09:30 - January 26, 2020
World number three, pre-event second favourite, and 2017 winner, Jon Rahm, moved form five back to one clear at the Farmers Insurance Open yesterday and he's now a short-priced favourite to convert. Here's the 54 - hole leaderboard with prices to back at 9:20.
Jon Rahm -12 2.1211/10
Ryan Palmer -11 7.613/2
Rory McIlroy -9 6.86/1
Cameron Champ -9 24.023/1
Sung Kang -9 44.043/1
Harry Higgs -9 55.054/1
-8 and 30.029/1 bar
Last year's Zurich Classic winners (pairs event), Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer, have separated themselves from the rest with a round to go and their familiarity may help to relax them both but the stats suggest the leader is up against it.
Like Justin Rose 12 months ago, Tiger Woods was never headed in 2008 and 2013, once he'd hit the front at halfway, and he was also in front after round three in 2003 but the only other third round leaders to go on to win this century are Phil Mickelson in 2000 and John Daly in 2004, and the latter needed to win a three-man play-off.
Jason Day was tied for fifth and three adrift with a round to go in 2018, Rahm was tied for 13th and three back, Brandt Snedeker trailed by six through 54 holes in 2016, Day was tied for eighth and two off the lead five years ago after three rounds, Scott Stallings was three back and trading in excess of 30.029/1 six years ago, Snedeker trailed by seven strokes after 54 holes in 2012 (when Kyle Stanley lost having been matched in-running at 1.011/100), and Nick Watney had been five back three years earlier. Despite last year's result, this is definitely an event in which to take on the third leaders and I'm happy to lay Rahm at just a shade of odds-against.
For more information on trading and how to place a lay trade, please see this piece here.
14:00 - January 25, 2020
The third round of the Dubai Desert Classic is all done and dusted and here's the 54 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 13:50.
Ashun Wu -11 7.613/2
Victor Perez -10 4.67/2
Bryson DeChambeau -9 5.59/2
Tom Lewis -9 9.28/1
Kurt Kitayama -9 9.89/1
Eddie Pepperell -8 20.019/1
Tommy Fleetwood -7 11.010/1
Dean Burmester -7 55.054/1
Nacho Elvira -7 55.054/1
Shane Lowry -6 34.033/1
-6 and 100.099/1 bar
Looking back at previous Dubai Desert Classic results, being up with the pace has been vital. The last seven 54-hole leaders have all gone on to win and in 30 previous editions, 20 winners have been in front with a round to go. Tiger Woods sat fifth and four off the lead 12 years ago before winning but that's the furthest anyone victor has trailed by with a round to and Robert Jan Derksen, the surprise 2003 champ, who only trailed by three, is the only other winner this century to be more than two adrift.
Ashun Wu has led twice before in a 72-hole stroke play event, by four strokes on the Japan Tour in 2013 and he was tied for the lead at the China Open on the European Tour in 2015. He won both by a solitary stroke so we know he's capable and strictly on the stats, he's a very fair price at 7.613/2 but we do need to factor in the weather forecast...
The wind is predicted to increase from a steady 16/17 knots per hour first thing to 23 knots, gusting to 25/26, in the afternoon so it's highly unlikely that we'll see anything like the low scores witnessed today and it opens up the event nicely.
Whenever the wind howls, someone always seems to go against the head and a post a score the majority can't get near so we can't just assume an easy passage for the leader, and we also need to bear in mind his disappointing finish today too. He started brilliantly with this eagle two at the first and Wu was matched at just 3.052/1 when he led by four with six holes of round three to play but he played the rest of the course in +1.
Having backed the man in second, Victor Perez, before the off, as well as my 100/1 each-way pick, Tom Lewis, who now sits tied for third, and Eddie Pepperell, in-play during round one, I've got some nice positions going into Sunday. My other in-play pick, Shane Lowry, looks to have too much on his plate (trails by five) but he's more than capable of constructing something magical in the wind and if someone's going to post a low round to pile on the pressure it could well be him.
The defending champ, Bryson DeChambeau, is a huge danger of course but he's struggling to get the distances right on his irons now he's bulked up, he's missed a number of short putts, and he's not feeling very well. I'll take my chances and leave him out and I'm going to hope that Tommy Fleetwood's putter remains ice-cold because he's a huge danger too.
I'll look to trade to a profit in-play tomorrow but I have now also added the leader at 8.07/1. I can't say I'm confident that he can convert but he's simply too big given the numbers so other than DeChambeau and Fleetwood, Kurt Kitayama is the only other player trading at less than 50.049/1 that I haven't got onside. I really like Kitayama and I may look to back him in-running but I want to see how he starts first. I backed him before round four last week and he was awful. Same again please Kurt.
I'll be back in the morning with a look at the Farmers Insurance Open with around to go.
10:10 - January 25, 2020
The third round of the Dubai Desert Classic is underway and live on Sky Sports and I'll be back later with a look at that one at the close of play but for now, here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:00 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Ryan Palmer -10 6.25/1
Brandt Snedeker -8 8.615/2
J.B Holmes -8 30.029/1
Jhonattan Vegas -7 34.033/1
Matthew NeSmith -7 46.045/1
Sebastian Cappelen -7 48.047/1
Patrick Reed -6 18.5
Keegan Bradley -6 36.035/1
Jon Rahm -5 8.88/1
Collin Morikawa -5 29.028/1
Rory McIlroy -4 13.012/1
Tiger Woods -4 19.5
Hideki Matsuyama -4 32.031/1
-6 and 44.043/1 bar
This is one of those rare events in which it's perfectly possible to see someone win from some way back. Going back to 1996, Tiger Woods, in 2008 and 2013, and Justin Rose 12 months ago, are the only halfway leaders to go on to win so that's against Ryan Palmer and we've seen a number of winners come from miles off the pace at this stage...
Jon Rahm sat 21st and five adrift in 2017 and three years prior to that, Scott Stallings sat outside the top-ten and also five strokes off the lead. Stallings lost a playoff in 2014, having trailed by eight at this stage and Brandt Snedeker's win in 2016 in foul conditions was an incredible renewal. He sat 57th and eight back at halfway but Jose Maria Olazabal,and Tiger Woods have won from even further back. The Spaniard sat in 69th place and eight strokes adrift in 2006 and Tiger's won here from seven back (twice) and even nine strokes adrift at halfway - back in 1999. This isn't a frontrunner's track, and even though I've quoted the fancied selected others, the winner may not be listed above.
The three main protagonists before the off -Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods - have all traded much shorter than they do now. Rahm was matched at just 4.47/2 during round one, McIlroy's price dipped to 3.02/1 before a scruffy back nine yesterday and Woods traded at a single-figure price when he birdied four holes in five around the turn yesterday, but they all have their work cut out now.
As detailed above, Tiger has won here three times already having trailed by more than the six strokes he trails by now and the other two certainly have the class to win from off the pace. It's a wide-open event with so many course specialist in-contention and it's not a tournament to go throwing money at but I have added one more to the portfolio.
Pre-event pick, Brandt Snedeker, is sitting second and he's finding greens and putting nicely but, looking at the stats so far, he does need to find a few more fairways given how short he is off the tee.
Jhonattan Vegas' driving stats are very good so far this week and I was tempted to play him but his putting figures aren't so strong so instead I'm going to play another course specialist who's being underestimated at 30.029/1 - J.B Holmes
With his slow play antics, it's fair to say Holmes isn't the most popular pro on the circuit but he's a player with unquestionable talent. In addition to winning five PGA Tour titles, he's contended in a number of majors (including last year's Open Championship) and he's been beaten in a couple of playoffs (including one here in 2015). He won the Genesis Open against the odds almost a year ago and he looks a very fair price here given he trails by just two and he loves the venue.
16:10 - January 24, 2020
The second round of the Farmers Insurance Open will begin shortly and to a large extent, I'm happy to wait until the halfway stage before I get really stuck into the event but I have struck one very small wager already.
As detailed in the preview, the field play the North and South Course alternatively over the first two days before those that make the cut battle it out for the title on the harder South Course over the weekend.
With the North Course averaging 70.718 and the South 73.692, there was a scoring differential of 2.974 on day one and it will be interesting to see what the differential is today. It's well worth factoring in that the star names all played the easier North Course yesterday, and that last year's winner, Justin Rose, played the North Course on day one (shot 63) but eight of the last nine winners began the event on the harder South Course. Should that become nine from ten, we can rule out the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods, to name but three.
Dave Tindall's 90/1 shot, Keegan Bradley, who played on the North, and 29-year-old Dane, Sebastian Cappelen, a Korn Ferry Tour graduate that began the week trading at 1000.0, are tied for the lead on -6, with Cappelen having constructed his 66 around the trickier South Course.
After a five-under-par 67 around the North Course, Rory heads the market, with Rahm, who shot 68 around the North, the only other player trading at a single figure price. My pre-event pick, Tiger Woods, shot a three-under-par 69 around the North to sit tied for 21st, as did my only other pick, Brandt Snedeker, and they're certainly still in with a fair chance but I've felt compelled to add another former winner - Bubba Watson.
The 2011 champ sits alongside Rory on five-under-par and just one off the lead but crucially, he plays the North Course today and in theory, he has the opportunity to push ahead today. It's 18 months since Bubba won on the PGA Tour and I can't say I'm overly confident but I felt he had to be backed at 14.013/1 given the start he's made and that eight of the last nine winners were drawn on the South Course on day one.
Over in Dubai, my in-play pick, Eddie Pepperell, leads the Dubai Desert Classic by a stroke after the early starters today did, as expected, get fractionally the better of the weather. Overall, those drawn PM-AM averaged 2.25 strokes better than those drawn AM-PM. Here's the 36- hole leaderboard with prices to back at 16:05.
Eddie Pepperell -8 8.27/1
Bryson DeChambeau -7 4.84/1
Dean Burmester -7 19.5
Robert Karlsson -7 44.043/1
Romain Langasque -6 17.016/1
Ashun Wu -6 46.045/1
Victor Perez -5 12.5
Kurt Kitayama -5 23.022/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -5 28.027/1
Sebastian Heisele -5 60.059/1
Tommy Fleetwood -4 7.87/1
-4 and 32.031/1 bar
Eddie Pep leading at this stage is very good news given three of the last five winners have been in front at halfway. This is a hard place to win at from off the pace and since 1996, only two of the 28 winners have been outside the top-six places at this stage.
Pre-event pick, Victor Perez, shot a six-under-par 66 this morning to throw his hat into the ring too so both are nicely placed but the presence of the defending champion, Bryson DeChambeau, is a worry and I'm not sure we can take an awful lot of notice of the past stats given the forecast either.
With only light winds forecasted, there should be a few low scores on Moving Day tomorrow but we could witness all sorts of drama on Sunday if the expected 25 MPH winds materialise. I don't think we can really asses the current situation without looking forward to Sunday and it's no good getting someone onside that's going to make a nice move tomorrow if they can't handle the breezier weather on Sunday.
I'm confident that both Pepperell and Perez won't be inconvenienced by Sunday's forecast but the prospect of high winds has led me to look slightly deeper on the leaderboard than I ordinarily would and the one I like at this stage is the Open champ, Shane Lowry, at in excess of 30.029/1.
A brilliant links exponent and former winner of the Portugal Masters, Lowry was on my original shortlist, despite last week's missed cut when defending his Abu Dhabi Championship title, and he looks a fair price now, even though he trails the leader by five. He's capable of a low one tomorrow and even if he doesn't make lots of headway in round three, he'd be one to go to war with in the wind on Sunday, whether he's trailing or not.
17:30 - January 23, 2020
There was talk that the rough was up on the Emirates for this year's renewal of the Dubai Desert Classic and it wasn't idle gossip. Last year the par 72 track averaged 70.53 and Bryson DeChambeau won with a score of 24-under-par. That was a low score but not an outlier - Li Haotong won with a 23-under-par total two years ago but they won't get close to that this time around.
After his two-under-par 70 this morning, the defending champ claimed that the course was playing four shots harder than last year and that was a decent assessment. It actually averaged 74.11 - 3.58 strokes more than last year.
In addition to the rough being up, the wind blew and the fairways and greens were fast. Several players talked about how hard it was to keep their drives from running through the fairways and in to the rough and some tough pin placements also kept the scoring down.
My three pre-event picks were disappointing and one of them, Andy Sullivan, has been disqualified, having signed for a wrong score, so it's not been a great start.
It soon became apparent that the front nine was playing much harder than the back nine so that's something to bear in mind tomorrow if you're betting in-running, and that was factored in when I backed Eddie Pepperell when he had three to play today. At two-under-par, I thought he was worth backing at 50/1 with the Sportsbook and I was happy to get a tiny bet matched at 65.064/1 but he immediately bogeyed the 16th.
Thankfully, he birdied the last two holes and he looks a fair price still at in excess of 40.039/1. As highlighted in the preview, Portugal and Qatar Masters form holds up really well here and Eddie has a superb record at both. He's threatened to win in the Algarve and he took the Qatari title in 2018. The afternoon starters today enjoyed an advantage of just over a stroke and it looks like those assigned a PM-Am draw will get the better of it tomorrow too with the wind forecasted to pick up as the day wares on. It dropped slightly today.
Pepperell hasn't been playing well so there's obviously a good chance that today was a one off but if it wasn't, and he remains on the premises until Sunday, he'll be one to have on your side. The weather forecast suggests a really wild day on Sunday and that will suit Eddie. Before he got off the mark on the European Tour, he was beaten in a playoff at the Irish Open five years ago when the wind blew very hard all week. Windy conditions won't hinder Eddie.
Like Pepperell, Thomas Pieters played in the afternoon today and he's the one showing the way after a five-under-par 67. He now heads the market at just 6.411/2 but that looks very short to me.
The Farmers Insurance Open (previewed here) has just kicked off and I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the state of play there after the opening round.
Dubai Desert Classic Pre-Event Selections:
Bernd Wiesberger @ 29.028/1
Victor Perez @ 34.033/1
Andy Sullivan @ 90.089/1
Eddie Pepperell @ 65.064/1 and 50/1
Shane Lowry @ 36.035/1
Ashun Wu @ 8.07/1
Farmers Insurance Open Pre-Event Selections:
Tiger Woods @ 13.5
Brandt Snedeker @ 60.059/1
Bubba Watson @ 14.013/1
J.B Holmes @ 30.029/1
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