The Punter's In-Play Blog: Tight affair at Torrey looks almost impossible to call

Marc Leishman – added to The Punter’s portfolio with a round to go
Marc Leishman – added to The Punter’s portfolio with a round to go

Jeunghun Wang has just won the Qatar Masters, after a three-man playoff, so Steve now turns his attention to the Farmers Insurance Open where 12 players are within two strokes of the lead. Read our man's final in-play thoughts for the week here...

“Patrick Rodgers is in front for the first time after 54 holes but Snedeker has a decent record when leading, converting five out of ten opportunities. This is definitely an event to take on the leaders though so backing a few players to win from off the pace could provide a nice bit of sport.”

13:50 - January 29, 2017

The Qatar Masters looked like turning into a cakewalk for Korea's Jeunghun Wang but we had a dramatic finish in the end with Wang, Joakim Lagergren and Jaco Van Zyl all playing off for the title.

Lagergren failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker at the first extra hole and Jaco Van Zyl three-putted the green and it was left to Wang to tap-in for a much deserved third European Tour victory.

I'll have more on that result in the De-Drief tomorrow but for now I'm going to concentrate on the Farmers Insurance Open, which is set up brilliantly with a dozen players within two of the lead. Here's the leaderboard with prices to back at 13:40.

Brandt Snedeker -9 4.47/2
Patrick Rodgers -9 8.615/2

Tony Finau -8 9.08/1
Cheng Tsung Pan -8 20.019/1

Justin Rose -7 11.010/1
Marc Leishman -7 21.020/1
Harris English -7 20.019/1
Pat Perez -7 25.024/1
Robert Streb -7 34.033/1
Ollie Schniederjans -7 36.035/1
Stewart Cink -7 36.035/1
Jonas Blixt -7 36.035/1

-6 and 36.035/1 bar

Brandt Snedeker is looking to win the title for a third time but if he's going to notch the hat-trick he's going to have to defy the stats. He trailed Kyle Stanley by seven strokes with a round to go in 2012 and he was six back and tied for 27th after 54-holes last year.

Stanley had begun the final round five clear of the field and he was matched at 1.011/100 before imploding on the 72nd hole and Snedeker shot the round of the year last year when he recorded a three-under-par 69 in awful conditions to win from tied 26th. He was matched in-running at 960.0959/1, was still 140.0139/1 with a round to go and Robert Streb, who shot a level-par 72, was the only other player in the field to better 74.

Those two wins by Snedeker were quite remarkable but not unique and this is a very hard place to win from the front. As stated in the preview, since the South Course was toughened up, Tiger Woods, in 2008 and 2013, is the only halfway leader to convert and third round leaders really struggle.

Having hit the front at halfway, Woods was never headed in 2008 and 2013 and he was in front after round three in 2003 too but the only other third round leaders to go on to win this century are Phil Mickelson in 2000 and John Daly in 2004, and the latter needed to win a three-man play-off.

In addition to Snedeker's recent off-the-pace victories, Jason Day was tied for eighth and two off the lead two years ago after three rounds, Scott Stallings was three back and trading in excess of 30.029/1 three years ago, and Nick Watney had been five back three years earlier.

Patrick Rodgers is in front for the first time after 54 holes but Snedeker has a decent record when leading, converting five out of ten opportunities. This is definitely an event to take on the leaders though so backing a few players to win from off the pace could provide a nice bit of sport.

I've looked closely at the many players in-the-mix and it's almost impossible. Rodgers has been within three strokes of the lead three times in his career and he's fallen away badly every time so I'm dismissing him. Like Rodgers, Tony Finau was brilliant from slightly off the pace yesterday and he's already a PGA Tour winner, having got the better of Steve Marino in a playoff at the Puerto Rico Open last year. His scrambling and putting stats are good so far this week and other than Sneds, he's the one I like best of the top-four.

I'm loathed to dismiss the excellent Cheng-Tsung Pan, who sits alongside Finau in a tie for third, but the stats are against him. This tournament has been staged at Torrey Pines since 1968 and to date, no debutant has won here.

Of the myriad tucked in behind the front four and within two, three and four strokes, the one I like best is Dave Tindall's pick, Marc Leishman, who has already finished runner-up here twice before. I've added him to the portfolio at 22.021/1 and that'll do me for now. I've got Sneds to cheer on too, I'm happy enough with the two I added yesterday (Harris English and Robert Streb) and I haven't completely given up on pre-event picks, Phil Mickelson and Kyle Stanley, who both trail the leaders by four.

I'll be back tomorrow with the De-Brief.

14:20 - January 28, 2017

I can't say I've enjoyed today so far. All golf punters can relate to the sickening sight of last week's big-priced pick contending a week later and that's been the case for me at the Qatar Masters so far with the runaway third round leader, Jeunghun Wang.

I thought he was vastly over-priced in Abu Dhabi last week, where he finished 11th, and I had a decent wager at 110.0109/1 but at around 40.039/1 here, I, incorrectly, thought he looked to be priced up correctly given he was making his tournament debut. You can't go backing every selection the following week, that would be ridiculous, but it's bloody frustrating when they show up like Wang has here. He's clearly a class act on the rise and he's the man to beat now. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 14:10.

Jeunghun Wang -15 1.9310/11

Jaco Van Zyl -12 12.011/1
Nacho Elvira -12 12.5

Thomas Aiken -11 15.5

Rafa Cabrera-Bello -10 19.018/1
Andy Sullivan -10 25.024/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat -10 25.024/1
Joakim Lagergren -10 40.039/1
Nathan Kimsey -10 100.099/1

-9 and 100.099/1 bar

Wang is now the odds-on favourite and rightly so. He's been playing superbly and there's no real reason to suspect he'll blow it from here. He was beaten by a stroke after being tied for the lead at the Dubai Open on the Challenge Tour in 2014 and he was soundly beaten in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November, after he'd led by three, when he was no match for a red-hot Alex Noren. If the truth be told, he was poor in round four there, shooting 75, but I suspect he may have learnt from the experience.

When losing the Nedbank, Wang broke a run of six straight wins on the European Tour by players that led by three with a round to go and in the last 20 years, three-stroke 54 hole leaders have a 71% strike rate suggesting he isn't too short at around 1.910/11. The Qatar Masters is now in its 20th year and 11 of the first 19 winners were in front with a round to go.

If I had to pick out an alternative to Wang I'd probably plump for Rafa Cabrera-Bello at around 20.019/1. The talented Spaniard has a great record here and he's much better suited to chasing than he is to leading. He shot 60 to win his first European Tour event in Austria in 2009 and he could be far enough back to relax and go low.

I don't like backing odds-on shots but I wouldn't put anyone off Wang now. He's playing better than anyone else, he's already won twice on the European Tour and is still improving, and he won't mind tomorrow's wild and windy weather one iota.

We've reached the halfway stage of the Farmers Insurance Open and with a rejuvenated putter behaving itself a bit better, Justin Rose has hit the front. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 14:10.

Justin Rose -8 3.8514/5

Brandt Snedeker -7 6.05/1
Adam Hadwin -7 10.519/2

Keegan Bradley -6 19.018/1
Ollie Schniederjans -6 38.037/1

-5 and 38.037/1 bar

Playing together and playing the North Course first on Thursday, Rose and defending champ, Brandt Snedeker, are the two to beat with two rounds to go. I'm already on Sneds having backed him before the off and he looks fairly priced given he's putting so well and he clearly loves the venue but I certainly wouldn't be rushing in to back Rose.

Justin's record when leading at halfway is pretty good. He's been in front with two rounds to go 18 times in total and he's gone on to win five times but the record of halfway leaders in this event isn't great. Since Mark O'Meara won in 1997, when tied for the lead at halfway, only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have converted halfway leads. In addition to those stats, Justin isn't putting anywhere near as well as Snedeker or Adam Hadwin and given it's his putting that's been holding him back for months, that's a concern for Rose backers. Here's how the front three rank on those all-important putting stats so far...

Rose - Putting Average 30th, Putts Per Round 34th, Strokes Gained Putting 95th
Snedeker - Putting Average 4th, Putts Per Round 3rd, Strokes Gained Putting 3rd
Hadwin - Putting Average 3rd, Putts Per Round 3rd, Strokes Gained Putting 9th

If the run of six straight winners to be drawn South-North over the first two days is to extend to seven then Hadwin is the number one candidate. Of those inside the top-20, only Hadwin, Ollie Schniederjans, Brian Harmon and Harris English played the South Course first and it's the latter named that I've thrown a few pounds at.

As highlighted in the preview, this is an event that has seen many an off-the-pace winner and given he only trails by four, I thought English looked over-priced at 50.049/1. He was leading at this stage two years ago before he lost in a playoff so we know the venue suits.

In addition to Snedeker, I've also got a chance with pre-event pick, Kevin Streelman, who is one of five players tied for sixth and three off the lead and in addition to English, I've also added Robert Streb, who sits alongside Streelman.

Streb caught the eye in this event last year when he shot a level par 72 in atrocious conditions in round four. Snedeker somehow shot 69 to win and Streb was the only other player in the field to better 74. I think a few books have underestimated him, including the Sportsbook, and I was more than happy to back him each-way at 50/1 with four places still available.

14:40 - January 27, 2017

We've reached the halfway stage of the Qatar Masters and to describe it as a tight affair would be an understatement. In fact, I don't recall a halfway leaderboard ever looking so tight and that's certainly the case on the European Tour. There are nine men tied for the lead on eight-under-par and that breaks the record of eight dating back to the 1997 Scandinavian Masters. It's competitive in behind as well though with a further 17 players within two of the lead.

Jeunghun Wang, who I backed in Abu Dhabi last week at a huge price, is the current favourite but I'd recommend scanning a bit further down the leaderboard to look for value. We've seen three winners come from seven strokes adrift at this stage to win here and this year everyone within six has made the cut! Nobody can be discounted.

I still like Alex Noren, who trails by two, and that's mainly because the forecast for Sunday isn't looking clever. Tomorrow doesn't look too bad but the wind is forecasted to get up on Sunday and nobody plays better than Noren in breezy conditions. The Swedish world number 10 played well enough today but the putts just wouldn't drop. If that changes tomorrow he could be in a great position with a round to go and I fancy he's still the one they all have to beat.

Over at the Farmers Insurance Open, most of the focus was understandably on the return of Tiger Woods on day one and for a little while it looked as though he was going to contend. His price dipped to 28.027/1 when he birdied back-to-back holes after the turn on the South Course but he capitulated after that, playing the remaining holes in five-over-par. And that was with a birdie at the last!

Watching the action, I thought the newly renovated North Course appeared a bit tougher than before the makeover but at 70.76, it yet again averaged almost three strokes easier than the South Course (73.62) and that's about the norm.

High winds are forecast today and I'm going to wait and see what the second round brings. Justin Rose leads by a stroke over Adam Hadwin and in theory, the Canadian, who shot 59 at the Career Builder Challenge in round three last week before going on to finish second, should be in front once the stagger unwinds. Hadwin's six-under-par 66 was on the trickier South Course yesterday. Rose's 65 was over at the North.

Qatar Masters Pre-Event Selections:
Alex Noren @ 12/1 (Sportsbook)
Thorbjorn Olesen @ 33/1 (Sportsbook)
Dean Burmester @ 50/1 (Sportsbook)
Bradley Dredge @ 80/1 (Sportsbook)

Farmer Insurance Open Pre-Event Selections:
Brandt Snedeker @ 30.029/1
Phil Mickelson @ 50.049/1
Scott Stallings @ 90.089/1
Kevin Streelman @ 170.0169/1
Kyle Stanley @ 260.0259/1

In-Play bets
Harris English @ 50.049/1
Robert Streb (each-way) @ 50/1 (Sportsbook)
Marc Leishman @ 22.021/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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