The Punter's In-Play Blog: Too tight to call in Mexico

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson hasn't won in five years, can he break that streak?

Shubhankar Sharma is still in front in Mexico but can he finish the job off? Read what our man thinks ahead of today's fourth and final round here...

“If I had to choose one to back at this stage, and thankfully I don’t, I’d plump for Thomas at 14.013/1. Should he really be twice the price of DJ given he’s only a stroke behind him?”

13:40- March 04, 2018

Both of my pre-event picks have been disappointing, Xander Schauffele, who I backed after round one, is unlikely to win and my halfway pick, Bubba Watson, was woeful yesterday, but I can't wait to watch tonight's final round of the WGC-Mexico Championship. With 21-year-old Indian, Shubhankar Sharma, two clear of a stellar chasing pack, we look set for a real treat. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 13:35.

Shubhankar Sharma -13 6.25/1
Sergio Garcia -11 7.613/2
Phil Mickelson -11 7.87/1
Tyrrell Hatton -11 9.617/2
Rafa Cabrera-Bello -11 11.521/2
Dustin Johnson -10 7.06/1
Xander Schauffele -10 19.018/1
Pat Perez -10 21.020/1
Brian Harman -10 23.022/1
Justin Thomas -9 14.013/1
-7 and 90.089/1 bar

This one's going to get filed under just too hard to predict.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Sharma continue to confound and go on to win but if he does wobble it's going to blow the event even more wide open than it already is. And given he's the youngest man in the field and the youngest to ever lead a WGC event through 54 holes, he has every right to wobble.

Sergio Garcia rarely represents value and I don't think he does here and I'm wary of backing Phil Mickelson. The oldest man in the field has been putting superbly but he hasn't won in five years and if the nerves hit, as they did when he was in-the-mix 12 months ago, there's an awful lot of trouble waiting.

Tyrrell Hatton looks fairly priced but can he back up yesterday's seven-under-par 64? And Rafa Cabrera-Bello makes no appeal at all given his poor win rate.

Defending champion and world number one, Dustin Johnson, has an incredibly good record in these WGC events and he's the one to beat now but I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see Justin Thomas back up yesterday's course record 62 to win again.

If I had to choose one to back at this stage, and thankfully I don't, I'd plump for Thomas at 14.013/1. Should he really be twice the price of DJ given he's only a stroke behind him?

17:10- March 03, 2018

Pre-tournament favourite, George Coetzee, threatened to run away from the field at the Tshwane Open when he hit his drive on the par four 17th in to a greenside bunker. With the easiest hole on the course to follow (the par five 18th) a birdie-birdie finish to extend his lead looked odds-on but it wasn't to be.

Coetzee hit an awful shot from the bunker before two-putting for par and he then caught a bad break on 18 when his long drive bounded through the fairway to finish almost directly behind a foot-wide tree. He chipped out before bungling his way to a bogey six and having been matched at a low of 1.282/7, he's still odds-on but it's far closer than it looked likely to be. Here's the 54 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 17:05.

George Coetzee -14 1.845/6
Mikko Korhonen -12 7.26/1
Sam Horsfield -12 8.27/1
Erik Van Rooyen -10 19.5
Thomas Aiken -10 22.021/1
Scott Jamieson -10 24.023/1
Felipe Aguilar -10 28.027/1
-8 and 100.099/1 bar

Sky's Tony Johnstone thought Coetzee was wrong to go for the green off the tee at 17, and he could be right, and others thought Coetzee was unlucky to find himself behind a tree on 18, and they could be right too, but when all the ifs, buts and maybes are done with the fact is, Coetzee has messed up a great opportunity to take command and it isn't a surprise.

Having backed Coetzee before the off, I layed him back in-running today to recoup the week's stakes but I'd still like to see him convert. I wouldn't be a backer at odds-on now though. Today's irritating late mishaps leave him looking vulnerable and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't get jittery tomorrow. As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, this is a course that's seen more than its fair share of off the pace winners.

Coetzee's nearest challengers, Mikko Korhonen and Sam Horsfield, are both looking for their first European Tour wins and most of the closest challengers at halfway fell away today so it might be better to concentrate on those a bit further back. There's a group of five tied for eighth, six off the lead, and another six are tied for 13th and seven back and I wouldn't be too shocked if one of those made a big charge but trying to gauge which one is pure guesswork. I'll be monitoring play tomorrow so I may look to get one or two onside in-running but the four players tied for fourth and four behind George might be the ones to concentrate on now.

Dave Tindall's each-way pick, Scott Jamieson, loves South Africa and he'll be better suited to chasing but the one I like is Erik Van Rooyen, who has a very similar profile to last year's winner, Dean Burmester.

Burmester was the 16.015/1 second favourite and Van Rooyen went off at around 38.037/1, so both South Africans were fairly well-fancied, but it's what happened in their previous outings that might be more pertinent. Erik dropped away tamely over the weekend in Qatar after a bright start and Burmester had lost his way in the final round of the Joburg Open the week before he won this last year. Burmester rebounded brilliantly to break his European Tour duck and I wouldn't be surprised if Van Rooyen emulated him. He's a best price of 16/1 on the High Street so I thought 19.5 was more than fair.

12:10 - March 03, 2018

We've reached the halfway stage of the WGC-Mexico Championship and we have a surprise leader. Shubhankar Sharma kicked off round two with a kick-in eagle two at the par four first and he played the back-nine in a bogey-free, five-under-par 31 to open-up a gap of two at the top. Here's the latest standings with prices to back at 12:00.

Shubhankar Sharma -11 9.08/1
Sergio Garcia -9 7.06/1
Xander Schauffele -9 9.89/1
Rafa Cabrera-Bello -9 11.521/2
Dustin Johnson -7 6.05/1
Bubba Watson -7 19.5
Louis Oosthuizen -7 25.024/1
Pat Perez -7 28.027/1
Brendan Steele -7 32.031/1
Brian Harman -7 34.033/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat -7 44.043/1
-6 and 25.024/1 bar

I haven't got a penny on Sharma and with so many quality players on his heels, he doesn't appear generously priced now but I'll be cheering him on over the weekend. Hardly anyone had heard of the 21-year-old Indian until he won the Joburg Open in December but he is now on top of the Asian Tour money list and the Race to Dubai standings, bidding to win his third title in four months. And what a title to win. It's not often the result of the event takes precedence over my wagers but Shubhankar going on to win this week would be a cracking story.

Both of my pre-event selections had disappointing second rounds but my in-play pick, Xander Schauffele, fared better and after a decent three-under-par bogey-free second round he'll be in the final three-ball later. I've looked long and hard at the leaderboard and I came very close to leaving it alone for now but Bubba Watson looks fractionally too big at 19.5.

All Bubba's in-running stats are impressive so he's clearly still in good nick after his win at Riviera last time out and he's in-the-mix despite an awful back-nine on Thursday. He raced to seven-under-par through 12 holes to take up the running but after being matched at just 5.04/1, he played the last third of the course in five-over-par. Yesterday's bogey-free five-under-par 66 was a very professional response to the shaky finish on Thursday and he can kick on nicely from here.

The third round of the Tshwane Open is well underway and halfway leader, George Coetzee, has been caught and passed by Sam Horsfield. I'll be back later with a look at the event after the third round.

13:30 - March 03, 2018

The first round of the WGC-Mexico Championship has been completed and Louis Oosthuizen shows the way after a seven-under-par 64 around the Club de Golf Chapultepec.

I'd theorised in the preview that a weekend in contention at the Honda Classic last week might prove to be a negative and some of those that were in-the-mix in Florida did underperform but Louis' bounced back well after a shocking finish on Sunday. The 2010 Open Champ was heading for a decent finish until he played the last six holes in five-over-par to fall outside the top-ten.

Louis was my pick in the event 12 months ago so I'm a bit frustrated to see him leading this time around but he's short enough now given he hasn't won for two years and his only PGA Tour success remains that Open win eight years ago.

Both my pre-event picks have started well enough - Jon Rahm is the new favourite and only three off the lead and Patton Kizzire trails by five - so it's a decent start. There's a long, long way to go though and with only one previous staging at the venue I'm being extremely cautious, but I have added one more...

Xander Schauffele is playing the course for the first time but he seems to have taken to it well enough. He's tied for second, a shot behind Oosthuizen, and he's the only American in the top-seven. He impressed me greatly when he won the Greenbrier Classic and the Tour Championship last year and I thought he was a fair price this morning at 12.011/1.

Ordinarily, I would wait for the second round of the Tshwane Open to finish before taking a detailed look at the leaderboard to make my next move but not this time.

Whether he ends the day in front or not (currently leading), the pre-event favourite, George Coetzee is right in the thick of it and he's clearly the man to beat now. As highlighted in the preview, every winner of this event at this venue has been a well-fancied South African and anyone that took the double-figure prices about George before the off will be on good terms with themselves now.

Having backed him myself, I'd like to think his class will tell and he'll do what Charl Schwartzel did here two years ago and just pull away from the field. He's putting brilliantly, he knows the course like the back of his hand and he's by some distance the best player in-the-mix but George doesn't do straightforward. I expect a few twists and turns tomorrow but I'm going to sit on my hands until the end of round three.

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, this is a venue that's produced a number of off the pace winners and I want to evaluate the situation properly after 54 holes.

Tshwane Open Pre-Event Selections:
George Coetzee @ 14.013/1
Hennie Otto @ 75.074/1
Darren Fichardt @ 85.084/1
Zander Lombard @ 120.0119/1

WGC-Mexico Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Jon Rahm @ 13.5
Patton Kizzire @ 130.0129/1

In-Running Picks:
Xander Schauffele @ 12.011/1
Bubba Watson @ 19.5

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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