The Punter's In-Play Blog: Is Matsuyama poised to topple Thomas?

Hideki Matsuyama – the big danger to Justin Thomas in Hawaii
Hideki Matsuyama – the big danger to Justin Thomas in Hawaii

Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama look set to fight out the finish of the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii so read Steve's final in-running thoughts here...

“Matsuyama has improved day-by-day with rounds of 69, 68 and 66 and he’s the value now with just a round to go given he’s looking to win for the fifth time in six starts. His confidence must be sky high and if Thomas shows any sort of weakness, I fancy the world number six to exploit it ruthlessly.”

12:15 - January 08, 2017

For much of yesterday's third round, my two in-play picks, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed, looked sure to figure at the business end of the SBS Tournament of Champions but both disappointed on the back-nine. Reed hit a low of 3.55/2 early on but he slipped away tamely after failing to birdie the par five ninth and he played the back-nine in an extremely poor two-over-par. Walker, for the third day running, played well tee-to-green but just as had been the case on Friday, his touch on the green was lacking yesterday and his miss from inside six feet for birdie on the tough 17th pretty much typified the last two days. Reed has very little chance from six adrift now and Walker has it all to do from four back. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 12:10.

Justin Thomas -18 2.265/4

Hideki Matsuyama -16 2.962/1

Jimmy Walker -14 17.5
Ryan Moore -14 18.5
William McGirt -14 28.027/1

Brendan Steele -13 50.049/1

Patrick Reed -12 50.049/1

-11 and 65.064/1 bar

I haven't completely given up hope with Walker and if he suddenly finds his touch on the greens again he could go low today but the stats are very much against him, and everyone other than the front two. It's more than a decade since anyone won this event from more than two off the lead with a round to go and it really does look like a two-man race for the title.

Although he leads by two, pre-event 23.022/1 shot, Justin Thomas, will feel he should have put this one to bed by now given how well he's played. He's made plenty of putts but he's also missed a few, including six yesterday from ten feet and in. Thomas is bidding to win his third PGA Tour title, having won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia back-to-back in 2015 and 2016 and he has an outstanding chance but his closest rival, Hideki Matsuyama, has to be feared greatly.

Matsuyama has improved day-by-day with rounds of 69, 68 and 66 and he's the value now with just a round to go given he's looking to win for the fifth time in six starts. His confidence must be sky high and if Thomas shows any sort of weakness, I fancy the world number six to exploit it ruthlessly.

I'm going to accept my losses on Reed and Walker and not get any further involved. Although I fancy Matsuyama is the marginal value play, I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see Thomas convert from the front and I'm not prepared to throw any more cash at the event at this stage. I'm going to watch tonight, hope for the best with Walker and see if any in-running opportunities arise but I'm not hopeful.

I'll be back tomorrow with the De-Brief.

10:20 - January 07, 2017

Defending champion and pre-tournament favourite, Jordan Spieth, made a concerted effort to make up ground at the SBS Tournament of Champions yesterday after a lacklustre first round. He recovered well after a double-bogey at the eighth hole to make five birdies in-a-row but a triple-bogey at the tricky 17th undid much of his sterling work and he now trails the leaders by seven strokes. Here's the current leaderboard with prices to back at 10:15.

Justin Thomas -12 5.85/1
Ryan Moore -12 6.411/2

Patrick Reed -11 5.95/1
Jimmy Walker -11 9.08/1

Jason Dufner -10 18.5

Hideki Matsuyama -9 7.87/1

-8 and 17.5 Bar

Post round one pick, Jimmy Walker, did little wrong yesterday but he had no luck at all on the greens. He didn't appear to play any better or worse than he had on Thursday but the birdie putts repeatedly failed to find the bottom of the cup. If that continues today he could get frustrated but if he gets his fair share to drop I'm confident he's very much still in it given he only trails by a single stroke.

It's a compact enough leaderboard and I probably should just wait and see what today brings. Either of the two leaders is more than capable of winning and had the bang in-form Hideki Matsuyama not double-bogeyed the 17th, he'd be the clear favourite to win this morning. It's hard to call but I've added course specialist, Patrick Reed, who yesterday hit all 18 greens in regulation for the first time in his career on his way to an eight-under-par 65.

Reed beat Walker in a playoff two years ago and he finished runner-up to Spieth 12 months ago so he's clearly very comfortable here and I'll be surprised if he isn't in-the-mix late on Sunday.

10:20 - January 06, 2017

After a bogey-free eight-under-par 65 around the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Jimmy Walker leads the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii by two strokes over Ryan Moore, Justin Thomas and Jim Herman. It's just the third time Walker has found himself in front after round one on the PGA Tour and he's only the second player to lead by more than a stroke after the opening round in the 19 years that the tournament has been staged here.

There were mixed fortunes for Walker on the first two occasions he led after round one. He fell from first to 30th at the Houston Open in 2011 but he won last year's US PGA Championship wire-to-wire and with the confidence that only a major win can bring, we're far more likely to witness a solid performance over the next three days than we are a flaky effort like the one he put in - in 2011.

The only other player to lead by more than a stroke, Mike Weir, led here by three after an opening 62 in 2002 but he finished the week in 14th and the last two clear leaders after round one, Patrick Reed and Russell Henley, were also beaten. Both led by just a stroke after round one and although neither won they were both placed. Reed finished runner-up to Jordan Spieth 12 months ago and Henley finished a stroke outside the playoff in 2015.

Walker lost that playoff to Reed so we know he likes the course and given he's a two-time winner of next week's event, the Sony Open, he ticked the course correlation box, highlighted in the preview, emphatically enough too. With the benefit of hindsight, it's perhaps surprising that he was matched at a high of 42.041/1 before the off but he's a very fair price now at over 7.06/1.

In the previous 18 editions of the event at Kapalua, only two winners have trailed by more than three strokes after the opening round. In windy conditions, Sergio Garcia won in 2002, having trailed by 10 after round one, and Stuart Appleby won the second of his three in-a-row, in 2004, having trailed by eight. Geoff Ogilvy defended the title in 2010, having trailed by just three strokes but every other winner here has been no more than two adrift after day one.

After a disappointing one-under-par 72, the pre-event favourite and defending champ, Jordan Spieth, trails by seven and he looks to have an awful lot on his plate and judging by the stats of previous renewals, the likes of Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson, who trail by four, and Jason Day, Patrick Reed and Brandt Snedeker, who trail by five, already have plenty to do.

As highlighted in the Selections section of the preview, although I threw a few pounds at three outsiders (who haven't fared brilliantly) my intention was always to get involved properly after the opening round and I can't look past the leader.

Walker traded at a low of 1.091/11 here two years ago before getting collared at the death by Reed, thanks largely to hole-out from the fairway on the 16th hole, so we know yesterday's round wasn't a flash in the pan here and now that he's won a major wire-to-wire, we also know he won't have an issue with leading all the way either.

His odds of 7.26/1 on the exchange are better than anything offered on the High Street and they're well worth taking given how hard it is to make up ground on the leaders at this venue.

Pre-Event Selections:
Fabian Gomez @ 100.099/1
Aaron Baddeley @ 150.0149/1
Vaughn Taylor @ 220.0219/1

In-Play Bets:
Jimmy Walker @ 7.26/1
Patrick Reed @ 6.05/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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