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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Patrick Cantlay sets up title tilt with enormous putt

Leader Bubba Watson could be vulnerable

Dustin Johnson is only four shots behind
1 of 1

Sky Sports Golf, 6pm Sunday

The story so far
Bubba Watson has given himself a chance of winning the Genesis Open for a third time after moving to the top of the leaderboard with a third-round 65 at Riviera Country Club.

The moody left-hander, twice Masters champion, conquered Riviera in 2014 and 2016, and is seeking to continue the trend of winning this tournament every other year.

Watson, looking for the Genesis hat-trick less than nine months before his 40th birthday, has not won anything since his last Riviera success, and he started this week ranked 117th in the world. He was a 50-1 chance to topple Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and the rest in this high-class US Tour gathering.

Watson is 3-1 favourite going into the final round, with Patrick Cantlay, one shot behind and alone in second place, available at 9-2. Johnson and Thomas moved into contention in round three – both lurking just four shots behind. Johnson is 7-1 for a comeback success, while Thomas can be backed at double that. Spieth and McIlroy are tailed off.

-10 Bubba Watson
-9 Patrick Cantlay
-8 Cameron Smith, Kevin Na, Tony Finau, Graeme McDowell
-7 Derek Fathauer
-6 Justin Thomas, Aaron Baddeley, Dustin Johnson, Scott Stallings, Ryan Moore

Best prices
3 B Watson, 9-2 P Cantlay, 7 D Johnson, T Finau, 10 C Smith, 14 K Na, J Thomas, 16 G McDowell, 40 R Moore, 50 bar

Final-day advice
A fascinating US Tour Sunday is on the cards, with two players who are at the opposite ends of their careers doing battle at the top of the leaderboard, and plenty of world-class talent lurking just behind them.

Bubba Watson is a 39-year-old who has lost a lot of confidence over the last two years, equipment issues allied to illness, both physical and mental. The left-hander appeared to be slipping well outside of the golfing elite and he admitted after his third round at Riviera yesterday that he wonders whether he will ever win again.

Patrick Cantlay, in contrast, is a 25-year-old in his golfing prime. He won his maiden US Tour title in November at the Shriners Open and will fully expect to fill his mantelpiece with silverware over the next two decades. Cantlay is already 78 places above Watson in the world rankings and that gap seems likely to widen as the years pass.

Cantlay's Genesis Open third round was hugely impressive, but for different reasons to his first two rounds. On Thursday and Friday, his swing was in mint condition, majestic ball-striking meaning he made Riviera look easy. On Saturday, though, he could not find any long-game assurance, instead relying on scrambling skills to make his score.

Cantlay produced one of the shots of the season at the sixth hole, a majestic chip using the contours of a green he knows better than most, almost finding the bottom of the cup. He held his score together manfully, before finding more flow with his driver on the back-nine, carding three birdies and six pars to retain a place in the final group.

The last of those birdies came on the 18th hole, where he holed from 54 feet to send his army of supporters into raptures. It would have been understandable for Cantlay to lag the difficult, downhill, right-to-left putt safely to the holeside to accept a par, but he took an aggressive line and poured it into the middle of the cup.

The final-green heroics, which meant a round of 69 on a day when he did not have his A-game for much of it, looked like name-on-the-trophy stuff. Most tournament winners have a round when they are not at their best, and Cantlay appears to have got his one out of the way without any significant damage done. If anything, it just showcased what a complete player he is, with ball-striking typically his greatest asset.

Even though Watson loves Riviera, the leader is on a two-year victory drought and an extremely twitchy Sunday performance can be anticipated. He was level-par for his final eight holes of round three, looking uncomfortable with his lofty perch on the board, and the self-belief he had when winning a second Masters in 2014 is not there four years later.

Cantlay has a fantastic temperament, is playing at a venue he knows extremely well from his college days, and seems likely to carry his third-round back-nine form into Sunday. He was unlucky with his three-wood approach to the par-five 17th hole – a couple of yards further left would have set up an eagle chance, but he short-sided himself in a bunker, having to settle for par.

Cantlay at 9-2 with a one-shot deficit is much more appealing than 3-1 Watson, but this is obviously not a two-runner race. The biggest dangers to the leading duo are arguably Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.

Johnson, who has played well on one of his favourite tracks this week aside from a three-hole stretch in round one where he dropped five shots, cruised to a 64 in round three to move back into contention. The defending champion knows he is close enough to retain his crown.

Thomas birdied the 18th to match Johnson's 54-hole total and the explosive FedEx Cup champion, reunited with his caddie Jimmy Johnson this week, is also capable of finishing with a wet sail to overtake the leaders.

Cantlay, Johnson and Thomas are the most attractive outright options at this stage, with the 9-2 Cantlay the best price of all. Racing Post Sport followers are on Cantlay at 50-1 ante-post, so there is no need to get further involved. Johnson is onside, too, so Thomas could be a bet for Racing Post Sport readers who like plenty of strings to their bow. Cantlay is the tip for punters yet to strike a wager.

Final-round threeball punters are advised to opt for a Johnson and Thomas double. Johnson, seemingly relishing his fightback from outside the top 100 to a place on the leaderboard, should overwhelm Ryan Moore and Scott Stallings in the 5.38pm (UK and Ireland) match, while Thomas can outclass Derek Fathauer and Aaron Baddeley in the 5.49pm contest.

Former Riviera champion, James Hahn, is an appealing wager for punters wanting a bigger price. Hahn, Sony Open playoff loser last month, can account for Xander Schauffele and Martin Laird (5.17pm).

The final threeball of Watson, Cantlay and Cameron Smith is scheduled to tee off at 6.10pm, although forecast morning mist may delay timings. A sunny final day, with moderate breezes, is expected once the early gloom clears.

Threeball recommendations
D Johnson (8-11) & J Thomas (7-10)
3pts double bet365

J Hahn
2pts 9-5 Coral, Ladbrokes

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Cantlay is already 78 places above Watson in the world rankings
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