The Punter's In-Play Blog: Is Champ already the champ?

Golfer Martin Laird
Martin Laird - lurking at the Sanderson Farms Championship

Xander Schauffele has won the WHC HSBC Champions and Cameron Champ is on the verge of winning the Sanderson Farms Championship. Read Steve's thoughts on the event before the fourth and final round here...

“Champ putted brilliantly to move clear and he should take some stopping. He’s already won on the Tour, where he came from one behind to win by one in July, but this is the first time in his career that he’s led an event with a round to go and that’s enough of a reason to be cautious about taking the long odds-on.”

09:30 - October 28, 2018

The WGC HSBC Champions has just finished and Xander Schauffele has beaten Tony Finau in a playoff. I'll be back tomorrow with more on that event in the De-Brief but for now I'm going to concentrate on the Sanderson Farms Championship, where 23-year-old Californian, Cameron Champ, has shot four strokes clear after an eight-under-par 64 in round three. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 9:25.

Cameron Champ -17 1.4640/85
Corey Conners -13 10.09/1
Shawn Stefani -12 18.017/1
D.J Trahan -12 28.027/1
Martin Laird -11 28.027/1
Sam Burns -11 30.029/1
-10 and 55.054/1 bar

Rory McIlroy famously blew a four-stroke lead in spectacular fashion at the US Masters in 2011 but 48 players have led a 72-hole PGA Tour event by four shots with a round to go since 1996 and 35 of them went on to win. That's a return of 73% so the leader's price of 1.4640/85 doesn't look too short but I'm happy to swerve him.

Champ started brilliantly yesterday, birdying four of the first five holes but my in-play pick, Shawn Stefani, kept tabs on him and as they played the 12th hole, the hardest on the course, it looked like Stefani might draw level with the leader. Both men missed the green before Champ duffed his third to remain in the rough but Stefani then did the same and Champ chipped in for par and from that point on he slipped the field. Clearly full of pep after the chip-in, he birdied his next three holes.

The powerful Californian putted brilliantly to move clear and he should take some stopping. He's already won on the Tour, where he came from one behind to win by one in July, but this is the first time in his career that he's led an event with a round to go and that's enough of a reason to be cautious about taking the long odds-on.

Canadian, Corey Conners, in second, is an interesting candidate. Yet to win as a pro, this is the third time Conners has featured in the final group on a Sunday on the PGA Tour and he perhaps highlights why taking a short price about Champ may not be wise. Conners led through the first three rounds of the Valspar Championship last March before blowing up badly in round four and he fell from second to 13th at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship two weeks later. He will have learnt plenty from those experiences and could be the one to prosper should the leader fail.

My pre-event picks have all been disappointing and in the case of Scott Stallings, who was bang in-contention at halfway, very frustrating, and I should probably leave the event alone now. I suspect Champ will get the job done but I've had a tiny bet on Martin Laird at 28.027/1. The 35-year-old Scot won the 2013 Texas Open from off the pace with a final round 63 and he looks a fraction big given he's no bigger than 20/1 on the High Street.

14:30 - October 27, 2018

Tony Finau began the third round of the WGC HSBC Champions with a three-stroke lead and he ended it with a three-stroke lead but he trailed by three with two holes to play!

Finau finished his round with three birdies in-a-row but Justin Rose, who has already been matched at a low of 1.75/7, finished birdie-double-bogey-bogey! Here are the standings after 54 holes, with prices to back at 14:20.

Tony Finau -13 2.0621/20
Justin Rose -10 5.39/2
Patrick Reed -10 8.615/2
Xander Schauffele -10 8.27/1
Patrick Reed -10 8.615/2
Tommy Fleetwood -8 24.023/1
Andrew Putnam -8 70.069/1
-7 and 85.084/1 bar

Although the stats tell us that you need to be up with the pace at Sheshan, and that every winner here has been inside the top-six places with a round to go, we've witnessed all sorts of drama here over the years. Today's finish by Rose shows how dangerous the course is and no lead is big enough - just ask Dustin Johnson backers! He led by six 12 months ago and he was matched at just 1.061/18 in-running but he finished up being beaten by two by Rose, who was matched in-running at 200.0199/1, having begun the final round trailing by eight! And that wasn't the first time we'd witnessed drama here...

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, Bubba Watson in 2014, DJ, in 2013, and Phil Mickelson, in 2007, all eventually won the tournament but not before they'd lost leads and drifted markedly having traded at long odds-on. All three looked like they'd blown it but they somehow fought back to win. Big turnarounds are clearly possible, as shown last year, but we nearly witnessed a really crazy one in 2007 when Lee Westwood was beaten by Mickelson in a playoff, after he'd began the final round in 11th place and nine adrift!

There are some huge prices available about the players currently trailing by six, seven and eight strokes and I've thrown a few pounds at them. I've woken up several times on Sunday morning to much change on the leaderboards here and you can't do a lot of damage backing players at triple-figure prices.

Back to the top of the leaderboard and I'm sticking with Patrick Reed. He's been frustrating to watch as it's been one step forward - one back since he raced to the lead on Thursday but I'm happy to have him onside. He's as tenacious as they come in a fight and he's still there after two disappointing days.

Finau finished brilliantly this morning but will he get away with a sloppy start again tomorrow and I'm just not convinced by Rose. Today's finish was alarming and with the pressure of defending and the possibility of returning to the top of the world rankings (see scenarios below), I'm happy to swerve him.

Xander Schauffele is a very obvious danger if Finau flops and I may look to get him and/or Tommy Fleetwood onside in-running if the chance arises and if I get up early enough.

Over at the Sanderson Farms Championship, 30 players are within five of the lead, jointly held by 19-year-old, Norman Xiong, and 23-year-old, Cameron Champ, and it looks like a bit of a minefield but I've had a couple of very small bets on the pair that sit just one back and tied for third, Shawn Stefani and Jonathan Byrd, who are both putting well.

How you perform on the greens has been the secret to success at the Country Club of Jackson and the experienced pair rank fourth and ninth for Putting Average so far this week.

11:00 - October 26, 2018

Conditions were a little odd at the WGC HSBC Champions today and so was the scoring. The wind gusted violently and then disappeared completely on a couple of occasions and although Belgium's Thomas Pieters was able to match Patrick Reed's eight-under-par 64 shot on day one, half-a-dozen players failed to break 80! One such player was Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was matched at just 12.011/1 to win the tournament after he'd reached two-under-par through four holes today, having sat fourth after round one. His eight-over-par 80 has seen him tumble to a tie for 46th, alongside pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson. On +3, they're now 14 strokes behind the leader, Tony Finau, and completely out of the reckoning but they're still ahead of the well-fancied, Rory McIlroy, and the Race to Dubai leader, and former course winner, Francesco Molinari. They're strung out like washing and it looks like we're down to just a handful of contenders as we head in to the weekend. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:55.

Tony Finau -11 3.185/40
Justin Rose -8 4.77/2
Tommy Fleetwood -8 7.413/2
Patrick Reed -8 10.09/1
Xander Schauffele -7 15.5
Patrick Cantlay -6 28.027/1
-5 and 60.059/1 bar

Thomas's 64 was sensational given the conditions and the only other two players to better 68 were the two men that now head the marker - Tony Finau and defending champ Justin Rose - who both fired five-under-par 67s. Finau reached 11-under-par for the tournament after just ten holes and he's already been matched at 2.1211/10 but a double-bogey followed at the 11th when his approach shot hit a greenside sprinkler head and bounced way over the green. It was a terribly unlucky break but he still leads by three.

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics sections of the preview, all 12 course winners have been within four strokes of the lead at halfway and five of them have led or co-led after 36 holes. That suggests that Finau is fairly priced and that the winner is highly likely to be listed above. It also points to Patrick Cantlay having too much to do from five back.

Although Finau looks a fair price, I'm happy to swerve him given he's still won just one PGA Tour title and I'm also happy to leave Rose alone. He's playing far better than I thought he would and I'm considering myself fortunate for not taking him on in any tournament match bets. He looked fatigued to me but to his credit, he's still in there fighting.

Patrick Reed was a bit disappointing today but it's always hard to follow up a low round and he fought well to stay in the hunt. And he was also responsible for the shot of the day and possibly the tournament on the 18th. Having found water off the tee, he hit this majestic and brave approach to set-up a chance to birdie the par five 18th.

Reed couldn't convert the birdie to grab second alone but he's very much still in it and I've had a tiny top-up at 10.519/2. That's just a bit too big.

I'm very tempted to get Tommy Fleetwood onside at in excess of 6/1 but I've decided to leave him for now. Of the front three in the betting, he's the one I like the best at the prices available but I'm not going to be getting up in the early hours to trade the event in-running tomorrow so I'm happy to leave him out for now.

Bad light meant that the first round of the Sanderson Farms Championship failed to conclude yesterday but it wasn't a great day for my picks. At one point, I had both Scott Stallings and Scott Langley tied for the lead on five-under-par but Stallings ended the round on -2 and Langley now sits tied ninth on -4 and three off the early lead, held by the monster-hitting youngster, Cameron Champ. I'm going to leave the event alone for now and take a better look at halfway.

13:45 - October 25, 2018

Given Patrick Reed had finished inside the top-five after round one in two of his four previous outings at Sheshan International, it perhaps wasn't a big surprise to see the US Masters champ end day one of the WGC-HSBC Champions in front. It was a bit of a shock to see him shoot the lowest ever opening round score there though as a number of high-profile players struggled thanks to a persistent and troublesome wind and some tricky pin placements. Here's the state of play after the opening round with prices to back at 13:40.

Patrick Reed -8 6.05/1
Tony Finau -6 7.613/2
Xander Schauffele -6 9.89/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -5 17.5
Tommy Fleetwood -4 15.5
Rafa Cabrera-Bello -4 21.020/1
Billy Horschel -4 34.033/1
C.T Pan -4 50.049/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat -4 55.054/1
Justin Rose -3 12.5
-3 and 30.029/1 bar

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, although a fast start is important here (only Bubba Watson failed to break 70 in round one), Francesco Molinari is the only first round leader to win in 12 renewals at Sheshan.

That's a bit of a negative for Reed but he's led five times previously after the opening round and he's gone on to win on three occasions and he was up with the pace at Augusta too. He sat fourth after round one but led thereafter.

Given he's still only won one PGA Tour event, the impressive Tony Finau looks a poor price and while I respect both Xander Schauffele and Joe Dyer's each-way fancy, Matthew Fitzpatrick, I can't resist the 5/1 about Reed. He's four clear of everyone else and that looks a fair price on a course where playing catch up isn't easy.

The Sanderson Farms Championship (which I've previewed here) has just kicked off and I'll take a look at that one tomorrow.

WGC-HSBC Champions Pre-Event Selections:
Brooks Koepka @ 11.010/1
Ian Poulter @ 80.079/1
Lucas Bjerregaard @ 90.089/1
Matt Wallace @ 130.0129/1

In-Play Pick:
Patrick Reed @ 6.25/1 & again 10.519/2
Keegan Bradley @ 85.084/1
Jason Day @ 120.0119/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat @ 130.0129/1
Patrick Cantlay @ 500.0499/1
Thorbjorn Olesen @ 600.0599/1
Billy Horschel @ 600.0599/1

Sanderson Farms Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Roberto Castro @ 100.099/1
Scott Stallings @ 120.0119/1
Roberto Diaz @ 125/1 (Sportsbook)
Wyndham Clark @ 150.0149/1
Jonathan Randolph @ 200.0199/1
Kyoung-Hoon Lee @ 270.0269/1
Scott Langley @ 350.0349/1
Maverick McNealy @ 400.0399/1
Jose de Jesus Rodriguez @ 1000.0

In-Play Picks
Shawn Stefani @ 11.010/1
Jonathan Byrd @ [19.0
Martin Laird @ 28.027/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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