to back-to-back rounds of 65.

A disappointing final round saw him fall to 11th but it was an eye-catching performance and, perhaps significantly, came on the back of 22nd in a major - this time the PGA Championship, the Olympics having forced a change in the schedule.

Henley's win in Houston last year is one of five consecutive top-10 finishes in that event and his earlier victory in the Honda came after he'd finished 13th there on debut, so his previous effort here is a massive positive.

Any improvement in his putting, typically a strength, should see him step up on two solid weeks and get right back in the mix, which is where he's most comfortable.

Posted at 1050 BST on 19/06/18.

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