The Punter's US Open In-Play Blog: Tight at the top at Torrey Pines

Golfer Louis Oosthuizen
Louis Oosthuizen in action at Torrey Pines in round three

After 54 holes, there's a trio of players tied at the top at the US Open and it remains a tricky puzzle to solve so read Steve's final thoughts on the event here...

“Dustin Johnson trailed by four with a round to go when he won the US Open five years ago and I can see him defying the stats and putting in a charge today.”

10:15 - June 20, 2021

There's now just one round to go at the 121st US Open at Torrey Pines and with three men tied for the lead, it's tight at the top at Torrey Pines. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:00.

Louis Oosthuizen -5 4.84/1
Russell Henley -5 9.617/2
Mackenzie Hughes -5 12.011/1
Bryson DeChambeau -3 6.86/1
Rory McIlroy -3 7.06/1
Jon Rahm -2 13.012/1
Scottie Scheffler -2 26.025/1
Matthew Wolff -2 36.035/1
Xander Schauffele -1 27.026/1
Dustin Johnson -1 29.028/1
Collin Morikawa -1 32.031/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -1 90.089/1
Kevin Streelman -1 130.0129/1
Brooks Koepka Ev 55.054/1
Justin Thomas Ev 90.089/1
Ev and 190.0189/1 bar

After a six-over-par 77, co-halfway leader and veteran Englishman, Richard Bland's brave challenge at this year's US Open has petered out. The 48-year-old played his first ten holes of the third round in one-over-par but he leaked oil badly coming in, dropping shots at 11 and 12 before bogeying the last three holes.

Without a single birdie on the day, Bland has drifted off the pace and into a tie for 21st and his race is run but his playing partner, Russell Henley, dug in doggedly to remain in front.

After holing out from the greenside bunker for birdie at the ultra-tough par three 11th, Henley scrapped his way in impressively to the clubhouse and he deserved to hole his par save from almost eight feet on 18 to remain tied at the top. With a round to go, he's aiming to be the first wire-to-wire winner since Martin Kaymer in 2014.

Alongside Henley are two men that both finished their third rounds brilliantly, Canada's Mackenzie Hughes and the joint first round leader, Louis Oosthuizen.

Helped tremendously by a monster eagle putt at 13 from more than 60 feet, Hughes played the back-nine in four-under-par, and having flapped about early on, and having holed a 30-footer for birdie at 16, Oosty did this at the par five 18th to jump from -3 to -5.

When Tiger Woods won the 2008 US Open here, after a playoff with Rocco Mediate, he'd entered the final round with a one-stroke lead and being up with the pace is the place to be at this championship.

Since Hale Irwin won the 1990 edition, from tied 20th with a round to go, all 30 winners have been inside the top-ten and the last seven winners have been sitting first or second. If that run is to extend to eight, one of the leaders needs to convert but all three are tough to fancy.

Oosthuizen now heads the market but he's not for me. As detailed yesterday, he's yet to win on American soil and he often flatters to deceive. He converted from the front at the Open Championship 12 years ago but he was a long way clear on that occasion and outside of his native South Africa, he's not been brilliant when leading.

Mackenzie Hughes is yet another pre-event 1000.0 chance (like Henley and Bland) and he's found form from nowhere having missed his last five cuts. He hasn't entered the final round inside the top-20 since last September and it's difficult to imagine him converting.

Having ended each round in front, Henley must be getting mentally tired and his record when leading is only ordinary. He's converted three of six 54 hole leads but two of the three were on the Tour and he was beaten at the CJ Cup as recently as October when he led by three with a round to go.

Henley certainly can't be described as bombproof but of the three in front, he's the one I like best at the prices.

Tied for fourth and two back the market is struggling to split the former winners, Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau.

It's ten years and a day since Rory romped to victory at Congressional and after his first bogey-free round in a major championship yesterday, DeChambeau is looking to emulate his big rival, Brooks Koepka, and win back-to back US Opens. Brooks successfully defended in 2018.

The last time Rory trailed by two with a round to go he went of to win the Wells Fargo Championship in May but he'd been generally ragged in-contention of late and given they're almost the same price, I much prefer the prospects of the reigning champ, DeChambeau.

The last time he trailed by two with a round to go he finished third (beaten by two) at the Players Championship in March but that came just one week after his Arnold Palmer Invitational success, and he was running on fumes on Sunday at Sawgrass.

DeChambeau was trailing Matthew Wolff by two at last year's US Open with a round to go and he went on to win by six - being the only player in the field to shoot an under-par round on Sunday. Trailing by two, he's two points bigger than the favourite, Oosthuizen, but he's my idea of the most likely winner.

The pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, has been on the premises throughout without firing on all cylinders so it would be no surprise to see it all click into place today. He's very much a danger still but it's very difficult to make a case for anyone else from outside the top-five places taking the title.

It was no surprise to see my pre-event pick, Xander Schauffele, struggle early on in round three yesterday. After looking like an accomplished closer in the early part of his career the San Diego native looks anything but that now and he'll be better suited to being out of the limelight today but I'm not sure how he's a shorter price than the world number one given they're both trailing by four.

DJ did well to make the cut after a disastrous run early on in round two, when he made four bogeys in-a-row, and he's now five under-par for his last 21 holes. He trailed by four with a round to go when he won the US Open five years ago and I can see him defying the stats and putting in a charge today.

Of the more likely candidates, I was tempted to back DeChambeau and Henley, and I may yet back them in-running tonight, but in what's still a ridiculously tricky event to call, DJ at 30.029/1 was my idea of a sporting bet.

I'll be back tomorrow with the De-brief.

12:00 - June 19, 2021

As many as 23 players broke the par of 71 around the South Course at Torrey Pines in round one of the US Open and 24 achieved the feat in round two but only Richard Bland, Russell Henley, Matthew Wolff and the pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, have broken par in both rounds and only 12 players are under-par at the halfway stage. Here's the top-20 through 36 holes, with prices to back at 11:50.

Russell Henley -5 14.5
Richard Bland -5 38.037/1
Louis Oosthuizen -4 8.415/2
Matthew Wolff -4 13.5
Jon Rahm -3 5.14/1
Bubba Watson -3 27.026/1
Xander Schauffele -2 9.08/1
Kevin Streelman -2 55.054/1
Mackenzie Hughes -2 110.0109/1
Scottie Scheffler -1 36.035/1
Guido Migliozzi -1 160.0159/1
Patrick Rodgers -1 160.0159/1
Brooks Koepka Ev 19.018/1
Bryson DeChambeau Ev 21.020/1
Collin Morikawa Ev 26.025/1
Justin Thomas Ev 27.026/1
Branden Grace Ev 95.094/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout Ev 110.0109/1
Harris English Ev 120.0119/1
Adam Hadwin Ev 280.0279/1
+1 and 44.043/1 bar

As detailed yesterday, US Opens tend to be won by the frontrunners and since Corey Pavin won the 1995 edition at Shinnecock Hills, having sat tied for 11th and only four off Nick Price's lead at halfway, Webb Simpson, in 2012, is the only winner to be outside the top-ten after 36 holes.

Simpson was tied for 29th and six off the lead and he looks like a massive outlier. Since 1996, Michael Campbell, who trailed by just two strokes in a tie for sixth in 2005, is the only other winner not to be inside the top-four places at halfway and Brooks Koepka, in 2018, and Simpson in 2012, are the only two winners since 1996 to be more than two strokes adrift after two rounds.

DeChambeau sat second at halfway last year and five of the last seven winners were in front at this stage, so anyone that wants to blindly bet those stats is getting some juicy prices this morning with Bland and Henley trading at 38.037/1 and 14.5 respectively but can either go on to win? I certainly have my doubts.

Both were matched at 1000.0 before the off and the Bland story is simply remarkable. He was making his 478th European Tour appearance when he won his first event on that tour - the British Masters in May - and he's playing in just his fourth major championship - 23 years after he played in his first!

It's very hard to see how he can get over the line and Henley's hard to fancy too. It's now more than four years since he came from behind to win his last event - the Houston Open - and this is the first time he's led or been tied for the lead in any event since the Travelers Championship in 2016. On that occasion, he finished 11th.

As well as he's playing, Louis Oosthuizen is yet to win on American soil and he's not one to go to war with over the weekend so at a much bigger price, on the same score, Matthew Wolff represents better value.

The big-hitting 22-year-old led the championship with a round to go last year before a disappointing 75 on Sunday saw him eventually finish second and nobody's hit more greens in regulation over the first two days.

As he was before the off, and after the opening round, Jon Rahm is still a fair price but I'm happy to swerve him given how easy it is to fall away here and how poor his stats are at halfway. He ranks only tied 60th for Greens In Regulation so he's clearly not giving himself enough chances. That could all change in a heartbeat but I'm in no rush to back him at the price and on the same score, Bubba Watson represents better value.

Now 42 and without a win in three years, he's easy to dismiss but he's won 12 times on the PGA Tour, including two US Masters, two WGCs and a Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, ten years ago.

He was extremely candid after the second round but his nerves are nothing new and he could just be the one to cope with the weekend pressure better than anyone else.

Pre-event pick, Xander Schauffele, is certainly not out of it in a tie for seventh and just three off the lead but he needs to find a bit more luck on the greens and one of my Find Me a 100 Winner picks, Kevin Streelman, is alongside Xander.

As Dave Tindall highlighted in his 10-year trends piece, this has been a young man's major of late but that could change this year with so many experienced men in the mix and it's a tough one to call.

The stats suggest the seven men tied for 13th and five off the lead are already too far back but I'm in no rush to write off the likes of Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa or Justin Thomas.

I've added to the portfolio with very small wagers on Wolff and Bubba but it's a really difficult tournament to assess at this stage and I'm very happy to remain cautious. I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the state of play before round four.

10:35 - June 18, 2021

After a 90-minute delay to the start of the 121st US Open, thanks to the presence of fog yesterday morning, the first round was suspended for darkness with the final couple of three-balls still having five and six holes of their opening rounds to play.

Pre-event pick, Justin Rose, who's already too far back to win his second US Open after a very poor start, teed off on the 18th tee as darkness descended while playing partners, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, finished up on 17, just before the hooter went off, and as a result, they were able to get finished.

Johnson, who shot a level-par 71, described getting finished, and therefore avoiding a very early start to finish off his round today, as 'so crucial' and Rory, who made a birdie four at the par five 18th to post one-under, joked that he was "better putting in the dark!" He scrambled nicely yesterday but he hadn't driven or putted especially well all day.

Russell Henley is the clubhouse leader after a four-under-par 67 but Louis Oosthuizen is alongside him and he has two holes of the first round still to play. Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 10:30.

Russell Henley -4 50.049/1
Louis Oosthuizen -4 9.417/2 (thru 16)
Francesco Molinari -3 55.054/1
Rafa Cabrera-Bello -3 110.0109/1
Jon Rahm -2 6.611/2
Brooks Koepka -2 9.28/1
Xander Schauffele -2 11.521/2
Hideki Matsuyama -2 23.022/1
Sebastian Munoz -2 160.0159/1 (thru 14)
Hayden Buckley -2 600.0599/1
Selected others
Rory McIlroy -1 16.5
Patrick Cantlay -1 23.022/1 (thru 16)
Tyrrell Hatton -1 42.041/1
Dustin Johnson Ev 22.021/1
Bryson DeChambeau +2 46.045/1
-1 and 55.054/1 bar

Although the first round hasn't finished, there isn't going to be too much change to the leaderboard once it's concluded so it's well worth looking back at historical data.

As highlighted in the preview, a fast start is important at the US Open and in the last 22 years only three winners have trailed by more than four strokes after round one. Lucas Glover trailed by five in 2007, and Webb Simpson, in 2012, and Brooks Koepka, in 2018, both trailed by six.

There are currently 23 players under-par and it's long odds-on that the winner is among them but with such a talent-heavy early leaderboard, the best tactic at present is to sit and wait until later because being up with the pace through 36 holes in this championship is absolutely crucial.

Webb Simpson was tied for 29th and six off the lead through 36 holes at the 2012 US Open but since 1996, Michael Campbell, who trailed by just two strokes in a tie for sixth in 2005, is the only other winner not to be inside the top-four places at halfway. Incredibly, Koepka, in 2018, and Simpson in 2012, are the only two winners since 1996 to be more than two strokes adrift after two rounds.

DeChambeau sat second at halfway last year and five of the last seven winners were in front. The evidence is convincing, up with the pace at halfway is the place to be in a US Open so concentrating on the very top of the leaderboard in the early hours later, before the market settles and adjusts at the end of play and overnight, will be the way to play it.

I'm far from convinced I'll be able to stay awake long enough to adopt that tactic but I'll be back tomorrow morning to take a look at the state of play regardless.

I was definitely tempted to play Koepka this morning. He's produced form figures reading 1-1-2 in his last three US Opens, but with class-acts, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen, pre-event pick, Xander Schauffele, and Rory McIlroy all within three of the lead and trading at less than 17.016/1, I'm happy to wait.

Rahm and Rory play early today and if either or both make a big move Koepka will drift but he and world number one, Dustin Johnson, are the two I'm going to be keeping an eye on later.

DJ trails by four on level par so he's got work to do already but he's a tournament specialist and he sat tied for 71st after round one last year before eventually finishing tied for sixth.

Much is being made of Rory's poor first round record in majors of late, and rightly so, but this is a championship in which he's not been too pedestrian early on. He sat tied for eighth after the opening round two years ago and he was fifth and only two adrift in last year's edition. He was trading at 8.88/1 after day one last year but he shot 76 in round two. Pre-tournament favourite, Rahm, looks a perfectly fair price this morning and he's a worthy favourite still after such a solid start but I wouldn't be in a rush to side with Rory.

Pre-Event Selections:
Xander Schauffele @ 24.023/1
Justin Rose @ 70.069/1

In-Play Picks:
Matthew Wolff @ 14.5
Bubba Watson @ 27.026/1
Dustin Johnson @ 30.029/1

Find Me a 100 Winner picks:
Back 2 u Gary Woodland @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back 1 ½ u Kevin Streelman @ 220.0219/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4
Back 1 Jhonattan Vegas @ 330.0329/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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