The Punter's In-Play Blog: Solid favourite Kirk can convert in Hawaii

Chris Kirk, solid favourite in Hawaii
Chris Kirk, solid favourite in Hawaii

Our man takes a look at the state of play at the Sony Open, where he fancies the third round leader is a value price...

“Kirk's three from four with a lead or co-lead so he knows how to get the job done and the third round leader has won five of the last six renewals of the Sony Open.”

12:40 - January 12, 2014
They're still playing at the Volvo Golf Champions event, live on Sky 4, where in-running wager, Branden Grace, has struck the front. I've layed a bit back at 1.855/6 now so even if he fails to convert the result won't be disastrous and my attentions have now turned to events in Hawaii...

With a dozen players within three of the lead and five others a further stroke back, the Sony Open looks wide open at first glance but on closer inspection there's every chance that the winner is already in front.

Chris Kirk leads by one over fellow Georgia grad Harris English and PGA Tour rookie, Will Wilcox. October's Open winner, Jimmy Walker, and the 2002 Sony champ, Jerry Kelly, trail Kirk by two and Zach Johnson is by some distance the most dangerous of the seven players lurking just three back.

I'm now delighted I had that just-in-case wager on Zach yesterday at 20.019/1 as I don't have to debate with myself whether he's a value play at half that price this morning but I wouldn't put anyone off him that's for sure. He was exceptional once he got whiff of the front on Monday in Kapalua and if he makes an early move it's bound to be noticed by the front two in the betting, Kirk and English, but the stats all point to the man in front.

Kirk's three from four with a lead or co-lead so he knows how to get the job done and the third round leader has won five of the last six renewals of the Sony Open. English is without doubt the biggest danger to Kirk and one could argue that one shot is nothing and that English, in time, will prove to be the slightly better player but I'm happy to go with Kirk at 4.47/2

16:00 - January 11, 2014

You have to be patient in this game and you occasionally have to be philosophical. Sometimes everything you touch turns to gold, sometimes dust, and I'm getting through the pledge this week!
Both my in-running picks have nosedived and none of my pre-event picks hold any chance of victory and we've still two rounds to go in Hawaii!  
I had high hopes for Darren Clarke after a great start but from halfway yesterday until the 9th today, he went birdie-free for 18 holes, recording six bogeys. Had he pared all 18 he's be tied at the top with Dan Geraghty's outstanding pick, Tommy Fleetwood on -10.
In what is now a very tough to call tournament, Tommy leads by one over Victor Dubuisson and Joost Luiten, with Louis Oosthuizen a further stroke back on -8. I wrote in my preview how the last four South African Open winners had been in front after round three here but I just wonder now if we can pay too much attention to that.
The run-off areas around the greens have been shaved, making accuracy even more important, and there are some big numbers awaiting anyone astray from the tee. Scott Jamieson led by five after 54 holes last year but was soon in trouble after a few wayward tee-shots and I wouldn't be surprised if the leaders here aren't a little vulnerable.
I can't split the front four at all. If I had to pick one I'd go for Ooosty, now that he's a couple off the pace, but at the prices, I much prefer fellow South African, and much better closer, Branden Grace, who sits on -7. I probably ought to take the hint and give up on the event but at 14.013/1; I thought Grace was worth a small play.
Over in Hawaii, Brian Stuard has hit the front at the Sony Open and on -10; he now leads Marc Leishman and Hideto Tanihara by one and Harris English by two, with a group of six that includes favourite, Adam Scott, on -7.
The weather forecast isn't great over there so play has been brought forward a few hours and the leaders now tee off at a much friendly time for UK viewers of 8.00pm. It's live on Sky at 8.30.
As I haven't seen much of the event, I'm exercising caution but I have thrown a few pounds at Zach Johnson at 20.019/1. The stats suggest he can't win from five back - Vijay Singh is the only man this century to do so from as far as five back - but if Zach clicks, he could go very low. I distinctly remember him going from seven behind to two clear with a spectacular third round of 60 at the Texas Open in 2009, a year after winning the same event from five back at halfway. He's in exceptional form and if anyone can bridge a seemingly unbridgeable gap, it's Zach.

18:25 - January 10, 2014
It's never easy to know what to make of a player changing manufacturer and after Rory McIlroy's struggles to get to grips with his new Nike bats last year, I'm more cautious than ever about a club change but maybe I need a change of tact.

Ernie Els won the Tournament of Champions with an incredible 31-under-par total, the first time he used Titleist clubs and Harris English, currently tied for 5th after the first round of the Sony Open and Matteo Manassero, 5th at halfway stage of the Volvo Golf Champions, appear to have switched to Callaway seamlessly. With still three rounds to play, I'm not in a rush to back English at around 15.014/1 but I do like Manny at the same price and I've added him to my pre-event wagers.

Mike Norman picked Manny out from the get-go and with my man Darren Clarke, sat tied 6th, and Dan Geraghty's selection, Tommy Fleetwood, tied for the lead, alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Joost Luiten on -7, we look set for a place or two at least with this week's each-way picks, but it's the young Italian I like best.

Manassero's stats improved from yesterday and that may have something to do with him feeling more comfortable with the new clubs under tournament conditions. If he continues to improve, even just a fraction, with the venue suiting his neat and tidy game perfectly, he can close the two-stroke deficit and challenge for the title on Sunday afternoon and I thought the 15.014/1 offered up on the Sportsbook at the close of play was well worth taking.  

Oosty is a strong favourite at just 3.65 but I'm no fan of his in-the-mix. He led here at this stage last year but shot 74 in round three before getting handed the title by Scott Jamieson on day four and two-ball betting enthusiasts could do worse than take him on with the impressive improver, Victor Dubuisson

11:50 - January 10, 2014
I'll be back later with a look at the Volvo Golf Champions, which is currently live on Sky, once they've finished round two, but as I've made a move at the Sony Open already I thought I'd post a quick update this morning.

On a score of -7 after day one, having shot an impressive bogey-free 63, Korea's Sang-Moon Bae leads the way by one over last week's fancy, Chris Kirk, and by two over Brian Stuard and 2010 winner, Ryan Palmer, and he looks a very fair price at 19.018/1

As detailed in the preview, nine of the last 15 winners of the Sony Open played the week before at Kapalua so that's a positive for Bae and two of the last six winners, and four this century have won the event wire-to-wire, so being in front is no negative. His day one stats suggest he's playing really well in the all right areas for Waialae - 19th for driving accuracy, 2nd for greens in regulation and 1st for scrambling, and I fancy he's being underestimated.

He's won 13 times already worldwide, including on the PGA Tour at the Byron Nelson Championship last May, so he's not afraid of victory and he's only led after round one twice before, once on the Asian Tour and once in Japan, and he won wire-to wire on both occasions.

There's obviously a long way to go and there are plenty of big names lurking four and five shots back but Bae looks a very reasonable price to me at this early stage.

22:45 - January 9, 2014
Well, what a start!

"Put your faith in Bjorn again" was the headline I used for my Volvo Golf Champions event preview and for the Sony Open, I chose "Scott Brown a tremendous price".

After the first round in Durban, Thomas Bjorn, who was matched at a single-figure price before the off, sits dead last following a truly abysmal seven-over-par 79 and Brown, despite birdying two of his first three holes, is doing his utmost to emulate the Dane. He's managed to finish the day on +1 but that was only after a strong late rally!

Fortunately, it wasn't all bad news for my pre-event picks at the Volvo though. Michael Hoey fought back from a slow start to shoot level par, Dawie Van Der Walt managed to finish the first round one-under and Darren Clarke sits in a tie for third after a three-under-par 69.

Despite only finding eight fairways and ten greens, Raphael Jacquelin, holds the early lead on -5. He got up-and-down on all eight occasions that he missed the green and of the 67 strokes taken, only 23 were putts. That's both impressive and worrying as I suspect his short game can't maintain that momentum for four days and if he's to win, he needs to start finding some accuracy from both tee and fairway.

Defending champ, Louis Oosthuizen, disadvantaged by a late start as the winds picked up, was most impressive. He bogeyed the 1st and missed a few short putts but there was a lot to like about his opening 68. He sits in second, one behind Jacquelin and one ahead of my man Clarke and Victor Dubuisson and if recent history is to repeat, you need look no further than these four...

Oosty sat in a tie for 2nd at this stage last year before going on to win and the last four winners of the South African Open here were all in the top-four after round one.  I doubt it's that straightforward though, and with seven players tied for 5th it would be ridiculous to give that stat too much credence.

I'm mildly tempted by Oosthuizen, he clearly loves the venue and he looks a decent price at 4.67/2 but he's not entirely reliable in-contention and so I'm going to hang fire for now and hope that Clarke can keep going.

Over at the Sony Open (live on Sky at midnight), where the afternoon starters have only just begun, having gone for five outsiders that played at Kapalua last week, it's mildly frustrating to see Sang-Moon Bae, an outsider that played at Kapalua last week, leading the way. And seeing last week's big fancy, Chris Kirk, one shot behind Bae doesn't improve things either. 

It's obviously very early days there though, so I'll take a look at the event in more detail tomorrow. 

Volvo Golf Champions Pre-Event Selections
Thomas Bjorn @ 14.013/1
Julien Quesne @ 60.059/1
Michael Hoey @ 101.0100/1 (Sportsbook)
Darren Clarke @ 151.0150/1 (Sportsbook)
Dawie Van Der Walt @ 200.0199/1

In-Play Bets
Matteo Manessero @ 15.014/1 (Sportsbook)
Branden Grace @ 14.013/1 & Layed at 1.855/6

Sony Open Pre-Event Picks
Michael Thompson @ 101.0100/1 (Sportsbook)
Scott Brown @ 150.0149/1
D.A Points @ 200.0199/1
Ken Duke @ 250.0249/1
Woody Austin @ 450.0449/1

In-Play Bets
Sang-Moon Bae @ 19.018/1(Sportsbook)
Zach Johnson @ 20.019/1
Chris Kirk @ 4.47/2

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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