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Saturday, 17 November, 2018

Relaxed Stroud may upset the big names at brutal Quail

Underdog can thrive as course beats the best

Kevin Kisner leads by one shot with 18 holes to play
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Story so far

Kevin Kisner will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the USPGA Championship, the 33-year-old Carolina man making hay in his home state, reaching seven under par through 54 holes.

Kisner was a 100-1 chance on tournament-eve, but the two-time US Tour champion is no bigger than 7-2 with 18 holes to play at Quail Hollow.

Chris Stroud, who won his maiden US Tour title in the Barracuda Championship last Sunday, is tied for second place with Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama.

World number three Matsuyama struggled to a third-round 73, but remains the favourite. He had shortened from 12-1 to 17-10 by the halfway stage of the championship, but has eased slightly to 15-8 after making only one birdie on Saturday.

Other big names found the third-round going tough. Jason Day slumped to a miserable 77 to drop seven shots behind, while Rickie Fowler suffered two bogeys and a double-bogey in his closing three holes to drop from five under par to only one under.

Leaderboard

-7 Kevin Kisner
-6 Chris Stroud, Hideki Matsuyama
-5 Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen
-3 Grayson Murray
-2 Graham DeLaet, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland, Scott Brown, Francesco Molinari
-1 Chez Reavie, Sung Kang, Ryan Fox, Rickie Fowler
Par Paul Casey, Jason Day

Selected others

+1 Henrik Stenson
+2 Brooks Koepka
+3 Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm
+4 Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy

Best prices

15-8 H Matsuyama, 7-2 K Kisner, 11-2 J Thomas, 13-2 L Oosthuizen, 11 C Stroud, 50 R Fowler, P Reed, G Murray, 66 G Woodland, 80 F Molinari, 100 bar

Final-round advice

The weather forecast for the final round of the USPGA is intervals of clouds and sunshine, with a shower or thunderstorm around, and hardly any breeze. The competitors will be relieved by the lack of wind because Quail Hollow has been playing tough enough.

The pre-tournament expectation of regular storms softening Quail Hollow and making birdies easier to come by has not been accurate. This long course, with juicy rough, and freshly-laid, lightning fast, Bermuda grass greens, has been beating up the best players in the world.

The US Open at Erin Hills in June played like a USPGA, while the USPGA is playing like a US Open. It has been a case of survival and bogey-avoidance in hot and humid Charlotte, and the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have failed to pass the test.

Jason Day, who got a bad case of the hooks in round three, showed how punishing Quail Hollow can be if you are not carrying your A-game. Top-class ball-striking is required to keep a clean card on this layout.

Kevin Kisner has performed well in his home state over the first three days, playing tidy golf and managing his ball well, but the tension of frontrunning appeared to strike over the closing three holes of round three. Kisner rapidly went from ten under par to seven under. There is only one Major champion in the top 15 of the leaderboard, and plenty of nerves are bound to be on show in the final round.

Grayson Murray and Rickie Fowler have the potential to make a charge from deep, but the winner of the USPGA is likely to come from the quintet at five under par or better, and choosing between them is far from straightforward.

Hideki Matsuyama is the stand-out name, but the pressure of trying to become Japan's first Major champion appeared to badly affect him in round three. He suddenly looked vulnerable, having been in awesome fettle through the Bridgestone Invitational and the first half of the USPGA.

Matsuyama, who fired a spectacular final-round 61 to win the Bridgestone, has to be considered the most likely winner. But there is no juice in a best-price 15-8.

Justin Thomas is a quality player with an obvious chance, but he flopped in the final round of the US Open in June when in with a fantastic opportunity of making a Major breakthrough. Louis Oosthuizen is the only Major champion on the leaderboard and must be respected, but the South African has never won a Stateside event.

Purely on value grounds, the best outright bet at this stage is arguably Chris Stroud, who is riding the crest of a wave. The final round of Majors often come down to who handles the mental challenge the best, and Stroud is working wonderfully between the ears at the moment.

Stroud “quit trying” earlier in the year, having got fed up of failing to make a US Tour breakthrough. He decided to stop getting so angry on the course and instead adopt a philosophy of fun. The result of this new, carefree approach has been better golf, starting with top-20 finishes in the Greenbrier Classic and John Deere Classic, culminating in his maiden US Tour title in the Barracuda Championship seven days ago.

Stroud is a Texan, so comfortable on Bermuda grass. Quail Hollow has become 100 percent Bermuda grass, and this accurate driver is relishing the set-up. He is by far the biggest price of the front five – 11-1 is available – and well worth supporting from a share of second place, only one shot behind.

Stroud is smiling through any adversity, seeing the positives in everything, and will be a happy man regardless of what happens in the final round of the USPGA. He turned pro in 2004 and was over the moon to finally get off the mark last Sunday. Anything else from here is just gravy. This mindset makes the underdog dangerous.

Stroud, the world number 203 and a 400-1 rag at the outset, could join the long list of shock, unheralded USPGA champions, like John Daly, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Y.E Yang and Keegan Bradley. Playing alongside a fellow plodder in the final twoball (Kisner) should further relax Stroud.

Final-round twoball punters are pointed towards Fowler, who used a positive tweet to indicate he had got over his horror finish to round three. Fowler has played excellent golf for the vast majority of the first 54 holes, his challenge killed by a triple-bogey in round one, then a bogey, double-bogey, bogey finish to round three.

Fowler can sign off with a strong final round and account for Paul Casey in the 6.25pm match, while Robert Streb can close another solid USPGA performance by outscoring Chris Wood in the 5.55pm contest. Streb, runner-up in the Greenbrier a month ago, was fourth in the 2015 Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow and he has finished in the top ten in both his previous USPGAs.

The action is scheduled to resume at 1.15pm UK and Ireland time, with the final twoball of Kisner and Stroud on the tee at 7.45pm.

Outright recommendation
C Stroud
1pt each-way 11-1 general

Twoballs recommendations
R Fowler
1pt 10-11 Betfred

R Streb
1pt 11-8 bet365

The result of this new, carefree approach has been better golf
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