The Punter's In-Play Blog: Canny Kuchar could be the man to beat

Golfer Billy Horschel
Billy Horschel - one of only four left standing at the Match Play

There are just four men left standing at the WGC Dell Matchplay and there's only one round to go at the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship...

"I’d go for Kuchar given he’s the outsider of the four. Perez and Scheffler are both looking to win for the first time on the PGA Tour and Kuchar’s experience and guile may be the difference."

12:15 - March 28, 2021

There are only four men left standing at the WGC Dell Matchplay and they include Dave Tindall's each-way pick, Billy Horschell, who plays Victor Perez in the first of today's semi-finals. The winner of that tie will face either the 2013 winner, Matt Kuchar, or Scottie Scheffler in the final.

My interest in the tournament ended when each-way pick, Jordan Spieth, somehow contrived to lose to Kuchar in the round of 16 after being two up after two and two up after ten. He was long-odds-on throughout the match and only went behind on the 18th hole. I'm no fan of the tournament and that match did nothing to change my mindset.

I didn't watch the event after that so I'm in no position to pass comment really but if forced to pick one now I'd go for Kuchar given he's the outsider of the four. Perez and Scheffler are both looking to win for the first time on the PGA Tour and Kuchar's experience and guile may be the difference but I'm more than happy to leave the tournament alone and concentrate on events in the Dominican Republic where there's just a round to go at the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship.

Here's the 54 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 12:05.

Joel Dahmen -10 4.77/2
Rafael Campos -10 7.26/1
Danny Willett -9 7.26/1
Michael Gligic -9 14.013/1
Thomas Pieters -8 10.09/1
Emiliano Grillo -8 10.519/2
Charley Hoffman -7 16.015/1
Sepp Straka -7 22.021/1
Graeme McDowell -7 36.035/1
Hudson Swafford -7 38.037/1
Fabrizio Zanotti -7 40.039/1
Roberto Castro -7 55.054/1
-6 and 60.059/1 bar

There have only been five previous editions of the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship so we can't give too much credence to the in-running stats but we're yet to see a winner come from too far off the pace with a round to go.

Although winners have come from three, four and five back at halfway, two strokes is the most any victor has trailed by after three rounds. Nate Lashley sat tied for fifth and two adrift in 2017 and back in September, Hudson Swafford sat solo second when Adam Long led by two.

In consistent windy conditions, that will continue today, scoring isn't quite as good as it has been in previous renewals and that might allow someone to win from off the pace. Dominic Bozzelli reached 24-under-par at the inaugural edition in 2016, Lashley won in 20-under a year later and the last three winners have all finished the week on 18-under-par but we won't get close to that today.

Emiliano Grillo climbed up 36 places yesterday with a seven-under-par 65 and that was two strokes better than Danny Willett's 67 (no one else beat 68), and that included bogeys at two of his last three holes, so it is possible to go low here, even in tough conditions. The stats suggest we shouldn't scan too far down the leaderboard but Grillo's exploits hint at the possibility of an off-the-pace charge so it's a tricky one to assess.

Pre-tournament 50.049/1 chance, Joel Dahmen, has put some woeful form behind him to hit the front and to head the market and he's alongside another man looking to win for the first time on the PGA Tour - Puerto Rican, Rafael Campos, who came close to winning his national title two starts ago.

Campos had been tied for the lead there too and that was the fourth time he'd failed to convert a lead or co-lead. He shot 76 at the Brazil Open on the Latinoamerica Tour in 2012 to go from three clear to five back and he finished second at the Punta del Este Open in 2015 having been tied at the top through 54 holes. And he also sat tied for the lead in this event on the Korn Ferry Tour back in 2017 before going on to finish third, beaten by three.

Dahmen has a slightly better record. He's twice been tied for the lead through 54 holes but on both occasions he was beaten by three strokes. The first time was at the Syncrude Boreal Open on the Canadian Tour in 2013 when he finished fourth and the second time was at the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour in 2019, when he finished second to Max Homa. The only time he's held a clear advantage was at the Syncrude Boreal Open in 2014 when he successfully converted a five stroke lead.

I'm hopeful more than confident that in-running 65.064/1 play, Danny Willett, can kick on and get the win but all things considered, he really should be confident in this company given he's a major champion.

Alongside Willett, Michael Gligic is in search of his first PGA Tour title but the 31-year-old Canadian has won on both the Canadian Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour but he's gone backwards on Sunday on the three occasions he's been in-contention since he won the Panama Championship from off the pace in 2019.

The two players tied for fifth, Grillo and Thomas Pieters, are both top-class but neither are convincing in-contention and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see one of the players tied for seventh and three off the lead coming through to steel the title.

All four of pre-event favourite Charley Hoffman's PGA Tour wins were won from off the pace and he's a big danger. Hoffman tees-off at 17:50 UK time, alongside the defending champ, Swafford, and he and the 2018 winner, Graeme McDowell, who begins his fourth round 20 minutes earlier, should have positive vibes but it's very tough to call.

G-mac looks a fair price again and if I hadn't backed him yesterday, I'd be doing so today but I have added a small wager on Swafford. He looks fractionally big at 38.037/1.

11:35 - March 27, 2021

We've reached the knockout stages of the WGC Dell Matchplay, with the round of 16 and the quarterfinals being played today, before the event concludes tomorrow.

With a generous eight places paid before the off, pre-event 25/1 each-way pick, Jordan Spieth, only has to beat Matt Kuchar to return the place portion of the wager and I'm going to let that ride. I could back Kuchar to beat him at around 2.35/4 to guarantee a return but I'm not going to bother. I have got involved on the other side of the draw though...

Should Spieth advance, and that's no easy task against the vastly-experienced 2013 winner, he'll meet either Brain Harman or the 2018 champ, Bubba Watson, to reach the semi-finals where he could face the favourite, Jon Rahm, and that looks the strongest side of the draw.

The most well-fancied players on the other side of the draw are Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia and having advocated the chances of Matt Wallace against Garcia yesterday, I think the Spaniard's worth taking on again today after his 3&2 defeat to Wallace with Canada's Mackenzie Hughes.

Hughes was unbeaten in all three group matches - beating Paul Casey and Webb Simpson before tying with Talor Gooch yesterday when the American won the last two holes.

Hughes looks a very fair price to beat Garcia at around 2.56/4 and he looks a decent each-way play at 25/1 with four places given he'll meet either Robert McIntyre or Victor Perez to reach the semis and secure the place part.

I respect both McIntyre and Perez but should Hughes knock out Garcia, having already beaten Casey and Simpson, he'll fancy himself to progress and so will I.

Over at the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship, Justin Suh, Rafael Campos and Fabrizio Zanotti are tied at the top at halfway on seven-under-par but I'm happy to look a little further down for an additional in-play bet.

I'm very tempted by Tyler Duncan, who's tied for fourth and one off the lead, who I looked at closely before the off, but the reason I dismissed him was his very poor putting and given he ranks first for Greens In Regulation and 60th for Putting Average at halfway, he doesn't appear to have improved on the dancefloors.

As highlighted in the preview, this event has effectively been a putting contest in each of the last three years so the fact that Duncan had averaged between 1.83 and 2 putts per green in each of his last seven starts, and that he ranks 196 for PA on the PGA Tour this season, was obviously off-putting.

Looking at the stats at halfway, there does seem to be less of an importance on putting so far this year with only one player inside the top-six and ties, and within three of the lead, Graeme McDowell, ranking inside the top-10 for PA, and that's who I'm going to side with now.

The 2019 winner, McDowell, is amongst the group of six players tied for six and trailing by three and that's the number of shots he trailed by two years ago.

Last year's winner, Hudson Swafford, and the 2018 winner, Bryce Garnett both held the lead through 36 holes but in addition to G-Mac winning from three back, the two winners of the tournament when it was staged on the Korn Ferry Tour, both won from slightly off the pace at this stage.

Dominic Bozzelli was four adrift at halfway before winning the inaugural event in 2016 and Nate Lashley was five back after 36 holes in 2017 so it's perfectly possible to win from off the pace here.

10:30 - March 26, 2021

The Kenya Savannah Classic is drawing to a close and the fourth and final round is currently live on Sky. In-play pick, Justin Harding, has just been caught and passed after a bogey at the par four fifth and he's just hit a wayward drive on the par five sixth so he needs to get back on track soon.

I'm leaving things as they are for now there and after much deliberation, I'm also leaving the WGC Dell Match Play alone. The two players that have impressed me so far, from the little I've seen of the tournament, are Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed but they're due to meet in the Round of 16 if they both progress so I'm leaving them to get on with it for now.

I'm not a huge fan of match play and I haven't had a bet on any of the matches but I was tempted to play Matt Wallace against Sergio Garcia. Odds of around 2/1 looks reasonable and if Harding hangs on I may have a small bet.

It was a disappointing first day at the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship for my picks with huge outsider, Retief Goosen, the only one to break the par of 72.

There was no discernible draw bias yesterday, with the morning starters shooting an average of just 0.22 of a stroke better than the PM wave, and the weather forecast predicts a consistent wind again today so that doesn't put me off having a small wager on afternoon starter, Danny Willett, who sits on -2, trailing by four.

The 2016 US Masters winner hit more greens than anyone else yesterday and if the putter warms up a bit today, he might just get himself into contention. He's generally a 33/1 shot on the High Street and no bigger than 40/1 so I thought 65.064/1 was tasty.

18:35 - March 25, 2021

The opposite field event on the PGA Tour - the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship - has only just begun and nobody can yet be discounted at the WGC Dell Matchplay where the second wave of group matches are currently ongoing but there's just one round to go at the Kenya Savannah Classic, where last week's Kenya Open winner, Justin Harding, has shot three clear. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 18:30.

Justin Harding -17 2.1211/10
Darren Fichardt -14 14.5
Jazz Janewattananond -14 16.015/1
Daniel Van Tonder -14 17.5
Marcus Armitage -14 19.5
Kristoffer Reitan -14 27.026/1
David Drysdale -14 38.037/1
Sam Horsfield -13 20.019/1
Calum Hill -13 25.024/1
Louis De Jager -13 40.039/1
Ashley Chesters -13 50.049/1
Gonzalo Fernadez-Castano -13 50.049/1
-12 and 60.059/1 bar

After a scruffy start to his third round, Harding missed a tiny birdie putt on the drivable par four seventh before driving into a poor spot on the edge of the trees at the par four eighth. It looked like last week's endeavours might be catching up with him but he chipped out and made a terrific up-and-down for par there ad it turned his day around. He kicked on nicely after that.

Birdies were made at nine and 11 and although he dropped a shot on the par three 14th, three birdies in four at the end of his round have put him the 35-year-old South African in a commanding position.

In 13 previous tournaments at the Karen Course, every winner bar one has sat first or second and all 12 were within a stroke of the lead.

Having led the Kenya Open at halfway win 2005, Daniel Vancsik shot 75 in round three here to go from three clear to three back between rounds two and three but he bounced back to win by three with a 63 in round four and he's the only one of the 13 not to be within one with a round to go.

Harding closed out nicely on Sunday, shooting 66 to win by two, having led by two after three rounds, and given three-stroke 54-hole leaders have had a 67% strike rate on the European Tour since 1996, he's a very fair price to go in again at odds-against.

With as many as six players tied for second, and a further five tied for eighth and four off the lead, someone will make a charge but if Harding plays like he has for the last eight days, he's going to be hard to beat.

Last week's 80.079/1 fancy, Sam Horsfield, who's already been matched in-running at just 4.57/2, won't be frightened to go and win but he needs to keep the errors off his card. At 20.019/1, he's the one I'm tempted to add to the portfolio but he's dropped three shots in each of the last two days (double-bogeyed 18 today) and he'll need to be nigh on perfect to catch Harding tomorrow so I'm happy to stick with what I have.

19:20 - March 24, 2021

The opposite field event on the PGA Tour - the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship - begins tomorrow so there's still time to read the preview and place a wager or two and Dave Tindall's had a look at the First Round Leader market here too.

Given the European Tour event - the Kenya Savannah Classic - kicked off as early as Tuesday, and that we've witnessed only one triple-figure priced winner in the last 19 years at the week's main event - the WGC Dell Matchplay - all three of my Find Me a 100 Winner picks are in the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship but at the time of writing, I'm regretting not taking a chance on the one I mentioned at the Matchplay in the column - Antoine Rozner.

Rozner's currently beating Bryson DeChambeau in his first match and I'm also a bit miffed that the Kenyan event started early. Pre-tournament fancy, Masahiro Kawamura, would have been a Find Me a 100 Winner pick had the tournament started later and he's already traded at less than 10.09/1, which is the usual first lay back target.

Anyway, he's in-the-mix at the halfway stage and here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 19:10.

Daniel Van Tonder -13 6.25/1
Justin Harding -12 5.79/2
David Drysdale -12 23.022/1
Darren Fichardt -11 11.521/2
Niklas Lemke -11 14.013/1
Masahiro Kawamura -11 15.5
Romain Langasque -10 14.013/1
Joost Luiten -10 19.018/1
-10 and 26.025/1 bar

South Africa's Daniel Van Tonder made three eagles during his second round today and but for a bogey at the 18th, he'd have taken a two-stroke lead into round three.

That dropped shot by the leader has resulted in Sunday's winner of the Kenya Open on the same course, Justin Harding, getting back to within one and the market, quite rightly, makes him the man to beat.

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, up with the pace is where you need to be here. In 13 previous tournaments at the venue - Karen Golf Course - 10 of the 13 winners have sat first or second at halfway and those that didn't were hardly miles behind.

Michael Palmer sat fifth at halfway, three off the pace, when he won the Karen Masters here in 2019, Harding sat tied for sixth and two back last week and Guido Migliozzi was four back after 36 holes here two years ago but even that's a bit misleading as Louis De Jagaer led by three at halfway.

The stats are only there to help guide us and of course, they're also there to be broken, but I don't see any reason to go scanning too far down the leaderboard.

There are six players within two of the lead, including my man, Kawamura, and Matt Cooper's each-way fancy, Darren Fichardt, and both have a great chance but the one I'm adding to the portfolio is Sunday's winner, Harding.

There's obviously a chance that fatigue may set in and/or the adrenalin deserts him, but every time he's asked why he's playing so well he highlights just how much he loves the venue and he looks a very fair price at 5.79/2 given he's no bigger than 7/2 on the High Street.

I was out and about today when Kawamura traded below 10.09/1 and I hadn't left a lay bet in so I'll try and trade some back on him if I get the chance over the next two days but for now I'm happy to sit on the position.

Kenya Savannah Classic Pre-Event Selections:
Masahiro Kawamura @ 125/1 each-way (sportsbook)
Jorge Campillo @ 120.0119/1
Gaganjeet Bhullar @ 130.0129/1

In-Play Picks:
Ross McGowan @ 160.0159/1 (after round one)
Justin Harding @ 5.79/2

WGC Dell Matchplay Pre-Event Selections:
Jordan Spieth @ 25/1 (each-way Sportsbook)
Paul Casey @ 32.031/1

In-Play Pick:
Mackenzie Hughes (each-way @ 25/1 Sportsbook)
Hughes to beat Garcia @ 2.447/5

Corales Puntacana R&C Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Pat Perez @ 70/1 each-way (Sportsbook)
Camilo Villegas @ 80.079/1

In-Play Picks:
Danny Willett @ 65.064/1
Graeme McDowell @ 34.033/1
Hudson Swafford @ 38.037/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
(all in the Corales Puntacana)
Back Ted Potter Jr 2u @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Kelly Kraft 2u @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Retief Goosen ½ u each-way @ 300/1 (Sportsbook) & ½ u @ 450.0449/1
Place order to lay 5u @ 15.014/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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