The Punter's In-Play Blog: Woodland hits the front as Reed gets in a scrape

Golfer Gary Woodland
Gary Woodland - one clear with a round to go

Gary Woodland leads the Hero World Challenge with a round to go but with six of the world's best all within three strokes, it's still all to play for...

“This is the tenth time that Woodland has led through 54 holes on the PGA Tour and his record isn’t spectacular. He’s only gone on to win twice before but his most recent effort is far and away his most impressive. ”

09:10 - December 07, 2019

Gary Woodland birdied the last three holes on Thursday to keep tabs with clear leader, Patrick Reed, at the Hero World Challenge and he birdied the last two yesterday to hit the front. Here's the 54 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 09:05.

Gary Woodland -13 4.1
Henrik Stenson -12 6.611/2
Jon Rahm -11 4.94/1
Justin Thomas -11 5.69/2
Tiger Woods -11 5.95/1
Patrick Reed -10 16.015/1
-6 and 280.0279/1 bar

Patrick Reed began the third round leading by three but he was caught and passed by my sole selection, Gary Woodland, at the par five 11th and the deficit was widened by two at the close of play when Reed was given a two-stroke penalty for this bit of shot preparation scraping.

Understandably, there's been widespread condemnation for his actions and he won't have many fans cheering him on today. It's going to be tough for him to bounce back and he's the least likely of the front six to take the title.

With a one-stroke lead, Woodland heads the market but only just. We've had four previous editions of the event staged here and three of the four went the way of the third round leader. The first two winners held a clear advantage of two strokes (Bubba Watson) and seven (Hideki Matsuyama) and last year's winner, Jon Rahm, was tied at the top alongside Tony Finau and Henrik Stenson. The Spaniard went on to win by four as Finau and Stenson shot 69 and 71 and the only other third round leader to get beat was Charley Hoffman in 2017. He led by five but was beaten by four when he limped round in 72 in round four as Rickie Fowler fired a remarkable 61 to come from seven back.

Looking at the scoring yesterday, it's very hard to imagine anyone shooting anything like that today. Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas, who play together again today for the third time in four days, both shot five-under-par 67s and Woodland and Stenson shot 68s but that was as good as it got. The wind hasn't really been an issue since the first round but the course is fast and it's hard to see any low scores being posted today.

This is the tenth time that Woodland has led through 54 holes on the PGA Tour and his record isn't spectacular. He's only gone on to win twice before but his most recent effort is far and away his most impressive. He led the US Open by a stroke in June before going on to win by three so there's absolutely no reason to think he'll struggle. That will surely give him plenty of belief and I much prefer his chances to Stenson, who was disappointing in round four 12 months ago.

Defending champ, Jon Rahm, looks short enough given he hasn't been quite at the races so far but it's risky to write him off. He's on the premises without being at his best.

If forced to pick an alternative to the leader I'd plump for Thomas but I'm going to stick with Woodland and cross my fingers.

I'm off to the Manchester derby later (previewed here by Dave Tindall) so I'm unlikely to manage a further update on the Mauritius Open before round four but I'll be back tomorrow or Monday with the De-brief.

18:50 - December 06, 2019

Mauritius Open halfway leaderboard and prices to back at 18:45.

Calum Hill -12 5.69/2
Thomas Detry -11 5.39/2
Brandon Stone -11 8.27/1
Matthieu Pavon -11 12.5
Benjamin Hebert -10 13.012/1
Antoine Rozner -10 22.021/1
Sihwan Kim -10 23.022/1
Connor Syme -10 24.023/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -9 15.5
Rasmus Hojgaard -9 34.033/1
Soren Kjeldsen -9 48.047/1
-8 and 42.041/1 bar

This looks like a minefield. We have 11 players within three strokes of the lead and given the strength of the field before the off, it's a fairly strong looking leaderboard to boot.

Challenge Tour graduate, Calum Hill, looks like a man on a mission. He's already won three times on the Challenge Tour (twice last season) and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him getting off the mark immediately on the European Tour. At 25, it could be argued he's been a bit slow to get going but he looks like a player to keep on the right side of and if he can keep his nerve over the weekend he might just take some stopping.

Pre-event favourite, Thomas Detry, started his second round tardily (two-over-par through five) but he finished it nicely enough, playing the last eight holes in five-under. He's making hay on the par fives (seven-under-par so far) and he looks dangerous but he's looked dangerous plenty of times previously without getting his nose in front and, as per usual, he looks too short to me.

I'm happy to see pre-event pick, Brandon Stone, alongside Detry and Joe Dyer's each-way pick, Matthieu Pavon, and in theory, he's still nicely priced at around 7/1, given he went off at only twice that price last week. He's a mercurial character though and I'm not convinced by his temperament.

Another of my picks, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, played really nicely today and he could have easily scored a bit better. He messed up three of the four par fives (twice from position A on the fairway) and he shaved the hole countless times. I like his chances over the weekend and he looks like a fair price still but it's a wide open heat and a tournament to be wary of at this stage.

For the record, at the two previous editions here, Dylan Frittelli won in 2017 after sitting second and just one off the lead and George Coetzee sat sixth and four off the lead in 2015.

The third round of the Hero World Challenge is well underway and live on Sky and I'll be back in the morning with an update on that one before the final round.

09:40 - December 06, 2019

It's only Friday morning but we've already reached the halfway stage of the Hero World Challenge on the PGA Tour so here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 09:35.

Patrick Reed -12 2.6413/8
Gary Woodland -9 8.27/1
Jon Rahm -8 4.3100/30
Henrik Stenson -8 13.5
Justin Thomas -6 14.013/1
Tiger Woods -6 18.5
Rickie Fowler -6 24.023/1
Justin Rose -5 44.043/1
-3 and 170.0169/1 bar

After a second successive six-under-par 66, Patrick Reed has eased three clear of the field at the Hero World Challenge and he might just take some catching. Reed has never led by more than two strokes at this stage but on the four occasions he's held a clear advantage he's gone on to win so he has a rock-solid record in-contention and the last time he led by two strokes was at the US Masters last year when he went on to win by a stroke.

I know this is a limited field event so we may have to treat the stats with a degree of caution but for the record, since 1996, three-stroke halfway leaders on the PGA Tour have a strike-rate of almost 36% with 26 of 73 going on to win.

In the four previous editions of this event at this venue, two winners were tied for the lead at this stage and two came form behind. Rickie Fowler trailed by five two years ago and Bubba Watson trailed by just a stroke in 2015. The 36-hole leader stats here, and on the PGA Tour, suggest it's far from a done deal but Reed's impeccable record when leading is impossible to ignore and he looks a fair price.

Reed's closest challenger is my pre-event pick, Gary Woodland, and I'm more than happy to see he's still in-contention. He had quite a wobble on the back-nine yesterday before birdying the last three holes. I'm now hopeful rather than confident and the market, quite rightly, views the defending champ, Jon Rahm, as the biggest danger to Reed.

The presence of Rahm puts me off siding with Reed and the other chasers are more than capable of going low today so I'm going to sit this one out for now.

The second round of the Mauritius Open is well underway and live on Sky and I'll be back later today with a look at that one, once they've reached the halfway stage.

11:50 - December 05, 2019

With the Presidents Cup in Australia looming large next week, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas runs from Wednesday to Saturday this week so here's the first round leaderboard after the opening day's play, with prices to back at 11:45.

Patrick Reed -6 5.39/2
Gary Woodland -6 5.85/1
Chez Reavie -4 29.028/1
Justin Thomas -3 6.411/2
Justin Rose -3 13.012/1
Rickie Fowler -3 13.5
Henrik Stenson -3 20.019/1
Jon Rahm -2 6.25/1
-1 and 34.033/1 bar

I'm more than happy with the start made by my sole pre-event selection, Gary Woodland, but in four previous editions at Albany, we're yet to see a first round leader go on to win and last year's first and second, Jon Rahm and Tony Finau, were a long way back after the opening round.

Rahm sat 10th and six adrift and Finau 13th and seven back. Rahm was in front after a second round 63, Finau shot 64 to climb to fifth and the pair were tied for the lead after the third round so a slow start can most definitely be overcome here, although the first three course winners were all within one of the lead after the first round.

I find high-class limited field events like this really hard to get to grips with, particularly in-running, as every single player is straight out of the top drawer and capable of all sorts of magic. It would take a huge leap of faith to think Finau can recover and contend after an opening seven-over-par 79 in what were tricky windy conditions and both Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau look lost causes too but I'm not sure I'm ready to discount anyone else.

Patrick Reed now heads the market and that's understandable. He's a major champion and he's usually rock solid in-contention. He's led or been tied for the lead seven times previously after round one and he's gone on to win on three occasions but I do have one rather load word of warning. He was tied at the top here after round one 12 months ago but fell to 14th after a 74 in round two. He eventually finished 11th.

Woodland won the Reno-Tahoe Open wire-to-wire in 2013 but he's led after round one five times and that's his only victory. That's not a huge negative though. He hit the front after round two at the US Open in June and was absolutely rock solid over the weekend.

Chez Reavie was on the radar before the off at a huge price so I'm happy to throw a few pounds on him at 29.028/1. As highlighted in the preview, he's playing here for the first time but that hasn't hindered others and he lost a playoff to Woodland at TPC Scottsdale in Phoenix - the course that appears to throw up Albany contenders with regularity.

The defending champ, Rahm, is clearly close enough, despite a bit of a sloppy finish to round one and the same can be said of Justin Thomas. Rahm parred in from the 12th before bogeying 18 and Thomas bogeyed the last two holes.

Justin Rose hasn't played great in this previously but he has a property here so must know the course really well and the 2017 winner, Rickie Fowler, has to be respected given how well he plays the venue. Henrik Stenson was tied for the lead after rounds two and three 12 months ago before he finished fourth and he was runner-up to Hideki Matsuyama in 2016 too. It's tough.

The first round is well underway at the Mauritius Open (live on Sky) and I'm going to leave the event alone for now. One of my three pre-event picks, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, is just one off the lead after a five-under-par 67 this morning and my other two are still playing. Both Brandon Stone and Justin Harding started their opening rounds really well but they've bumbled along a bit since being three-under-par through just five holes.

This is just the third time we've seen the venue so we don't have enough evidence to make any early robust in-play decisions but for the record, the first course winner, George Coetzee, opened up with a round of 70 to sit tied for 32nd and five off the lead, and Dylan Frittelli, who won here two years ago, sat tied for seventh and five back but both men beat players in extra time that had been leading after the first round.

Hero World Challenge Pre-Event Selection:
Gary Woodland @ 27.026/1

In-Play Pick:
Chez Reavie @ 29.028/1

Mauritius Open Pre-Event Selections:
Justin Harding @ 23.022/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ 24.023/1
Brandon Stone @ 36.035/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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