Back Jason Dufner 4u @ 42.041/1
Back Jonas Blixt 2u @ 90.089/1
For most of the day, the opening round of the World Match Play looked set to live up to its historical reputation as a graveyard for favourites. Almost all the leading candidates found themselves behind at some stage but, thanks to numerous comebacks, upsets were relatively few and far between. Nevertheless, there was enough evidence to re-affirm that 18-hole matchplay is the greatest leveller in golf and, with the weakest, most of out-of-form players now gone, I expect we'll see several surprises in today's last-32.
The bottom half of the draw definitely has the potential to open right up so the plan is to try and 'back high, lay low' on a couple of capable, yet largely unconsidered players. First, Jason Dufner came back from the dead to overhaul Scott Stallings and is well up to capitalising on that good fortune. The reigning PGA champion has the right sort of profile for this event, in terms of age, nationality and class. While Dufner showed little matchplay pedigree on a couple of previous cracks in this event, he looked well suited to the format in the Ryder Cup. He's favourite for today's match against Matteo Manassero and won't face anybody that daunting until at least the semis, so there's plenty of trading mileage in a bet at 42.041/1.
After Dustin Johnson's exit, Bubba Watson is runaway favourite to reach the quarter-finals in his mini-section, but looks worth taking on with value alternatives. One should always be wary of flavours of the month, such is the fleeting nature of brilliant form. A mercurial, erratic player like Bubba is always vulnerable in this competition, where one bad round out of six means an exit. He was in trouble for a long way yesterday before Mikko Ilonen handed him several holes on a plate. Two-time PGA Tour winner Jonas Blixt is a much more dangerous opponent and a live outsider. Should he defeat Bubba, Blixt would have a roughly even chance in the last-16 so the current odds of 90.089/1 could look massive by the weekend.
Back Bill Haas to beat Sergio Garcia 4u @ 2.35/4
The same logic used to oppose Bubba in this event applies equally to the perennially frustrating Garcia. To be fair, Sergio has been in good form of late but one always feels there will be a round where the putts completely dry up, and that is suicidal in matchplay. He only scraped past Marc Leishman yesterday in a marathon encounter and the consistent Haas could present a tougher test.
Back Matt Kuchar to beat Ryan Moore 5u @ 1.748/11
Given his outstanding recent record at Dove Mountain, there seems no point in abandoning a winning formula on Matt Kuchar. The defending champion has now won 14 out of his last 16 matches here and despatched Bernd Weisberger with the minimum of fuss yesterday. The difference between success and failure here is largely dependent on scrambling, and the ability to hole a relentless series of tricky par putts. No player in this field makes me feel more confident of holing them than Kuchar.
Back Webb Simpson to beat Brandt Snedeker 6u @ 1.758/11
At other moments in time, this would be a 50/50 contest but all recent indicators point strongly towards Simpson. Snedeker laboured all day to get past David Lynn, arguably the easiest potential first-round opponent, showing little signs of turning his miserable run around. He is unlikely to get anywhere near the same chances against the consistent, reliable Simpson. Rather like the aforementioned Dufner, Simpson has looked the type for matchplay in Ryder Cups and this could be the year he brings his A-game to this event.