The Punter's In-Play Blog: Rahm looks ready to rack up the hattrick

Golfer Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm - the man to beat with a round to go

There's only one round to go at The American Express and the pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, has reeled in the pacesetting outsider, Davis Thompson...

  • Two tied at the top in California

  • Huge outsider, Thompson, still refusing to budge

  • Rahm a hot favourite to win his third event in-a-row

11:15 - January 22 2023

The pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, was matched at a low of just 1.192/11 as he threatened to race clear of the field during the third round of The American Express but he gave up a few chances late on, missing a number of very makable putts before three-putting the par three 17th.

Playing way behind Rahm, Davis Thompson birdied the 12th hole to draw alongside the Spaniard, having trailed by a couple after his fast start, and the pair will start round four tied for the lead and three ahead of my Find Me a 100 Winner pick, JT Poston. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:00.

Jon Rahm -23 1.645/8
Davis Thompson -23 4.94/1
J.T Poston -19 29.028/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -19 42.041/1
Tom Kim -18 32.031/1
Sam Burns -18 38.037/1
Taylor Montgomery -18 42.041/1
Harry Higgs -18 200.0199/1
-17 and 50.049/1 bar

Hudson Swafford sat tied for fifth and three off the lead before winning by two strokes last year and Adam Long was also three adrift in 2019 but the majority of winners are up in the van here.

Brian Gay was six back after round three back in 2013 but that's a bit misleading. Scott Stallings led by five before a disappointing final round of 70 saw him finish fourth. Every other winner since the tournament was reduced to four rounds in 2012 has been within two off the lead and six of the ten have led or co-led with a round to go.

Although it's hard to look past the front two, and Rahm in particular, it's worth remembering that in 13 of the last 16 renewals we've seen at least one player trade at odds-on without winning and in two of the last four renewals there have been two players trade at odds-on before losing - Scottie Scheffler (1.9210/11) and Abraham Ancer (1.715/7) in 2020 and Phil Mickelson (1.695/7) and Adam Hadwin (1.081/12) in 2019.

And Rahm made a bit of a meal of it when he finally got the better of Andrew Landry in extra time back in 2018. The Spaniard was matched for more than 30k at 1.061/18 in regulation play and he hit a low of 1.051/20 before Landry birdied the 72nd hole to take the event to extra time.

It's hard to knock Thompson, who's done very little wrong this week, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he got the better of Rahm. Outsiders have a really good record in this event and today will all boil down to who holes the most putts but I wouldn't be in any sort of a hurry to lay Rahm given he's in search of his third win in-a-row and his second American Express title.

18:40 - January 21 2023

Given we've got two Open champions and a Scottish Open winner tied at the top of the Abu Dhabi Championship leaderboard, and that the lowest round of the day today was shot by the two-time Open winner, Padraig Harrington, the course designer, Kyle Philips, will be pleased with the current state of play with a round to go.

Yas Links is as close to a genuine UK links as you can get and with the absence of much wind, the field are enjoying the layout. Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 18:30.

Shane Lowry -13 4.84/1
Min Woo Lee -13 5.49/2
Francesco Molinari -13 7.06/1
Victor Perez -12 11.010/1
Sebastian Soderberg -12 25.024/1
Grant Forrest -12 29.028/1
Adrian Meronk -11 19.5
Guido Migliozzi - 11 23.022/1
Antoine Rozner -11 23.022/1
Padraig Harrington -11 28.027/1
Alex Noren -10 28.027/1
Thorbjorn Olesen -10 65.064/1
Connor Syme -10 80.079/1
Shubhankar Sharma -10 90.089/1
Richard Bland -10 100.099/1
-9 and 85.084/1 bar

With just two shots separating the top ten and 15 players within three of the lead, this is a ridiculously tough tournament to call but two players that represented Continental Europe in last week's Hero Cup appear nicely priced with 18 holes to play - Antoine Rozner and Alex Noren.

The Hero Cup has proven to be a useful pipe-opener for a number of players, with six of the top-ten with a round to go here all teeing it up last week around the Abu Dhabi Golf Club but it's Rozner's last appearance in a stroke play event that sparks my interest.

The Frenchman started the final event of the last DP World Tour event of 2022 - the Mauritius Open - fairly slowly, trailing by eight in a tie for 25th but he got his skates on after that.

Having been tied for the lead at halfway, he edged two clear with a round to go before going on to win by a comfortable five strokes.

Having that win tucked away is a big plus and with his 30th birthday less than a month away, the Frenchman is yet another example of someone finding an improvement in form close to a significant birthday.

No bigger than 18/1 on the High Street, and trailing by just two, the freewheeling Frenchman looks a tasty price at 23.022/1 on the exchange.

The market leaders, Shane Lowry and Min Woo Lee, will take some passing if they turn up tomorrow but Sweden's Alex Noren has won his last three DP World Tour titles from six, seven and seven strokes back with a round to go and he too looks nicely priced at around 30.029/1.

I'll be back in the morning with a look at The American Express.

08:45 - January 21 2023

Having set the early pace at The American Express with a ten-under-par 62 around La Quinta on Thursday, PGA Tour rookie, Davis Thompson, who was matched at 1000.0999/1 before the off, looked like he might be losing his way after a bright start to round two on Friday at the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West.

Having eagled the 11th (his second of the day) and birdied the 15th, Thompson played his next five holes in two-over par and at that point in his round, playing in just his 20th start on the PGA Tour, he could have been forgiven for drifting back into the pack with the spotlight firmly on but he responded in incredible fashion, playing holes three to seven in seven-under-par!

With two on Thursday and three on Friday, Thompson has already made five eagles this week and he'll head into the weekend with a two-stroke lead. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 8:40, together with courses to be played today.

Davis Thompson -18 6.411/2 (SC)
Jon Rahm -16 2.35/4 (SC)
Sungjae Im -13 12.5 (LQ)
Tom Kim -13 14.5 (SC)
Jason Day -13 20.019/1 (LQ)
J.T Poston -13 29.028/1 (LQ)
Tyler Duncan -13 100.099/1 (LQ)
Patton Kizzire -12 160.0159/1 (SC)
Scottie Scheffler -11 25.024/1 (SC)
-11 and 46.045/1 bar

As you'll see below, the host course this week, the Stadium Course, has been the toughest of the three tracks over the first two days and the two at the top play there today.

That could be construed as a slight negative for Thompson and the pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, who's already been matched at just 1.865/6, but to counter that, playing the Stadium Course for two days in-a-row over the weekend could also be viewed as advantageous.

Looking back over the last 11 years, since the tournament was reduced from five to four rounds, we've seen two winners come with a late rattle over the weekend but up with the pace is usually the place to be.

Having sat second after round one, 1000.0999/1 chance, Adam Long, trailed by six in a tie for 11th before winning in 2019 and last year's winner, Hudson Swafford, who also took the title in 2017, having led at halfway, was five adrift in a tie for 24th but the other nine were all within three at this stage and eight of them sat first or second.

I see no reason whatsoever to abandon pre-event pick, Rahm, and given the in-running stats, and how well he's putting again (ranks sixth for Putting Average), he looks a fair price at odds-against to win the tournament for a second time.

Sitting in a tie for third, Sungjae Im is currently the third favourite but at a couple of ticks bigger on the same score, fellow Korean, Tom Kim, looks the value at halfway.

The 20-year-old phenom has won two of his last nine starts on the PGA Tour and although he plays the toughest of the three tracks today, the Stadium Course, he looks a reasonable price at 15.014/1 and I was happy to add him to the portfolio.

The third round of the Abu Dhabi Championship is underway and live on Sky and I'll be back later today with another look at that one after today's round.

15:35 - January 20 2023

There are a few groups that need to return in the morning to finish round two before the cut is made but none of them will have an effect on the leaderboard and with just over two rounds to go at the Abu Dhabi Championship, I'm quite happy with my lot.

After parring every hole on Thursday afternoon, pre-event pick, Tyrrell Hatton, shot five-under-par this morning to give himself a squeak, my other pick, Victor Perez, who was also tipped up by Matt Cooper, has thrown his hat in the ring with a seven-under-par 65, and my 120.0119/1 Find Me a 100 Winner fancy, Guido Migliozzi, is tied for the lead, having met the first lay back target.

Guido started round two slowly and he missed a number of chances around the turn, but after a miraculous par following a poor drive on the 15th, he played this little gem of an approach shot at 16 before finishing in style with birdies at the last three holes.

Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 15:25.

Francesco Molinari -10 7.26/1
Guido Migliozzi - 10 8.88/1
Jason Scrivener -9 20.019/1
Victor Perez -8 14.013/1
Alexander Bjork -8 23.022/1
Scott Jamieson -8 26.025/1
George Coetzee -8 27.026/1
Alex Levy -8 50.049/1
Shane Lowry -7 12.5
Min Woo Lee -7 17.016/1
Ryan Fox -7 18.5
Adrian Meronk -7 23.022/1
Antoine Rozner -7 25.024/1
Shubhankar Sharma -7 60.059/1
Masahiro Kawamura -7 80.079/1
-6 and 26.025/1 bar

It's probably no surprise to see a pair of Italians at the head of affairs.

With the next Ryder Cup due to be staged in Rome in September, the Italian contingent will be inspired to play well this year and Francesco Molinari and Guido Migliozzi have certainly begun 2023 nicely.

Francesco Molinari in Abu Dhabi.jpg

Both were involved at last week's Hero Cup, and both need to impress the first-round leader and Ryder Cup captain, Luke Donald, but there are some big names lurking and they'll have their work cut out to stay in front.

This is only the second staging of the Abu Dhabi Championship at Yas Links so we don't have much to go on but for what it's worth, last year's winner, Thomas Pieters, was always inside the top-six places and never more than two adrift and Hatton, who finished tied for sixth having sat tied 24th, was the only player inside the top-ten to be more than five off the lead at halfway.

Hatton trailed by six, and Victor Dubuisson, who finished tied for fourth, and Adam Scott, who finished tied 10th, were the only others inside the top-10 and ties to trail by more than four after 36 holes. Both men were five adrift at halfway.

As limited as they are, those stats, together with a fairly benign weather forecast, suggest we shouldn't be scanning too far down the leaderboard.

It's hard to ignore the host of talent trailing by only three on -7 and with plenty of high-class players trailing by four and five strokes, this looks wide open still.

As many as 33 players are within five off the lead and it looks an extremely tricky tournament to call still so I'm happy to see what tomorrow brings.

Over at The American Express, there wasn't an awful lot to split the three courses on day one yesterday with all three averaging between two and half and almost three strokes under-par.

After a ten-under-par 62 around La Quinta, 1000.0999/1 shot, Davis Thompson, leads by two over a group of five that includes the pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, and Sam Burns, but there's a very long way to go, with as many as 41 players within five of the lead.

I'm obviously happy to have backed Rahm before the off given the Spaniard's fine start and both my Find Me a 100 Winner picks are on the premises too. Byeong Hun An sits on -5 and J.T Poston -7, but I've still added two more.

I'm a bit frustrated that I didn't put up Dave Tindall's fancy, Keith Mitchell, before the off. He was on my shortlist for the Find Me a 100 Winner column when he was trading at around 180.0179/1 on Monday but his price collapsed on Tuesday, so I left him out, but sitting on -6, he looks fairly priced today at 60.059/1. And I've also had a small bet on Tyler Duncan at 250.0249/1.

The 2019 RSM Classic winner looks reasonably priced given he's one of the five tied for second after round one.

16:15 - January 19 2023

Seeing my Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Guido Migliozzi, atop of the Abu Dhabi Championship leaderboard was a nice way to start the day.

After a swift start (three-under-par through six), the Italian went on to post an opening bogey-free seven-under-par 65 which sees him sitting tied for second alongside Australia's Jason Scrivener.

The pair sit one ahead of Seamus Power, who sits alone in fourth, and one behind the early pacesetter, Ryder Cup captain, Luke Donald, who birdied his last four holes, and all four teed off nice and early.

Behind the leading four, in a tie for fifth and three strokes adrift of Donald, is a group of seven and of the seven, the Molinari brothers, Francesco and Edoardo, are the only two in the top-11 that teed it up in the afternoon today.

Dusk fell before everyone could complete their opening rounds but with the wind picking up slightly in the afternoon today, we look like getting a draw bias in favour of the early starters of somewhere close to a stroke.

Both of my pre-event picks, Tyrrell Hatton and Victor Perez, were assigned an afternoon start and both disappointed.

Hatton played nicely enough but he putted poorly (currently ranking 89th for Putting Average and 116th for Strokes Gained Putting) and he didn't deviate from par, in either direction, on any of the 18 holes.

Perez started nicely enough with birdies at holes one, three and five and he was matched at a low of 19.018/1 but a triple-bogey at the sixth stopped him in his tracks. He went on to post a one-under-par 71, one shot better than Hatton, but both look to have plenty to do.

This is only the second time the tournament has been staged at Yas Links so we can't read too much into one edition but for the record, last year's winner, Thomas Pieters, was inside the top six all week long and never more than two off the lead.

As many as six of the top-nine at last year's event were inside the top-four and ties and within three of the lead after round one but Shubhankar Sharma, who finished tied for second, and Victor Dubuisson, who finished tied fourth, both sat tied for 36th and seven adrift after the opening round and Jeff Winther, who finished tied sixth, sat tied for 54th and eight back so I haven't completely given up on Hatton and Perez just yet.

Shane Lowry is one of the seven players that shot a five-under-67 today and he and Power are the only two to be trading at a single-figure price.

I'm more than happy to be patient for now and see what tomorrow brings.

The PGA Tour action comes from California this week with The American Express, which I've previewed here, and that one kicks off shortly at 16:30 UK time.

Abu Dhabi Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Tyrrell Hatton @ 13.5
Victor Perez @ 55.054/1

In-Play Picks:
Antoine Rozner @ 23.022/1
Alex Noren @ 28.027/1

American Express Pre-event Selection:
Jon Rahm @ 8.07/1

In-Play Picks:
Keith Mitchell @ 60.059/1
Tyler Duncan @ 250.0249/1
Tom Kim @ 15.014/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:

Back 2u Guido Migliozzi 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back 2u J.T Poston 110.0109/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back 1u Byeong Hun An 280.0279/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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