The Punter's In-Play Blog: Knapp shoots four clear in Mexico

Golfer Jake Knapp
Jake Knapp in action in round two in Mexico

There's just one round to go at the Mexico Open and PGA Tour rookie, Jake Knapp, has moved four clear of the field but is he a good thing to convert at long odds-on?

  • Leader looks likely to convert

  • Valimaki the only man within six of the lead

  • Round four in progress in Kenya


08:05 - February 25, 2024

The fourth and final round of the Kenya Open is in progress and so far, the scoring has been good, suggesting the frontrunners will need to keep their nerve and break par.

I looked at that event in detail yesterday evening (see below) so now I'm concentrating on this week's PGA Tour event, the Mexico Open, where pre-event 60.059/1 chance, Jake Knapp, entered the weekend tied for the lead, despite an ice-cold putter.

He'd been imperious tee-to-green over the first two rounds but ranking just 50th for Putting Average and only 71st for SG: Putting, he needed the flatstick to warm up if he was to mount a serious challenge over the weekend and it most certainly did.

The 29-year-old hit his first two approach shots to within tap in range but when he holed for birdie at the fourth from 17 feet and from 24 feet at the fifth, everyone else in the field was in big trouble.

Knapp went on to shoot a seven-under-par 28 on the front nine and he finished the day with a four-stroke lead after a one-under-par 35 on the back-nine, despite making three bogeys! He ended round three ranking 31st for PA and 37th for SG: Putting. Here's the latest state of play with prices to back with a round to go at 8:00.

Jake Knapp -19 1.321/3
Sami Valimaki -15 6.611/2
Chan Kim -12 65.064/1
Ben Silverman -12 80.079/1
Henrik Norlander -12 80.079/1
-11 and 80.079/1 bar

Knapp is the 61st man to take a four-stroke lead into the final round of a 72-hole stroke-play event on the PGA Tour since 1996 and he's looking to become the 44th to convert.

That equates to a 71.6% strike-rate, suggesting the leader is a fair price given there's three strokes back to the trio of players tied for third and that the man sitting in second, Sami Valimaki, is, like the leader, in search of his first PGA Tour title.

I'm leaving this event alone for now but I will just gauge how Knapp plays the first couple of holes in round four.

There's obviously a chance that nerves get the better of him but he's far more likely to kick on and get the job done. He's won three times on the Canadian Tour, shooting final rounds of 64, 63 and 64, so he's been a birdie machine in-the-mix on that lesser Tour and he's also converted from the front on the only previous occasion that he led with a round to go - at the CRMC Championship in August 2022.

17:10 - February 24, 2024

A year after his older brother, Nacho, led the Kenya Open at halfway (finished 40th!) and a month after he led the Ras Al Khaimah Championship at the midway point, Manuel Elvira is ted for the lead with Darius Van Driel at the Kenya Open. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 17:00.

Manuel Elvira -10 3.8514/5
Darius Van Driel -10 4.47/2
Connor Syme -8 9.89/1
Ryan Van Velzen -8 13.5
Ewen Ferguson -7 13.012/1
Nacho Elvira -7 21.020/1
Sam Hutsby -7 36.035/1
Tapio Pulkkanen -7 40.039/1
Deon Germishuys -7 40.039/1
Ashun Wu -6 60.059/1

Having signed off last year's Kenya Open with an eight-under-par 63 to climb from tied 36th to tied 11th, Darius Van Driel has been in-contention from the get-go this year and following today's bogey-free three-under-par 68, he narrowly heads the market over Elvira but both men look opposable.

Manuel Elvira in Kenya.jpg

Jorge Campillo converted a one-stroke lead here last year but the five men to lead after three rounds at Muthaiga before him were all beaten, and Elvira and Van Driel are both in search of their first victories on the DP World Tour.

In the 15 renewals of the Kenya Open held here since 1996 (13 on the Challenge Tour), only six of the 19 men to lead or co-lead after three rounds have gone on to win and none of the 15 winners were leading after round one. That's a sizable negative for Van Driel, who led by a stroke on Thursday evening.

Van Driel has won twice on the Challenge Tour, and he was tied for the lead through three rounds when he won the Euram Bank Open back in 2018, so that's a positive but Elvira is yet to win on any Tour.

We can probably ignore his weekend performance at Ras Al Khaimah last month when he fell from first to 23rd over the weekend as he was poorly but he's led at halfway four times in total on various different Tours and he's yet to threaten the judge. And on the only occasion he led after three rounds on the Challenge Tour, at the UAE Challenge in May last year (led by two), he finished 14th after shooting 80 in round four.

Connor Syme rallied nicely after a scruffy day to get within two and he's alongside my Find me a 100 Winner fancy, Ryan Van Velzen, and Englishman, Joe Dean, who's been plying his trade on the Europro Tour, so we may need to scan a little further down the leaderboard to see the biggest dangers to the two leaders.

I'd love to think the classy Van Velzen can kick on and get the job done tomorrow but he'll need to keep his nerves in check. That's a big ask for all the frontrunners with so much on the line and I can see one of the more experienced players coming from off the pace.

I've topped up on two of my three in-play picks, Ewen Ferguson and Nacho Elvira, who sit tied for sixth and just three off the lead. They're alongside another of my Find My 100 Winner picks, 190.0189/1 shot Deon Germishuys, and I haven't yet given up on pre-event pick, Ashun Wu either.

Ewen Ferguson in round two in Kenya.jpg

The 2022 winner is four off the lead in a tie for 11th after his six-under-par 65 today and I was very surprised to see that was the best round of the day by two strokes.

Even after the rain, with vey little wind and with placing on the fairways in place, the scoring wasn't super low today and if someone within four or even five can shoot five or six under-par tomorrow it could be enough.

11:30 - February 24, 2024

The third round of the Kenya Open is well underway and live on Sky Sports and it's still ridiculously tough to call.

Rain has softened the course so it's playing a bit easier than it has over the first couple of days and I suspect we'll see a number of players get to double-digits below par. I'll be back later today at the close of play.

Over on the PGA Tour, we've got four men tied at the top at the halfway stage of the Mexico Open so it's another tough tournament to call. Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 11:20.

Jake Knapp -11 5.49/2
Matt Wallace -11 6.86/1
Sami Valimaki -11 7.613/2
Alvaro Ortiz -11 17.5
Erik Van Rooyen -10 7.06/1
Mark Hubbard -8 24.023/1
Andrew Novak -8 44.043/1
Tony Finau -7 17.016/1
-7 and 42.041/1 bar

With a gap of two strokes to the two players tied for sixth, the front five, understandably, dominate the market at halfway.

The first two winners here were both leading at this stage. Jon Rahm led by two in 2022 and Tony Finau was one in front last year, but I wouldn't rule out an off the pace winner here.

Rahm was matched at 1.758/11 when he hit the front during round three last year, having sat tied for 12th and six back after two rounds, and in the inaugural edition here, Finau and Brandon Wu made up a lot of ground to finish tied second.

They were beaten by just a stroke having trailed by nine in a tie for 47th at halfway and having sat tied seventh and seven back with a round to go.

If forced to pick one of the frontrunners it would be Matt Wallace, who won the Corales Puntacana R & C Championship last year.

That event is also played on a paspalum grass track and he was leading by a stroke there at halfway too - although he was trailing by a stroke through 54 holes after a lacklustre 70 in round three.

The 29-year-old PGA Tour rookie, Jake Knapp, heads the market, and his tee-to-green game has been quite exceptional so far. He ranks sixth for Driving Distance and second for Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation and he ranks first for both Strokes Gained: Approach and SG: Tee-to Green but he needs to start putting better. After two rounds he ranks 50th for Putting Average and only 71st for SG: Putting.

Winning this would be a huge step up in the career of the recent Qatar Masters winner, Sami Valimaki and it's very hard to fancy the other man tied for the lead, Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz.

Erik Van Rooyen, who trails by just a stroke, may well bounce back after a slightly disappointing second round but I'm happy to swerve him too.

The defending champ, Finau, is in the huge group of 18 players tied for ninth and five off the lead and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see one or two of them make a big move today if the leading bunch stutter.

I'm not in any sort of rush to side with Finau at around the 16/117.00 mark but I do like the look of Carl Yuan at a huge price.

The Florida-based Chinese birdie machine has already gone super low several times in the last few months, and he might just do so again here.

The 26-year-old finished fourth at the Bermuda Championship after a poor start and having fallen from first to 13th with a poor third round at the Sony Open in January, he shot 63 on Sunday to finish fourth - beaten by just one. I was happy to get him onside at 120.0119/1.

18:30 - February 23, 2024

Having won the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico as recently as November, South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen kicked of this week's Mexico Open with an eight-under-par 63 to lead Finland's Sam Valimaki by a stroke but having been matched at a low of 3.9, the South African has failed to kick on in round two and at the time of writing, the Finn leads by a stroke, two thirds of his way through round two.

I'll be back in the morning to take a more detailed look at that event at halfway.

Over on the DP World Tour, we've already reached the halfway stage of the Kenya Open and we have a very tight looking leaderboard.

A trio of players are tied at the top but with only seven strokes separately the entire field and with as many as 15 players separated by just two strokes, it's a wide-open affair. Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 18:25.

Connor Syme -7 7.613/2
Darius Van Driel -7 9.617/2
Tapio Pulkkanen -7 22.021/1
Ewen Ferguson -6 7.06/1
Manuel Elvira -6 20.019/1
Sam Hutsby -6 30.029/1
Lorenzo Scalise -6 42.041/1
Frederic Lacroix -5 19.018/1
Jesper Svensson -5 22.021/1
Louis De Jager -5 28.027/1
-5 and 46.045/1 bar

This has been a fantastic event to watch around a brilliant and tricky track but it's a ridiculously tough tournament to weigh up.

Looking at previous renewals here (mainly on the Challenge Tour), up with the pace at this stage has been the place to be. As many as 11 of the 15 course winners since 1996 have been inside the top-five places at halfway and 18 players have led or co-led at halfway and six went on to win.

That would suggest that we need to be concentrating hard on the very top of the leaderboard, but Jens Fahrbring lost a playoff here in 2018, having trailed by ten at halfway, and the last two winners, Ashun Wu and Jorge Campillo, both trailed by five at halfway.

The 2018 edition was the last staged here on the Challenge Tour and the last two editions were the first two staged here since the tournament was elevated to a DP World Tour event so the recent evidence suggests anything can happen here.

Wu sat tied for 10th, Campillo was tied for 21st and Lorenzo Gagli, who beat Fahbring, had trailed by four in a tie for fifth, so it really is a job to know what to think.

Scotsman, Connor Syme, eagled the last hole to move into a tie for the lead but it's fellow Scot, Ewen Ferguson, who heads the market at 6/17.00 on the exchange and that looks a fair price.

At the halfway stage, he ranks 13th for Driving Accuracy and fifth for Putting Average and Tom Lewis, who sits tied for eighth, is the only man in the field to have made as many birdies as Ferguson (12).

Ferguson led here by four with a round to go two years ago before finishing 10th but he's won twice on the DP World Tour since and he's a far more accomplished and experienced player now.

He clearly loves the track and was very well backed before the off, shortening up from 18.5 to 16.015/1, and he's still the one they all have to beat now.

Ferguson is no bigger than 11/26.50 on the High Street so odds of around 6/17.00 look fair and if he can cut the errors down fractionally over the weekend, he might just take all the beating.

I've had a tiny bet on Ferguson at 7.413/2 and I've also topped up on Adrian Otaegui at 55.054/1 but I still haven't given up on my two Find Me a 100 Winner fancies, Deon Germishuys and Ryan Van Velzen, who are still on the premises on -5 and -4.

18:00 - February 22, 2024

Darius Van Driel signed off last year's Kenya Open with the lowest round of the day around Muthaiga Country Club - an eight-under-par 63 - and he's kicked off this year's renewal with the lowest of the day again - a five-under-par 66.

With the rough up following a recent wet spell, the lush-looking par 71 track played a bit tougher than it did last year and we have a wide-open leaderboard to peruse after day one.

My Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Ryan Van Velzen, who Dave Tindall tipped up each-way in his First Round Leader column, is one of six players tied for second and there are 30 players two and three strokes off the lead so it's a very bunched field still.

There are as many as three players that I looked at closely before the off sitting tied for 16th and just three off the lead - Nacho Elvira, Adrian Otaegui and John Catlin - and I've backed the first two in-running today.

Elvira and Otaegui both start their second rounds early tomorrow, so I've had a couple of tiny bets on them, and I'll monitor the price on afternoon starter, Catlin, during the early play.

The first round of the Mexico Open is well underway and my pre-event fancy, Cameron Champ, has started nicely.

He leads by a stroke on -6 after 14 holes of his opening round but I'll be back tomorrow with a look at that event after round one.

Kenya Open Pre-Event Picks:
Ashun Wu @ 70.069/1
Dylan Frittelli @ 75.074/1

In-Play Picks:
Ewen ferguson @ 7.413/2
Adrian Otaegui @ 40.039/1
Nach Elvira @ 46.045/1

Mexico Open Pre-Event Picks:
Cameron Champ @ 70.069/1
Jhonattan Vegas @ 75.074/1

In-Play Pick:
Carl Yuan @ 120.0119/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Ryan Van Velzen @ 100.099/1 (Kenya)
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1
Deon Germishuys @ 190.0189/1 (Kenya)
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1
Marc Warren @ 370.0369/1 (Kenya)
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1
Paul Barjon @ 310.0309/1 (Mexico)
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1
Martin Trainer @ 360.0359/1 (Mexico)
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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