09:50 – March 25, 2017

We’ve reached the round of 16 at the WGC Match Play Championship and only five of the top-16 seeds, and two of the top-10, have progressed to the knockout phase.

World number one, Dustin Johnson, has picked up from where he left off in Mexico and he’s playing some quite incredible golf. The 7/1 available about him winning the fast-approaching US Masters with the Sportsbook is now the biggest price available and I’m not convinced it will still be there tomorrow.

DJ takes on his namesake Zach in the round of 16 and it’s very hard to see the veteran stopping the favourite. In fact, it’s hard to see anyone stopping DJ if he continues to play how he has over the first three days but strange things happen in match play and Zach could prove a tough nut to crack if he can do what nobody else has managed to do this week – get ahead in the tie.

I priced up the eight ties last night and I can’t see any significant value anywhere. I made Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson slightly firmer favourites to win their ties than the Sportsbook guys did but I’m more than happy to leave the matches alone.

My outright pick, Paul Casey, is still going and he’s a firm favourite to reach the quarterfinals. He meets the 52nd seed, Hideto Tanihara, in today’s round of 16 and if he gets through there he’ll meet either Bubba Watson or Ross Fisher for the right to (in all probability) somehow try and get past D.J in the semis.

Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson are the two to beat in the other half of the draw but I’m in agreement with Paul Krishnamurty about the price about Bill Haas. He’s a best priced 25/1 on the High St and that looks more than fair so I was more than happy to take [30.0]. He plays Kevin Na, who has reached the final 16 for the first time in his career, and I fancy Haas to progress to a winnable quarterfinal against either Phil Mickelson or Marc Leishman. Haas will be running free for the rest of the week as he really shouldn’t be here. He looked dead and buried after taking a penalty drop on the second hole of his sudden death playoff with KT Kim yesterday but played this remarkable shot to extend the match which he eventually won at the sixth.

Thanks to a couple of rain delays, the second round of the Puerto Rico Open hasn’t quite finished yet but it’s a very tight affair, with two strokes separating 16 players at the top of the leaderboard. I’m happy with the progress of yesterday’s in-play pick, D.A Points, who’s one of three men tied at the top and I haven’t completely given up on Boo Weekley, who hit the front after a blistering start to round two.

Weekley dropped back a bit after his great start but on eight-under-par and just three off the lead, he’s not out of it just yet and I’ve also had a very small bet on JJ Henry at [26.0] this morning. He has a habit of winning when dropped in grade and that looked a fair price given he’s one of the six players currently tied for fourth and just a stroke off the lead.

10:55 – March 24, 2017

After two days of competition at the WGC Match Play, we’ve seen three players withdraw and we have a further 21 that can’t now progress, and that includes the well-fancied pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy.

Gary Woodland (personal reasons) and Francesco Molinari (wrist injury) have joined Jason Day on the side-lines and it’s tainted the competition somewhat with Rory being eliminated regardless of how he fares today against Emilio Grillo, who played so poorly yesterday, one could almost imagine he’d thrown the towel in.

Grillo had lost to Woodland on day one but Soren Kjeldsen and Rory have both now been awarded their matches against the absent American and that may have grated with the unfortunate Argentine who failed to put up any sort of resistance to Kjeldsen on the back nine of their match yesterday. With his tie with Woodland cancelled today, Kjeldsen now has the maximum three points and is the one to progress from the group.

The Grillo – McIlroy tie is one of several dead rubbers now but we’ve got a few cracking ties to enjoy today so for a detailed look at how all the groups are positioned this morning, please see this piece from the PGA Tour website.

Of all of today’s ties, the strongest fancy I have is Rory. Grillo was awful yesterday and I just can’t see how he can get near the world number two today. Rory is as short as 2/5 to win today and I’d have him at around that price too so the 4/6 with the Sportsbook looks like a gift to me.

JB Holmes is already out after his defeat to Daniel Berger on day one and his draw with Si Woo Kim yesterday, so he doesn’t have anything to play for against Phil Mickelson today but he just looks too big to me at 2/1. If Kim happened to avoid defeat to Berger, Lefty would progress regardless of the outcome of his match with Holmes and I can see Phil having one eye on that tie. Holmes improved considerably between day one and two and any further improvement could easily see him trouble Mickelson today.

My only other pre-event pick, other than Rory, Paul Casey, needs to beat Charl Schwartzel today to progress but I’m far from confident and Schwartzel looks the value. Both men have won their opening ties but they’ve done so in varying fashions. The South African, despite not playing brilliantly, powered to victory against Byeong-Hun An 6&5 on Wednesday and he made short shrift of Joost Luiten yesterday, beating the Dutchman comfortably 4&3, whereas Casey really stuttered on the back nine against An yesterday – eventually gaining victory on the 18th green.

I’d love to be confident that yesterday was just a blip, and that may well be the case, but on form so far this week, Schwartzel is the most likely to progress and he’s value to beat my man at anywhere around the 5/4 mark.

Over at the Puerto Rico Open, Trey Mullinax, who got married on Saturday, shot a nine-under-par 63 in round one to take the early lead. Trey will be keen to make it a week to remember so soon after tying the knot and he wouldn’t be the first round one leader to take the title (George McNeil was tied at the top after round one in 2012) but at around three times Trey’s price, the one I like at this very early stage is the man in second – D.A Points.

As an out of form 40-year-old Florida resident, the two time PGA Tour winner, Points, looks like an archetypical Puerto Rico Open winner to me and at [30.0], I thought he was worth throwing a few pounds at.

Please be aware that with poor weather in the forecast, the WGC Match Play starts two hours early today and that the first tie is due off at 12:30 UK and Ireland time.

11:40 – March 23, 2017

There were numerous shocks on day one of the WGC Match Play yesterday. Pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, who I backed before the off, was beaten 2&1 by a red-hot Soren Kjeldsen, local hero, Jordan Spieth, went down by 4&2 to Hideto Tanihara and defending champ, Jason Day, withdrew from the event in dramatic and sad circumstances. See below tweet.

With Day withdrawing and Rory and Jordan losing their opening group matches, world number one, Dustin Johnson, who’s looking to win his third tournament in-a-row, is now a firm favourite at [6.4]. McIlroy and Spieth have both drifted considerably and if history is anything to go by, the drifts are understandable and arguably not acute enough.

This is just the third year that the event has used the new group stage format so we only have two years of data to assess but it doesn’t look good for McIlroy and Spieth.

In the 2015 edition, 12 of the 16 players to progress into the round of 16 won all three of their group games but three of the four to progress with just two victories – Branden Grace, J.B Holmes and Tommy Fleetwood – all bounced back after a day one defeat.

It was a completely different story last year though as only six group winners won all three matches and that had a lot to do with the format change. In 2015, players played on after 18 holes to determine a winner whereas last year, as is the case again this time around, ties can be drawn, with a half a point apiece being award to both players.

That changed things considerably as five players – Rory, Matt Kuchar, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Ryan Moore and Brandt Snedeker – all won their groups despite drawing a tie and Byeong-Hun An and Patton Kizzire progressed having drawn two matches.

What is apparent though, is losing just one tie is usually catastrophic. Only four players lost a tie and progressed in 2015 and only three players made it to the round of 16 having lost a tie last year – Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk and Brooks Koepka. DJ was the only group winner to lose his opening tie last year and ten players failed to progress despite winning two of their three ties.

That doesn’t inspire me to top-up on Rory or get with Spieth. They’re in deep trouble and their fate could already be sealed. They may well both bounce back and win their remaining two ties but they’ll need help from others to progress and it’s odds-on they’re already out, whatever they do now.

I didn’t get involved in the group matches yesterday and I’m not regretting that looking at the results but I’m sorely tempted to back Kjeldsen to beat Emiliano Grillo at odds of around 5/4 today. McIlroy might not have been at his best yesterday but Kjeldsen’s victory was no fluke given his last five approach shots saw him set up birdie putts from ten, nine, four, two and three feet!

The Puerto Rico Open, which I’ve previewed here, has just kicked off and I added two more before the off – Boo Weekley and Ben Crane. I’ll have another look at that event tomorrow after the opening round.

WGC Match Play Pre-Event Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ [8.6]
Paul Casey @ [40.0]

In-Play Pick
Bill Haas @ [30.0]

Puerto Rico Open Pre-Event Selections:
Chris Kirk @ 35/1 (Sportsbook)
Fabian Gomez @ [110.0]
Boo Weekley @ [140.0]
Ben Crane @ [150.0]

In-Play Picks
D.A Points @ [30.0]
JJ Henry @ [26.0]

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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