The Punter's In-Play Blog: DJ shows the way at Harding Park

Golfer Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson - one clear with a round to go at Harding Park

World number five, Dustin Johnson, has struck the front with a round to go in the US PGA Championship but can he stay there? Read Steve's final in-running thoughts on the year's first major here...

“A very recent winner of the Workday Charity Open, Morikawa is yet to win a major but given 12 of the last 17 (71%) major championships have gone to a first-timer and that 21 of the last 34 US PGA Championship winners (62%) were breaking their major duck, I really wouldn’t let that put you off. ”

14:15 - August 9, 2020

Dustin Johnson rattled in eight birdies on his way to a five-under-par 65 yesterday and he leads by one with a round to go at this year's US PGA Championship. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 14:00.

Dustin Johnson -9 4.03/1
Cameron Champ -8 12.011/1
Scottie Scheffler -8 13.5
Brooks Koepka -7 6.411/2
Colin Morikawa -7 12.011/1
Paul Casey -7 19.5
Bryson DeChambeau -6 17.5
Tommy Fleetwood -6 21.020/1
Jason Day -6 23.022/1
Daniel Berger -6 24.023/1
Justin Rose -6 32.031/1
Tony Finau -6 34.033/1
-5 and 40.039/1 bar

We have to go all the way back to the last century and to Paul Lawrie's incredible comeback at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open Championship to find the last occasion a major was won by someone outside the top-ten with a round to go, suggesting the winner of this year's first major is listed above. And third round leaders have a decent record in this one...

Kevin Kisner finished seventh three years ago, having led by a stroke through 54 holes but five of the last six third round leaders have gone on to win and 10 of the 17 outright 54 hole leaders since 1996 (not including ties) have converted. Since the turn of the century, seven players have held a one-stroke lead and four of them converted, suggesting Dustin Johnson at 4.03/1 is a perfectly fair price. There are definitely negatives though.

This is the fourth time that DJ has entered the final round of a major championship with a lead and he's yet to convert. He came from behind to win his one and only major - the US Open in 2016 - and it's impossible to predict how he'll fare today.

The last time Johnson led a PGA Tour event was at the RBC Heritage last year and he finished tied for 28th after a 77 in round four. And he blew a six stroke lead at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China in 2017 but he's a mercurial character and he's just as likely to be solid in-contention and to convert with the minimum of fuss. He's led or co-led a 72 hole event after three rounds 18 times in total and he's gone on to win nine times.

DJ is one of only four players in the top-12 to have previously won a major championship and all things considered, it's hard to make a case for laying DJ at today's price but I'm loathed to back him. He's just too inconsistent and I'm always cautious of someone that scored well the day before because of a red-hot putter. He holed almost everything he looked at yesterday and that's very unlikely to happen again today. And one last negative is his playing partner today - Scottie Scheffler.

Like DJ, Scheffler holed some lengthy putts late on to post his score yesterday but I do fear for him playing in the final two-ball of a major championship. An outrageously good shout by Dave Tindall before the off at 125/1, Scheffler is aiming for not only his first major but also his first PGA Tour win and although he may well improve, and I could be doing him a huge disservice, on the two occasions I've observed him in-contention, he's been poor.

Scheffler led the Greenbrier at halfway in September last year and the American Express in January. He lost his way in round three at the Greenbriar, eventually finishing seventh, beaten by eight, and although he remained tied for the lead after round three of the American Express, he failed to break 70 on Sunday and was eventually beaten by three.

Bidding to win the title for a third year-in-a-row, Brooks Koepka is understandably the second favourite behind DJ and it was very impressive the way he arrested his slide on the back-nine yesterday. He's definitely not at his brilliant best and he looked like he was going to throw the chance of the historic threepeat away yesterday when he made three bogeys in-a-row from the 13th but he rallied impressively and his birdie at 18 was huge.

Koepka is attempting to become the first player to win this title three times in three years since it became a stroke play event back in 1958 and that's bound to create lots of extra pressure. He's dropped at least two shots on each of the first three days and I'm not entirely convinced he's the bombproof closer he once was. He hasn't won since he defended this title in May last year but that wasn't pretty. He'd led by seven with a round to go but leaked shots badly on the back-nine before eventually wining by two.

Pre-event 300.0299/1 pick, Cameron Champ is nicely poised in a tie for second but I'm not getting my hopes up. I had 220.0219/1 chance, Brendon Todd, leading last week after three rounds and it didn't end well but like I did with Todd, I have already locked in a bit of profit, laying Champ last night between 7.413/2 and 8.07/1.

I'm certainly not giving up on him either though. Champ was impressive yesterday after shooting the lowest round of the day on Friday. Nobody's hitting it further off the tee and he was unlucky not to finish better than he did. He hit a tree with his second shot on the par four 15th (aren't they supposed to be 90% air?) and I've no idea how his birdie putt on 18 stayed out but it may all work out for the best. Champ plays with his good friend Colin Morikawa in today's penultimate two-ball and that could be a huge plus.

My ante-post play, Paul Casey, who's been playing some awful golf of late, is alongside Koepka and Morikawa and it's impossible to discount any of the players tied for seventh.

Tommy Fleetwood, who partially recovered a predictably poor third round (see yesterday's post) with two birdies in his last three holes yesterday, will be better suited to coming from behind than leading, and the same can be said of previous major winners Jason Day and Justin Rose. Although Rose's game looks in poor shape, and I'm surprised how well he's hanging in.

Bryson DeChambeau holed a ridiculous putt of just under 100 feet to get into the group on -6 and I just think he's being too aggressively to chance. Daniel Berger needs to putt considerably better than he did yesterday and as popular winner as he'd be, it's very hard to envisage Tony Finau winning. Notoriously poor in-contention, he's yet to add to his solitary PGA Tour title (the Puerto Rico Open in 2016). I'm not convinced he'd be any more nervous in a major than he is in a standard PGA Tour event so I wouldn't discount him altogether put the cards would certainly have to fall perfectly for him and the one I like today at the prices is Morikawa.

I took a bit of 13.5 during play last night, before Koepka's strong finish, but the Californian native (who's another of Dave's picks) looks a very fair price today. A very recent winner of the Workday Charity Open, Morikawa is yet to win a major but given 12 of the last 17 (71%) major championships have gone to a first-timer and that 21 of the last 34 US PGA Championship winners (62%) were breaking their major duck, I really wouldn't let that put you off.

The final round of the English Championship is well underway and it's currently live on Sky. Andy Sullivan is going to take some beating given he led by five after 54-holes but you never know on the European Tour, and on a course where silly low scores are possible, he won't be able to let up on the birdie making.

I'll be back tomorrow sometime with my debrief but timing will depend on just how tired I am. These West Coast majors are hard work!

11:45 - August 8, 2020

China's Haotong Li fired a five-under-par 65 at the US PGA Championship yesterday morning and although Jason Day drew alongside him after just seven holes of his second round, the pre-tournament 1000.0 chance now leads by two. Here are the standings after round two with prices to back at 11:30.

Haotong Li -8 19.5
Brooks Koepka -6 5.79/2
Tommy Fleetwood -6 10.09/1
Daniel Berger -6 10.519/2
Jason Day -6 11.010/1
Justin Rose -6 14.5
Michael Lorenzo-Vera -6 70.069/1
Paul Casey -5 30.029/1
Brendon Todd -5 40.039/1
Cameron Champ -5 44.043/1
Dustin Johnson -4 16.5
Xander Schauffele -4 17.016/1
Alex Noren -4 110.0109/1
Bernd Wiesberger -4 130.0129/1
Lanto Griffin -4 160.0159/1
-3 and 15.014/1 bar

Having finished down the field in 75th place at the WGC - FedEx St Jude last week, following a missed cut in the Memorial Tournament in his only two starts since the restart, Haotong Li began the week as a virtually unconsidered 1000.0 chance but he begins the weekend with a two-stroke lead.

Without a doubt, Li would be an inconceivable winner but he wouldn't be the first left field winner of this championship and he's arguably still a little big at 19.5 this morning. Li hasn't led at this stage in any PGA or European Tour event but he converted three from three 36 hole leads in his homeland and since 1996, 16 men have held a clear lead at the halfway stage of a US PGA Championship and half of them went on to win. Li probably needs to improve his long game, given he only found four fairways yesterday, but he might just hang around longer than the market appears to think he will.

Behind Li is a logjam of high-quality players and it's very hard to make an emphatic case for any of them. Brooks Koepka, in search of an historic threepeat, is heading the market and that makes sense but he still appears to be hitting the odd loose shot and he's attempting quite a feat. He's also been receiving mid-round physio attention for his hip and that has to be a concern.

Tommy Fleetwood was one of only two players to better Li's 65 yesterday and he, Daniel Berger and Jason Day are all vying for second favouritism. It's notoriously hard to back up a low round though and Fleetwood has propensity to chuck in a poor third round when in-the-mix. As an example, he finished second to Koepka at the 2018 US Open after shooting 63 on Sunday but that followed a 78 on Saturday and I'm happy to swerve him.

Day was matched at just 5.14/1 when he soon caught Li yesterday afternoon but he made a mess of the par four 12th and failed to record a single birdie after the par five 10th.

Major champions, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson are lurking, pre-event pick, Xander Schauffele, is within four and my strongest longshot fancy, Cameron Champ, who I backed at 300.0299/1 before the off, matched Fleetwood's 64 yesterday and is now within three, but Berger is the one that makes most appeal today.

Only his slight lack of length and his mediocre record in California put me off Berger before the off but they really were only very small negatives. He's been in terrific form all year, he's already won since the restart, and he's highly likely to keep going in the right direction today. I thought 11.010/1 was fair at this stage and he's been added to the portfolio.

At a triple-figure price, I was also happy to back Bernd Wiesberger, who trails by four. The Austrian won three times last year on the European Tour and he contended strongly at this championship back in 2014. I thought 130.0129/1 was just fractionally too big.

It's a bit of a shame that the US PGA Championship is taking up so much of my attention this week because the English Championship on the European Tour is developing into an interesting event. The scoring at Hanbury Manor is very low and it's going to be quite a sprint to the line over the weekend.

I have two pre-event picks still on the fringes of contention - Jordan Smith and Ryan Fox - but they need super low rounds today to make headway in to Andy Sullivan's halfway lead.

On 14-under-par, Sullivan leads by a stroke over Laurie Canter and Dean Burmester at halfway but he looks short enough given he hasn't won in five years. I threw a few in-running darts yesterday and I've also added South Africa's Brandon Stone this morning at 22.021/1.

My small in-running play on Andrea Pavan soon went astray when he finished round two double-bogey-bogey yesterday and Andrew Johnston has drifted out fractionally since I backed him in-running too but that's allowed me to have a small top-up.

11:25 - August 7, 2020

The weather forecast had suggested that an early start would be beneficial on day one of the US PGA Championship yesterday and that proved to be the case - although it wasn't significantly advantageous.

The afternoon wave averaged 71.56 compared to 70.67 averaged by the morning starters (a difference of 0.89 strokes), so there wasn't a huge differential in the scoring but Brendon Todd, who's tied for the lead with Jason Day, is the only afternoon starter in the top-11 on the leaderboard.

Here are the standings after round one with prices to back at 11:10.

Jason Day -5 11.010/1
Brendon Todd -5 25.024/1
Brooks Koepka -4 6.25/1
Xander Schauffele -4 9.28/1
Justin Rose -4 30.029/1
Scottie Scheffler -4 38.037/1
Martin Kaymer -4 100.099/1
Brendan Steele -4 100.099/1
Zach Johnson -4 130.0129/1
Bud Cauley -4 170.0169/1
Michael Lorenzo-Vera -4 250.0249/1
-3 and 15.014/1 bar

Day to lead after every round and win at 200/1 was one of my more speculative selections of the week so he's a quarter of the way there but with as many as 19 players separated by just two strokes and with 67 at par or better and within five, I'm certainly not counting any chickens just yet.

Brooks Koepka, who's looking for an historic third US PGA Championship win in-a-row, heads the market after his four-under-par 66 and looking back at his first two victories shows why it's best to be cautious at this early stage.

Koepka was leading by one at his stage when defending the title last year and he shot seven clear at halfway. He maintained that margin through round three before scrambling home on Sunday and he was the second wire-to-wire winner in four years, following Jimmy Walker's win at Baltusrol in 2015, but he won in very different fashion in 2018.

Brooks started slowly at Bellerive. He was tied for 33rd and five off the lead after the opening day before a seven-under-par 63 on day two saw him move in to sole third and just two off the lead at halfway and Justin Thomas won the 2017 edition after an even slower start. He shot 73 around Quail Hollow and was trailing by six in a tie for 44th.

Those two victories demonstrate that if your picks haven't started too brightly this week it's far too early to give up on them but as you'd expect, the majority of US PGA Championship winners are quick out of the blocks. The five winners before Thomas trailed by no more than three strokes, and Jason Dufner, in 2013, was the only one of the five not to be inside the top-four places. He sat tied 11th.

Only two of my six pre-event picks were drawn in the morning - Xander Schauffele and Michael Thompson - and the former is bang there but none of the four that teed it up later broke par unfortunately.

Marc Leishman was two-under-par through ten but bogeyed 11 and 12 and Jon Rahm also finished up on level par after picking up two strokes on his back nine.

Given how wide open the event is, I'm happy to sit and wait for now but I have followed Paul Krishnamurty in with one of his Find Me a 100 Winner picks - Brendan Steele.

He ticked a few boxes before the off and he's too big this morning at a triple-figure price.

Over at the English Championship, which is currently live on Sky Sports, I've had a tiny in-running play on Andrew Johnston but I'm not following that one too intently given there's a major to concentrate on.

US PGA Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Jon Rahm @ 16.5
Xander Schauffele @ 25.024/1
Marc Leishman @ 110.0109/1
Joaquin Niemann @ 230.0229/1
Cameron Champ @ 300.0299/1 (layed back during round three at 7.413/2 - 8.07/1)
Michael Thompson @ 380.0379/1

In-Play Picks:
Brendan Steele @ 110.0109/1
Daniel Berger @ 11.010/1
Haotong Li @ 19.5
Bernd Wiesberger @ 130.0129/1
Colin Morikawa @ 13.5

English Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Ryan Fox @ 26.025/1
Jordan Smith @ 60.059/1
Guido Migliozzi @ 95.094/1
Max Kieffer @ 95.094/1

In-Play Picks:
Andrew Johnston @ 21.020/1
Andrea Pavan @ 60.059/1
Brandon Stone @ 22.021/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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