In-play pick, David Howell, is tied for the lead in Spain with a round to go and Rory McIlroy has broken his own course record to lead in Charlotte. Read Steve's final in-running update on this week's golf here...
“With the course so tough and scoring so tricky, being in front is definitely the place to be and the experienced Howell is in prime position. If he breaks par that will probably be enough but one man lurking has the ability to shoot a low one again, even if the course is playing tough. Even from five back, Sergio Garcia has to rate as a big danger.”
9.00 - May 17, 2015
Although I was delighted with David Howell's third round 67, there were disappointments elsewhere at the Open de España yesterday. Pre-event pick, Byeong-Hun An, started brightly but messed up the par 5 7th and didn't really recover after that and Michael Hoey was especially poor. I thought the conditions were right up his street and a level par round would have seen him right there with a round to go but he never got going at all and after a three-over-par 75, he sits alongside Byeong-Hun An on -2 - five off the lead. Here's the current leaderboard with prices to back at 8:40.
David Howell -7 2.942/1
James Morrison -7 5.79/2
Francesco Molinari -5 6.25/1
Emiliano Grillo -4 9.417/2
Darren Fichardt -4 24.023/1
Edouard Espana -3 55.054/1
Sergio Garcia -2 13.5
Byeong-Hun An -2 50.049/1
Michael Hoey -2 65.064/1
Benjamin Herbert -2 90.089/1
Jorge Campillo -2 100.099/1
Ricardo Gonzalez -2 110.0109/1
-1 and 120.0119/1 Bar
Other than one out-and-out aberration at the par 3 8th, when David Howell and his caddy misjudged the wind completely to overshoot the green by miles, leading to a lost ball and a double-bogey, Howell played the sort of controlled, sensible, risk-free golf I had hoped he would do in round three and now that he's tied for the lead, alongside James Morrison, he quite rightly heads the market with a round to go.
Having backed Howell yesterday at 9.809/1, I'm going to stick with him today but I certainly wouldn't be ploughing in now at less than 2/1. Nerves definitely got to him last time out at the China Open when he blew a great chance to add to his tally of five European Tour wins and the chances are he'll have a wobble or two today. Hopefully he'll have enough in hand when that happens.
James Morrison lost a playoff in this event way back in 2010, one week after winning his sole European Tour event in Madeira. I distinctly remember him being interviewed that day and him saying how much he enjoyed being in-contention and that he thrived on the pressure. I loved the cut of his jib and followed him quite closely after that but he's never played well in-the-mix since. He led next week's event, the BMW PGA Championship, by four strokes at halfway in 2012 and completely collapsed and he's never really recovered.
After double-bogeying the par 5 2nd, he played brilliantly to shoot a four-under-par 68 yesterday but how will he cope with playing in the final group today? On past results, I suspect not that well and I'm happy to leave him out of the equation.
Francesco Molinari scrambled quite brilliantly yesterday to keep error-free, right up until the penultimate hole where a poor second shot led to an ugly double-bogey 6. I view Molly as Howell's biggest danger now but he has a habit of performing poorly on a Sunday when this close to the lead. He converted from the front impressively to win his national open in 2006 (his first European Tour victory) and he won the HSBC Champions wire-to-wire in 2010 but on the 14 other occasions he's been inside the first three places with a round to go he's been beaten, and on the last two occasions he's finished outside the top-ten.
Molinari could be a great in-play bet though. I can just see him starting poorly, looking like he has too much to do, and then finishing strongly to win. He certainly has the class. I'm out today so I won't be able to trade this as I'd have liked to but I'll be keeping an eye on the scores and if the Italian starts slowly I'll be looking for a rebound and I'll be looking to get him onside at a bigger price than he is now.
This is yet another great chance for Emiliano Grillo to get his first European Tour win but as I've repeatedly stated, he doesn't handle pressure well. He plays alongside Molly in the penultimate two-ball and that might be too close for him to post a score and wait on the leaders. If there's value in his price at single-figures, I can't see it.
With the course so tough and scoring so tricky, being in front is definitely the place to be and the experienced Howell is in prime position. If he breaks par that will probably be enough but one man lurking has the ability to shoot a low one again, even if the course is playing tough. Even from five back, Sergio Garcia has to rate as a big danger.
The pre-event favourite looked like missing the cut on Friday and someone's managed to get a small bet matched at 1000.0. As it stands now, it looks as though Sergio will need at least another 67 to take the title but I'm not convinced he will. There's a chance the leaders could all struggle under pressure and a three-under par 69 from Sergio may even get the job done if that's the case. Sergio struggled for two days but he found his form again yesterday and if he can carry that forward to today he'll get everyone's attention. Off the pace suits him and he's more than capable of delivering so I've had a very small stakes saving bet just in case.
If Sergio does come through to win, punters up and down the country that doubled up this week's two short-priced favourites are going to be in clover as it looks as though the other half of the double has already obliged...
Having backed Phil Mickelson before the off, I'm not going to pretend I got any enjoyment out of yesterday's third round at the Wells Fargo Championship but I was certainly impressed by Rory McIlroy's 61 at Quail Hollow.
Through nine holes of round three, Lefty was actually tied with Rory and he was matched at just 5.14/1 to win the tournament. I was getting quite excited about the prospect of a Sunday shootout between Phil and Rory but my excitement turned to disappointment in no time at all. At that point, Rory was also four-under-par for the round, having played one hole less, but after that, Rory just opened up the afterburners and burnt Mickelson's chances to cinders.
McIlroy was simply sensational, birdying nine holes in ten from the 7th to 16th, with his only par coming at the par 4 11th. It was an incredibly impressive performance and he looks to have done enough to win. Here's the leaderboard with prices to back at 8:45.
Rory McIlroy -18 1.132/15
Webb Simpson -14 11.521/2
-11 and 140.0139/1 Bar
No doubt aware of Rory's sensational round in progress, a despondent Mickelson finished the round with a triple-bogey 7 at the 18th so although it was disappointing at the time, us Lefty backers have no real cause for complaint but you have to feel for Webb Simpson and his followers...
It's a bit tough that he began the day with the lead, shot an impressive enough four-under-par 68 and yet he trails by four with a round to go! There is still hope though, if the stats are anything to go on.
Since 1996, 43 men have led by four strokes on the PGA Tour and 12 of them have failed to convert. And Sergio Garcia led this event by six back in 2005 before losing in a playoff. I wouldn't have thought too many of those 43 were anywhere close to the calibre of Rory and Sergio's always been far from straightforward in-contention but those that are piling in on Rory at around the 1.11/10 mark are braver than me. I'll be back tomorrow with my De-Brief to see how they've fared.
9.10 - May 16, 2015
When pre-event favourite, Sergio Garcia, handed in his card, following a disappointing level-par 72 at the Open de España yesterday morning, he looked destined to miss the cut but the wind picked up so strongly in the afternoon that the cut line kept on moving and he ended up getting in with a stroke to spare.
He may have made the cut but with the forecast suggesting that a breezy weekend is in store, making ground on the surprise French leader, Edouard Espana, is going to be really difficult. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 8:45.
Edouard Espana -7 13.012/1
Ricardo Gonzalez -6 16.5
Michael Hoey -5 12.011/1
Darren Fichardt -5 19.018/1
Emiliano Grillo -4 8.07/1
David Howell -4 9.617/2
Paul Maddy -4 70.069/1
Francesco Molinari -3 13.012/1
-3 and 27.026/1 Bar
When I kicked off the blog yesterday, my 300.0299/1 shot, Michael Hoey, had, according to the scoreboard, made three bogeys in-a-row to slip out of contention and I'd just about given up on him but he picked up a couple of birdies in his last four holes and one of his bogeys was amended to a par so with just about everyone struggling in the afternoon, he's bang there now with two rounds to go.
With the wind up and with the course drying out and speeding up, the commentators described it as almost links-link yesterday and that has to be good news for former Dunhill Links winner Hoey but I'm not getting too excited just yet. Hoey was once one of the most ruthless closers playing on the European Tour but when he's been in-the-mix of late he hasn't been quite so impressive so it wouldn't be the biggest surprise ever if he slipped away over the weekend.
Promising 22-year-old Argentine, Emiliano Grillo, has now been made favourite but he's not for me. He's still looking to break his duck and while it really is just a matter of time before he does so, he's been inconsistent enough under the gun and this looks set to suit the old heads.
I fancy the weekend is going to be a real grind and I think that will favour the more experienced pros. Ricardo Gonzalez and Darren Fichardt have plenty to draw upon but the one I like at this stage is bang in-form Englishman, David Howell.
Like Hoey, Howell is also a winner of the Dunhill Links and he won't mind how troublesome the conditions get. He'll take the bad breaks with the good, understand that pars are more than acceptable and I can see him hanging around better than most. Howell isn't as strong in-contention as he once was and that's a bit of a worry. He really should have won the China Open three weeks ago, when he traded at long odds-on before bogeying the par 5 last to lose, but that's my only concern.
The market gives Francesco Molinari a great chance and a number of players on -2 and five back, including one of my pre-event picks, Byeong-Hun An, are also trading in and around the 30.029/1 mark but with the course likely to play tough, I think they're really up against it.
Over in the States, with thanks to a pair of chip-ins, Quail Hollow member, Webb Simpson, is tied at the top of the Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard with Robert Streb, but Rory McIlroy is most definitely the man to beat. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 8:50.
Webb Simpson -10 5.79/2
Robert Streb -10 10.519/2
Martin Flores -8 24.023/1
Patrick Rodgers -8 40.039/1
Rory McIlroy -7 3.1511/5
Phil Mickelson -7 10.519/2
Will MacKenzie -7 70.069/1
-6 and 44.043/1 Bar
I'm delighted that Phil Mickelson has put himself bang in-contention at halfway but there's an awful long way to go and with Rory alongside him in a tie for 5th, he has plenty to do still.
I was quite tempted to back Rory at over 3.02/1. I have to think, given the form he's in, that he'd convert from this position more than one in three times so the price is fair but this is in stark contrast to the event in Spain and the winner could come from anywhere...
As already stated, I expect a war of attrition at El Prat and I don't envisage anyone coming from too far back there but here at Quail Hollow it's a very different story. We've witnessed some incredible low scoring weekends and a number of winners have come from way off the pace. McIlroy was nine back at this stage when he won his first PGA Tour event here in 2010, Rickie Fowler trailed by six at halfway when he won in 2012 (beating Rory in a playoff - who'd also trailed by six at halfway) and a number of other winners and playoff protagonists have been four, five, and six back at halfway. And that's what puts me off playing Rory at the price.
There are 31 players within six of the lead at this stage and I suspect we'll see quite a bit of change today. If any of the leaders have a slightly off day they'll soon get swallowed up. I'm going to sit on my hands for now, cheer on Lefty and see what today brings but I certainly wouldn't want to put anyone off backing Rory.
11:30 - May 15, 2015
The second round of the Open de España is well underway and live on Sky Sports so I'll come back to that this evening when they've reached the halfway stage but it's not been a great start for my picks, or for Sergio Garcia.
Michael Hoey was doing OK and he looked like getting in to contention for the weekend after a great start to round two but he's just bogeyed three holes in-a-row so any hope I had have now been dashed. Pre-event favourite, Garcia, just hasn't got going after his disappointing defeat at Sawgrass last week and he looks certain to miss out on weekend employment.
Over at the Wells Fargo Championship, Robert Streb leads after an opening seven-under-par 65 but hot on his heels is the impressive Patrick Reed and I can't help but wonder why on earth I haven't backed him again. I'm a huge Reed fan and he looked a big price (matched at 46.045/1) before the off but I got so wrapped up in Driving Distance that I left him out. Reed ranks only 74th on the PGA Tour Driving Distance stats and that is what put me off. I'll be spending much of this afternoon hoping he stutters in round two!
The best of my three picks after day one is defending champ, J.B Holmes, who trails Streb by four after an opening 69 and the most frustrating is most definitely Phil Mickelson.
Lefty opened up with three straight birdies and after he'd hit his drive on the par 4 15th (his 5th hole of the day) he was just 49 feet from the pin. I've backed Phil so many times I half know what to expect from him and when he failed to birdie that hole after such a great drive, I feared the worst. He then failed to birdie the par 15th before double-bogeying the 18th and bogeying the 1st and 2nd. The wheels fell off I'm sorry to say but he did recover to birdie holes four and five so I haven't given up completely but after such a blistering start, it was certainly disappointing.
Rory McIlroy still holds favouritism after an opening two-under-par 70 but he will feel it should have been better. He made a double-bogey at the 17th to spoil what was looking like a great start.
In addition to Reed, I also looked to back one or two others. I liked the look of Gary Woodland and Matt Jones in-particular and I've decided to play them both now, albeit modestly.
I backed Jones at 95.094/1 after he'd finished his three-under-par 69 yesterday and before Reed made his move and I've backed Woodland this morning after seeing how well he finished his round to get to -2. Jones won the Shell Houston Open last year, which looks an event that correlates nicely, and I felt Woodland, who only two weeks ago reached the WGC - World Match Play final, has the long game for Quail Hollow.
Open de España Pre-Event Selections:
Victor Dubuisson @ 40.039/1
Byeong-Hun An @ 65.064/1
Julien Quesne @ 75.074/1
Michael Hoey @ 300.0299/1
Mikael Lundberg @ 400.0399/1
David Howell @ 9.89/1
Sergio Garcia @ 14.013/1
Wells Fargo Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Phil Mickelson @ 27.026/1
J.B Holmes @ 36.0035/1
Johnson Wagner @ 360.0359/1
Wells Fargo In-Play Bets:
Gary Woodland @ 70.069/1
Matt Jones @ 95.094/1
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