The Punter

The Punter's In-Play Blog: Odds-on Bhatia looks tough to beat

Golfer Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama after his off the pace win at Riviera

There's just one round to go at the Valero Texas Open so our man's back with his final in-running thoughts for the week here...

09:05 - April 7, 2024

Akshay Bhatia has enjoyed the back nine at San Antonio all week and he finished his third round nicely yesterday, playing the last five hole in three-under-par to stretch his lead over Denny McCarthy to four at the Valero Texas Open. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 9:00.

Akshay Bhatia -15 1.341/3
Denny McCarthy -11 6.05/1
Brendon Todd -8 42.041/1
Hideki Matsuyama -7 44.043/1
Russell Henley -7 65.064/1
Ludvig Aberg -6 75.074/1
-5 and 130.0129/1 bar

Since 1996, 61 players have held a four-stroke lead with a round to go on the PGA Tour and 44 went on to win. That's a strike-rate of 72%.

Despite only turning 22 in January, Bhatia is already an accomplished performer on the PGA Tour and following his victory at the Barracuda Championship last year, he's in search of his second PGA Tour title today.

The man in second, and the only player within seven of the lead, Denny McCarthy, is yet to win on the PGA Tour and on the three occasions that he's began the final round of a PGA Tour event in second place, he's finished 17th and sixth twice.

Bhatia isn't too short, and he should convert.

My Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Brendon Todd, hit a low of 5.24/1 when he played his first eight holes in three-under-par yesterday, but he gave all three strokes back over the next five holes and he needed birdies at 17 and 18 just to give him the feintest of hopes.

Todd will need help from the front two and at a similar price, Hideki Matsuyama is arguably a better bet.

The Japanese star, who's been well supported to win next week's US Masters, won the Genesis Invitational in February by three strokes, having trailed by six with a round to go!

It's highly unlikely that the leader gets caught but Matsuyama looks slightly overpriced at 44.043/1 given his heroics at Riviera.

07:25 - April 6, 2024

We've reached the halfway stage of the Valero Texas Open and the late starters on Thursday have enjoyed the best of the weather, averaging 2.03 strokes less than those drawn AM-PM.

Denny McCarthy shot a two under-par 70 in the tough blustery conditions yesterday afternoon, but the leaderboard is dominated by those that began the tournament on Thursday afternoon.

With nobody making a significant move late on, the leader, Akshay Bhatia, has shortened up from 7/42.75 to 6/42.50 since last night's update and Rory McIlroy is 7/18.00 from 8/19.00.

Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 7:15.

Akshay Bhatia -11 2.466/4
Russell Henley -6 12.011/1
Denny McCarthy -6 15.5
Brendon Todd -6 17.5
Rory McIlroy -5 8.07/1
Tommy Fleetwood -4 28.027/1
-4 and 32.031/1 bar

Please see last night's update for the record of five-stroke halfway leaders on the PGA Tour and for the record of 36-hole leaders at San Antonio.

All the leaders shortening up overnight as the market realises the situation is not a surprise and it's something I've talked about in my US Masters preview, which should go live at some point today.

Making a move as the second round draws to close is often the best time to strike in running and that's very much the case at Augusta, as it has been here this week.

I'll be back in the morning with a look at the state of play with a round to go.

21:25 - April 5, 2024

As expected, the wind has picked up in Texas and the afternoon starters at the Valero Texas Open are struggling to reach the leaders.

My pre-event pick, Russell Henley, and my Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Brendon Todd, both played this morning in the easier conditions but frustratingly, both finished their rounds tardily.

Henley, who was matched at a low of 8.07/1, bogeyed his final hole of the day and Todd, who hit a low of 5.69/2, played his last eight holes in two-over.

At the time of writing, they sit tied for second alongside Justin Lower, who's currently playing his second round, but they trail the leader, Akshay Bhatia, who played his last three holes in two-under-par today, by five!

Lower is the only man within seven of the lead at this stage and with the wind blowing and the course drying, it's extremely difficult to see anyone making inroads into Bhatia's lead.

The last man to lead by five at halfway was Patrick Cantlay at Riviera in February and he failed to convert but five-shot 36-hole leaders have almost a 70% strike-rate on the PGA Tour.

Those stats suggest Bhatia is a perfectly fair price at around 7/42.75, but I'm not convinced.

Although 11 of the 14 course winners here have been inside the top-five and within four of the lead at halfway, it's nine years since a 36-hole leader or co-leader kicked on to lift the trophy.

The last five 36-hole leaders at San Antonio have all led by at least two and, although nobody has led by as many as five strokes, Si Woo Kim finished fourth, beaten by five, having led by four at halfway, so it's clearly not easy to convert from the front at San Antonio.

If Bhatia does falter tomorrow, Rory McIlroy, who currently sits alone in fifth and seven off the lead, is going to be a big danger and he's the only man currently trading at a single-figure price. He's an 8/19.00 chance on the Exchange.

09:40 - April 5, 2024

Morning starter, Justin Lower, spent much of the first day of the Valero Texas Open on top of the leaderboard after a neat and tidy bogey-free six-under-par 66 around TPC San Antonio but he was caught and passed late on by pre-event 75.074/1 chance, Akshay Bhatia, who fired a nine-under-par 63!

My Find me a 100 Winner pick, Brendon Todd, who also teed off in the afternoon, matched Lower's 66, and there's a gap of two strokes to the group of four players tied for fourth. And if we rigidly follow the in-running stats, that's as far down the leaderboard as we can look.

There have been 13 previous renewals of this event at TPC San Antonio and one Korn Ferry Tour event and Adam Scott, who trailed by five after round one on the first occasion the event was played here, is the only course winner to trail by more than four strokes after round one.

It's clearly a frontrunners track but last year's winner, Corey Conners, who sat second after rounds two and three, is the only first round leader to win here.

With the wind predicted to pick up throughout the day, the tournament looks highly likely to take shape early on today.

Yesterday's late starters enjoyed an advantage of 0.45 strokes in round one and they look like they'll get much the better of it today too.

Bhatia looks a reasonable price at around 7/24.50 but the pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, who's looking to find form ahead of next week's US Masters, is a big danger on -3.

The world number two trails by six but he too has an early start so a solid second round should see him in-contention at halfway.

Looking at previous events here, only one of the last ten course winners has been outside the top-five places at halfway so although the third round is traditionally known as Moving Day, getting in position today, to mount a challenge over the weekend, looks vital.

Todd and pre-event fancy, Russell Henley (-3), both have early starts today so I'm hopeful that they can move forward and I've added one more to the portfolio, Canada's Adam Svensson at 80.079/1.

He's alongside Henley, McIlroy and six others in a tie for eighth and he too has an early start today. Generally a 50/151.00 chance, he's no bigger than 66/167.00 on the High Street so the 80.079/1 available on the Exchange represents a bit of early value.

Pre-event Bet:
Brian Harman @ 46.045/1
Russell Henley @ 60.059/1

In-Play Picks:
Adam Svensson @ 80.079/1
Hideki Matsuyama @ 44.043/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Brendon Todd @ 110.0109/1
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1
Lee Hodges @ 140.0139/1
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1

Read Dave Tindall's US Masters 10-year trends piece here

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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