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Travel first class with Cantlay in the Highlands

THE TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP


Best bets
2.5pts each-way Patrick Cantlay @ 14/1
1pt each-way Keegan Bradley @ 33/1
1pt each-way Arron Rai @ 80/1
1pt each-way Tommy Fleetwood @ 40/1
0.5pts each-way Scott Stallings @ 150/1
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We’re paying SEVEN places at the Travelers Championship!


Matt Fitzpatrick isn’t playing on the PGA Tour this week but it would be churlish before discussing the Travelers Championship not to first reflect on his remarkable US Open triumph and the shot of a lifetime that set up his first Major and, indeed, his first victory in the States at the 96th attempt.

That long-awaited breakthrough after 17 US top-tens by the seven-time European winner has seen Fitzpatrick jump into the world’s top-ten for the first time and into fifth favouritism at 18/1 for next month’s Open Championship at St Andrews with Fitzdares, behind 9/1 Rory McIlroy, 11/1 Jon Rahm, 12/1 Scottie Scheffler and 14/1 Justin Thomas.

The 161-yard recovery out of the fairway bunker to 20ft on the 72nd hole that Jack Nicklaus said was “one of the greatest iron shots under pressure I have ever seen” has guaranteed it Shot of the Year status even though, unlike the one Sandy Lyle magicked from a similar fairway trap in 1988 to become the first Briton to win the Masters, it didn’t lead to the deciding birdie.

But when gutsy Will Zalatoris just missed his own 15ft birdie chance, thankfully it was good enough. To hit 17 out of 18 greens in regulation under last-round pressure on a course that floored so many and to come through without his chief weapon, the putter, firing on all cylinders – he had to use it 35 times on Sunday and missed twice from under five feet – was down to Sheffield steel and British bottle.

But more than that. Add blinkered dedication that put practising before partying, passion for the game, a Nick Faldo-like obsession for perfection. And a cool caddie in Billy Foster who knows the game (and plays a good one himself as I discovered to my cost in one Golf Writers vs Caddies match) and knows what to say and when to say it.

Having talked Fitzpatrick into taking 3-wood off the final tee when his man wanted to go with the driver which had served him so well all day, Foster was mortified to see the ball go into an uncomfortable spot in a fairway bunker. Luckily for Billy’s dream of finally steering home a major champion, there was an escape route, Fitzpatrick found it brilliantly, bravely and unerringly, and the rest is history.

Unlike previous British/Irish winners of the US Open Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell, don’t expect Fitzpatrick to stop at one. Now he’s bulked up from the skinny 18-year-old who won the 2013 US Amateur looking like the “Before” part of those Charles Atlas ads and being outdriven 40 yards by those honed and mature American stars of the future, he no longer has an inferiority complex off the tee. He’ll never be a bomber but at  298-yard average, and counting, he hits it far enough.

The extra 20 yards he’s gained since his last European victory in 2019 is a big part of the secret. He’s done it via speed-training system called The Stack. In addition, he has worked on a cross-handed chipping method for certain shots that has seen his rating zoom in that area.

Hold fire though on those Open bets. His best so far on championship links is only 20th and none of his seven Euro-wins have come by the seaside. There will be better opportunities next year for him and for the luckless Zalatoris, now a three-time major runner-up and six-time top-eight finisher (in only nine attempts, wow!). Their rivalry will run and run.

But let’s get back to finding you a winner – we had success in Boston with two places and four winning Specials – and look at the strong field lining up for the Travelers at River Highlands, the only tour event played in Connecticut.

Masters champion and US Open runner-up Scottie Scheffler heads it but Fitzdares have put Rory McIlroy, an ultimately disappointing fifth after promising so much more at Brookline, ahead of the world No. 1 at 9/1. They know who their customers love and, who knows, they could be right as Rory did, of course, win only the other week in Canada. So it’s Europe 2, USA 0 the past two weeks. Can we make it three?

McIlroy has played the course before without starring (11th in 2020 decent enough) but a player more in the Fitzpatrick mould, quiet, dedicated practiser Arron Rai, a two-time DP World Tour winner making a good impression in the States, makes just as much appeal and his odds are a fair bit more enticing.

River Highlands could hardly be more different from Brookline where only nine out of 156 finished under par in a gruelling examination. At 6852 yards, one of the shortest par 70s on the circuit, it will seem a stroll in the park.

This was where in 2016 Jim Furyk became the first to shoot a 58 and five years earlier Patrick Cantlay, then a teenager, blitzed it in 60, the lowest on tour by an amateur.

Without knowing how much Scheffler, McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and Sam Burns who were in the thick of the action last week have left in the tank, it’s a difficult one to call but Bradley who hails from neighbouring Vermont and had the added pressure of being a fan favourite, stuck to his guns well for a share of seventh. The rejuvenated 2011 USPGA champion was Travelers runner-up to Chez Reavie three years ago and could give New Englanders even more to cheer about this week.

Fifth in the Players, runner-up at Wells Fargo and top-ten in Texas and New Orleans before his big US Open effort, Bradley could go close to landing his first victory since 2018 but tends to get jumpy on Sundays and may worry himself out of it if he gets into contention again. Even so, he looks a sound each-way play.

For the main bet I’m going for class act Cantlay who started sluggishly but got better each day at Brookline for 14th. Surprisingly he has never come close to repeating that 60 of his youth but is a solid 13-11-15 these last three years and recent form is impressive.

Unlucky to get a fried-egg bunker lie in a Heritage playoff with Jordan Spieth, he then partnered pal Xander Schauffele to a facile win in the Zurich pairs and took third spot at Memorial. The FedEx Cup champion must surely win again soon.

Fitzpatrick will be an inspiration to slimline Rai who, like the new champion, tends to be underrated. The man from Wolverhampton played a blinder for 13th in Canada and starred in the Rai-David Lipsky partnership who played above themselves for fourth place in the New Orleans pairs event. Sixth at Torrey Pines early in the year, he is edging towards a US breakthrough and his tidy game looks perfect for River Highlands.

Also certain to be spurred on by Matt is his Ryder Cup pal Tommy Fleetwood who has been trying even longer to break his American duck. After a slow start to the year, his game perked up with a top-ten at Heritage and share of fifth with Fitzpatrick at Southern Hills. Missing the cut at Brookline could now work in his favour as he’ll be fresh and better prepared.

Local star Scott Stallings from neighbouring Massachusetts. He was fourth at Colonial this campaign and sixth to DJ at River Highlands in 2020. Even though the last of his three victories came eight years ago, he could be a rewarding longshot at 150/1.

Twelve months ago Harris English won an eight-hole playoff with Kramer Hickok to take the title but has had to take a long break for hip surgery and missed out from January to Memorial. He made the cut at Brookline but it’s hard to see him repeating in what is forecast to be a pretty damp week.

BMW INTERNATIONAL OPEN


Best bets
2.5pts each-way Billy Horschel @ 10/1
1.5pts each-way Victor Perez @ 28/1
1pt each-way Pablo Larrazabal @ 28/1
1pt each-way Marcel Schneider @ 66/1
0.5pts each-way Hurly Long @ 80/1
0.5pts each-way Edoardo Molinari @ 33/1
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Billy Horschel missed the cut at Brookline last week but four over par was no disgrace in such a demanding examination and he wasn’t the only big name to struggle.

Even though this will be his debut in the event, the world No. 11 is still the most likely winner of the BMW International Open in Munich this week and we know this bubbly Floridian likes these “away” fixtures as he came over to Wentworth last year and demolished the cream of European golf in their flagship PGA Championship.

More relevantly, he’s in belting form as it is only three weeks since he took apart a very strong field at Memorial, winning by four. That followed a terrific effort in the New Orleans pairs tournament where he and Sam Burns ran brilliant winners Cantlay and Schauffele to two shots. As Billy had another second place early in the year, the 10/1 favourite is clearly the one to beat.

Having won the 2014 BMW Championship on the PGA Tour on the way to becoming FedEx Cup champion that year, West Ham fan Horschel is chasing the BMW treble.

Three of his main market rivals, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia and Bernd Wiesberger, are not only having disappointing seasons but, if the DP World Tour support the PGA Tour in banning defectors to the Saudi-backed Liv Series, as seems likely, they won’t be playing in Europe after next month’s Open.

Thomas Pieters and Ryan Fox have form claims as 2022 winners but I’m looking further down the list for the chief dangers to Horschel at Eichenried, the 7284-yard par 72 which has shared the hosting of this €2m tournament with Gut Larchenhof in Cologne. Disappointingly, it’s going to be a rough weather week in Munich with possible thunder and lightning interruptions.

Another visitor from the PGA Tour, Viktor Hovland, won from Martin Kaymer at Eichenried last year but is unable to fit in a title defence and the previous year Italian outsider Andrea Pavan beat none other than new US Open hero Matt Fitzpatrick in a playoff.

Pavan isn’t the only recent Munich winner to be a head-scratcher as in 2017 Argentina’s Andres Romero, who would probably have won the 2007 Open at Carnoustie with a better caddie, reminded us what a cracking golfer he used to be.

The trio I think most likely to challenge the favourite are Victor Perez, Edoardo Molinari and Pablo Larrazabal.

Dundee-based Frenchman Perez has got his confidence back with last month’s overdue Dutch Open triumph and showed his liking for Bratwurst on his last visit to Germany when third in Hamburg in the European Open.

Larrazabal is not only a dual course winner – he took major-winner scalps in compatriot Garcia in 2011 and Henrik Stenson in 2015 – but also a double champion this year with victories in South Africa and Spain. He missed the cut in Hamburg last time out but has always blown hot and cold and he is on terrain he loves here.

Molinari was third here in 2019 and has put in some good shifts recently – he was fifth in Hamburg and ninth in Belgium.

If there is to be a big-priced winner, have a look at the German duo Hurly Long and Marcel Schneider. They look better value than their more illustrious but struggling compatriot Martin Kaymer even though the former world No. 1 was runner-up to Hovland last year.

Schneider’s fifth in Hamburg shows he likes a home game and as it followed fourth in Holland and seventh in Belgium, the 66/1 looks well worth taking.

Long, a Challenge Tour winner in 2020, made a seamless transition to the main circuit with a second in Kenya and third in Ras Al Khaimah. More recently sixth in the Dutch Open and tenth at the British Masters, he looks a real prospect.

Adrian Otaegui, the Spaniard who earned more dollars ($737,500) for finishing tied sixth in the Saudi-backed LIV Series tournament at St Albans than he’s picked up in 12 DP World Tour starts this year, is one more to consider. But for how much longer will he and the other defectors be allowed to play in Europe? We shall probably find out later this week.


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