There's just one round to go at the Sony Open and halfway leader, Matt Kuchar, has pulled two clear of Andrew Putnam but will awkward caddie questions from Mexico derail him?
“Since 1996, 166 players have led a 72-hole PGA Tour event by two strokes and 77 went on to win – a strike-rate of 46%. And looking at this event in isolation, although James Hahn managed to get into a playoff 12 months ago, having trailed by seven with a round to go, since 1992, every Sony Open winner has been within four strokes of the lead.”
11:50 - January 13, 2019
Matt Kuchar's failure to pick up a birdie at the easy par five 18th after an unusually errant drive at the close of round three yesterday, has seen the gap at the top closed to just two. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:45.
Matt Kuchar -18 1.684/6
Andrew Putnam -16 4.84/1
Chez Reavie -14 14.5
Keith Mitchell -14 17.5
-11 and 70.069/1 bar
Having already been matched at just 1.3130/100 in-running, Kuchar has drifted to a price that might just tempt a few odds-on players in but I'm not convinced he's value.
From a purely statistical perspective, his price looks fractionally generous. Kuchar has led through 54 holes seven times previously and he's gone on to win three times, including on the last occasion, just three starts ago, at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
Since 1996, 166 players have led a 72-hole PGA Tour event by two strokes and 77 went on to win - a strike-rate of 46%. And looking at this event in isolation, although James Hahn managed to get into a playoff 12 months ago, having trailed by seven with a round to go, since 1992, every Sony Open winner has been within four strokes of the lead. If that trend is to be continued, we only need to concentrate on the front four.
Of the front four, Kuchar is vastly the more experienced and he talked after the third round about how much his recent success is going to help.
"It's not often you get in a final group Sunday afternoon. I tell people a lot of nerves that happen in golf you start getting used to. The nerves in golf are kind of like public speaking. The more often you do it the better you deal with it. They may always be there, but you get more comfortable with it. I certainly think having that experience recently will be helpful tomorrow."
That recent memory will be helpful and he's definitely the man to beat but a story emerging about that last victory won't help at all. According to fellow pro, Tom Gillis, Kuchar skimped a bit when it came to rewarding his stand-in local caddie...
If Kuchar wins this weekend let's hope he pays his man more than 3k like the last win. 45 mil in earnings. Could've changed the mans life.? Tom Gillis (@tcgillis) January 12, 2019
And Kuchar didn't exactly deny it when pressed...
Asked Kuchar about local caddie situation in Mexico: "That's not a story. It wasn't 10 percent, it wasn't $3,000. It's not a story." He came back few minutes later, expressed disappointment. "We had an agreement to start the week. He was excited to go to work that week."? Brian Wacker (@brianwacker1) January 13, 2019
Whether this distraction has any effect on Kuchar in round four is debatable but it's a factor to consider, although it might even spur him on. If he didn't care enough to pay "El Tucan" any more than originally agreed, despite his wealth and earnings that week, then why should he care about the criticism?
I'm not convinced it will be a factor but I still think he's short enough so I've layed a bit more back on Kuchar and backed Putnam again, as well as Chez Reavie and Keith Mitchell, to make sure of a decent week. I'll keep an eye on the tournament in-running later but I'd be very surprised if I need to cover anyone else.
11:10 - January 12, 2019
Please disregard entirely the data I used yesterday for the day one hole averages as it turns out there was an error in the code used and it transpires that the late starters were in fact advantaged to the tune of 1.16 strokes in round one. With the wind getting up yesterday afternoon, the overall advantage over the first two days for those drawn PM-AM ended up being as much as 2.41 strokes. Bad news if you backed anyone drawn with an early start on Thursday - unless you backed Andrew Putnam. Putnam is the only player in the top-11 on the 36-hole leaderboard to have played in the morning on Thursday. Here's the latest standings with prices to back at 11:00.
Matt Kuchar -14 2.6213/8
Andrew Putnam -13 4.67/2
Chez Reavie -10 14.5
Stewart Cink -10 32.031/1
Marc Leishman -9 10.09/1
Ted Potter -9 36.035/1
Hudson Swafford -8 75.074/1
Shugo Imahira -8 75.074/1
-7 and 34.033/1 bar
Although James Hahn lost a playoff 12 months ago, having trailed by nine strokes at halfway, we have to go all the way back to Paul Stankowski in 1997 to find the last Sony Open winner to be trailing by more than five strokes at halfway. Stankowski trailed by six, so the chances are, the 2019 winner is listed above.
Marc Leishman is the very obvious danger lurking behind the two clear leaders. The 35-year-old Aussie has become fairly prolific of late, winning three of his four PGA Tour titles since March 2017 but he's always liable to go AWOL, he never seems to go in the right direction whenever I back him, and I'm happy to leave him out at this stage. He's scrambled and putted well over the first two days but at the halfway stage he only ranks 71st for Greens In Regulation and it's difficult to see him mounting a serious charge over the weekend if he keeps missing greens with such regularity.
Ted Potter is an interesting challenger at anything above the 33/1 mark. He won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year, holding the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Chez Reavie at bay so he won't be frightened to win and it perhaps shouldn't be a surprise to see him contending here as his only other victory, at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, was at the TPC Old White - the only other Seth Raynor designed track used on the PGA Tour.
I layed a small portion of my Kuchar wager back in-running yesterday at 2.285/4 and I've recycled some of the stakes back on Potter and the man in second, Putnam. I'm obviously hopeful that Kuchar can convert from here but he isn't one to go to war with. Admittedly, he did nothing wrong at all in Mexico back in November - going from two clear at halfway to four clear with a round to go before holding on to win by a stroke - but he's led at this stage on 15 occasions throughout his career and only successfully converted three times.
Both he and Putnam are putting superbly so far and the value has to be with the man in second given how well he's done from the wrong side of the draw and given he only trails by a stroke.
Chez Reavie is an interesting character that can't be dismissed readily but he doesn't win as often as he perhaps should and he's arguably a little fortunate to be so close to the lead given he holed out from the fairway three times for eagle yesterday!
10:40 - January 11, 2019
First round leader backers have been left scratching their heads this morning after 25-year-old Canadian, Adam Svensson, a pre-tournament 1000.0 chance, playing in the afternoon wave of starters in his first Sony Open, on the back of three straight missed cuts, ended the day in front following a nine-under-par 61. Here's the very early leaderboard with prices to back at 10:30.
Adam Svensson -9 30.029/1
Andrew Putnam -8 8.27/1
Matt Kuchar -7 7.87/1
Chez Reavie -5 24.023/1
Shugo Imahira -5 55.054/1
Hudson Swafford -5 65.064/1
Justin Thomas -3 7.06/1
Cameron Smith -4 16.015/1
Marc Leishman -3 20.019/1
Brandt Snedeker -4 24.023/1
Andrew Putnam, in second and the leader, Web.com Tour graduate, Adam Svensson, ranked first and second for Strokes Gained Putting on day one but the player with arguably the neatest, tidiest stats from the opening round is my pre-event pick, Matt Kuchar. The 40-year-old ranked eighth for Greens In Regulation, second for Driving Accuracy and first for both Sand Saves and Scrambling. He only ranked 18th for Strokes Gained Putting but that was the worst he ranked for any of the putting barometers and with a nice early start today, I'm hopeful he can kick on.
The morning wave enjoyed an advantage of 1.33 strokes yesterday so Svensson and Kuchar did well to finish the day inside the top three places. As mentioned in the preview, Kuchar definitely doesn't win as often as he should but he did little wrong when losing to Jordan Spieth in the Open Championship 18 months ago and he won well from the front in Mexico in November. He must have a different perspective on life now he's turned 40 and he might just relax and go well today. If he can shoot three or four under par today (he tees off at 18:00 UK time) he'll be very well poised for a weekend challenge for the title.
The 2017 winner, Justin Thomas, who sits six off the lead, is still the favourite to win and he too tees off early today but he needs to keep the errors off his card. Thomas was matched at just 3.65 after he'd eagled the par five ninth to get to -4 but he needed to eagle the only other par five (the 18th) to smarten up his card after he made four bogeys on the back-nine.
Veterans have a decent record in this tournament so I was quite tempted to add Brandt Snedeker, but at 24.023/1 he's probably priced up about right. I have had a small bet on 41-year-old, Jason Dufner though. He's alongside Snedeker on -4 and he has a great record in the event. I thought 90.089/1 was a fraction high given he's generally a 50/1 chance across the boards.
And finally, a bit of housekeeping. I added Monday qualifier, Corey Conners, after the preview was published. Conners led the Valspar Championship for three rounds last year when he Monday qualified, before contending the following week at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, and he traded at odds-on when Cameron Champ got off the mark at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. He reminds me a bit of Patrick Reed, who kept Monday qualifying (something notoriously tough to do) in the early stages of his career and Conners looks one to keep on the right side of.
Patton Kizzire @ 55.054/1
Matt Kuchar @ 60.059/1
Zach Johnson @ 65.064/1
Scott Piercy @ 70.069/1
Brice Garnett @ 250.0249/1
Corey Conners @ 410.0409/1 (added after preview published)
Fabian Gomez @ 600.0599/1
Jason Dufner @ 90.089/1
Matt Kuchar layed @ 2.285/4
Andrew Putnam @ 4.77/2
Ted Potter @ 38.037/1
Matt Kuchar layed again @ 1.684/6
Andrew Putnam backed again @ 4.94/1
Chez Reavie @ 14.5
Keith Mitchell @ 17.5
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter