The Punter's In-Play Blog: Too tough to call in Texas

Alex Noren – through to the last four in Austin
Alex Noren – the second favourite to win the match play

After a busy day in Austin, Texas, only four players remain at the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play so read Steve's thoughts on the event before today's semi-finals and final here...

“I’d like to think yesterday’s in-play pick, Alex Noren, will get the better of Kevin Kisner in the other semi-final but he’s no good thing. Ian Poulter played very poorly against Kisner in their quarter-final but that shouldn’t detract from how well the 34-year-old American is playing and Noren seemed to lose a bit of focus during his quarter-final yesterday.”

10:20 - March 25, 2017

From 64 competitors on Wednesday, we now have just four left at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and it's still a tough task to pick the winner. Justin Thomas faces Bubba Watson in the first semi-final and Alex Noren will play Kevin Kisner in the second.

Thomas is the man to beat but he's no value at around 2.89/5. A victory against Bubba would see him move to number one in the world rankings and that may have a bearing on how he plays. A number of players have lost focus with the number one spot in range (Jon Rahm the latest) and it's impossible to know how big a deal it is for Thomas.

Being officially ranked as the best player on the planet is something that doesn't automatically happen to the best players. It's never happened to Phil Mickelson but both Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have achieved the feat. I very much doubt it will be, but who knows whether this transpires to be Justin's only chance to top the charts? Strange things happen in sport and claiming top spot will surely be on his mind. That fact coupled with the quality of his unpredictable opponent make this a tie to watch and enjoy.

I'd like to think yesterday's in-play pick, Alex Noren, will get the better of Kevin Kisner in the other semi-final but he's no good thing. Ian Poulter played very poorly against Kisner in their quarter-final but that shouldn't detract from how well the 34-year-old American is playing and Noren seemed to lose a bit of focus during his quarter-final yesterday.

Noren raced to a three-up lead after six holes against Cameron Smith but back-to-back bogeys on seven and eight just kept it interesting and had the Australian putted better it may have been a much tougher match than it transpired to be. Getting to the final in an event of this magnitude is a big deal for both these players and this is another tricky tie to predict. Again, it's a watching brief for me, and that's also the case now at the week's other event - the Corales Puntacana Championship.

Brice Garnett has led from start to finish and he's already been matched at just 1.364/11 but having led by five strokes during yesterday's third round, he now only leads by two after a poor finish that saw him play the last six holes in three-over-par. Here's the latest state of play with prices to back at 10:15.

Brice Garnett -16 1.9310/11
Corey Conners -14 3.613/5
Tyler McCumber -12 27.026/1
Tom Lovelady -11 26.025/1
-10 and 38.037/1 bar

Having backed Corey Conners modestly yesterday, I'm more than happy to see what today brings. Garnett has been in front all week and yesterday's finish suggests he's wavering. This looks like a tremendous chance for the rapidly improving Conners to get off the mark on the PGA Tour.

Tyler McCumber in third, is the son of ten-time PGA Tour winner, Mark McCumber, so winning could be in the genes but winning here would be a huge deal. Following a couple of wins on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica and one in Canada, Tyler now plays on the Web.Com Tour. He's been trotting the globe of late, playing in Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and Guatemala but he'd love to earn himself a spot on the PGA Tour. Graduating to the PGA Tour via a win here would be massive and he's almost certain to get very nervous today and the same can be said of Tom Lovelady in fourth, who has only limited PGA Tour status after he'd finished 29th on the 2017 Tour priority list.

Conners led through rounds one, two and three last time out at the Valspar Championship before a 77 in round four saw him tumble down the leaderboard but he will have learnt plenty from that experience and he could be the one to beat. I'm obviously happy to have gotten him onside yesterday but if I hadn't, I'd be playing him today at around 3.613/5.

11:30 - March 24, 2017

Having backed two out of two winners on Thursday, I was brought back to earth with a bump yesterday. I highlighted four possible bets but played only three and the only won that won, Si Woo Kim to beat Webb Simpson, was the only one I didn't play!

I really liked Chez Reavie to beat Keegan Bradley but that match ended in a tie and so did the Branden Grace - Marc Leishman tie and having backed Xander Schauffele to beat Sergio Garcia at a juicy 2.89/5, it was disappointing to see him get beat given he was 2 up after 11. Sergio battled back brilliantly again to win 3&1 and he topped the group, winning all three ties, despite trailing in all three.

Justin Thomas now heads the outright market and rightfully so. A commanding 7&5 victory over Francesco Molinari in his final group match yesterday will have put him in good spirits for the knockout phase and he's the man to beat but I've had a very small bet on Rory McIlroy's conqueror of yesterday, Brian Harman. If he can get past Bubba Watson and the winner of the Kiradech Aphibarnrat - Charles Howell III match, he could well face Thomas in the semi-finals tomorrow; so he hasn't got an easy task on his hands but I thought he looked fractionally big at 23.022/1 given he's no bigger than 18/1 on the High Street.

On the other side of the draw, the really tricky quarter sees the winner of the Patrick Reed - Alex Noren tie play the winner of the Tyrrell Hatton - Cameron Smith match and I fancy whoever emerges today will advance to the final. Paul Krishnamurty's Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Smith, has every chance of getting past Hatton, who looked out of sorts yesterday, but whether he can get the better of Reed or Noren is debatable. Reed's match play prowess is exceptional but in Noren he'll find a bang in form opponent today and I've had a really small bet on Noren at 12.011/1 to go all the way. The number 13 seed has made just two bogeys over the first three days and Reed will have to be at his very best to beat him.

I've had a good look at the state of play at the Corales Puntacana Championship and I've decided to add one to the portfolio. First round leader, Brice Garnett, still holds sway after a four-under-par 68 in round two and he leads by just a stroke over Steve Wheatcroft and Keith Mitchell but it's Corey Conners, who's four adrift on -9 that I like.

Conners, who led the Valspar Championship with a round to go last time out, followed his opening 64 with a lacklustre 71 but I can see him bouncing back today. Pre-event pick, Trey Mullinax, is alongside Conners on -9 and only four back so I'll be cheering him on too.

10:45 - March 23, 2017

We've reached day three of the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play and it now feels like a knockout event. Some players already know they're on their way home tomorrow but nobody yet knows they're through for sure. If you're interested in all the different scenarios for each of the 16 groups, this page on the PGA Tour website details it all perfectly.

My sole pick, Rory McIlroy, has his fate back in his own hands again after he beat Jhonattan Vegas yesterday and if he beats Brian Harman today, he'll either progress automatically or he'll meet Peter Uihlein in a playoff, should the American win his match today against Vegas. Rory still has plenty to do and I'm certainly not counting chickens just yet but I'm glad I topped up on him and I'm glad I had a small wager on him to win his group. He's used his Get Out of Jail Free card and he's given himself a chance.

Buoyed by yesterday's two winning bets, it made sense to have another look at today's matches but it's not as easy today with several dead rubbers and a number of ties that absolutely determine who progresses. Patrick Reed v Jordan Spieth is the match-up that will grab all the headlines but the tie I'd want to go and see is Tony Finau v Alex Noren. Those two are both playing some great golf and I can see whoever wins that match giving either Reed or Spieth a real battle in the round of 16.

They're two classic ties today and they'll be fascinating to watch but they're both matches that need filing under too difficult to predict. I do have four ties that interest me from a betting perspective though...

With Gary Woodland and Pat Perez already out of the reckoning in group 15, Si Woo Kim is very tempting at around 6/4 to beat Webb Simpson in the group decider. The American's event record can only be described as ordinary and I'd have had the two more closely matched in the betting. Kim thrashed Woodland 5&3 yesterday and he'll be no pushover today.

Group 7 is similarly poised with Sergio Garcia and Xander Schauffele meeting to decide who progresses and again, the outsider of the two, Schauffele, is being slightly underestimated in the market. Garcia was arguably a little fortunate to come from behind to win his two opening ties, with his opponents both failing to nail home the advantage, and a sloppy start won't get such a generous response today. Anything around the 6/4 mark for the American looks fair.

After a sound 5&3 thrashing by Bubba Watson on Wednesday, and a hard-fought 2&1 victory against Julian Suri yesterday, Branden Grace can still progress via a three-man playoff, provided he can beat the pointless Marc Leishman and Suri beats Bubba. That's not impossible given how well Suri played yesterday but I'm not going to worry about all that. I am however going to back Grace to beat Leishman at odds-against. I'm always wary of taking on players with nothing to play for as they can often produce the good when there's nothing to play for but Grace playing well yesterday and I'd have him shorter than evens to get the better of Leishman.

I'm still deciding whether to play Kim, I've had small bet matched on Schauffele at 2.89/5, and I'm going to back Grace at odds-against but the one I like best today is Chez Reavie to beat Keegan Bradley at odds-against. One or two firms go as big as 11/10 and that looks wrong to me. I opposed Bradley yesterday because of his dire match play record and I'm more than happy to do so today now that he has nothing to play for. Reavie needs Jon Rahm to beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat to have any hope of progressing but he's still alive for now and I fancy he won't let himself down today against a weak-performing Bradley.

Round one of the Corales Puntacana Championship has been completed and after an opening nine-under-par 63, Brice Garnett shows the way. My picks were a bit disappointing yesterday with -3 (Trey Mullinax and Fabian Gomez) being the best any could muster but there's a long way to go. The first two winners of the tournament were trailing by four and five strokes after round one so I'm going to see what today brings and take a more detailed look tomorrow.

11:15 - March 22, 2017

I had to go out for a few hours last night, so I didn't see all the action at the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play and that's perhaps not a bad thing given my sole bet on the tournament before the off was on Rory McIlroy.

I left the house just as his match against Peter Uihlein began and my last check of the action before I left the house showed Rory with eight feet for birdie at the first hole, with Uihlein in trouble. I assumed a 1 up lead and went on my merry way. When I next got a chance to check the scores, Uihlein was three up through five!

It got worse from then on with the American going five up before a late run of five straight birdies saw McIlroy take the tie all the way to the 17th but the damage was done and Uihlein has put himself in pole position in the group with a 2&1 victory.

Elsewhere, there were surprise defeats for Dustin Johnson against Bernd Wiesberger and Phil Mickelson verses Charles Howell III and Jon Rahm was held to a draw against Keegan Bradley.

Rahm, who's Dave Tindall's number one pick, shot a 59 in practice and he was a popular pick before the off. He should put that scare behind him today and beat Chez Reavie and the 16/1 is tempting but I'm reluctant to side with him in the outright market.

Given Bradley's appalling record in the event (one win in seven) I thought Rahm would easily overcome the American yesterday and I'm happy to swerve him given he has tenacious match play maestro, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, still to play.

I was under the impression that head to head results were used to decide the outcome of the groups in the event of any ties but from what I can gather, that ruling has been dispensed with and any players tied will now playoff to decide who progresses and with that in mind, I've gone in again on Rory McIlroy - this time each-way at 25/1.

The fact that his two other group opponents - Brian Harman and Jhonattan Vegas - tied their opening match yesterday, hands Rory a lifeline and if he wins his remaining group ties, against Harman and Vegas, he's odds-on to progress. Should McIlroy beat those two, Uihlein would need a win and a tie at least to progress and I fancy Rory's chances of winning the group are better than the odds on offer.

That early rust was understandable after his win on Sunday and I'm confident he'll bounce back and win his remaining two ties. Obviously, I need Uihlein to slip up but that could happen as early as today with Harman the favourite to beat him. In addition to pressing my outright wager, I've had a small bet on Rory at 3.9 to win Group 6.

I wasn't going to get involved with individual matches, but I've had a look to see if anything tickles my fancy today and I really quite like a couple. As touched on above, Bradley's match play record is poor and he's going to have to bounce back from the disappointment of chucking away half a point against Rahm (his tee-shot on 18 when 1-up was awful). His opponent today, Aphibarnrat is developing into quite a performer in this code and odds-against about the Thai looks more than fair. His last two victories on the European Tour (the Paul Lawrie Match Play and the World Super 6 Perth) were both match play tournaments and after a comprehensive 3&2 win over Reavie yesterday, he looks a good thing.

Nobody needs me to tell them how good Ian Poulter is in this code so it's perhaps surprising to see him trading at as big as 2.47/5 to beat Daniel Berger today. Following his 3&2 defeat to Kevin Chappell yesterday, Berger's record in the event is now a thoroughly disappointing - won one, lost six. Poulter beat Tommy Fleetwood 3&2 yesterday and I fancy him to beat Berger today too.

The Corales Puntacana Championship is due to start shortly so here's my preview from Tuesday.

WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play Pre-Event Selection:
Rory McIlroy @ 9.89/1

In-Play Bets
Rory McIlroy each-way @ 25/1 (Sportsbook)
Rory McIlroy to win Group 6 @ 3.9
Ian Poulter to beat Daniel Berger @ 2.47/5
Kiradech Aphibarnrat to beat Keegan Bradley @ 2.021/1
Xander Schauffele to beat Sergio Garcia @ 2.89/5
Branden Grace to beat Marc Leishman @ 2.021/1
Chez Reavie to beat Keegan Bradley @ 2.0621/20
Alex Noren @ 12.011/1
Brian Harman @ 23.022/1

Corales Puntacana Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Scott Piercy @ 34.033/1
Trey Mullinax @ 48.047/1
Harris English @ 50.049/1
David Lingmerth @ an average of 64.0
Robert Streb @ an average of 122.0
Johnson Wagner @ 150.0149/1
Fabian Gomez - each-way @ 150/1

In-Play Pick:
Corey Conners @ 16.015/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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