The Punter

The Punter's De-brief: Dialled in Denny gives odds-on backers an almighty fright

Golfer Denny McCarthy
Denny McCarthy rolling in his biride putt on the 16th on Sunday

Akshay Bhatia has won for the second time on the PGA Tour to secure his place at Augusta on Thursday. Steve Rawlings looks back on his ultimately dramatic victory here...

Pre-event 75.074/1 chance, Akshay Bhatia, kicked off the Valero Texas Open with an extremely impressive nine-under-par 63 on Thursday afternoon to lead by three and he kicked on nicely from there.

My Find Me a 100 Winner selection, Brendon Todd, sat tied for second after round one and he twice got to the leader, once on Friday and once on Saturday, but he fell away soon after on both occasions.

He was twice matched at below 6.05/1 however, so the first lay back target was comfortably met. Todd eventually finished tied fifth.

Bhatia was a 7/24.50 chance after the opening round, a 6/42.50 shot when he led by five at halfway and after 54 holes, leading by four, the 22-year-old was trading at 1.341/3 on the Betfair Exchange.

Bhatia birdied three of his first four holes in round four to ease six clear of the rest and he was matched at 1.011/100 as he turned for home, still leading by half-a-dozen shots.

It looked like a done deal and Bhatia was matched at 1.11/10 and below for nearly £300k but pre-event 110.0109/1 shot, Denny McCarthy, who was matched at high of 130.0129/1 before the off, refused to give in.

After birdying 10 and parring the 11th, the 31-year-old birdied 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 to draw alongside Bhatia!

Other than dropping a shot at the 10th, Bhatia had done nothing wrong, and he must have been shellshocked by McCarthy's incredible finish but he didn't let it show.

McCarthy long odd-on on 18

Both men were forced to lay up on the par five finishing hole and it looked like it might have been advantage Bhatia after the third shots into the green but incredibly, McCarthy stepped up and holed his eighth birdie on the back nine and his seventh in-a-row from 12 and half feet.

McCarthy's price dropped to 1.21/5 but showing immense bottle, Bhatia rolled in his birdie putt from 11 and half feet and we were into extra time!

Both men again laid up on the first playoff hole but after all his hard work to close what had been a ridiculously big gap by firing a remarkable 28 on the back nine, McCarthy hit an appalling chunked third shot straight into the water in front of the green and that was that.

He couldn't hole his fifth shot after taking a drop and Bhatia rolled in his birdie putt for his second win in just 54 starts on the PGA Tour.

The bizarre finish was made even stranger by reports that Bhatia had supposedly dislocated his shoulder when celebrating the birdie putt on 18!

McCarthy was already heading to Augusta, but Bhatia wasn't although following the win, he's now the 89th and last man in the US Masters field.

Corey Connors won the event for a second time 12 months ago, having led after round one, but he'd sat second after rounds two and three. He and Bhatia are the only first round leaders to take the title since the tournament moved to San Antonio back in 2010 and Bhatia is the first to win here wire-to-wire.

He's also the first wire-to-wire winner on the PGA Tour since Lee Hodges romped to a seven-stroke victory at the 3M Open last July.

Bhatia had missed the cut on debut in the 2021 edition and he'd finished only 46th last year but after finishing 17th at the Valspar Championship and 11th at the Houston Open in his last two starts, he'd telegraphed his wellbeing nicely. And he also had bits and pieces of form at three of the courses that appear to correlate nicely with San Antonio...

He was ninth in the Safeway Open in 2020, second in the Puerto Rico Open last year and 13th in the Sony Open in January.

As is so often the case at San Antonio, there was a draw bias of more than two strokes in favour of those drawn PM-AM. McCarthy was the only player on the wrong side of the draw to contend during the week and it's imperative to check out the forecasts before the off.

Bhatia's victory gets him into the field on Thursday but he's highly unlikely to double-up.

This will be his first visit to Augusta and Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1978, is the only debutant to win the US Masters. And only four men (Ralph Guldahl in 1939, Art Wall in 1959, Sandy Lyle in 1998 and Phil Mickelson in 2006) have won the US Masters having won the week before.

Masters money for fast finishing Rory

Looking at the US Masters market, Rory McIlroy has shortened up from 14.013/1 to 13.012/1 after a bogey-free 66 in round four saw him end the week in third and Hideki Matsuyama, who finished tied for seventh, also shortened up throughout the weekend.

The 2021 winner is now only 23/124.00 to gain his second Green Jacket, having been matched at in excess of 30.029/1 only a week or so ago.

Dean Burmester won the LIV Golf Miami event yesterday but only after a playoff with the 2017 US Masters winner, Sergio Garcia, although the Spaniard's price for the year's first major hasn't really moved. He's trading at around 150.0149/1.

Read my US Masters preview here

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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