The Punter's In-Play Blog: Thomas three clear in Ohio but is he value at odds-on?

Golfer Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas – three clear in Ohio

Justin Thomas has moved three shots clear of the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational but is he a good thing to convert at odds-on. Read our man's thoughts ahead of today's fourth and final round here...

“An argument can be made that McIlroy might be a fair price at around 5.04/1 given he trailed by three with a round to go when he won here four years ago and given so many Firestone winners have come from off the pace but Thomas at just a shade of odds-on looks the smarter play.”

10:50 - August 05, 2018

A three-under-par third round 67 was enough to see Justin Thomas move three shots clear of the field at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone yesterday and he's most definitely the man they all have to beat now. Here are the current standings with prices to back at 10:40.

Justin Thomas -14 1.9210/11
Rory McIlroy -11 4.94/1
Ian Poulter -1112.011/1
Jason Day -10 11.010/1
Marc Leishman -940.039/1
Kyle Stanley -9 50.049/1
Rickie Fowler -8 50.049/1
-7 and 160.0159/1 bar

So far this week, I've looked at where the last 12 winners were after rounds one and two, so here's a look at where they were after three rounds at Firestone and it's quite surprising to see that only three of the 12 were in front.

2006 - Tiger Woods - second, trailed by a stroke
2007 - Tiger Woods - second, trailed by a stroke
2008 - Vijay Singh - tied for the lead
2009 - Tiger Woods - second, trailed by a three strokes
2010 - Hunter Mahan - seventh, trailed by three strokes
2011 - Adam Scott - led by a stroke
2012 - Keegan Bradley - third, trailed by four strokes
2013 - Tiger Woods - led by seven strokes
2014 - Rory McIlroy - second, trailed by four strokes
2015 - Shane Lowry - third, trailed by two strokes
2016 - Dustin Johnson - fifth, trailed by three strokes
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama - fourth, trailed by two strokes

In the 12 editions since 2006, 18 players have led or been tied for the lead through 54 holes and only major champions, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott went on to convert. Woods was seven clear five years ago so it was no surprise to see him close it out but it's been very tight at the top most years.

In nine of the other 11 years, two or more have been tied at the top or someone has led by just a solitary stroke but Padraig Harrington, in 2009, and Sergio Garcia, in 2014, both led by three before getting beat.

Those stats all suggest that Justin Thomas is too short at odds-on and it's interesting to note that when Rory McIlroy won, in 2014, he trailed by three with around to go. Chasing down an often flaky Sergio Garcia is a very different proposition to going after Justin Thomas though.

Last year's US PGA Champ, Thomas, has entered the final round of tournament in front or tied for the lead eight times in total before today and he's gone on to convert on six occasions.

An argument can be made that McIlroy might be a fair price at around 5.04/1 given he trailed by three with a round to go when he won here four years ago and given so many Firestone winners have come from off the pace but Thomas at just a shade of odds-on looks the smarter play.

I'm calling it a day at Firestone and I'm leaving the Barracuda Championship alone as well now too. Both my in-play picks, Aaron Baddeley and Ollie Schniederjans, were appalling yesterday, scoring a combined total of one point on a day that saw Andrew Putnam hit the front after scoring 15, after Chad Campbell had earlier moved in to contention having collected 22 points. My two were bitterly disappointing and I think my whole punting week was epitomised by pre-tournament fancy, Brandon Harkins' performance on the par five 18th yesterday.

His chances were slim going in to round three and after a bumpy third round they were getting slimmer but he gave himself a very small chance of going in to today's final round with a bit of hope had he eagled the last after he'd hit his second shot in to just four feet, setting up a great opportunity to make an eagle three for five juicy points that would have seen him move in to sixth place. Four putts later and he'd made six for -1 point and he now sits in a tie for 22nd. Lovely.

I'm going to spend today licking my wounds, working on the US PGA Championship preview, which I hope to publish this evening, and watching the Community Shield, which I've previewed here.

14:25 - August 04, 2018

We've reached the halfway stage of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and first round leader, Ian Poulter, has company at the top of the leaderboard, after both Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood took advantage of the easier morning conditions to move through the field in round two. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 14:20.

Justin Thomas -11 4.216/5
Tommy Fleetwood -11 5.59/2
Ian Poulter -1110.519/2
Jason Day -9 7.87/1
Kyle Stanley -9 23.022/1
Rory McIlroy -8 8.415/2
Si Woo Kim -8 48.047/1
Luke List -7 65.064/1
Haotong Li -7 95.094/1
Tiger Woods -6 22.021/1
Jon Rahm -6 32.031/1
-6 and 65.064/1 bar

I looked yesterday at where the last 12 winners were after round one so it makes sense to carry that on today and look at where they were at halfway. And it's surprising just how far back some of them came from...

2006 - Tiger Woods - led by a stroke
2007 - Tiger Woods - third, trailed by four strokes
2008 - Vijay Singh - led by a stroke
2009 - Tiger Woods - 13th, trailed by five strokes
2010 - Hunter Mahan - 17th, trailed by five strokes
2011 - Adam Scott - tied for the lead
2012 - Keegan Bradley - eighth, trailed by seven strokes
2013 - Tiger Woods - led by seven strokes
2014 - Rory McIlroy - third, trailed by four strokes
2015 - Shane Lowry - second, trailed by four strokes
2016 - Dustin Johnson - 22nd, trailed by six strokes
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama - third, trailed by three strokes

Justin Thomas now heads the market and rightfully so but he'll do well to match yesterday's performance with the flat-stick. He holed 122 feet with just 24 strokes in round two and it's very hard to see him sustaining that level of putting prowess over the weekend.

Second favourite, Tommy Fleetwood, looks one to swerve for now. He shot the lowest round of the day yesterday (63) and it's never easy to back up a low round, and doubly so if your name's Tommy Fleetwood and your next round is the third...

Tommy needs a solid third round performance because he's had some dodgy Saturdays recently. He fell from first to 18th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last autumn and that wasn't a one off. At the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May he fell from fourth to 30th, at the US Open he dropped from fourth to 23rd before his incredible rally on Sunday to finish second and he fell from third and one back to sixth and four behind in round three at the Open Championship two weeks ago. Tommy's odds-on to beat Ian Poulter in today's final two-ball and I'm not so sure he should be given his recent performances on a Saturday.

Jason Day and Rory McIlroy both finished their second rounds nicely to stay in touch. Day birdied three of the last four holes and Rory chipped in from a greenside bunker on 17 for birdie before tapping in from four feet for another on 18. Poults is hanging around nicely and so too is Kyle Stanley and everyone I've backed here has struggled but unperturbed, I've thrown a few pounds at a couple more...

Si Woo Kim and Haotong Li are both considerably bigger on the exchange than they are on the High Street and both are more than capable of winning. Kim won the Players Championship last year and Li didn't flinch when he went head to head with Rory in Dubai in February.

Over at the Barracuda Championship, yesterday's in-play pick, Aaron Baddeley, has moved in to the lead and that could well be the place to be. As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, 13 of the last 15 winners at Montreux have sat first, second or third at halfway so I've also added Ollie Schniederjans at 6.05/1. He sits in second, a point behind Baddeley and two clear of the three men tied for third.

There was plenty of change at the Fiji International on moving day, with the clear halfway leader, Ben Campbell, tumbling out of the top five after he shot a five-over-par 77. India's Gaganjeet Bhullar leads with a round to go but he looks plenty short enough to me at around the 5/2 mark with four men tied for second and just a stroke behind him. My halfway play, Andrew Dodt, is one of the four and I probably should have just left the event alone now but I couldn't resist a small sentimental bet on old favourite, Ernie Els. Alone in seventh, the Big Easy has three strokes to make up on Bhullar and I thought he looked fairly priced at an industry-wide best of 20/1 with the Sportsbook.

11:55 - August 03, 2018

For much of the first day in Ohio, Dave Tindall's excellent First Round Leader pick, Kyle Stanley, looked likely to oblige at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It's very often the case that the morning starters enjoy the best of the conditions and if someone posts a great score in the morning, nine times out of ten it's enough for backers to collect but not yesterday. The afternoon starters at Firestone averaged fractionally less than those that started early and it was agonising to watch Ian Poulter get up-and-down successfully from a greenside bunker on 18 to pip him. Here are the standings after round one with prices to back at 11:45.

Ian Poulter -8 14.5
Rickie Fowler -7 6.611/2
Kyle Stanley -7 30.029/1
Jon Rahm -6 10.09/1
Patrick Cantlay -6 26.025/1
Si Woo Kim -6 55.054/1
Rory McIlroy -5 9.28/1
Justin Thomas -5 13.012/1
Jason Day -5 15.014/1
Marc Leishman -5 38.037/1
Luke List -5 60.059/1
Kevin Na -5 80.079/1
Anirban Lahiri -5 160.0159/1
Tiger Woods -4 16.015/1
-4 and 28.027/1 bar

There was a time when I'd be concentrating hard on the early leaders at Bridgestone. Between 1999 and 2005, four first round leaders went on to win and Jim Furyk lost a playoff in 2001 having been tied at the top after day one, but it's been a very different story of late...

Adam Scott won wire-to-wire in 2011 but here are the positions after round one of the last dozen winners.

2006 - Tiger Woods - fourth, trailed by four strokes
2007 - Tiger Woods - fourth, trailed by a stroke
2008 - Vijay Singh - second, trailed by a stroke
2009 - Tiger Woods - eighth, trailed by four strokes
2010 - Hunter Mahan - 37th, trailed by seven strokes
2011 - Adam Scott - led by a stroke
2012 - Keegan Bradley - ninth, trailed by four strokes
2013 - Tiger Woods - third, trailed by two strokes
2014 - Rory McIlroy - 14th, trailed by five strokes
2015 - Shane Lowry - 22nd, trailed by five strokes
2016 - Dustin Johnson - ninth, trailed by five strokes
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama - 15th, trailed by four strokes

Those stats make the price on Poulter look skinny and they make one or two on -4 and only four adrift look tempting. There are some top-class players inside the top-13 but I'm not convinced many of them represent value towards the head of the market. The new favourite, Rickie Fowler, is always too short for my liking and I'm not at all sure Jon Rahm has the patience for this course over four rounds.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas look fairly priced but I've taken a small chance on two of this year's three major winners at juicy prices from four back - US Masters winner, Patrick Reed, and US Open Champ, Brooks Koepka, at 42.041/1 and 28.027/1 respectively.

My pre-event picks were disappointing. Justin Rose, who was my main fancy, pulled out before the off with a back injury so I was only left with modest bets on Dustin Johnson and Francesco Molinari and they ended round one on -1 and level par respectively. I was a bit disappointed with their performances but I was really dissatisfied with my main fancy in the Barracuda Championship - Brandon Harkins.

Starting on the 10th hole, Harkins began the event very well, eagling 13 and birdying 14 and I forgave him his missed birdie put from five feet on 16 when he birdied the 18th, just as I went to bed. Nine points was a nice start and an important start given that up with the pace has been the place to be in this event most years so if I could wake up to see him on 15 or so points I'd be more than happy. He ended the round with five.

The first round ended with Ollie Schniederjans in front and bizarrely as it sounds, given he missed the cut in Canada last week, he's picked up from where he left off! After two rounds in Ontario, nobody had made more birdies than Ollie (15!) but he managed to also record eight bogeys, one-double bogey and one triple! Yesterday he made six birdies and an eagle but he didn't drop a shot. He'll begin his second round with 17 points already in the bag and at first glance he looks fairly priced at 6/1 but he's led twice before after round one on the PGA Tour and he went on to finish 54th and 39th.

The one I like at this stage is Aussie vet, Arron Baddeley, who sits tied for second and just three points adrift of Schniederjans. As a 37 Australian in search of his first win in a couple of years (and his second in seven years), he fits the profile of a Barracuda winner quite nicely and I can see him emulating his countrymen, Geoff Ogilvy and Greg Chalmers, who won here in 2014 and 2016.

New Zealander, Ben Campbell, who won the New Zealand PGA Championship in February, leads the Fiji International at the halfway stage by four strokes over Aussie vet, Andre Dodt, but I haven't given up on my sole selection, Justin Harding, just yet. The in-form South African started slowly and he's still eight off the lead but that could all soon change if Campbell wobbles at all.

The presence of Dodt is an irritation given he was very much considered before the off so I've had a tiny bet on him at 8.88/1 because I'd kick myself if he won totally unbacked.

I'll be back tomorrow with a good look at the Bridgestone at halfway.

WGC Bridgestone Invitational Pre-Event Selections:
Dustin Johnson @ 9.08/1
Justin Rose @ 16.5 (Non-Runner)
Francesco Molinari @ 30.029/1

In-Play Picks:
Brooks Koepka @ 28.027/1
Patrick Reed @ 42.041/1
Si Woo Kim @ 48.047/1
Luke List @ 65.064/1

Barracuda Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Steve Wheatcroft @ 90.089/1
Brandon Harkins @ 95.094/1
Ben Crane @ 130.0129/1

In-Play Picks:
Arron Baddeley @ 19.018/1
Ollie Schniederjans @ 6.05/1

Fiji International Pre-Event Selection:
Justin Harding @ 17.016/1

In-Play Picks:
Andrew Dodt @ 8.88/1
Ernie Els @ 20/1 (sportsbook)

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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