Justin Harding has won the Qatar Masters so there's just the Arnold Palmer Invitational to concentrate on now. Read Steve's thoughts on the event ahead of the fourth and final round here...
“Only one of the last five 54-hole leaders have gone on to win (Jason Day in 2016) but we’re probably due another given 12 of the previous 15 winners had been in front with a round to go and Fitzpatrick is undoubtedly the value play regardless of the result.”
14:05 - March 10, 2019
It's all change at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with defending champ, Rory McIlroy, Chris Kirk and Tyrrell Hatton all firing six-under-par 66 third rounds while the halfway leaders, Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley, shot ten and nine shots worse respectively. Those two now trail by four and three strokes and it's Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick that shows the way after an immaculate five-under-par 67. Here's the 54 hole leaderboard with priced to back at 14:00.
Matt Fitzpatrick -9 [5.9]
Rory McIlroy -8 [2.88]
Kevin Kisner -7 [13.0]
Matt Wallace -7 [15.5]
Aaron Baddeley -7 [23.0]
-6 and [27.0] bar
Rory heads the market and the below tweet certainly adds weight to his claim but he looks short enough to me. He clearly loves the venue and he's the man to beat but he's gone into the final round trailing by just a stroke 11 times previously and only twice won. On three occasions last year he trailed by just a stroke through 54 holes - at the Abu Dhabi Championship, the Dubai Desert Classic and the BMW Championship. He finished third, second and fifth. He's yet to successfully defend a title and he's simply too short to do so here at less than 3/1.
Of the other chasers, Matt Wallace is interesting. He's been ruthless in-the-mix on the European Tour but this is a whole different ball game and I fancy he might be too aggressive. He'll go for it for sure, but will he come unstuck around a layout that's sure to play tough as it dries out further?
Kevin Kisner had a chance to win this event two years ago but just lost his way on the back-nine and I'm not convinced he's one to go to war with and although Aaron Baddeley is back in form, he couldn't convert from the front in Puerto Rico a fortnight ago.
Aussies have a great record at this event though and his disappointing effort two weeks ago is more than factored in to his price given he trades in excess of 20/1. The 38-year-old has won four times on the PGA Tour previously and could be being dismissed a bit too readily.
Keegan Bradley is likely to improve on yesterday's effort and Tommy Fleetwood is almost certain to. As highlighted in yesterday's update, the Englishman has a bad habit of losing his way in round three but you may recall his incredible recovery at last year's US Open when after a third round 78 had seen him fall from fourth to 23rd, he shot 63 in round four to finish second, beaten by a stroke.
I've had a couple of small bets on Baddeley and Fleetwood and I'm more than happy to side with the leader at [5.9]. That looks a great price. As highlighted in the below tweet, Fitzpatrick has a very respectable record in-contention and 54-hole leaders have a great record here too.
Since 2001, 170 players have held 4 or more leads into the final round on Euro or PGA Tour. @MattFitz94 has the 4th best final round scoring average of these, at 68.00.? Dylan Beirne (@dylan__beirne) March 9, 2019
Only one of the last five 54-hole leaders have gone on to win (Jason Day in 2016) but we're probably due another given 12 of the previous 15 winners had been in front with a round to go and Fitzpatrick is undoubtedly the value play regardless of the result. He hasn't yet won in the States but he's as hard as nails and it's only a matter of time before the 24-year-old takes the next step in what is already an illustrious career.
14:05 - March 09, 2019
The third round of the Qatar Masters has just finished and the event is still wide open. Belgium's Thomas Detry, who eagled his opening hole in round three, hit a low of [3.0] when he opened up a two-stroke lead after back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 but three bogeys in-a-row from the 13th saw him slip back in to the pack and Oliver Wilson leads by one with a round to go. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 14:00.
Oliver Wilson -10 [7.2]
Mike Lorenzo-Vera -9 [7.2]
Erik Van Rooyen -9 [9.8]
Nacho Elvira -9 [12.0]
Nick Cullen -9 [17.0]
Thomas Detry -8 [13.5]
Min Woo Lee -8 [17.5]
Jake McLeod -8 [25.0]
Anton Karlsson -8 [44.0]
-7 and [22.0] bar
Although the leaderboard's cluttered, with the weather improving a bit tomorrow, we probably can't scan too far down it. Looking at previous results here, Sergio Garcia, who only trailed by three, is the only winner in 21 renewals to be outside the top-ten places (11th) with a round to go and only Ernie Els (who sat 10th and five adrift) has trailed by more than three. Adam Scott, in 2008, is the only other winner to be more than two back at this stage but like Sergio, he only trailed by three. Of the 21 renewals staged to 12 winners were leading or tied for the lead through 54-holes and Paul Lawrie, when winning the event for a second time in 2012, led through two rounds when it was reduced by the weather to 54 holes, so I wouldn't put anyone off backing the experienced leader.
The 38-year-old Englishman was a Ryder Cupper 11 years ago but he's lost his way several times during his career since, both before and after his sole success on the European Tour at the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He's not the most prolific in the world of golf but he won twice on the Challenge Tour last year, he's made just one bogey all week so far and he's the only player on the leaderboard above to have won an individual stroke play event on the European Tour. Thomas Detry also has a title to his name but that was alongside Thomas Pieters in the World Cup last year.
My pre-event pick, Erik Van Rooyen, is still in-the-mix but I can't say I'm confident after witnessing his finish today. He hit a low of [4.9] after back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15 but instead of making hay on the last three easy holes, he fiddled his way home in level-par. It wasn't convincing.
Another pre-event selection, last week's winner, Kurt Kitayama, could put in run from three back and promising youngsters, Min Woo Lee and Adri Arnaus are interesting candidates from two and three back respectively, given they don't have the scar tissue that the majority of the leaders carry, but all things considered, given the event's stats, his play so far this week and his overall profile, the [7.2] about Wilson look more than fair.
I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the Arnold Palmer Invitational after round three.
10:40 - March 09, 2019
The third round of the Qatar Masters is in-play and live on Sky and I'll try and take a look at that one after the third round, before I leave for the Etihad for the Manchester City v Watford game, previewed here by James Pacheco, but for now I'm going to concentrate on events in Florida where Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley have opened up a bit of a gap at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:30.
Tommy Fleetwood -9 [3.5]
Keegan Bradley -9 [5.3]
Francesco Molinari -5 [20.0]
Billy Horschel -5 [22.0]
Kevin Kisner -5 [34.0]
Keith Mitchel -5 [40.0]
Jhonattan Vegas -5 [50.0]
Roger Sloan -5 [100.0]
-4 and [23.0] bar
I'm going to try my best to be objective this morning but I'm really frustrated to see Tommy Fleetwood in the van. He was my biggest pre-tournament bet of the year in this event last year when I wrote this before the off.
"It's not often I fancy someone strongly before the off but I've had a sizable wager on Tommy Fleetwood and he looks a really good price at around the [27.0] mark.
Fleetwood's play has gone up several levels since he finished 10th here on debut 12 months ago (after opening-up with a 78!) and I'm struggling to find any negatives."
Fleetwood was a [40.0] chance this year so quite why I haven't at least had a small wager is a bit baffling but Dave Tindall's got him onside - Tommy's one of his three each-way fancies - but will he go on to convert?
Having blown his chance in round one in 2017, he shot 76 in round two last year before going on to finish 26th so the question this year has to be, can he survive round three? And I'm not just pondering that because that's his Bay Hill trend. Tommy's record in round three has been a worry and it will be interesting to see how he fares today.
Since winning the first of his two Abu Dhabi Championships in 2017, Fleetwood has sat inside the top-five places at halfway 13 times and he's fallen down the leaderboard on Saturday on 11 occasions. He remained in third place between rounds two and three before going on to win the Open de France a few months later and he moved forward from fifth to second at the Hong Kong Open in November but he fell to 14th in round four. Although, in his defence, he wasn't in with much of a chance there given he trailed the eventual winner, Aaron Rai, by six with a round to go. He also bounced back after dropping from third to fourth to defend his Abu Dhabi title but those three efforts apart, Tommy has put in a couple of shocking third rounds and I'm happy to let him go unbacked today...
Having led the Alfred Dunhill Championship at halfway in 2017, he finished 25th. In May last year, he shot 77 in round three at the BMW PGA Championship having been fourth and four off the lead at halfway. He shot 78 at the US Open after shooting 66 in round two in June last year. He fell from third and one back at the Open Championship to finish 12th with weekend rounds of 71 and 73. He led the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at halfway after a 63 in round two but weekend rounds of 74 and 71 saw him tumble to 14th. He fell from fourth at halfway to 24th at the Dell Technologies in September, second to seventh at the WGC - HSBC Champions, and only last month in Mexico, he finished 16th having sat fourth at halfway after a pair of 72s on the weekend. I'm in absolutely no rush to back him at around the 5/2 mark.
Keegan Bradley had a chance to win this in 2014 but he dropped three shots in his first three holes before finishing well to claim second and without going in to depth about his in-contention record, that was pretty typical Bradley stuff. He's found a way to win some big titles - a major, a WGC and a FedEx Cup playoff event - but if the truth be told, he was aided by some strange play by others on every occasion he's won. He's lucky rather than plucky and while he appears to represent better value than Fleetwood, I'm happy to swerve him too. Especially given the indifferent record of halfway leaders at Bay Hill...
Since 1996, 32 players have led or co-led this event at halfway and they've gone on to convert on only nine occasions. And it's probably worth highlighting that Tiger Woods is responsible for four of those nine wins. Scanning a bit further down for a bet might make sense.
Although halfway leaders don't have a great record, since 1996, Tiger is the only man to win the title from more than four strokes back at this stage so we probably can't scan too far down the leaderboard. I'm happy to have Molinari onside and I've added four more - Billy Horschel, last week's winner, Keith Mitchell, Bubba Watson (-4) and huge outsider, Roger Sloan, who's topping the Putting Average rankings so far this week.
21:30 - March 08, 2019
The second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational is drawing to a close and live on Sky and I'll be back tomorrow with another look at that one but for now, here's a brief look at the latest state of play at the Qatar Masters at 21:25.
There isn't much to choose between the three co-leaders. Mile Lorenzo-Vera just shades favouritism and I don't think many would begrudge him a first European Tour success. The closest he's come to date in 177 starts on the European Tour, spanning 12 years, was at last year's Rocco Forte Sicilian Open when he lost to a Joakim Lagergren birdie at the first playoff hole. The likable Frenchman did nothing wrong that day and he'd clearly love to get off the mark.
Second favourite, Justin Harding, who I backed in-running when he had three to play today, is also looking for his first European Tour win and he hasn't actually got a European Tour card yet but he's been quite prolific of late, winning twice on the Sunshine Tour and twice on the Asian Tour last year. He commands plenty of respect and so too does fellow South African, George Coetzee, who came close to winning this title back in 2013. Coetzee was beaten by a stroke six years ago when Chris Wood eagled the last for his first European Tour victory. He has four European Tour titles but he's yet to win outside his homeland and I can see why the other two are slightly more fancied.
One of pre-event picks, Erik Van Rooyen, sits in a tie for fourth, just one off the lead, but I'm far from getting excited. He fell away after a sitting second at halfway last year and this is an incredibly bunched field that should see plenty of change tomorrow.
There are 15 players within two of the lead and four strokes separate the top-35. And with wind forecast tomorrow, we can't rule anyone that made the cut out given only seven shots separate the whole field.
The forecast suggests the breeze won't be quite so bad at the very start of the day so, in theory, anyone that's made the weekend can make a big move before the breeze gets up. I'm going to leave the event alone and see what happens. If the forecast is only slightly wrong there won't be any advantage at all and heaven knows who to select to make a run but if you fancy someone give it a go. I'll be hoping Brandon Stone can make a big move and I wouldn't put anyone off backing a huge outsider or two for a few pounds but all of my six pre-event picks made the cut so I've got enough runners for now.
11:30 - March 08, 2019
The second round of the Qatar Masters is well underway and currently live on Sky Sports and I'll be back later today with a look at that one at the halfway stage but for now I'm going to concentrate on the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Rafa Cabrera-Bello shows the way after an opening seven-under-par 65. Here's the first round leaderboard with prices to back at 11:20.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello -7 [8.2]
Keegan Bradley -5 [14.5]
Billy Horschel -4 [15.0]
Bubba Watson -4 [15.5]
Phil Mickelson -4 [18.0]
Patrick Rodgers -4 [36.0]
Graeme McDowell -4 [70.0]
-3 and [14.5] bar
It was a strange first day's play with regards to the fancied runners. Defending champ and pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, rallied late on to birdie two of his last three to post a level-par 72 but he looks plenty short enough this morning at [14.5] given he trails by seven and sits tied for 49th. The market is making a big assumption that'll he'll fly today with a morning start but there wasn't a huge discrepancy yesterday with the morning starters only averaging 0.33 of a stroke less than those that teed it up in the afternoon and we have to go back more than 20 years to find the last winner to start so slowly here. Phil Mickelson won in 1997 after an opening 72 but every other winner since has shot 71 or better on day one.
Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and my selection, Bryson DeChambeau, all look out of it after posting two-over-par 74s and the well-fancied Jason Day was a frustrating withdrawal given nobody knew about his injury before the off.
Spoke to Jason Day after his WD. Said he practiced last week at Sawgrass but woke up Sunday and "couldn't really walk" because of back pain. MRI revealed annular tear in L4-L5 discs. Status for Players Champ TBD.? Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) March 7, 2019
The leaderboard's a bit of a frustrating sight this morning as a number of players I looked at hard before the off are in-contention. I had a big bet on Tommy Fleetwood in this 12 months ago and he's started much better this time around and I also considered backing Bubba Watson, Billy Horschel and Francesco Molinari. They've all started nicely and yet the only one I added after the preview was posted was two-time winner, Matt Every, and he was hopeless!
I was tempted to add Fleetwood but he looks a bit skinny this morning but I am happy to back the Open champ, Molinari, at [27.0]. After a slow start, his first round sprung into life with a hole-in-one at the seventh and he finished nicely enough too with four birdies in-a-row from the 12th. The Italian has often played well here and if he can play the par fives better today (played them in one-over yesterday) he can contend over the weekend.
Justin Harding @ 8/1 (Sportsbook)
Oliver Wilson @ [7.2]
Arnold Palmer Invitational Pre-Event Selection:
Bryson DeChambeau @ 18/1 (Sportsbook)
Matt Every @ [140.0] (placed after the preview published)
Francesco Molinari @ [27.0]
Billy Horschel @ [23.0]
Bubba Watson @ [32.0]
Keith Mitchell @ [40.0]
Roger Sloan @ [110.0]
Matt Fitzpatrick @ [5.9]
Aaron Baddeley @ [23.0]
Tommy Fleetwood @ [34.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter