The Punter's In-Play Blog: Off the pace punts worth chancing at the Heritage

Troy Merritt during yesterday's third round at Harbour Town
Troy Merritt during yesterday's third round at Harbour Town

With bad weather forecast, the RBC Heritage will soon be underway so read Steve's final in-running update of the week here...

“The last two winners of the RBS Heritage have come from four back with a round to go, the 2011 champ, Brandt Snedeker, was six back after 54-holes and in 2004, Stewart Cink won the title having trailed by fully nine strokes with a round to go.”

11.30 - April 19, 2015

We looked set for a fairytale finish to the Shenzhen International when 19 year-old Chinaman, Hao-tong Li closed from off the pace with a five-under 67 to set a 12-under-par total that looked like being enough.

He was matched at just 1.101/10 to become the first Chinaman to win on the European Tour in his homeland but then an almighty spanner in the works came along in the shape of halfway leader, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, to steal his thunder.

The Thai had struggled with his game all day and was two-over par for his round with two to play but he managed to summon up a quite sensational finish. He had been matched at 50.049/1 in-running and he looked dead and buried but from nowhere he eagled the 17th and it was game on. He had a great chance to birdie the last in regulation to win but made no mistake form slightly closer at the first extra hole.

It was a magnificent finish from Aphibarnrat but I couldn't help but feel for the youngster or for the crowd who went from ecstatic exaltation to muted polite applause. They were all disappointed and rightly so.

On to the RBC Heritage and I need to be quick because with the threat of bad weather, play has been brought forward with the leaders teeing-off at 14:30. The live coverage on Sky has also been brought forward and that now starts at 16:00. Here's the current leaderboard with prices to back.

Troy Merritt -14 4.1

Matt Kuchar -115.85/1
Brendon Todd -11 8.88/1
Kevin Kisner -11 19.5

Jim Furyk -10 12.011/1
Branden Grace -10 20.019/1
Brice Garnett -10 46.045/1

Jordan Spieth -9 8.415/2
Bo Van Pelt -9 75.074/1

-8 and 50.049/1 Bar

It's impossible to fault Troy Merritt's two-under-par third round and so far he's proved me very wrong. I thought he'd really struggle in-contention yesterday but he's nicely consolidated his halfway lead and it's long odds-on now that I'll be paying out on both the Top 5 and Top 10 bets I layed yesterday. The only silver lining is that I didn't get matched for as much as I'd wanted to.

I still think he's up against it and given how far the winners can come from here on the final day, taking a chance on one or two from off the pace makes sense. The last two winners of the RBS Heritage have come from four back with a round to go, the 2011 champ, Brandt Snedeker, was six back after 54-holes and in 2004, Stewart Cink won the title having trailed by fully nine strokes with a round to go.

According to the market, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth are the most likely to win if Merritt is to fail but defending champ, Kuchar, never impresses in-the-mix and Spieth is surely running on fumes now. I think it's worth taking a chance on a couple from just off the pace and the two I've gone for are Branden Grace and Luke Donald.

Grace is a prolific winner on the European Tour who looks to have taken to the venue well and Donald absolutely loves the place. He's already finished inside the top-three five times in his last seven starts. He's failed to convert a third round lead here three times so coming from off the pace may suit him a bit better.

11.10 - April 18, 2015

The last time we saw Kiradech Aphibarnrat on a golf course he was missing the cut at the Texas Open, with rounds of 81 and 77, but he's put that effort right behind him in China and he now leads the Shenzhen International by two strokes - despite a shaky finish to round two. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 10:50.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat -12 2.727/4

Peter Uihlein -10 6.25/1

Pablo Larrazabal -9 7.06/1

Emiliano Grillo -8 14.013/1
Tommy Fleetwood -8 14.013/1
Scot Hend -8 22.021/1
Matt Ford -8 32.031/1

-7 and 50.049/1 Bar

For 16 holes, Aphibarnrat played impeccably and the 1.42/5 he was matched at didn't look unduly short but a very scruffy finish has blown the event wide open again. He double-bogeyed 17, missing a tiny bogey putt, before dropping another stroke on 18 and although he sounded as a cool as a cucumber when interviewed afterwards, the finish was certainly off putting.

My in-play pick, Peter Uihlein, struggled all day long, taking irons of tees and still missing fairways. If he plays that poorly again tomorrow it's very difficult to see him winning and I was tempted to lay my bet back but I've decided to keep the faith. There are numerous examples of 36-hole leaders struggling in round three before bouncing back to win and that could be the case tomorrow.

Pablo Larrazabal shot a sensational seven-under 65 despite not birdying any of the par 5s and if he can back that up tomorrow he's the man to beat but time and time again we see players fail to follow up a low round so I'm happy to stay with what I have.

One of my three pre-event picks, Scott Hend, has moved up to tied 4th so I'll be hoping that he can make a run for the title tomorrow but I'm certainly not getting my hopes up. I will be looking for someone to close from off the pace tomorrow though and I'll be getting up nice and early to trade the event in-running. If any of the players on -7 or -6 can put in a really low round and post a score they may be worth siding with. Third round leaders have been really struggling to convert on the European Tour this year and we've seen winners come from five, seven and even eight back with a round to go.

Over at the RBC Heritage, the afternoon starters enjoyed slightly more favourable conditions for the second day running and the draw levelled out nicely. The story of the day was provided by Masters champ, Jordan Spieth, who put Thursday's tired 74 behind him in no uncertain style with a faultless nine-under-par 62 but it wasn't the lowest of the day - Troy Merritt now leads the tournament by four after a course record equalling ten-under-par 61. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:50.

Troy Merritt -12 7.06/1

Matt Kuchar -8 6.611/2
John Merrick -8 30.029/1

Jim Furyk -7 10.519/2
Graeme McDowell -7 14.5
Kevin Kisner -7 48.047/1

Jordan Spieth -6 5.59/2
Louis Oosthuizen -6 20.019/1
Kevin Streelman -6 23.022/1
Matt Every -6 46.045/1
Morgan Hoffman -6 46.045/1

-5 and 70.069/1 Bar

If the record of four-stroke 36-hole leaders on the PGA Tour this century is anything to go by, Troy Merritt should be quite a bit shorter than the 7.06/1 he currently trades at but it's not that simple. A total of 33 men have been in the position Troy's in now and 18 of them went on to pick up the trophy but most of them had far more experience than Merritt. The 29 year-old is very much in unchartered water and I think he has every chance of drowning.

He's only ever been within two strokes of the lead once on the PGA Tour - at the Sony Open in January - and on that occasion he slipped from 4th to 30th over the weekend and he hasn't fared an awful lot better on the Web.Com Tour...

Merritt won the Mexico Open in a playoff (his only win) in 2009 but he's been hopeless in-contention ever since then. He's been inside the top-seven and within three of the lead at this stage of a Web.Com Tour event five times and he's never finished inside the top-ten! I can smell a meltdown and I'm waiting to get fully matched at a shade of odds-against in the Top 5 Market and at 1.4640/85 in the Top 10 market.

As for who should take advantage of any possible Merritt meltdown, well that's a tough one to call. My big-fancy, Kevin Streelman, has given himself a chance after yesterday's six-under-par 65 so I'm just going to shout him on and see what today brings. As detailed in the preview, the winners can come from off the pace here and to complicate things further, it's a really packed leaderboard. There are ten players within two strokes of each other behind Merritt and a further ten are tied for 12th.

12:10 - April 17, 2015

We've just about reached the halfway stage of the Shenzhen International and the star attraction, Bubba Watson, who was one of my three pre-event picks, has been a bit of a disappointment. He's made the cut on level par but he trails the 36-hole leader, Peter Uihlein, by fully nine shots.

Of my two other picks, Scott Hend trails Uihlein by five and Alvaro Quiros looked set to sit alongside Hend but then he triple-bogeyed the last!

I won't beat about the bush; the one I like from here is the man in front. The big-hitting Floridian has been a bit disappointing since he broke his European Tour duck in Madeira almost two years ago but this looks a great chance for him to kick-on.

He's bound to have been inspired by his big buddy, Brooks Koepka, progressing his career so well and watching Jordan Spieth winning the US Masters last week may have also given him a push. He hasn't got close to fulfilling his obvious potential but I quite fancy him to double his European Tour tally this weekend.

When the Volvo China Open was staged here last year, fellow big-hitter, Alexander Levy, converted from the front at halfway and Uihlein is value to do so here. He's universally a 7/2 shot on the High Street, and as short as 3/1 and I was more than happy to take a chance on him at over 6.05/1.

I've had a decent run of it of late so I was due a poor week and I could well get one if the start of the RBC Heritage is anything to go by. I added five outsiders to my initial two selections after the preview was first published but only one of them, Johnson Wagner, did any good, and he perhaps should have done better.

He trails first round leaders, Graeme McDowell and Matt Every, by just three strokes, after an opening two-under-par 69, but that could have been considerably better as he bogeyed the last two holes. The majority of my picks played in the morning and that proved to be the wrong side of the draw for a change with the afternoon wave shooting 0.9 stokes better. You have to take the rough with the smooth though and some of mine were so bad that where they were drawn mattered not.

I'm going to leave this event alone for now and take another look tomorrow.

Shenzhen International Pre-Event Selections:
Bubba Watson @ 8.615/2
Alvaro Quiros @ 66/1 (Sportsbook)
Scott Hend @ 110.0109/1

In-Play Pick:
Peter Uihlein @ 6.25/1

RBC Heritage Pre-Event Selections:
Kevin Streelman @ 65.064/1
John Huh @ 120.0119/1

Late additions:
Boo Weekley @ 170.0169/1
Robert Streb @ 220.0219/1
Johnson Wagner @ 250.0249/1
Brian Harmon @ 260.0259/1
Scott Brown @ 310.0309/1

In-Play Lays
Troy Merritt @ [2.10} Top 5 Finish
Troy Merritt @ 1.4640/85 Top 10 Finish

In-Play Backs
Branden Grace @ 22.021/1
Luke Donald @ 46.045/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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