The Punter's In-Play Blog: Kirk poised to reward favourite backers in Mississippi

Chris Kirk - the man to beat in Mississippi
Chris Kirk - the man to beat in Mississippi

The WGC-HSBC is all over and Hideki Matsuyama has cruised to a facile victory in Shanghai so Steve's turned his attention to the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi where he fancies Chris Kirk to convert. Read his final in-running update of the week here...

“I really should have been on board Kirk earlier at a much better price but I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face. He, quite rightly, began the week as the market leader and given the opposition with a round to go, he has an outstanding chance to win. The 3.412/5 available this morning looks more than fair.”

10:45 - October 30, 2016

Hideki Matsuyama has sauntered to the simplest of wins at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai so attention is now fully averted to the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi where pre-event favourite, Chris Kirk, has hit the front alongside Luke List. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 10:35.


Chris Kirk -14 3.412/5
Luke List -14 6.611/2

Lucas Glover -13 8.07/1
Graham DeLaet -13 8.88/1
Cody Gribble -13 13.012/1

Grayson Murray -12 18.5
Cameron Smith -12 20.019/1
Seamus Power -12 28.027/1
Greg Owen -12 30.029/1

Nick Taylor -11 50.049/1
Hiroshi Iwata -11 70.069/1

-10 and 110.0109/1 bar


This is just the third year that the Sanderson Farms Championship has been staged at the Country Club of Jackson so it's debatable how much use it is to look back at previous renewals at the venue but for the record, both course winners, Nick Taylor in 2014 and Peter Malnati last year, began round four out of the lead. Taylor sat tied for fifth, four adrift of the leader, John Rollins, and Malnati sat tied for third, just one stroke behind joint-leaders, David Toms and Patton Kizzire.

That really isn't enough evidence to suggest we should blindly swerve either List of Kirk and the latter named is clearly the man to beat now.

The 2011 winner has been on my radar in-running all week long and I'm cross with myself that I haven't pulled the trigger before now. He's far and away the class act in-contention and choosing Nick Taylor over him yesterday when he was trading at what now looks a very juicy 17.016/1 was very obviously a mistake.

Kirk was soundly beaten on the last occasion he entered the final round with a lead - falling from one clear to 13th at the Players Championship last year but that was a huge tournament compared to this one and prior to that he was solid enough in-the-mix. Between 2010 and 2014, Kirk led or co-led in six events (including this one in 2011) and he won four times and finished second twice. I'd be very surprised if he wasn't there or thereabouts at the end.

List has been tied for the lead with a round to go twice before and on both occasions it was on the Web.com Tour. He went on to win the South Georgia Classic by two strokes in 2012 but he tumbled all the way down to seventh at the Cartagena de Indias at Karibana Championship last year. This is the first time he's been within five of the lead with a round to go on the PGA Tour and I suspect nerves may get the better of him.

Excellent ball-striker and 2009 US Open Champ, Lucas Glover is the biggest danger to Kirk but he's putting in a typical Glover week. He ranks fifth for Driving Accuracy and first for Greens In Regulation so his long game is dialled in brilliantly but his putting is yet again woeful and I don't expect that will improve as the pressure intensifies.

Graham DeLaet always gets nervous in-the-mix and like everyone else inside the top-nine (except Kirk and Glover) he's still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour so I'm more than happy to swerve him at a single figure price.

Dave Tindall's Coddy Gribble is arguably the most promising Web.com graduate in-the-mix but he hasn't won anywhere yet and when in with a shout at the United Leasing Championship in May, he finished bogey-bogey to lose by a stroke to another rising star in-contention this week - Seamus Power.

The last two results here suggest it's not easy to convert from the front but all things considered there's absolutely nothing wrong with the 3.412/5 on offer about Kirk this morning. I really should have been on board earlier at a much better price but I'm not going to cut my nose off to spite my face. He, quite rightly, began the week as the market leader and given the opposition with a round to go, he has an outstanding chance to win. The 3.412/5 available this morning looks more than fair.


11:00 - October 29, 2016

After a bogey-free four-under-par 68 in round three at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Hideki Matsuyama has maintained his three-stroke lead and he's understandably firmed up at the head of the market. Here's the current leaderboard with prices to back at 10:50.


Hideki Matsuyama -17 1.674/6

Russell Knox -14 5.69/2

Daniel Berger -13 10.09/1

Francesco Molinari -12 25.024/1
Bill Haas -12 28.027/1

Rickie Fowler -10 100.099/1
Ross Fisher -10 120.0119/1

-9 and 60.059/1 bar


My halfway pick, Bill Haas, opened up round three with three birdies in his first six holes today and he was matched at just 6.05/1 when he got to within one of Matsuyama's lead but he was disappointing thereafter and I'll be surprised if he figures tomorrow.

Joe Dyer's each-way selection, Russell Knox, who's attempting to defend the title, is the most likely candidate to catch Matsuyama but he disappointed last week in Malaysia from a similar position and having backed him there, I'm going to leave him alone this week.

My each-way fancy, Ross Fisher, has every chance of a place at least so I'll shout on Russell and Ross but I've also added the 2010 winner, Francesco Molinari, who is always better from off the pace. If there is to be a hiccup by the leader, the recent Italian Open winner could well be the one to benefit and I thought he was a fair price at 26.025/1.

The clocks go back tonight so if I'm going to trade the event in running tomorrow I'm going to have to get up even earlier and I'm not convinced I will. I have got involved in-running at the Sanderson Farms Championship as well now though, so I may just concentrate on that one now.

Confident Web.com graduate, Grayson Murray, has hit the front at halfway and he leads Greg Owen and Seamus Power by two strokes but with four players tied for fourth and just three behind Murray and a further six players tied for eighth and four adrift, this looks wide open.

Peter Malnati trailed by six strokes at halfway before going on to win by a stroke last year so it's perfectly possible to make up ground here and I've gone for the 2014 winner, Nick Taylor, who is amongst those tied for eighth and four back.

Taylor was up with the pace for most of the 2014 edition, sitting second and third after rounds one or two, but he too showed that you don't have to be bang there throughout as he came from four back after round three to win by two.

I'm still tempted by Chris Kirk, who was matched in-running yesterday at just 4.84/1 before a scruffy finish saw him play his last eight holes in one-over-par but at five back, with 13 players ahead of him and eight alongside him, I'm not sure there's an awful lot of juice in his price of 17.016/1.


12:00 - October 28, 2016

After an impressive 66-65 start to the WGC-HSBC Champions, world number 10, Hideki Matsuyama, has skipped three clear of the field. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 11:50.


Hideki Matsuyama -13 2.568/5

Russell Knox -10 7.87/1
Bill Haas -10 12.011/1

Daniel Berger -8 25.024/1
Francesco Molinari -8 27.026/1
Richard Bland -8 50.049/1

Rory McIlroy -7 6.86/1
Paul Casey -7 19.5
Ross Fisher -7 46.045/1
Xinjun Zhang -7 220.0219/1

-6 and 50.049/1 bar


Matsuyama's iron-play is brilliant most weeks but his putting usually lets him down badly. When it doesn't, he's a force to be reckoned with and when he putts well, as he's doing this week, he's very hard to beat. So far this week he ranks second for Putting Average and third for Putts Per Round and that's why he's already made 19 birdies and why he shot the lowest round of the day today.

Matsuyama has never led at halfway outside of Japan but he had a fine record there. He flopped in round three on the first occasion he led and couldn't recover enough in round four to win but on the three subsequent occasions he led or tied for the lead at halfway he went on to win.

Given how uncompetitive the Japan Tour is though, that probably doesn't tell us too much and he's maybe better judged on his in-contention performances on the PGA Tour, and they're not so good. He's twice led with a round to go and he was beaten on both occasions. On the two occasions he's won on the PGA Tour, he's trailed by two and three strokes respectively through 54 holes and he's been beaten on a further seven occasions when within three of the lead after three rounds. In short, his record suggests he's more than capable of converting from here but he's certainly not bomb-proof.

I've looked at the record of second round leaders at this venue and that doesn't provide too much encouragement. Dustin Johnson scrambled home having led by five strokes in 2013 but Graeme McDowell gave up a three-stroke lead two years ago and other than DJ, only three other halfway leaders, or co-leaders, have converted.

The inaugural winner, David Howell, got the better of a protracted battle with Tiger Woods in 2005, Sergio Garcia beat Oliver Wilson in a playoff three years later and Francesco Molinari beat Lee Westwood in what transpired to be a virtual duel in 2010. Nine men have led or co-led at halfway and been beaten and that doesn't include when the event was staged at Mission Hills in 2012. On that occasion, Louis Oosthuizen led by five after 36 holes but finished sixth!

All things considered, Matsuyama looks worth taking on, or at least avoiding, but if not him then who?

Although halfway leaders don't have a great record, all the course winners have been fairly close to the lead at this stage. A couple of beaten playoff protagonists have come from off the pace but nobody has ever won from outside the top-eight at this stage and every winner has been within four strokes of the lead at halfway. Those stats make second favourite, Rory McIlroy look short enough at less than 7.06/1 and they also suggest that if Matsuyama is to lose, Bill Haas and defending champ, Russell Knox, look far and away the most likely to benefit.

Knox will have his supporters at 8.07/1 and I wouldn't want to put anyone off him but I think the value is with Haas. The 34-year-old son of nine-time PGA Tour winner, Jay Haas, never looks particularly comfortable in-the-mix but he's won six times himself and he trailed by three strokes at halfway when he won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup in 2011 and he was three back at this stage when winning the AT&T National in 2013.

This looks a really tricky heat but Bill looks like a shade of value at 12.011/1 and I've had the tiniest of bets on him but I could have just as easily left the event alone for now.

Over at the Sanderson Farms Championship, Kevin Streelman shows the way after an impressive nine-under-par 63 in round one. I was quite tempted to side with pre-event favourite, Chris Kirk, at around 11.010/1 but I've decided to leave the event alone for now. Streelman has an early tee time today, whereas Kirk tees off in the afternoon, and the chances are that when Kirk tees off he'll be much further back than the five strokes he currently trails by and he'll be trading at a bit bigger too.


13:20 - October 27, 2016

The forecasted rain arrived early in Shanghai and the field at the WGC-HSBC Champions encountered tricky conditions earlier today.

My three pre-event picks have been disappointing, with Ross Fisher, who trails by five strokes, the best of the three but even the fancied contenders failed to shine. Pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, could only manage a one-under-par 71 and second favourite, Dustin Johnson, fared even worse - limping to a two-over par 74 - but not everyone struggled...

Despite a bogey on his final hole, Sweden's Rikard Karlberg still shot his best ever round on the European Tour. His eight-under-par 64 sees him lead Rickie Fowler by a stroke with Hideki Matsuyama, Daniel Berger and defending champ, Russell Knox, a further stroke back in a tie for third.

This is the 12th renewal of the WGC-HSBC Champions and it's the 11th time the tournament has been played at Sheshan International so we have plenty of course form to peruse. In all that time, only one winner, Bubba Watson in 2004, has won the tournament without opening with a round in the 60s but he was only four off the pace and tied for 19th.

Rory is trading at just 14.013/1 following his opening 71 but he's tied for 24th and fully seven adrift and that looks too far back already. Phil Mickelson won in 2009 having sat tied for 13th and five adrift but every other winner has been within four strokes or less and no winner has been any further back than Bubba's tied 19th. McIlroy is up against it.

I've concentrated on the leading 19, who are all within five of Karlberg, and I'm playing just one. I was really tempted by Joe Dyer's each-way fancy, the defending champ, Knox, but he was poor last weekend after hitting the front in Malaysia so I'm going to stick with the man who has already done me three favours this summer.

I backed Alex Noren in-running when he won the Scottish Open, the European Masters and a fortnight ago when he won the British Masters. The bang-in-form Swede has started nicely again with a four-under-par 68 and I'm more than happy to side with him yet again at a juicy price of 36.035/1.

The forecast suggests we won't get much more rain but the wind will blow harder and I fancy that'll really suit the Swede who's an excellent wind exponent who can make the most of the soft conditions.

The Sanderson Farms Championship will start shortly so if you missed it earlier, here's my preview.


WGC-HSBC Champions Pre-Event Selections:
Martin Kaymer 44.043/1
Ross Fisher @ 80.079/1
Alex levy @ 100.099/1


In-Play Picks
Alex Noren @ 36.035/1
Bill Haas @ 12.011/1
Francesco Molinari @ 26.025/1


Sanderson Farms Championship Pre-Event Selection:
Ben Crane @ 110.0109/1


In-Play Picks:
Nick Taylor @ 36.035/1
Chris Kirk @ 3.412/5


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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