Dustin Johnson is long odds-on having moved four clear of Rory McIlroy with a round to go in Mexico but the Puerto Rico Open looks a more open affair. Read Steve's final in-play thoughts on both events here...
“At 37, and with just the one Web.com Tour win, Nate Lashley has the sort of profile I’d expect to see of the Puerto Rico Open winner and given that his sole success came at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in 2017, before it was upgraded to a PGA Tour event last year, and that he trails by a stroke in second place, just like the last two tournament winners, I’m happy to have a small wager on him at 9/25.5.”
09:35 - February 24, 2019
Having made the turn in three-under-par, Dustin Johnson double-bogeyed the 10th hole in round three of the WGC Mexico Championship but any thoughts of a back-nine wobble were soon banished with back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 and he ended the day four clear of Rory McIlroy and seven ahead of the remainder. Here's the latest standings with prices to back at 9:25.
Dustin Johnson -16 2/71.29
Rory McIlroy -12 5/15.8
Patrick Cantlay -9 74/175.0
Patrick Reed -9 84/185.0
Sergio Garcia -9 84/185.0
Cameron Smith -9 89/190.0
-8 and 299/1300.0 bar
Having traded the tournament with the expectation of much change, having the first two on the leaderboard after round one sitting first and second and clear of the rest with a round to go is far from ideal. Rory led after the opening round but DJ has asserted himself since and having layed both, all I can do is sit and suffer now.
DJ is looking for his sixth WGC title and he looks highly likely to collect but anyone thinking of piling in at long odds-on might want to be reminded of his performance in China two years ago when he blew a six-stroke lead at the WGC HSBC Champions having traded at 1/101.1 with a round to go.
As much as I'd like to see some sort of Mexican miracle, I really can't see it happening so I'm turning my attention to the Puerto Rico Open where Aaron Baddeley leads with a round to go. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with priced to back at 9:30.
Aaron Baddeley -12 12/53.4
Nate Lashley -11 9/25.5
Martin Trainer -10 11/112.0
Wyndham Clark -9 14.5
Johnson Wagner -9 16/117.0
D.J Trahan -9 17/118.0
Martin Piller -9 35/136.0
Joey Garber -9 45/146.0
-8 and 31/132.0 bar
The 37-year-old leader, Aaron Baddeley, has plenty of experience having first come to the attention of the golf world when winning the Australian Open back-to-back as a teenager (and as an amateur on the first occasion in 1999). He lost a playoff at the 2003 Sony Open to Ernie Els and the first of his four PGA Tour titles came at the RBC Heritage three years later. They're two events mentioned in the preview, so it's no surprise to see him enjoying the venue and given his last PGA Tour win came at the Barbasol Championship (another opposite filed event) in 2016, he's clearly capable of taking advantage in a weaker field but can he convert from here?
This is the first time Baddeley has led with a round to go since way back in 2011 when he eventually finished third at the Tour Championship and he imploded at the US Open in 2007 when two clear with a round to go - shooting 80 and finishing 13th - but he has a fairly decent record. He's led or co-led through three rounds ten times and he's gone on to win on four occasions.
Third round leaders don't have a spectacular record in this event, with only four of 13 previous leaders or co-leaders going on to win the ten renewals to date and the last three third round leaders have all been beaten. The last two winners sat second, trailing by one with a round to go, and the 2015 winner, Alex Cejka, sat fifth and trailed by two so leading doesn't look like a big plus but we're yet to see anyone take the title form miles back.
Derek Lamely in 2010 and Michael Bradley 12 months later both trailed by four with a round to go but that's the furthest back anyone has won from.
My pre-event picks were numerous enough but it looks like they're all going to fall short although I haven't totally given up on Ben Crane yet. He shot 63 on Sunday to win the 2011 RSM Classic having sat tied for ninth and five back with a round to go. He currently sits tied for ninth and just four back so it's doable but I'm still adding one more to the mix and that's the man in second, Nate Lashley.
At 37, and with just the one Web.com Tour win, the journeyman American has the sort of profile I'd expect to see of the Puerto Rico Open winner and given that his sole success came at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in 2017, before it was upgraded to a PGA Tour event last year (another event I thought should correlate nicely with this one) and that he trails by a stroke in second place, just like the last two tournament winners, I'm happy to have a small wager on him at 9/25.5.
Victory for Lashley would be a great story. The poor man lost both his parents and his girlfriend in a plane crash in 2004.
I'll be back tomorrow with the De-Brief.
09:50 - February 23, 2019
Dustin Johnson followed up his seven-under-par opening round with a very respectable four-under-par 67 yesterday and he leads by two at the halfway stage of the WGC Mexico Championship. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 09:45
Dustin Johnson -11 7/52.4
Rory McIlroy -9 16/54.2
Matt Kuchar -9 17/29.4
Tommy Fleetwood -7 14.5
Sergio Garcia -7 21/122.0
Cameron Smith -6 54/155.0
Ian Poulter -6 49/150.0
Tiger Woods -5 25/126.0
-5 and 74/175.0 bar
First round leader, Rory McIlroy, started round two really well and he was matched at just 10/111.9 when he raced to three-under-par through four holes but he made bogey at the par five sixth hole after finding water with his second shot and he made a double-bogey six at the ninth, after this messy display on the dancefloor.
Golf is hard.? PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 22, 2019
Even for the best golfers. pic.twitter.com/8cQzpfoMDC
Dustin Johnson now leads by two strokes with Joe Dyer's each-way fancy, Matt Kuchar, alongside Rory and the field is quite spread out. There are only six players within six strokes of DJ but we've seen much change already at this venue and we could be looking at a completely different picture tomorrow.
As a demonstration of how differently players can perform here, look at the opening two rounds of last year's playoff protagonists. The defending champ, Phil Mickelson, shot an eight-over-par 79 on Thursday but followed it with a five-under-par 65 yesterday and Justin Thomas backed up a solid five-under-par 66 on Thursday with a two-over-par 73 yesterday. This is quite a unique venue and it produces some strange scoring.
The two winners here, DJ and Lefty, both won from off the pace. Mickelson trailed by six 12 months ago and Johnson was three back two years ago and the halfway leaders have fallen away tamely as the course dries out and the greens become even harder to putt on. Rory McIlroy led by two strokes in 2017 but he finished tied seventh, beaten by four, and Shubhankar Sharma finished ninth last year, having led by two strokes through both rounds two and three.
Dustin Johnson has a 50% strike-rate when leading or co-leading at halfway, having successfully converted eight of 16 36-hole leads in 72-hole stroke play tournaments but having layed Rory yesterday, I'm happy to get DJ in the book too now and see what today brings. At first glance, it looks an uncompetitive heat but if DJ stumbles today the tournament will be blown wide open and there are five players alongside Tiger Woods in a tie for eighth that could soon get involved.
The market views Woods as the most likely man to muscle in from off the pace and I'm not going to argue against that. He looks to be getting back to something like his best and he's already sewn up shot of the year with this incredible effort yesterday.
We've reached the halfway stage of the Puerto Rico Open too and that one looks like a really tough puzzle to solve. In the ten previous editions, we've seen only two winners take the title from any further than three strokes adrift at this stage and two of the last three winners were leading through 36 holes so it looks like we should be concentrating on the very top of the leaderboard but with only two shots separating the first 11, it isn't easy.
Pre-event selection, Ben Crane, is just one off the lead and in-play pick, Johnson Wagner is two back and I'm more than happy to stick with those two for now and take another look tomorrow.
11:35 - February 22, 2019
The big event this week is the WGC Mexico Championship (more on that below) but if you're looking to get involved in-play at this week's second-string event, the Puerto Rico Open, none of the ten winners to date have shot any worse than 70 on day one. Greg Kraft (2009) and Tony Finau (2016) both won the tournament having trailed by five after the opening round and we've seen players beaten in playoffs that have been six and seven adrift at this stage but we perhaps shouldn't scan too far down the early leaderboard.
As highlighted in the preview, Floridians have a great record but the first round leaderboard has a heavy Texan presence - suggesting wind is going to be a factor this week. Argentine, Andres Romero, leads by a stroke over Austria's Sepp Straka, with a group of nine players tied for third, including Texas resident and pre-event pick, Ben Crane.
Crane was one of nine huge outsiders backed after the preview was published and I've now added a couple more Texans - Johnson Wagner and Martin Flores - who are both tied for 12th and four off the lead after the opening round, following opening three-under-par 69s. I'll take another look tomorrow and I'll be concentrating harder on the leaders given seven of the ten winners to date have been inside the top-four places at halfway.
Over at the WGC-Mexico Championship, which I previewed here, Rory McIlroy, has opened up the event with a superb eight-under-par 63 but he only leads the 2017 winner, Dustin Johnson, by a stroke, with last year's beaten playoff protagonist, Justin Thomas, alongside Matt Kuchar in a tie for third and three off the lead.
It's great to see Rory back on-song but he doesn't have a great recent record when he's led after the first round and I'm taking him on. He went on to win the Open Championship in 2014, having led by a stroke after the opening day's play, but he's led ten times after the opening round since 2012 and that's the only time he's gone on to win.
The Irishman enjoyed a purple patch for two years, when he went on to win on three of the four occasions that he led after round one but his record's been poor since and it wasn't great before that either. Prior to his runaway success at the US Open in 2011, Rory had led after round one eight times but he'd only gone on to win once. He looks opposable to me.
I've layed him at 12/53.35 in the win market and given he traded at odds-on during round two here two years ago before eventually finishing seventh, and that he's finished outside the top-five places on four of the last ten occasions that he's led after round one, I'm more than happy to lay him at 2/13.05 in the Each Way - Five Places market and at long odds-on in the Top 5 Finish market too. There's a long, long way to go here and although we've only had two renewals at this venue, we've seen lots of change.
Last year's first round leader, Louis Oosthuizen, eventually finished 30th and the six players that were tied for the lead after the opening round in 2017 finished tied third, tied third, seventh, 25th, tied 28th and tied 28th.
I'll be back tomorrow with another look.
Puerto Rico Open Pre-Event Selections:
José de Jesús Rodríguez each-way @ 150/1
Selections placed post preview publication:
Shawn Stefani @ 149/1150.0
Ben Crane @ 159/1160.0
Boo Weekley @ 199/1200.0
Will MacKenzie @ 399/1400.0
Troy Matteson @ 399/1400.0
Brian Davis @ 959/1960.0
Chris Smith @ 1000.0
David Duval @ 1000.0
Heath Slocum @ 1000.0
Johnson Wagner @ 49/150.0
Martin Flores @ 84/185.0
Nate Lashley @ 9/25.5
WGC Mexico Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Brooks Koepka @ 27/128.0
Xander Schauffele @ 28/1
Phil Mickelson @ 37/138.0
Bubba Watson @ 49/150.0
Haotong Li @ 84/185.0
Rory McIlroy layed @ 12/53.35
Dustin Johnson layed @ 7/52.4
Rory McIlroy layed @ 2/13.05 in the Each Way - Five Places market
Rory McIlroy layed in the Top 5 Finish Market @ 4/111.38
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