The Punter's In-Play Blog: Can Alex pounce again?

Golfer Alex Noren
Alex Noren – is he primed to pounce again?

There's just one round to go at the 3M Open and two are tied at the top but are we all set for an off the pace winner? Read what Steve thinks ahead of today's fourth and final round here...

““Noren is yet to win on the PGA Tour but he’s won ten times on the European Tour and he specialises in pouncing from off the pace.”

10:35 - July 26, 2020

As they were at the halfway stage of the 3M Open, Michael Thompson and Richy Werenski are tied at the top in Minnesota. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:30.

Richy Werenski -15 4.77/2
Michael Thompson -15 4.84/1
Tony Finau -13 5.24/1
Charl Schwartzel -13 11.010/1
Max Homa -12 15.014/1
Harris English -11 26.025/1
Alex Noren -11 34.033/1
Ryan Moore -11 34.033/1
Cameron Davis -11 48.047/1
Denny McCarthy -11 60.059/1
Cameron Tringale -11 70.069/1
Nick Watney -11 80.079/1
-10 and 44.043/1 bar

Michael Thompson looked to be taking control on the back nine yesterday but having been matched at just 2.35/4, he bogeyed the 17th and drove into the water off the tee on 18, where he did at least manage to scramble a par five.

That was by no means an ideal way to finish and with Richy Werenski birdying three of the last four to draw back alongside him, Thompson will definitely regret not taking a sizable lead into today's fourth round but he can take heart by the way he finished 18 off after the drop.

Having recently adopted a baby girl, Thompson is yet another example of a player enjoying an upturn in fortunes following parenthood and I wouldn't be surprised to see him convert but he's only won once before and I can't help think this is set up for an off the pace winner.

In the inaugural 3M Open last year, the three playoff protagonists had been tied for the lead after three rounds but the eventual winner, Matthew Wolff, moved up 35 places between rounds two and three and this course certainly offers up the chance to go low. We say two 63s and four 64s yesterday.

Wolff was a big disappointment yesterday but I haven't completely given up on him. We see many a winner bounce back after a poor third round and he shot 62 in round two last year! I can see him rallying from five back but he might just have too much traffic to pass and the one I'm chancing at a decent price this morning is Sweden's Alex Noren, who trails by four.

Noren is yet to win on the PGA Tour but he's won ten times on the European Tour and he specialises in pouncing from off the pace. In each of his last three victories he's been way back with a round to go. He won the Nedbank Challenge in 2016 form six off the lead through 54 holes and at both the BMW PGA Championship in 2017 and the Open de France two years ago, he trailed by fully seven strokes after the third round!

10:55 - July 25, 2020

With the slight advantage of a PM-AM draw over the first two days, pre-tournament 230.0229/1 chance, Michael Thompson, and 110.0109/1 shot, Richy Werenski, are tied at the top of the 3M Open leaderboard. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 10:45.

Richy Werenski -12 8.07/1
Michael Thompson -12 8.615/2
Tony Finau -11 4.03/1
Talor Gooch -11 11.010/1
Xinjun Zhang -10 16.5
Matthew Wolff -9 10.09/1
Cameron Davis -9 30.029/1
-8 and 29.028/1 bar

It says everything about world number 17, Tony Finau, that, with the exception of the defending champ, Matthew Wolff, he's up against a collection of outsiders with two rounds to go and he's still available to back at 4.03/1, having been a 19.018/1 chance before the off.

Having split with his caddie of six years, Greg Bodine, after last week's Memorial tournament, Finau has his swing coach, Boyd Summerhays, on the bag this week and that could be the difference to get him over the line. So well-known is Finau's propensity to give up a chance to win that Sam Harrop wrote this fabulous little ditty about it.

Finau took the gentle musical gibe magnificently, even replying to Sam on twitter to request a rewrite when he does eventually win again and Sam could well be working on it already because this is an outstanding opportunity. I was tempted at 4.03/1 but as much as I'd like to, I just can't trust him in-the-mix.

Co-leader, Richy Werenski, has putted brilliantly for two days, so it's a question of whether he can maintain that, but the fact that he's gone backwards whenever he's been in contention at halfway is arguably more of a concern. He's been within three of the lead five times on the PGA Tour at halfway and he's yet to win.

Werenski was on my radar before the off as I looked very closely at the Rocket Mortgage Classic for clues. He trailed by just a stroke at halfway in that event three weeks ago but eventually finished outside the top-20 - beaten by ten!

I was very surprised to see that this is only the second time Michael Thompson has led a PGA Tour event at this stage. The 35-year-old last hit the front at halfway at the Canadian Open way back in 2011 but he finished 34th! I wouldn't be in a huge rush to write him off though - he only trailed by a stroke at this stage when he won his one and only title to date - the Honda Classic in 2013 - so it would be no surprise to see him hang tough.

This is the fourth time that Talor Gooch has found himself inside the top-three places after 36 holes on the PGA Tour but his finishing positions on the last three occasions have been an off-putting 18th, 26th and fourth.

I've tried hard to convince myself that the late-developing Xinjun Zhang, can become the first Chinese player to win on the PGA Tour but haven't been able to do so. At 33, he's no spring chicken but he won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last year so I could be underestimating him.

This looks a really tricky puzzle to solve but the defending champ, Wolff, who trailed by eight at this stage last year, is clearly close enough this time around and he looks a fair price at 10.09/1. I liked him before the off but left him out on account of price, as he was a well-supported 28.027/1 chance. I felt that was a bit skinny but I'm happy to get him onside modestly now.

18:30 - July 24, 2020

The second round of the 3M Open is well underway and there's plenty of live coverage on Sky Sports but I've been concentrating on the British Masters on the European Tour, where, following it's unconventional Wednesday start, there's just one round left to play. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 18:25.

Renato Paratore -16 2.89/5
Justin Harding -15 3.814/5
Rasmus Højgaard -14 6.05/1
Dale Whitnell -13 23.022/1
Sam Horsfield -12 21.020/1
Ashley Chesters -12 27.026/1
Robert Rock -11 44.043/1
-10 and 90.089/1 bar

The same four players that sat inside the top-four places at halfway are filling the first four spots with a round to go with only Dale Whitnell and Rasmus Højgaard switching places.

Højgaard, who I backed before the off at 120.0119/1, had been tied for the lead with both Justin Harding and Paratore with a hole to play but the young Dane failed to get up-and-down from the side of the 18th green, ten minutes before Paratore holed for a birdie three.

This is the first occasion that Paratore has taken a lead into the final round of any event but he's been solid enough in-contention previously. He came from a stroke back to win the Nordea Masters in 2017 and he came from two adrift to get into the playoff at the Mauritius Open in December before losing to Højgaard in extra time. What a strange form guide that's turned out to be!

The young Italian has to head the market given he's yet to drop a shot this week, he's been solid enough in-contention previously, and that he leads by a stroke on a leaderboard that, so far, hasn't changed much. If he carries on in the same fashion tomorrow then he'll take some beating but I thought the more experienced Harding looked a better price at 3.8514/5.

Sam Horsfield has thrown his hat in the ring with a sensational 61 today (a round that included three eagles) so it's clear that someone could come from off the pace but I fancy the winner will come from within the front three.

Horsfield will do very well to back up such a low round, 31-year-old Englishman, Dale Whitnell, is breathing rarefied air given he's never been this close to the lead on the European Tour before and the veteran, Robert Rock, who trails by five, could never be described as prolific.

I'm very happy to be on Højgaard, despite today's final hole mishap, and he looks a fair price at 6.05/1 given how impressive he was when winning in Mauritius. He looks to have a huge future and a second win tomorrow wouldn't be a big shock.

I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the 3M Open at the halfway stage.

20:30 - July 23, 2020

Following it's unconventional Wednesday start, the British Masters has already reached the halfway stage at Close House and Italy's Renato Paratore is showing the way. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 20:20.

Renato Paratore -11 5.59/2
Justin Harding -10 5.95/1
Dale Whitnell -10 29.028/1
Rasmus Højgaard -9 11.5
Ashley Chesters -9 15.014/1
Calum Hill -9 16.015/1
David Law -9 32.031/1
Ryan Fox -8 12.5
Oliver Fisher -8 27.026/1
-7 and 18.017/1 bar

The market leaders have struggled over the first two days. Tournament host, Lee Westwood, has made the cut but only just, second favourite, Thomas Detry, hasn't, and the pre-tournament third best in the market, Eddie Pepperell, is tied for 13th and five off the lead.

My pre-event picks have been largely disappointing but I'm more than happy with the position of 19-year-old Dane, Rasmus Højgaard, who looks a fair price at around 12.011/1 given he trails by just two.

Justin Harding, at a slightly bigger price than the leader, looks a better prospect going forward and Ryan Fox looks dangerous given he played well in the rain today - something he told Sky Sports' Tim Barter that he doesn't enjoy - but the one I like at the prices is Scotland's Calum Hill.

It was interesting to see that Hill didn't bother to defend his Challenge Tour title in Austria last week - choosing instead to prepare for this. He comes alive in the summer having won on the Challenge Tour twice in August (in each of the last two years) as well as July last year and he must like the heat (not that he'll get any this week) as he's won in New Mexico, where he went to college, and he's twice won in Arizona.

Hill won the Arizona Open in 2017 and back in March this year he won there again on the Outlaw Tour so although he hasn't played for a while, this performance isn't completely out of the blue. The 25-year-old Scotsman earnt his European Tour card courtesy of finishing second on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit last year and it might not be long before he gets off the mark. This looks like a decent opportunity and I thought 16.5 was fair.

Over at the 3M Open, which is live on Sky now, pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson, has withdrawn with a back injury, having shot 78 in the morning wave and playing with his coach caddying for him, Tony Finau, is one of four players tied for the lead after a six-under-par 66.

Alongside Finau is Ryan Moore, Nick Watney and Xinjun Zhang but there's a lot further to go there with the afternoon starters out on the course now.

British Masters Pre-Event Selections:
Guido Migliozzi @ 65.064/1
Marcus Armitage @ 100.099/1
Rasmus Højgaard @ 120.0119/1
Will Besseling @ 130.0129/1
Andrea Pavan @ 170.0169/1
Nacho Elvira @ 180.0179/1

In-Play Picks:
Calum Hill @ 16.5
Justin Harding @ 3.8514/5

3M Open Pre-Event Selections:
Henrik Norlander @ 70.069/1
Sepp Straka @ 85.084/1
Troy Merritt @ 95.094/1
Ted Potter Jr @ 700.0699/1

In-Play Picks:
Matthew Wolff @ 10.09/1
Alex Noren @ 34.033/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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