TRAVELERS: After a thrilling week at Pinehurst that saw Bryson DeChambeau further cement his place as one of golf’s global superstars and Rory McIlroy pile on another heartbreak in a career that is starting to resemble a certain blonde Australian with whom McIlroy exchanged barbs in the not-too-distant past, the PGA Tour picks things up at a familiar venue, TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, for another edition of the Travelers Championship, a tournament that has been a fixture on the schedule for over 70 years.

In fairness, this event has been an afterthought for much of its existence, a post-U.S. Open comedown that most of the big names would skip. That’s not an indictment of the course or the local fan support, which has always been quite strong, it’s more of a reflection of the week-after-major scheduling and the tournament’s formerly average purse. Well, the latter issue has certainly been taken care of now that the Travelers has been made one of the Tour’s Signature Events, a move that has totally changed the complexion of the tournament– instead of a run-of-the-mill Tour event mostly populated by rank-and-file journeymen trying to change their careers, it’s now a limited field no-cut cash grab where some of the biggest names in the sport (emphasis on some, as Bryson so forcefully reminded us last weekend) will divide up $20 million. Whether that’s an improvement is all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

The course, TPC River Highlands, is one of the shortest tracks on Tour, a par-70 measuring just 6,840 yards. That said, it’s not a one-trick pony, as a variety of different styles have won this tournament over the years, from bombers like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson to short and straight types like Chez Reavie and Russell Knox. The greens are small and speedy and can be difficult to hold from the rough, so putting the ball in the fairway will be important this week, but if players are hitting their spots they can really take it low, as Jim Furyk proved with his record-setting 58 here back in 2016. Keegan Bradley posted a tournament record 23-under 257 to get the job done last year, becoming the fifth champion in the past six years to shoot 17-under or better. River Highlands is a straightforward test that features plenty of wedges and short irons– the winner this week will be a player who gets on a roll and rides it, not one who perseveres through tremendous difficulties. This will be a far cry from what we saw last week at Pinehurst.

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, fresh off a disappointing T41 at the U.S. Open but looking for his sixth win in 10 starts, heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 5.4, while 2022 champion Xander Schauffele is currently trading at 10.0 and the back-in-form Collin Morikawa at 14.0. And with a field this loaded there are always tasty-looking options a bit further down the board… this week is no exception in that regard. Here’s what I’m thinking:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Patrick Cantlay (25.0)- Scheffler is the favorite this week because he’s the best player in the world, not because of any affinity for TPC River Highlands– in four career starts at this tournament he’s logged one top-5 but also a MC and a T47. Cantlay, meanwhile, has recorded top-15 finishes at this tournament in each of the past six years, with the best of those performances coming last year, when he tied for 4th. His game looked great at Pinehurst last week, as he battled through difficulties and setbacks to remain in serious contention throughout the weekend before eventually finishing 3rd. He seems primed for a victory on a course he knows and likes, and at a price like 25.0 he’s certainly a more attractive option than some of the other market leaders.

Brian Harman (46.0)- Harman has been consistent if not spectacular this season, making 14 cuts in 16 starts and picking up top-5 finishes at The Sentry and The Players, where he was runner-up. He’s been ramping up the activity in preparation for his Open Championship defense, playing five tournaments in the past six weeks and finishing 33rd or better in all but one, including a T21 at Pinehurst last week. So… he’s been playing solid golf but hasn’t been challenging for victories on Sunday. The good news for him is that now he comes to a place where he challenges for victory nearly every year– Harman is a cash register at TPC River Highlands. Over the past decade he’s posted six top-10s here and three top-5s, including a runner-up last year. Over the last three years he’s finished 2nd, 8th, and 5th at this event, and he hasn’t always entered the week displaying the sort of steady form that we’ve seen out of him lately. He’s a near-lock to contend and a tremendous value at a price like 46.0.

Akshay Bhatia (84.0)- The young Bhatia has made some serious noise over the past few months and is clearly a player on the rise. He broke through with a win at the Valero Texas Open back in April, posting 20-under and outlasting Denny McCarthy in a playoff, and over the last two weeks he’s been in contention at both the Memorial and the U.S. Open before settling for finishes of 22nd and 16th respectively. He’s a tremendous iron player and above-average putter who ranks 13th on Tour in total birdies, so he’s not scared to go low, and with his performance in big-time fields these past two weeks we know that he won’t feel out of his element if he finds himself in contention on Sunday. This will be his first look at TPC River Highlands, but we’ve seen debutantes win this tournament before and Bhatia is more than capable. For my money he’s a must-bet at better than 80/1.


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