The Punter's In-Play Blog: DJ impossible to oppose at the Valspar

Golfer Paul Casey
Paul Casey – can he finally convert from the front?
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Scott Hend has won the Maybank Championship so it's on to Florida where the defending champ, Paul Casey, leads the Valspar Championship with a round to go. Read Steve's thoughts on the final round here...

“Whatever happens from here, Casey has put up a cracking title defence and he was very impressive yesterday until a slightly wayward drive on 18 cost him a dropped shot. His game is in tip-top shape and if he can keep his composure, he’ll take some beating but unfortunately for Casey fans, that’s a massive if.”

12:15 - March 24, 2019

What a difference a year makes. Paul Casey fell from second to 11th in round three of last year's Valspar Championship before shooting 65 to snatch the title. This year he began the third round tied for the lead with Austin Cook but after a three-under-par 68, he's ended the day in front. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 12:10 UK time.

Paul Casey -9 [3.5]
Dustin Johnson -8 [2.46]
Jason Kokrak -7 [9.2]
Scott Stallings -6 [30.0]
Luke Donald -6 [32.0]
Louis Oosthuizen -5 [34.0]
Jim Furyk -5 [34.0]
Sungjae Im -5 [44.0]
Nick Taylor -5 [80.0]
Austin Cook -5 [80.0]
Curtis Luck -5 [120.0]
-4 and [230.0] bar

Whatever happens from here, Casey has put up a cracking title defence and he was very impressive yesterday until a slightly wayward drive on 18 cost him a dropped shot. His game is in tip-top shape and if he can keep his composure, he'll take some beating but unfortunately for Casey fans, that's a massive if.

Casey's record when leading is lamentable. The Englishman was beaten at the AT&T Pebble Beach last month, having led by three with a round to go, he gave up a four-shot lead at the Travelers Championship last season, he went from two clear to three back and fifth at the Tour Championship in 2017, and a year earlier he lost the Deutsche Bank Championship by two strokes, having led by three with a round to go.

Last year's victory here was his second on the PGA Tour but he had help from others to varying degrees - as was the case when he won his first title at the Shell Houston Open ten years ago - and one could even point to his recent runner-up finish on the Asian Tour and suggest it was just another example where he could have fared better...

Casey got to within a stroke of the eventual winner, Jazz Janewattananond, with five holes to play at the Singapore Open but the gap was doubled when he bogeyed the par four 15th. That was a disappointing performance given the opposition and grade and he looks opposable yet again here, especially when we add in the very poor record of third round leaders at this event.

As highlighted in the preview, nine of the last 12 winners have come from behind with a round to go and that includes Casey 12 months, who trailed by five after round three. Charl Schwartzel also trailed by five when he won here three years ago but that's as far back as any winner has come from so the winner is almost certain to be inside the top-11 and listed above. And it's highly likely to be the pre-tournament favourite...

Like Casey 20 minutes later, Dustin Johnson also found the coffin bunkers to the right of the 18th fairway yesterday but where Casey couldn't reach the green, and finished up making a bogey five, DJ produced this remarkable birdie three...

Dustin's four-under-par 67 yesterday was his 14th round in-a-row in the 60s and the market quite rightly makes the world number one the man to beat but the stats aren't especially favourable. DJ has trailed by a stroke ten times previously but he's only gone on to win on three occasions.

That could be a bit misleading though. On the last occasion he trailed by one he won the WGC-Mexico Championship (two years ago) and it's very easy to argue a case for him being a more composed and reliable in-contention player nowadays. He is most definitely the one they all have to beat and it's hard to argue that [2.4] plus isn't a very fair price and I'm happy to take it.

I'm also happy to take [32.0] about Scott Stallings. The 33-year-old won the last of his three PGA Tour titles five years ago at the Genesis Open at Torrey Pines so although it's been a while since he's tasted success, we know he can hang tough on a tough track.

14:10 - March 23, 2019

We've reached the halfway stage of the Valspar Championship and it looks like a tournament to swerve at this stage. The defending champ, Paul Casey, is tied at the top with Austin Cook on six-under-par but anyone that made the cut on +1 is still in it.

This is only the 19th renewal (all staged at the Copperhead Course) and we've already seen winners come form four, six, seven (twice) and even eight strokes off the lead at halfway here. The leaders may be helped out fractionally with the forecast suggesting the wind will drop slightly as the day wares on but the greens will firm up in the afternoon so it's as broad as it is long.

Pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson, is still lurking with intent on four-under-par - just two shots off the lead - and Casey is trading at around a point bigger than DJ at [5.5]. The current third favourite, Jon Rahm, would have been alongside Johnson but for a missed three-foot par putt on 18 yesterday and hugely promising Korean, Sungjae Im, who turns 21 a week today, is trading at a point bigger than the Spaniard at [12.0].

Given how many winners have come from off the pace here, I was quite tempted to lay the front four in the market and see where that took me but I've changed my mind. The likes of Johnson and Rahm won't have to do an awful lot to shorten up and on a closer inspection of the stats, young Im is performing well in the correct areas to take the title. He ranks fifth for both Greens In Regulation and Putting Average and if he keeps that up over the weekend he could be holding his first PGA Tour trophy on Sunday night.

This is a tournament to be wary of still and it's maybe one to take a small chance on an outsider or two from off the pace in, so I've picked out a couple at big prices just for a bit of fun. I highlighted the Sony Open as a good guide for this event in the preview so I've backed a pair of former Sony winners currently tied for 23rd and just five off the lead on one-under-par - Russell Henley and Patton Kizzire.

Over in Malaysia, Nacho Elvira has struck the front in the Maybank Championship after back-to-back birdies to end round three saw him leapfrog my in-play pick, David Lipsky, who, in contrast, finished his third round, bogey-par. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 14:00

Nacho Elvira -13 [3.15]
David Lipsky -11 [5.6]
Jazz Janewattananond -10 [8.0]
Max Kieffer-10 [9.2]
Scott Hend -10 [12.0]
Ernie Els -9 [18.0]
Benjamin Hebert -9 [27.0]
Oliver Fisher -8 [60.0]
-7 and [48.0] bar

This event is no more straightforward than the Valspar and we could very easily witness an off the pace winner here too. Shubhankar Sharma sat tied for 19th and four back before firing 62 to win by two strokes last year and the 2017 winner, Fabrizio Zanotti, sat ninth and he trailed by six! The Paraguayan sits tied 13th and seven back this time around. Will lightening strike twice? He's trading at around [130.0] if you think it might.

I'm going to keep an eye on the market and see if there are any silly drifters later on tonight but for now I'm going to stick with Lipsky, although Scott Hend looks a fair price at [12.0].

12:30 - March 22, 2019

Pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson, is lurking menacingly on two-under-par - just three shots off the lead held jointly by Sepp Straka and Joel Dahmen - after the opening round of the Valspar Championship and he's understandably firmed up at the head of the market but I'm going to leave that event alone for now. As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics of the preview, we can expect much change there in the next couple of days and I'm happy to keep the powder dry for now.

Over in Malaysia, two of my pre-event picks, Matthias Scwab and Gaganjeet Bhullar, started nicely in round one of the Maybank Championship and Schwab hit the front when he birdied the opening hole today but the day went pear-shaped fast after that. He ended up shooting three-over-par and Bhullar played his last five holes in four-over-par to match the Austrian's miserable effort. It was all very disappointing but as poor as their finishes were, poor Nacho Elvira's was equally bad.

The Spaniard hit a low of [2.94] when he gave himself a legitimate chance to eagle the par five 13th but he ran that past the hole, missed the birdie putt back, double-bogeyed the 14th and bogeyed the 15h! To his credit, he composed himself well enough to par in after that but he'd gone from looking like running away with it to looking like a liability. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 12:30.

Thomas Pieters -8 [4.1]
Nacho Elvira -7 [16.0]
Danny Masrin -7 [70.0]
Jazz Janewattananond -6 [12.5]
David Lipsky -6 [18.0]
Lucas Herbert -6 [18.5]
Max Kieffer-6 [20.0]
Ernie Els -6 [26.0]
Dean Burmester -6 [32.0]
Paul Peterson -6 [34.0]
-5 and [28.0] bar

Thomas Pieters began the event as the favourite and he's quite clearly the man to beat now but he's going to have to change recent in-running trends at the track if he's going to win...

As highlighted in the In-Play tactics of the preview, frontrunners used to have a great record here and the five course winners between 1997 and 2005 were all up with the pace throughout - within two of the lead and inside the top-four - but the last four course winners have trailed by at least six strokes at this stage so we really can't discount anyone that made the cut on level par.

It's a bit of a minefield and I was tempted to let it play out tomorrow without me but I felt compelled to get David Lipsky onside at [19.0] as play was concluding today.

Lipsky was second here two years ago, he plays Fanling well and he's won at Crans, the two courses that I felt correlated best. A number of firms opened up at 50/1 on Monday and that price was still available on Tuesday but not with any firms I can bet with so I was quite pleased when he started slowly yesterday but he's in the argument now and I can't let him go unbacked.

I'll be back tomorrow when they've reached the halfway stage of the Valspar Championship.

15:20 - March 21, 2019

The electrical activity that often blights any event in Malaysia didn't materialise at the Maybank Championship today and the first round's been completed on time. As expected, the morning starters enjoyed the advantage of playing the course at its pristine best and on average, they shot 1.29 shots less than the afternoon starters. The top-six, led by Marcus Fraser and Nacho Elvira on seven-under-par, all played in the morning and only three of the top-14 played in the afternoon. And they all trail by three strokes.

As highlighted in the preview, day one early starters often go on to win here, and I'm pleased to see two of my pre-event picks have started well - Gaganjeet Bhullar sits tied for seventh and three off the lead and Matthias Schwab is tied for third and just one adrift - but I'm going to add one of today's afternoon starters - Zach Murray.

Murray, who only turns 22 a week tomorrow, has risen from 802nd to 316th in the world rankings, courtesy of his impressive wire-to-wire win in the 100th edition of the New Zealand Open at the start of the month and he also won wire-to wire in his homeland in the Western Australian Open in October. I know very little about Murray but from what I saw of his play this morning, he looks like one to keep an eye on and I was more than happy to throw a few pounds in his direction at [75.0] given he was one of the three to go low from the afternoon wave.

The Valspar Championship (previewed here) is up and running it's great to see Luke Donald has started nicely. At the time of writing, he's one of eight players tied for the early lead on three-under-par. I'll be back to take a look at that one in more detail tomorrow.

Maybank Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Aaron Rai @ [55.0]
Gaganjeet Bhullar @ [65.0]
Matthias Schwab @ [110.0]
Thongchai Jaidee @ [150.0]

In-Play Picks
Zach Murray @ [75.0]
David Lipsky @ [19.0]

Valspar Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Brandt Snedeker @ [50.0]
Ollie Schniederjans @ [110.0]
Sam Burns @ [370.0]
Jason Dufner @ [380.0]

In-Play Picks:
Russell Henley @ [170.0]
Patton Kizzire @ [400.0]
Dustin Johnson @ [2.48]
Scott Stallings @ [32.0]

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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