The Punter's In-Play Blog: Tight at the top in Dubai

Golfer Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed in action in Dubai on Friday

There's a logjam at the top of the leaderboard in Dubai and our man's back to try and untangle it. Can Willett win it again but from off the pace this time?

“The 2018 winner, Danny Willett, knows all about winning from off the pace given he came with a late rally to win the US Masters four years ago. ”

16:55 - December 12, 2020

There's just a round to go at the DP World Tour Championship and with seven players within a stroke at the top of the leaderboard, it's still very hard to predict the winner. Here's the latest standings with prices to back at 16:45.

Patrick Reed -11 4.03/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -11 5.24/1
Laurie Canter -11 11.5021/2
Victor Hovland -10 6.25/1
Robert McIntyre -10 10.519/2
Lee Westwood -10 14.013/1
Adri Arnaus -10 18.017/1
Sami Valimaki -9 29.028/1
Danny Willett -8 48.047/1
Tyrrell Hatton -7 42.041/1
Andy Sullivan -7 100.099/1
-6 and 200.0199/1 bar

Having looked like main candidates at halfway, the English pair of Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood were very disappointing today, shooting 72 and 74 respectively, and the 36-hole leader and pre-event favourite, Patrick Reed, wasn't at his best either...

Having been matched at a low of 2.0621/20, Reed drifted out to 7.613/2 after dropped shots at 12 and 14. He was definitely struggling but he finished his round 3-4-3-4 when he could have very easily finished 5-5-5-5 or even worse. He holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie at 15 and saved par on 16, having had to chop out from a fairway bunker. Then having scrambled brilliantly all day long, he got up-and-down again for par at the par three 17th after he'd been incredibly fortunate not to be wet off the tee when his ball somehow clung to the bank. And after all that, he made a birdie four at the 18th having again avoided water off the tee by inches.

Reed is bidding to be the first American to win the Race to Dubai and it's just possible the pressure is beginning to tell. If he plays tomorrow like he did today it's very hard to see him doing so and even though the stats are in his favour, with so many in-contention, he's no value at around 3/1.

We've had 11 previous renewals here and on ten occasions the winner has sat first or second and within one stroke off the lead with a round to go suggesting we should be concentrating on the top-seven but it's not easy.

As detailed yesterday, Matt Fitzpatrick hasn't won in a while and he's given up a few decent chances since his last success, so he makes no appeal at only 5.24/1.

Laurie Canter was poor when leading the Italian Open with a round to go in October and he's yet to win. He played very nicely today and he's a fabulous talent but it's very hard to envisage him getting off the mark here.

Although he's won on the European Tour now, Robert McIntyre still doesn't look the finished article in-the-mix and I'm in no rush to side with him either. He got himself in-contention a couple of times at last week's Golf In Dubai Championship but was ultimately disappointing on Sunday.

Lee Westwood recovered well after a double-bogey at the par three fourth today and he's bidding to win the event for a second time having won the inaugural staging 11 years ago. He won the Abu Dhabi Championship at a big price in January and he's the only player in the top-seven to have previously won a Rolex Series event so that's in his favour but I can leave him alone at the price.

My Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Adri Arnaus, hasn't quite met the first lay back target so I'm hoping for another fast start from him but it would perhaps be a bit optimistic to hope for much more. He was dreadful on the back-nine at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last month when in with a superb chance and like Canter, he too is looking for his first win on the European Tour. He was only ever a trading vehicle pick so the win would be a huge plus.

Of the front seven, Victor Hovland is the only one I came closest to backing. He's a class act and he's playing well but a couple of things just put me off. Having won the Mayakoba Golf Classic last Sunday, he's attempting to win back-to-back which is never easy and he's trying to do so after that long journey and after shooting a fairly low round today. He looks fairly priced but reluctantly, I'm going to leave him alone.

Although the stats suggest the winner will come from that top-seven, I'm happy to add the two players just below them - Sami Valimaki and Danny Willett. Given he's only two off the lead and that he's pretty fearless, I thought 30.029/1 was fair about the likely Rookie of the Year and the 2018 winner, Willett, knows all about winning from off the pace given he came with a late rally to win the US Masters four years ago.

This maybe tough to call but it looks guaranteed to be entertaining and it's something to look forward to tomorrow morning. I'll be back on Monday with the De-brief.

15:05 - December 11, 2020

We've reached the halfway stage of the DP World Tour Championship and after an impressive eight-under-par 64, the Race to Dubai leader and pre-tournament favourite, Patrick Reed, has moved ominously to the front. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 14:55.

Patrick Reed -10 2.56/4
Matthew Fitzpatrick -8 7.06/1
Tyrrell Hatton -7 6.86/1
Laurie Canter -7 40.039/1
Tommy Fleetwood -6 11.010/1
Sami Valimaki -6 36.035/1
Lee Westwood -6 36.035/1
Branden Grace -6 46.045/1
Martin Kaymer -5 50.049/1
Danny Willett -5 60.059/1
Adri Arnaus -5 100.099/1
Victor Hovland -4 36.035/1
Robert McIntyre -4 80.079/1
-3 and 120.0119/1 bar

It hasn't taken long for the cream to rise to the top and that's the place to be according to the stats. In 11 previous renewals here, six halfway leaders or co-leaders have gone on to win and only two winners have been more than three shots off the lead at halfway.

Rory McIlroy trailed by four in 2015 and somewhat bizarrely, the only first round leader to take the title, Robert Karlson, in 2010, trailed by five after shooting 75 in round two. He bounced back with back-to-back 67s to beat Ian Poulter in the only playoff ever staged here.

Patrick Reed is a fine frontrunner, converting five of nine second round leads or co-leads although when it does go wrong it goes badly wrong, as I found out to my cost at the US Open back in September when he went from one clear to eight back after a dreadfull 77 in round three. He also flopped from the front at the 2015 US Open, where he finished 14th having been tied at the top through 36 holes and he was pretty poor at the Quicken Loans National in 2014 where he collapsed in round four to finish outside the top-ten. He'd been tied for the lead after two rounds and he was two clear through three.

Those three efforts were poor but it would be ridiculous to pretend he couldn't kick on from here given he won the US Masters from the front in 2018. There's a lot on the line but I'm far from convinced that will bother him and I get the impression he's not going to throw this away. If someone else is going to take the title, they're going to have to go low and earn it.

The 2016 winner, Matthew Fitzpatrick, is alone in second and two off the lead but in-play pick, Tyrrell Hatton, who trails by three, is narrowly favoured by the market and that makes sense. It's now more than two years since Matt last won and he's given up a number of chances.

Tommy Fleetwood, who sits four off the lead, makes little appeal at the prices. The stats suggest it's going to be tough enough from that far back and he has a nasty habit of throwing in a poor third round when in-contention.

I'm more than happy to stick with Hatton, who didn't have his A game with him today, but I've also added Branden Grace at 50.049/1.

I always thought this place really suited Grace's game but even when at his best, he never really threatened to take the title. He has three top-tens and he finished third in 2015 but he was beaten by six. Maybe with less expectation he can come in under the radar?

He's been pretty rubbish for most of 2020 but there's been glimpses of late and he's already shown he can come in from the cold and win having taken the first of two editions of the South African Open back in January. And he was runner-up at the Phoenix Open last year on the PGA Tour (desert golf again) having come into the event under a bit of a cloud.

I'm guilty myself of thinking Grace isn't the player he once was but after his Alfred Dunhill win in December 2014, back-to-back victories at the Qatar Masters in 2015 and 2016, a win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2017, and January's victory at Randpark, he's actually in search of his sixth European Tour win in six years and his sixth win in his last 50 starts on the European Tour. That's not bad going and he's far too big here at 50.049/1 given he only tails by four.

15:20 - December 10, 2020

For the second year in-a-row a Frenchman leads the DP World Tour Championship after round one but in contrast to Mike Lorenzo-Vera last year, who led after an opening nine-under-par 63, which was the lowest first round score ever shot around the Earth Course, Matt Cooper's excellent each-way pick, Victor Perez, leads after a five-under-par 67.

That's the highest score posted by a first-round leader here since the tournament began in 2009 and he needed at least one chip-in and some lengthy putts to achieve the feat.

Here's the first round leaderboard with prices to back at 15:10.

Victor Perez -5 12.5
Matthew Fitzpatrick -4 8.615/2
Robert McIntyre -4 13.012/1
Erik Van Rooyen -4 17.016/1
Tyrrell Hatton -3 7.413/2
Tommy Fleetwood -3 10.09/1
Martin Kaymer -3 28.027/1
Sami Valimaki -3 46.045/1
Patrick Reed -2 9.617/2
-2 and 28.027/1 bar

A combination of a stiff breeze, some slightly narrower fairways, marginally thicker rough and some tricky pin placements, resulted in a tougher than expected day today and it was even harder for the early starters. As they went off in reverse Race to Dubai order, one could point to the fact that the better players teed off in the afternoon, or it could have been down to warmer conditions, but whatever the reason, it was certainly noticeable that the later you started the better and there was a disparity in the scores of 1.03 strokes between the AM and PM starters.

It's hard to make a strong case for the leader given his putter helped him out so much today, that he only ranks 28th for Greens In Regulation so far, and that only one first round leader has gone on to win here - Robert Karlsson 10 years ago.

Although first round leaders are only 1 from 11, the stats suggest you do need to be up with the pace and as highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, Jon Rahm trailed by four in a tied for 16th after the opening round three years ago and that's the furthest any winner has trailed by after the opening round. Alvaro Quiros also trailed by four after round one when he won in 2011 but he was inside the top-five places and Rahm is the only winner not to be inside the top-seven after day one.

Those stats suggest it would be folly to scan too far down the leaderboard but it's worth highlighting how much more condensed the field is after round one this year, with as many as 25 players under-par and within five of the lead.

Although early days, I've backed two in-play after the opening round - Tyrrell Hatton and Andy Sullivan.

I came close to backing Hatton before the off and while he's obviously shortened up after his three-under-par opening round, I'm more than happy to get him onside given his position. When interviewed after his round, he said he missed a few fairways on the front-nine and I wasn't overly enamoured by the way he played 18, or what he said about the way he played it.

We saw the drive, that missed the fairway left, but not his second, which would have been an attempted lay-up. The next time we saw him he was in the rough to the right of the fairway, some 10 or so yards behind a tree. He played his third through the tree, via a few woody ricochets before he got up-and-down for par. It was a great scramble but when asked about his third shot, his response was quite surprising.

"I just couldn't be bothered to chip out sideways."

That's a little disconcerting but it's also what you get with Tyrrell. His price of 7.613/2 is no more than fair but now in-contention it makes more appeal than the 12/1 on offer before the off.

After last Saturday's disappointment in the Golf In Dubai Championship, where he led everywhere bar the line, having been matched at 1.271/4 in-running, Andy Sullivan has done well to start this week with an under-par round and I can see him building on that nicely. He's no bigger than 40/1 on the High Street and I thought 60.059/1 was fair given last week's form and that he only trails by four.

Pre-Event Selections:
Bernd Wiesberger @ 32.031/1
Antoine Rozner @ 90.089/1

In-Play Picks:
Tyrrell Hatton @ 7.613/2
Andy Sullivan @ 60.059/1
Branden Grace @ 50.049/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back Adri Arnaus 1u @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 8.07/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back Renato Paratore 1u @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 8.07/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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