The Punter's De-Brief: Monday qualifier Conners wins maiden PGA Tour title

Golfer Corey Conners
Corey Conners celebrating his first PGA Tour title

It's been a painful week for The Punter as a player who had been on his radar wins at a big price, but with the US Masters just days away our man won't be downbeat for too long...

Si Woo Kim hit a low of 1.9210/11 when he stiffed his approach on the opening hole to a few inches yesterday but that was as good as it got for the Korean. Having led through rounds one, two and three, he looked like the man to beat after that but he soon faded as Monday qualifier, Corey Conners, started his round like a man possessed.

All three players in the final group - Kim, Conners and Charley Hoffman - birdied the opening hole but it was Conners that kicked on. Having parred the second, the Canadian birdied the next three holes to take a four-stroke lead and his price plunged to 1.4640/85.

Hoffman was just making pars and Kim was going backwards rapidly and it looked like Conners was going to pick up his first PGA Tour title with the minimum of fuss but he went from cool and composed to out of control and back again in one of the most up-and-down rounds I've seen in a long while.

Having been calmness personified for the first five holes, Conners bogeyed six, seven, eight and nine and from long odds-on, he was back out to around 7.06/1 but just when he looked certain to drop away, he birdied three in-a-row from the 10th to re-assume command.

Another birdie followed at 14 and his fate was sealed with this par save at the 15h. And what a reaction by the wine-sipping Mrs Conners!

The 2016 winner, Charley Hoffman, was on the premises for much of the final round and he was matched at just 2.26/5 and Dave Tindall's each-way fancy, Ryan Moore, put in a charge too. He was matched at a low of 2.915/8 after he'd birdied the par three 16th but he failed to birdie the 17th or 18th and Conners was able to coast in to win by two, thanks to birdies at 16 and 17 and a par at the last.

Conners was only the fifth Monday qualifier to go on to win on the PGA Tour and he was the first to do so since Arjun Atwal at the Wyndham Championship in 2010. He was matched at a high of 420.0419/1 when first included in the market but was generally a 260.0259/1 chance.

My Bets

Every now and again someone wins and it's like taking a punch to the solar plexus. Conners' victory felt like that.

Research for the US Masters, a Manchester City home game on Wednesday night, and a trip to Wembley on Saturday for the F.A Cup semi-final, resulted in me being far too preoccupied last week and I didn't even notice Conners was in the field until it was too late!

As highlighted in the In-Play Blog yesterday, Conners was highlighted as someone to keep an eye on back in January so seeing him win at a big price is painful - especially via a Monday qualifier when it was his ability to Monday qualify that captured my attention. And that hadn't been straightforward as he eventually got through via a six-man playoff!

What Have We Learned This Week?

Conners was the third first time winner in-a-row and he was the sixth big outsider to win in ten renewals at San Antonio so the Valero Texas Open is starting to be a tough tournament to get to grips with.

This year's renewal was very different to the usual as we didn't get much wind and the scoring was generally good. After the course had been softened by rain and play had been delayed for two hours, the course was very receptive on Sunday. The winner made nine birdies and there were two rounds of 64. It's usually a grind here by the time we get to Sunday and the wind has dried the course out so we shouldn't assume another birdie-fest next year. Conners got to -20 but I doubt we'll see that sort of scoring again for a while.

Bouncing back after disappointment

Conners had contended at the previous week's event - the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship - 12 months ago (sat second with a round to go) and Brian Stuard, who this week finished fifth in Texas, was a perfect fit for the Dominican Republic, but both missed the cut. Of course, yours truly backed Stuard each-way last week so that was just another reason to be miffed this week but it's interesting to see both improved markedly at a venue arguably far less suitable and it's something I've noticed happen before.

The vast majority aren't daft and they know when they're playing in an event that suits so I wonder what the mindset is when they perform poorly and miss the cut. On this evidence, it appears to have propelled these two to a much-improved effort and it may be worth bearing in mind in future. I was prepared to back Stuard at 60/1 each-way at the Corales Puntacana R&C Championship. He was matched at more than 10 times that price on the exchange this week!

That's more than enough looking back on what was, personally, a bit of a painful week but I'm not going to sulk for too long, not with the US Masters now just days away and if you haven't already done so, please check out my preview ahead of Thursday's kick off here.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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