The Punter's In-Play Blog: Leaders always vulnerable at the Travelers

Golfer KH Lee
KH Lee after his win in Texas

There's just one round to go at the Travelers Championship and three-time winner, Bubba Watson, is tied at the top but is he opposable out in front?

“Lee should have a positive mindset having won so impressively as recently as two months ago and Garnett is putting better than anyone else in the field if the stats are to be believed.”

09:00 - June 27, 2021

Pre-tournament 1000.0 chance, Kramer Hickok, was matched at a low of 4.67/2 when he went two-strokes clear with three holes to play in round three of the Travelers Championship but he finished his round scruffily.

After saving par from 12 feet on 16, Hickok bogeyed 17 and 18 and he goes into today's fourth and final round tied at the top with the three-time winner, Bubba Watson. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 8:50.

Bubba Watson -10 4.84/1
Kramer Hickok -10 11.521/2
Cameron Smith -9 7.613/2
Russell Henley -9 9.08/1
Jason Day -9 11.010/1
Harris English -8 15.5
KH Lee -8 32.031/1
Brice Garnett -8 36.035/1
Bryson DeChambeau -7 18.017/1
Dustin Johnson -7 19.018/1
Brian Harman -7 38.037/1
-7 and 50.049/1 bar

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, third round leaders and co-leaders have a poor record at the Travelers Championship. The third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win only five times in the last 17 years and nine of the last 12 54-hole leaders have been beaten.

Although he's won the event three times, the only time Watson's led or co-led with a round to go previously, he finished fourth, in 2013, and two of his three victories came when he trailed by six with a round to go!

Marc Leishman also won from six back, in 2012, Kevin Streelman trailed by four in 2015 and in 2005, Brad Faxon took the title having trailed by seven with a round to go. There's a strong chance we'll see plenty of drama later.

I shall look to trade this event in-running this evening. Again, as highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, it's a hard place to get over the winning line and even with clear leads, the likes of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have struggled recently and many a player goes odds-on before messing up.

As for the market now, if he isn't too mentally drained after contending last week in the US Open, Russell Henley is a huge danger to the leaders and I prefer him to Cameron Smith.

The 27-year-old Queenslander is putting superbly, which is always a plus at this event, but he looks short enough given he's not the easiest to get across the line and fellow Aussie, Jason Day, looks vulnerable too.

There are some cruel nicknames banded about for Day, who has more than his fair share of ailments, but he's clearly suffering with his back this week and that has to be a concern.

Dave Tindall's in-form fancy, Harris English, is nicely poised at two off the lead but he looks fairly priced to me around 15.014/1 and it's a horribly tough leaderboard to unravel but I thought the recent AT&T Byron Nelson winner, KH Lee, and the 2018 Corales Puntacana winner, Brice Garnett, both looked too big given they trail by only two.

Lee should have a positive mindset having won so impressively as recently as two months ago and Garnett is putting better than anyone else in the field if the stats are to be believed.

I've had a couple of tiny plays on those two but I'll be concentrating most of my efforts on the in-play tonight and I'll be back tomorrow with the De-brief.

19:40 - June 26, 2021

It wasn't the third round I was hoping for at the BMW International Open today. I was quite confident that Find Me a 100 Winner selection, Adrian Otaegui, would contend but he shot a very disappointing two-over par 72 and he's now tied for 45th and 12 off the lead!

In-play pick, Bernd Wiesberger, was matched at a low of 2.747/4 when he hit the front after opening up his third round with birdies at one and three but he lost his way after that and he now trails the 54-hole leader, Viktor Hovland, by six.

Hovland was simply sensational today, shooting the round of the day, an immaculate 64, to ease three clear of the field and to assume command. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 19:30.

Viktor Hovland -17 1.292/7
Jorge Campillo -14 13.5
Darren Fichardt -13 14.013/1
Bernd Wiesberger -11 60.059/1
Niall Kearney -11 200.0199/1
-10 and 200.0199/1 bar

It's very hard to imagine Hovland not going on to win his first European Tour title tomorrow but an argument of sorts can be made for taking him on at such a short price.

Given three-stroke 54-hole leaders have had a 66% strike rate on the European Tour since 1996 and that the vast majority of those leaders haven't had the class of Hovland, odds of around 1.330/100 look fair but is it really that simple?

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, we've seen all sorts of in-running drama at this venue. Last year's runner-up, Matthew Fitzpatrick, who traded at a low of 1.21/5, was one of three players to trade at 2.01/1 and below and get beat and there's been all sorts of fun and games here in previous renewals.

We've seen two of the last five course winners come from five shots adrift on a Sunday and when Martin Kaymer won this event in 2008 he eventually got the better of Anders Hansen in a playoff after he'd led by five with a round to go! Hansen had trailed by eight.

And one last negative for long odds-on backers, four of the last five three-stroke 54-hole leaders on the European Tour have been beaten.

Hovland successfully converted his one and only 54 hole lead on the PGA Tour, at the Puerto Rico Open last year, and it's hard to imagine him messing up tomorrow but I was happy to lay him for very small stakes at 1.330/100 given the amount of drama we've witnessed here in the past.

10:10 - June 26, 2021

Pre-event 1000.0 chance, Niall Kearney, leads the BMW International Open at the halfway stage but the world number 14, Viktor Hovland, and the recent Made In Himmerland winner, Bernd Wiesberger, are amongst a group of five tied for second and hot on his heels. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:00.

Niall Kearney -11 16.5
Viktor Hovland -9 3.711/4
Bernd Wiesberger -9 6.411/2
Masahiro Kawamura -9 17.016/1
Jorge Campillo -9 30.029/1
Adrien Saddier -9 80.079/1
Pablo Larrazabal -8 26.025/1
Shaun Norris -8 50.049/1
Louis Oosthuizen -7 10.09/1
Martin Kaymer -7 22.021/1
Andy Sullivan -7 29.028/1
Calum Hill -7 38.037/1
Adrian Otaegui -7 44.043/1
-7 and 80.079/1 bar

Although he leads by a couple, it's very hard to fancy Kearney here. This is the first time he's led at the halfway stage of a European Tour event and the only time he was up with the pace on the Challenge Tour it didn't end well.

Kearney was tied for the lead through 36 holes of the Andalucia Challenge de Cadiz in November 2020 but he shot 76-72 on the weekend to fall to 14th place and he was eventually beaten by 11 strokes.

Hovland withdrew from the US Open last week with an eye injury but he's got his eye in on the greens this week and he's putting incredibly well. At the halfway stage, he ranks first for both Strokes Gained Putting and Putting Average and if the rest of his game clicks, he'll win.

No matter how good a player is though, it's always risky to hope their long game catches up with a hot putter. Hovland's saving shots on the green and that's not usually sustainable, so he needs to find more fairways and greens. At the halfway stage, he ranks 71st for driving Accuracy and 62nd for Greens In Regulation and that surely needs to improve.

Playing alongside Kearney in the final two-ball today, Wiesberger looks a fair price at anything over 6.05/1. He knows how to get the done and having won the Made In Himmerland just last month, he's now won eight times on the European Tour.

When Wiesberger won the Made In Himmerland for the first time two years ago he won again at the Scottish Open two months later before also adding the Italian Open trophy to the cabinet in October so he should be feeling confident here as we go into the weekend. His stats at halfway are the opposite of Hovland's. He's playing nicely but he needs a few more putts to drop.

Louis Oosthuizen, started understandably slowly on Thursday after his near miss at the US Open last week but he's in the argument now after a strong second round. He's far from prolific though and his only win in the last five years was on home soil, at the South African Open in 2018. He makes little appeal at 10.09/1 given how rarely he gets his head in front nowadays and given how much traffic he has to pass.

This is a tough one to call and I haven't yet given up on my Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Adrian Otaegui who sits alongside Oosthuizen in a tie for ninth, four off the lead. He couldn't be playing any better tee-to-green and if his putter starts working, he could go on a run today.

I've had a small bet on Wiesberger and I'll have my fingers crossed that Otaegui can make a move but other than that, I'm leaving the event alone for now. And it's a similar story at the Travelers Championship where after a sensational second round 62, Jason Day shows the way. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard from Connecticut with prices to back at 10:05.

Jason Day -9 9.617/2
Bubba Watson -8 9.28/1
Kramer Hickok -8 36.035/1
Russell Henley -7 18.017/1
Justin Rose -7 20.019/1
Kevin Kisner -7 34.033/1
Seamus Power -7 44.043/1
KH Lee -7 48.047/1
Troy Merritt -7 48.047/1
Brice Garnett -7 65.064/1
Patrick Cantlay -6 12.5
Scottie Scheffler -6 19.018/1
Bryson DeChambeau -5 19.018/1
Patrick Reed -5 28.027/1
-6 and 48.047/1 bar

Pre-event pick, Scottie Scheffler, has moved into contention after his five-under-par 65 yesterday afternoon, in-play pick, Bubba Watson, is in a tie for second, despite playing on the wrong side of the draw, and I'm pleased to see 500.0499/1 shot, Ryan Armour, one of two Find Me a 100 Winner picks in the event, who like Bubba, was also drawn PM-AM, sitting alongside Scheffler and just three off the lead. I'll sit back and shout them on for now because this is an even harder event to call than the one in Germany.

Since Kenny Perry won from the front 12 years ago, 12 months after Stewart Cink had won having been tied for the lead at halfway, two 36-hole leaders have gone on to win the Travelers Championship - Bubba in 2015 (the second of his three wins) and Jordan Spieth in 2017 - and a strong argument can be made for siding with this year's halfway leader - Jason Day.

Day converted three of four halfway leads in 2015 and 2016 when he was playing the best golf of his career but prior to that spell he failed from the front six times on the PGA Tour and since his 2016 Players Championship win, he's zero from three when leading or tied for the lead at halfway.

So, Day has a record of three from 13 when leading or co-leading on the PGA Tour and four of the last 13 Travelers Championships have been won by the 36-hole leader or co-leader. That would suggest the leaders a fair price at in excess of 9.08/1 and I wouldn't want to put anyone off backing him but on the flipside, this is a tournament that's produced many an off-the-pace winner.

Last year's winner, Dustin Johnson, won from six adrift, the 2013 and 2014 winners, Ken Duke and Kevin Streelman, won from seven and eight shots back respectively, and Brad Faxon took the title in 2005 having trailed by 12 after 36 holes!

Given the way the tournament has unfolded in the past, with as many as 34 players within four of Day's lead, and 47 within five, this is just about as hard as it gets at the halfway stage.

Watching the early play later and taking a chance on one or two early movers from off the pace at juicy prices may well pay dividends but it's a tough puzzle to solve.

10:40 - June 25, 2021

Thundery weather stopped play at the BMW International Open yesterday afternoon in Germany, so the opening round has been finished off this morning, with England's Sam Horsfield and Spain's Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, ending the round tied at the top on -8. Horsfield had one hole of the opening round to play still and Rodriguez six.

Both of the round one leaders are over-par in round two and Ireland's Niall Kearney has hit the front with the recent Made in Himmerland winner, Bernd Wiesberger, and the two-time tournament winner, Pablo Larrazabal, in hot pursuit. I'll take a good look at this event at the halfway stage.

Over on the PGA Tour, Kramer Hickok and Satoshi Kodaira are tied for the lead after the opening round of the Travelers Championship. Hickok made his 63 in the morning and Kodaira shot his in the afternoon when the scoring wasn't quite so good. The afternoon starters averaged 70.87 and the morning starters 69.31.

Course specialist and three-time Travelers winner, Bubba Watson, who played in the afternoon yesterday, now heads the market after a four-under-par 66 and rightly so. He sits tied for ninth and that's his best start at TPC River Highlands since he shot 62 in 2015 when winning the second of his three titles. He won his third three years ago after an opening round of 70 but overcoming a slow start here isn't unusual...

Bubba had sat tied for 77th and seven off the lead in 2018 and last year's winner, Dustin Johnson, had sat even further back after round one. After an opening round of 69, DJ was tied for 79th and fully nine strokes adrift of the early leader, Mackenzie Hughes, who eventually finished tied for third.

Daniel Berger and Paul Casey have both been beaten in a playoff here in the last six years, having trailed by five after the first round, and ten years ago, Ken Duke took the title after trailing by eight after round one. A year later, Kevin Streelman trailed by seven after the opening round before going on to win.

A slow start can most definitely be overcome at this track so we can scan a long way down the leaderboard this morning before ruling anyone out, although DJ is the only winner in the last 25 years (as far as I've gone back) not to have broken par on day one.

That's bad news for Paul Casey backers who's one-over-par 71 was a much poorer round than he looked like shooting at one stage. The course specialist was matched at a low of 6.86/1 after he closed the front nine with four straight birdies but struggling with a back injury, he opened-up the back nine with four straight bogeys and a missed cut beckons.

Given how many winners have started slowly at River Highlands, it's perhaps not wise to rush in here but I've backed three players this morning that all start early today. The aforementioned pair of Bubba and Hughes and Kevin Na.

I'm a bit cross with myself for not backing Bubba before the off. After a long and gruelling, sleep depriving, US Open on the West Coast last week, I wasn't on the ball on Monday, so I missed all the early prices but I'm happy to take 15.5 this morning.

In addition to winning this on three occasions, he's also won the Genesis Invitational three times and the US Masters twice, so he epitomises the horses for courses adage.

I thought Hughes' three-under-par 67 after a slow start was an admirable knock given the circumstances. He had to pick himself up after a tough Sunday at Torrey Pines and it must have been tough to get going given what he did in round one here 12 months ago. Tied 15th and four off the lead is a good platform to build from and I thought 75.074/1 was fair given he's found some form and he clearly loves the track.

And finally, I wanted to chance someone from way off the pace at a decent price and Kevin Na fits the bill nicely. He's won four times in the last three years on the PGA Tour and on every occasion he's been miles behind after round one. Na, who sits tied for 45th and six off the lead, played nicely yesterday and he would have been much closer had he not found water on holes 13 and 17. He looks over-priced at 170.0169/1 if he can steer clear of the aqua today.

BMW International Open Pre-Event Selections:
John Catlin @ 70.069/1
Stephan Jaeger @ 75.074/1
Rasmus Hojgaard @ 85.084/1
Louis Oosthuizen to miss the cut 6.05/1 (Sportsbook)

In-Play Pick:
Bernd Wiesberger @ 6.611/2

Travelers Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Scottie Scheffler @ 29.028/1
Chez Reavie @ 200199/1 (see Find Me a 100 Winner piece)
Sebastian Munoz @ 280279/1 (see Find Me a 100 Winner piece)

In-Play Picks:
Bubba Watson @ 15.5
Mackenzie Hughes @ 75.074/1
Kevin Na @ 170.0169/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Picks:
BMW International Open
Back 2 u Adrian Otaegui @ 110.0109/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Travelers Championship
Back 2 u Patton Kizzire @ 170.0169/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

Back 1 u Ryan Armour @ 500.0499/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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