Players Championship: R2 preview including three-ball tips

Golf
Dustin Johnson: Expected to build on fine start
Dustin Johnson: Expected to build on fine start

Ben Coley expects Dustin Johnson to build on his fine start to the PLAYERS Championship on Friday afternoon.

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3pts Dustin Johnson to win his three-ball at 11/10

Dustin Johnson to beat Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka

First, the elephant in the room: on Thursday, I put up Ben Martin to win his three-ball at 11/8, to a stake which reflected the absolute confidence I had not in Martin per se, but in the fact that the price was too big.

At the time of writing, Martin is six-over through nine holes, stone last, in danger of dropping another at the 10th where Derek Fathauer could move as many as eight clear of him with eight to play. Strange things happen over the back-nine at TPC Sawgrass, but the game is surely up.

It stings, but believe it or not I'd be interested in backing Martin to gain revenge on Friday, assuming that is his price heads up towards the 7/4 mark and even beyond. This has been seriously ugly, but twice recently he's improved by six shots from day one to day two while in the first event of the season, he followed an opening 74 with a second-round 66.

All that I wrote about Fathauer and Robert Garrigus will remain true, even if the former has stepped up a gear from last week, and there could be an over-reaction to an admittedly abysmal round of golf. It happens.

But given the timing of the event and my refusal to set a 3am alarm, our focus is on Friday's later tee-times and a good opportunity to claw some back with Dustin Johnson, who should outscore Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka for the second day running.

All three men probably exceeded expectations on day one, but Johnson's six-under 66 was particularly significant. His world ranking is under serious threat this week and, like the champion that he is, Johnson has stepped up. A change in putter has worked - not for the first time - and there was a lot to like about the best round he has ever produced at Sawgrass.

Watson's 68 was good, too, but the quality of Johnson's long game - he missed just one green - suggested that of the two he's far more likely to pick up where he left off. While both have poor records in the event, Johnson finished inside the top 30 two years ago and inside the top 15 last year. Bubba's career-best is 37th.

As for Koepka, he was involved in a remarkable incident prior to the tournament, when forced to stop his full-power swing when someone drove a buggy in front of him on the range.

Koepka says he'd have killed the man in question had he not been able to back out but, given that he was at full tilt, it hurt him to do so. The US Open champion has only just returned from a lengthy absence because of a wrist injury and says he aggravated it.

Koepka's coach, Claude Harmon, said that their preparations had been affected and that they might have to withdraw from Colonial next week, which underlines that this freak occurrence could have serious implications. With the US Open just a month away, Koepka will do all he can to protect the wrist and ensure that he's at Shinnecock to put up a proper defence.

For a player who knows only one method - all-out attack - any niggling injury rates a massive concern and he did extremely well to shoot 70 on Thursday. Even that gives him work to do with Johnson, and there must be a real chance that he's unable to improve upon it at a course which isn't made for him anyway.

All in all, it's a little surprising to see Johnson chalked up at odds-against and he's worth backing.

Best of the rest

It's tempting to side with another of Thursday's winners, Si Woo Kim, to get the better of Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer.

Kim was much the best of this three-ball despite closing with two bogeys and a par-five par in his final three holes. He had the three-ball sewn up well before that and a five-under 67 was a fine way to start his title defence.

Kim exuded control from tee-to-green, as he so often does, as his love affair with this classical Pete Dye test continued. Just last month, he ought to have won at Dye's Harbour Town and he might yet make amends here.

Kaymer played fairly well in a round of 71 but continues to search for form, while Scott's step forward came on the back of a much-improved putting display. Yes, that came courtesy of a return to the broom-handle, which of course he isn't allowed to anchor, but I'd be far from convinced this really is the turning of the tide.

Most likely is that Scott's putter regresses and while there's scope for his long-game to improve, it will have to. He also holed out from sand on Thursday and I expect we've seen the best of him this week.

Elsewhere, Ryan Moore is interesting against Branden Grace and Charles Howell, largely due to the fact that he shot one-under giving away four shots on the greens.

Grace also missed more than his share in a three-under 69 and the fact that both he and Howell started so well is the chief reason for leaving Moore, who looks set to improve, out of the staking plan.

Finally, Kevin Na edged out Richy Werenski and Scott Stallings in the first round and should be fancied to do so again. Na has previous here, shot an excellent round of 69 and is the best player of this trio, all of which makes anything odds-against perfectly acceptable.

Posted at 2120 BST on 10/05/18.

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