The Punter's In-Play Blog: DJ shoots clear again at East Lake

Golfer Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson - five clear at the Tour Championship
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Dustin Johnson has stretched his lead to five at the Tour Championship but is it a done deal with just one round to go? Read Steve's final in-running thoughts for the week here...

“The golf Johnson’s playing is reminiscent of his fabulous streak back in 2017 when he won three events in-a-row and it would be a brave punter to take him on from here.”

08:45 - August 7, 2020

Dustin Johnson hit only two fairways in round two of the Tour Championship on Saturday - tying his lowest total for fairways hit in any round on the PGA Tour. Yesterday, in round three, he hit 11 - tying his highest total for fairways hit in any round on the PGA Tour.

That improvement off the tee made all the difference and he finished up shooting the joint-lowest round of the day (64) to go five strokes clear with a round to go. Here's the current standings with prices to back at 08:35.

Dustin Johnson -19 [1.29]
Justin Thomas -14 [13.0]
Xander Schauffele -14 [14.5]
Jon Rahm -13 [20.0]
Collin Morikawa -12 [55.0]
-10 and [300.0] bar

DJ had said he was going to go to the range and fix his driving after the second round and whatever he did, it worked. I thought he was starting to tire on Saturday and fancied we might get a competitive couple of rounds to decide the outcome of the FedEx Cup but it looks very much like a done deal now.

There is hope for Johnson layers. He was beaten at the 2017 WGC HSBC Champions having led by six with a round to go and he also finished tied for 28th at the RBC Heritage last year having led through 54 holes when he shot 77 on Sunday but he held a five-stroke lead through three rounds at the Northern Trust two weeks ago and he won by 11 shots!

Camilo Villegas won at East Lake from five strokes back in 2008, when he beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff, but nobody has ever led by more than four strokes before. Henrik Stenson was four in front when he won by three in 2013 and it's very hard to see DJ slipping up now.

The golf Johnson is playing is reminiscent of his fabulous streak back in 2017 when he won three events in-a-row and it would be a brave punter to take him on from here.

12:15 - August 6, 2020

Dustin Johnson found only two fairways at the Tour Championship yesterday but he leads by a stroke after a level par 70 in round two after all his closest challengers failed to break par.

Jon Rahm, who was tied with DJ after Friday's opening round, shot a four-over-par 74 yesterday, nine strokes more than he'd hit on Friday, and the three players that sat third, fourth and fifth after round one - Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Abraham Ancer - all shot one-over-par 71s. Here's the 36 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 12:10.

Dustin Johnson -13 [2.84]
Sungjae Im -12 [10.5]
Xander Schauffele -11 [5.9]
Justin Thomas -10 [7.4]
Jon Rahm -9 [11.5]
Collin Morikawa -9 [17.5]
Tyrrell Hatton -9 [36.0]
Rory McIlroy -8 [19.0]
Brendon Todd -8 [85.0]
-7 and [250.0] bar

Given he's leading the tournament at halfway, having gone off at around [3.25], it's really quite odd to see Dustin Johnson trading only slightly shorter than his starting price but it's understandable.

With the rough up this year, if he continues to miss the fairways like he did yesterday it's very hard to envisage him winning the tournament and after a month of being in serious contention, the likelihood of him running out gas has to be reasonably high.

In his last three starts Johnson's finished runner-up in the US PGA Championship, having led with a round to go, romped to victory in the Northern Trust, and only last weekend he was beaten in a playoff by Rahm in the BMW Championship. His victory at TPC Boston wouldn't have been too taxing but both his narrow defeats came on ultra-tough layouts and even though he doesn't show it, he must be mentally drained. His record when in-contention here is off-putting too...

This is the fourth time he's been inside the top-five at halfway in the Tour Championship and he's gone backwards every time. He was fifth and only three off the lead in 2012 but weekend rounds of 73 and 70 saw him finish tenth in 2012, he finished fifth 12 months later, having sat fourth at halfway, and he led through rounds one, two and three in 2016 before a 73 on Sunday saw him finish sixth - beaten by seven. He traded at odds-on to win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup that year and he's yet to win here.

The market, quite rightly, considers Dave Tindall's fancy, Xander Schauffele, as the man most likely to succeed should DJ fail and given his record here, it's difficult to see him dropping away. Xander won here on debut three years ago and he's since finished seventh and third. The only slight negative with Schauffele is that he hasn't won since January last year and one could argue that he's had his fair share of chances this year but that would be extremely picky. He's utterly reliable in-contention and it's only a matter of time before he wins again. And if he continues to putt like he has the first two days it could well be this week.

Justin Thomas won the FedEx Cup when Xander won the Tour Championship in 2017 when he finished second here so although he's won the FedEx Cup, he's yet to win at East Lake but with course form figures reading 6-2-7-9, he clearly likes it here. Thomas is a relentless competitor and a very prolific winner but his game hasn't been at it's best for a while now. He's in fourth place despite the way he's playing and not because of it and he needs to improve on the greens in particular if he's to win his second FedEx Cup title and his first Tour Championship.

Next up in the betting is my pre-event pick, Sungjae Im, and he looks a decent price at [10.5]. His stats are very impressive so far this week given he ranks first for Greens In Regulation as well as Strokes Gained on Approach and he was extremely impressive when winning the Honda Classic in February. Last year's Rookie of the Year is still only 22 but he has the demeanour of a seasoned campaigner and I'm quite hopeful he can hang around all weekend.

The trio on -9 and four off the lead - Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Paul Krishnamurty's Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Tyrrell Hatton - are all very much in the argument and given his record here, it would be no surprise at all to see Rory McIlroy bounce back today, although he does need to start finding more fairways. The stats suggest we shouldn't look beyond him and Brendon Todd though...

The last two winners here, McIlroy and Tiger Woods, were in front at halfway and nobody has won at East Lake from more than five strokes back at halfway this century. That could be a bit misleading though. As many as four winners have trailed by five in the last 12 years and Ryan Moore was beaten in a playoff in 2016 having trailed by five so ground can most certainly be made up here.

After the leading pack all struggled yesterday, the tournament has a far more open look to it today and the dangers to DJ are plentiful. It's a tricky puzzle to solve and I was tempted to leave the event alone for now but the [5.9] about Xander is just big enough to chance modestly.

09:45 - August 6, 2020

Despite bogeys at both 17 and 18 in round three, John Catlin is still in front and the only man under-par at the Andalucía Masters. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 9:40.

John Catlin -2 [3.05]
Martin Kaymer Level par [3.35]
Jamie Donaldson +1 [11.0]
Lorenzo Gagli +1 [11.5]
Sami Valimaki +2 [15.0]
Adrian Otagui +3 [30.0]
Will Besseling +3 [50.0]
+4 and [60.0] bar

John Catlin fell from tied first to sixth at the Darulaman Championship on the Asian Development Tour back in 2016 but he quickly learnt from the experience. Since then, he's led or co-led four times (twice on the ADT and twice on the Asian Tour) and he's successfully converted every time. Leading on the European Tour is a step up from leading on the Asian Tour and yesterday's bogey-bogey finish is far from ideal but he's still the man to beat.

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, every winner of this event has been in front with a round to go so the stats are in his favour and there are questions marks against all his closest challengers.

Martin Kaymer really should have won last week but finished tardily and he and Jamie Donaldson, who's now 44, are both looking to win for the first time in six years and Lorenzo Gagli, who sits alongside Donaldson on +1, like Catlin, is looking to win on the European Tour for the first time. The Italian has won on the Challenge Tour (2018 Kenya Tour) and he lost in a playoff at the European Masters almost exactly a year ago on the European Tour so I don't expect him to wilt under the final round pressure but pre-event pick, Sami Valimaki, alone in fifth place and four off the lead, may prove to be the best alternative to the leader.

After a slow start on Thursday afternoon, the impressive young Finn has constructed back-to-back 69s to edge into the frame and yesterday's bogey-free knock was especially impressive.

I'm going to stick with what I already have and I'll be back shortly with a look at the Tour Championship.

12:40 - August 5, 2020

Proponents of the 'Nappy Factor' will feel vindicated today after world number four, Rory McIlroy, muscled his way into the Tour Championship picture with a six-under 66 at East Lake, just days after the birth of his first child - a daughter by the name of Poppy Kennedy.

Equalled only by Mexico's Abraham Ancer, Rory's 66 sees him climb up into fourth place on a stellar leaderboard that displays the world's top-four in order. Here are the standings after round one with prices to back at 12:35.

Dustin Johnson -13 [3.0]
Jon Rahm -13 [3.0]
Justin Thomas -11 [6.2]
Rory McIlroy -9 [9.2]
Abraham Ancer -7 [110.0]
Xander Schauffele -6 [48.0]
Webb Simpson -6 [65.0]
-6 and [180.0] bar

With the world's best four players already clear of the remainder, it's very hard to make any sort of case for anyone outside the top-four places and after a fairly disastrous start with my pre-event picks, I'm happy to leave the event alone for now.

Sungjae Im, backed before the off at [140.0], hit a low of [18.0] yesterday when he got to within two of the lead but he bogeyed two of his last three holes and my other picks were awful. I quite fancied Bryson DeChambeau to relish the challenge of chasing down DJ and co but he bogeyed three of his first four holes and that was the end of that.

It's tempting to play the defending champ, McIlroy, who's looking to become the first FedEx Cup winner to go back-to-back, but it's hard to make a case for him being a value price when he's still four strokes adrift of the best two players in the world, who are both looking to win their second event in three weeks.

DJ and Rahm are both looking to win the FedEx Cup for a first time and if I had to plump for one it would be Rahm. The Spaniard came from off the pace to pinch the BMW Championship last week and having already bridged the two stroke handicap gap, I fancy he's marginally more likely to go on to win. I'm more than happy to leave it alone for now though and take another look tomorrow.

21:15 - September 4, 2020

It seems to have taken an age but the second round of the Andalucía Masters has finally concluded and the last man to tee-off today, at 15:40, John Catlin, holds a two-stroke lead going into the weekend. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 21:05

John Catlin -3 [7.8]
Connor Syme -1 [7.8]
Pablo Larrazabal -1 [9.8]
Jamie Donaldson -1 [10.0]
Wilco Nienaber Level Par [17.0]
Soren Kjeldsen +1 [18.5]
Lorenzo Gagli +1 [25.0]
Guido Migliozzi +1 [28.0]
Alejandro Canizares +1 [50.0]
Martin Kaymer +2 [11.0]
+2 and [17.0] bar

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, the last eight players to win at Valderrama have been inside the front five places all week long. When Sergio Garcia won this event for a third time two years ago, poor weather saw the tournament reduced to three rounds but four of the last seven course winners (over four rounds) have been in front at halfway, so Catlin can't be dismissed readily.

The 29-year-old Californian is yet to win on the European Tour but he's won four times in the last couple of years on the Asian Tour and he's three from four when leading or co-leading at halfway.

Catlin failed to back up a 62 in round two of the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship on the Asian Development Tour back in January, falling out of the lead with 71 on day three before eventually finishing second (beaten by two) but he successfully converted a one-stroke lead at the Perak Championship on the ADT in 2017 (won by seven) and on the two occasions he's been tied for the lead through 36 holes on the Asian Tour, in May and October 2018, he went on to win by a couple of strokes.

So far this week, Catlin ranks third for Driving Accuracy, seventh for Greens In Regulation and second for Putting Average and if he can maintain that level of accuracy, as well as roll in the putts, he might just take some catching.

Multiple winner, Pablo Larrazabal, is close enough if he can find the putting surfaces with more regularity (ranks 74th for GIR), the man that ranks first for GIR so far this week, Martin Kaymer, who trails by five, could be perfectly placed for a weekend charge, and I've also got my eye on Guido Migliozzi, who really seems to enjoy a tree-lined test but it's a tough one to call still and other than a very small wager on Catlin, I'm going to see how tomorrow develops.

Andalucía Masters Pre-Event Selections:
Rasmus Højgaard @ [19.0]
Andy Sullivan @ [19.5]
Sami Valimaki @ [55.0]

In-Play Pick:
John Catlin @ [7.8]

Tour Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Bryson DeChambeau @ [34.0]
Hideki Matsuyama @ [46.0]
Harris English @ [110.0]
Sungjae Im @ [140.0]
Joaquin Niemann @ [290.0]

In-Play Pick:
Xander Schauffele @ [5.9]

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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