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Steve Palmer's CJ Cup final-round preview, best bets, free golf tips

Justin Thomas can finish with a flourish and apply pressure to nervous leader

Justin Thomas won the US PGA on a Tom Fazio-designed course
1 of 1

Where to watch

Sky Sports Golf, 5.45pm Sunday

Best bets

Viktor Hovland to win threeball
2pts 9-5 Betfair

Story so far

Xander Schauffele started round three of the CJ Cup three shots ahead, but ended it three shots behind, faltering to a two-over-par 74 and allowing Russell Henley to take over in front.

Schauffele, who has failed to triumph since January last year despite contending numerous times, was ten shots worse on Saturday than he was on Friday. He covered the final seven holes in two over par, a stretch which includes two par-fives.

Henley, a pre-tournament 90-1 chance, hit the front by going five under par through 12 holes of round three, but he also found the pressure of leading at Shadow Creek a burden, failing to make any further progress and closing with six pars.

Henley has won three times on the PGA Tour, but his last success came in April, 2017, and he has experienced a serious dip in form with his putting since then. The 31-year-old is three shots clear and a general 13-8 for victory.

Leaderboard
-15 Russell Henley
-12 Lanto Griffin, Talor Gooch, Jason Kokrak, Xander Schauffele
-10 Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Tyrrell Hatton
-9 Collin Morikawa

Best prices
13-8 R Henley, 100-30 X Schauffele, 10 J Thomas, J Kokrak, 12 L Griffin, 14 T Gooch, 16 T Hatton, 25 J Day, 33 C Morikawa, 80 bar

Final-round preview

The question was posed going into the weekend: Have the run of near-misses over the last couple of seasons entered the head of Xander Schauffele?

Well, punters will never know for sure - it is impossible to access the Californian's cranium - but it seems reasonable to deduce from his ugly Saturday 74 that Schauffele's frustration with his winning drought has reached boiling point.

Schauffele had always been a player to trust in contention - a tough cookie who won the 2017 Tour Championship by a shot and the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions in a playoff - but getting over the line in front has become an issue from the second week of January last year onwards.

Another 74 ended his US Open hopes on the Sunday at Winged Foot and that score saw him drift from 10-11 to 100-30 for the CJ Cup. He still has a massive chance, but appears to have a significant psychological hurdle to overcome.

In the first post-lockdown event - the Charles Schwab Challenge - a late missed tiddler which Schauffele saw horseshoe out of the hole cost him a playoff place. And that has set the tone for the continuation of this fallow period. He is the most decorated player in the top five of the CJ Cup leaderboard, but it is going to take a huge effort for him to shrug off his Saturday torment and get back among the birdies.

Russell Henley is without a victory since the 2017 Houston Open and the putting ability which always made him such a dangerman has disappeared. He went from being one of the best putters on the circuit to one of the worst - and that does not bode well for his hopes of converting a three-shot lead into silverware.

Henley tightened up after hitting the front, playing poorly over the closing holes of round three, and the short odds against his name are unappealing.

If Henley treads water in front and Schauffele fails to rediscover his spark of days one and two, the CJ Cup is wide open. Jason Kokrak and Talor Gooch are Tour maidens who typically disappoint just before the dollars are handed out, while Lanto Griffin, who made his breakthrough in the 2019 Houston Open when arriving in top form, has been largely unimpressive since.

With the Surrey-Las Vegas fortnight seemingly taking its toll on Tyrrell Hatton, who carded a lacklustre Saturday 73, and the injury-plagued Jason Day full of inconsistency these days, hopes remain high that Justin Thomas can win a third PGA Tour title on a Tom Fazio design.

A sluggish start has left Thomas playing catch-up all week - he was full of sniffles in his Tuesday media conference and may have been carrying the tail-end of a cold into round one - and he has got himself into a share of sixth place without ever finding top gear.

Closing round one with a double-bogey seven at the 18th was a gutbuster, his Friday 66 was tidy but unspectacular, then three horror holes tarnished his Saturday 68 - a bogey-six at the fourth after finding water with his approach, a three-putt from 16 feet at the 15th followed by a missed five-foot birdie putt at the 16th.

Thomas will feel he should be within at least two shots of the lead rather than five, but it was encouraging that he managed to close round three with a par at 17 and a birdie at 18, keeping himself close enough to claim a third CJ Cup title. It is entirely feasible that his game fully clicks in round four, he avoids the course-management errors, and the best player on the leaderboard posts a competitive clubhouse target.

Expect Thomas and Collin Morikawa, who is a shot further adrift, to put make early headway and add to the jitters Henley is bound to be feeling. Thomas and Morikawa are playing in the same threeball and could inspire each other to a final-round flourish.

The Henley, Griffin, Gooch threeball (7.27pm UK and Ireland time) should be full of nerves and mistakes. This tournament seems a long way from over.

Racing Post Sport followers are on Thomas ante-post at 12-1 and the double-figure prices still available are mightily tempting.
Final-round threeball punters are pointed towards Viktor Hovland for his 6.21pm contest against Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler, who has dropped to world number 43. Hovland has been generally excellent since his disappointing opening 75.

The fourth round may be testing physically for Koepka, who due to injury problems has not completed 72 holes since the US PGA Championship in the second week of August.


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Expect Thomas and Morikawa, who is a shot further adrift, to put make early headway and add to the jitters Henley is bound to be feeling
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