The Punter's In-Play Blog: Leaders look vulnerable in Houston

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler – is he poised to pounce at the Houston Open?

With just a round to go in Texas, Ian Poulter and Beau Hossler are tied at the top of the Houston Open leaderboard but Steve thinks they're vulnerable. Read our man's take on the current state of play here...

“Australians have a great record here so I’ve chanced Greg Chalmers at a juicy price and I’m also playing the two class acts that were at the head of the market yesterday.”

11:50 - April 1, 2017

Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth dominated the Houston Open market at halfway but it's all change after moving day. Fowler was matched at just 2.26/5 yesterday after he again started well, birdying three of the first four holes, but he lost his way badly after that, eventually shooting a one-over-par 73 and he now sits five off the lead.

Spieth wasn't without errors and he missed a few putts he'd be expected to make again and he has plenty to do as well after a one-under-par 71. He trails by four. Here are the current standings with prices to back at 11:00.

Ian Poulter -14 4.77/2
Beau Hossler -14 5.79/2
Emiliano Grillo -12 11.521/2
Paul Dunne -12 14.013/1
Kevin Tway -12 25.024/1
Greg Chalmers -12 36.035/1
Henrik Stenson -11 11.521/2
Matt Kuchar -11 18.017/1
Chesson Hadley -11 27.026/1
Keith Mitchell -11 46.045/1
Robert Garrigus -11 55.054/1
Sam Ryder -11 60.059/1
Jordan Spieth -10 16.015/1
-10 and 36.035/1 bar

This is a fantastic opportunity for Ian Poulter to secure his first win since 2012 and for Beau Hossler to get off the mark on the PGA Tour but with a place in the US Masters also on the line, converting is a huge ask for both men.

Poulter spoke after yesterday's round about how relaxed he's been so far. "I'm in a funny position, right? I said to you guys I've got no expectations going out on the golf course, I didn't have any expectations, I just went out to play golf. I'm going to do exactly the same tomorrow regardless."

The 42-year-old Englishman hasn't made a bogey since Thursday and after near perfect rounds of 64 and 65, he's certainly playing well but it's a whole new ball game today. Three pressure-free days with no expectation have elevated him two strokes above everyone in the field bar Beau, but staying out in front is going to be tough.

Hossler is going to win titles but whether he's quite ready is debatable. He enjoyed a fabulous amateur career before graduating from the Tour at the end of last season and he's already had chances to win on the big stage. He was tied at the top at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in November but shot 73 to finish seventh and he's twice been just three adrift through 54 holes since. He fell from fifth to 35th at the Farmers Insurance Open in January with a final round 79 and he fell from eighth to 17th with a lacklustre level par 71 at the Phoenix Open in February. This is a big ask.

This is the 13th time the Houston Open has been staged at the Golf Course of Houston and it's a bit of a mixed bag with regards to in-running trends. In the early days the leaders proved unopposable and the first eight course winners were all inside the front three places and within three of the lead. In fact, five of the first eight course winners were in front through 54 holes, but it's been quite a different tale of late.

Jim Henman was tied for the lead through 54 holes before he won here two years ago but last year's winner, Russell Henley, trailed by four and both the 2014 winner, Matt Jones, and the 2015 winner, JB Holmes, trailed by six with a round to go. I've written about all three off the pace renewals in more detail in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, were I argue that the circumstances were fairly unique for each of the three, so I thought I'd find myself siding with the leaders this time around, but both look vulnerable to me and I can see another off the pace victor.

Australians have a great record here so I've chanced Greg Chalmers at a juicy price and I'm also playing the two class acts that were at the head of the market yesterday.

I've long since been a fan of backing players to bounce back in round four when they were up with the pace at halfway and these two make great candidates. Spieth heads both the Greens In Regulation and Strokes Gained on Approach stats so if he can just get a few more putts to drop he's highly likely to challenge and Fowler will be so much better suited to chasing.

He's been poor in-the-mix for some time now so he's not one to take a short price about, as demonstrated clearly yesterday, but he's more than capable of ridiculously low scoring - as he showed in December at the Hero World Challenge. On that occasion he trailed by seven with a round to go but after a course-record 11-under-par 61 he went on to win by four!

I'll be back this evening with my US Masters preview and tomorrow with the De-brief.

13:40 - March 31, 2017

Beau Hossler leads at the halfway stage of the Houston Open but it's Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth that dominate the market. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 13:30.

Beau Hossler -11 16.5
Rickie Fowler -10 4.94/1
Abraham Ancer -10 36.035/1
Sam Ryder -10 55.054/1
Nicholas Lindheim -10 70.069/1
Jordan Spieth -9 5.85/1
Julian Suri -9 30.029/1
Paul Dunne -9 34.033/1
Kevin Tway -9 60.059/1
Bronson Burgoon -9 90.089/1
Henrik Stenson -8 14.5
-8 and 20.019/1 bar

With a smattering of players that were well-fancied before the off and a host of rank-outsiders all within three of the lead, this is one of the strangest looking leaderboards I've seen in a while.

Rickie Fowler threatened to run clear of the field yesterday when he played the first six holes in four-under-par and he was matched at just 2.568/5 but he found water twice after that, playing the last 12 holes in level par. He's shortened-up overnight and this morning but I'm still happy to swerve him.

Jordan Spieth only ranks 85th for Strokes Gained Putting so far this week so although it's encouraging to see him playing so well ahead of the US Masters, the concern surrounding his form with the flat-stick remains. After two rounds, he ranks second for Strokes Gained Tee to Green so statistically, it looks like he's within two of the lead despite his putting and not because of it.

If I had to pick one of the two market leaders it would be Spieth at the prices but I'm more than happy to continue the waiting game with this one. It really does look like a minefield.

Pre-event pick, Scott Piercy, sits tied for 30th and five off the lead and he looks to have too much on his plate but James Hahn is close enough if good enough on -8 and I'm happy I followed Paul Krishnamurty in with his three Find Me a 100 Winner selections. Michael Thompson is alongside Piercy after a disappointing second round but Chesson Hadley and Grayson Murray are both alongside Hahn in a tie for 11th and I'm just going to cheer those on for now.

09:35 - March 30, 2017

A weather delay yesterday morning has meant round one of the Houston Open is yet to be completed and that's always frustrating when trying to assess the state of play.

Sam Ryder leads on eight-under-par but he still has 16, 17 and 18 to play and that last two holes are tough. Rickie Fowler heads the market after a six-under-par 66 and his presence on the leaderboard is no surprise at all. This course fits his game perfectly and he ticked all the course correlation and stats boxes before the off but I have to continue to overlook him. He's been woeful in-contention lately and I just can't side with him.

Phil Mickelson was the big charger yesterday - playing the first eight holes in six-under-par - and he's already been matched at just 4.216/5. The putter went cold on the back-nine though and he made a double-bogey five at the par three 14th to accompany a string of pars and he's back out trading at his SP price of around 19.018/1.

All the other fancied runners - Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson - are alongside Lefty on four-under-par after their opening rounds and I'm going to leave the event alone for now. I was tempted to play Beau Hossler, who sits on seven-under-par with two holes to play on the front nine but I'm happy to wait and see what today brings.

Chez Reavie was a bit disappointing yesterday, shooting only two-under, but my other three have fared OK and I'm glad I've followed Paul in with his three this week. The trio have all started nicely enough and all trade shorter than their SPs.

21:10 - March 28, 2017

Given I've added a couple of picks since the preview was published on Monday, and that I've taken a position in the US Masters market on Jordan Spieth, I thought it might be wise to kick the blog off nice and early.

I tweeted that I'd backed Scott Piercy at 150.0149/1 and since then I've also had a tiny bet at 1000.0 on the 2013 winner, D.A Points. Piercy ranks highly for Greens In Regulation and Par 4 Scoring and he has form here and in the Phoenix Open - an event that appears to correlate nicely.

Points is in woeful form but he's found form from absolutely nowhere before and he won the Puerto Rico Open this time last year so I was happy to throw a few pounds his way at a crazy price. As detailed in the preview, outsiders have a great record in this event so don't be afraid to pick an outsider or two and you could do far worse than follow Paul Krishnamurty in with his three. He makes a solid case for all of them and I've followed him in this week.

Dave Tindall's picked out three from the get-go too and the one I like best is Steve Stricker. The veteran used to have a fine record around here and he's found a new lease of life on the Champions Tour of late. If the place markets appeal, he looks a great bet for a top-10 or top-20.

Dave's also looked at the First Round Leader Market here so there may only be one tournament this week but we're not short of content. As Dave highlights, the early starters are going to find soft conditions and no wind so expect some low scoring tomorrow and it's a day that's going to be absolutely vital.

The wind is forecasted to pick up a little after Thursday and the sun is going to come out and dry the track. It's going to get faster and harder as the week wares on so as is so often the case here, a fast start tomorrow is going to be very important. Since we moved to this venue in 2006, half of the 12 winners have been inside the first four places after round one and three first round leaders (Stuart Appleby, Johnson Wagner and DA Points) have gone on to win.

Three of my four have been assigned an early start tomorrow and so too has Jordan Spieth, and I'll be monitoring him closely on the Featured Group coverage on Sky. He's been given a lowkey draw alongside Chris Stroud and Jhonattan Vegas and having backed him to win the US Masters earlier in the week at 17.016/1, I'll be keeping my beady eye on him and the US Masters market.

With the Augusta showpiece now just days away, what happens here will have a huge impact on the US Masters market and every year big moves are made.

It's always difficult to gauge how hard those in the reckoning for next week's major will be pushing this week but I've come to the conclusion its best not to even think about it. Winning any PGA Tour title is a big deal and should someone start well, they'll never take it easy because they're protecting themselves for a potentially gruelling tournament in a week's time. A win's a win and if you fancy someone here don't leave them out because you think they may be saving something for next week. In reality, that just doesn't happen but do keep an eye on their price for the year's first major, they can go in or out dramatically.

I'll be ready to lay back my Spieth bet if he plays really poorly but I couldn't see an awful lot of downside at 17.016/1 on Monday and I can see him shortening up considerably if he starts well tomorrow and has a good week in Houston.

Pre-Event Selections:
Chez Reavie @ 85.084/1
James Hahn @ 130.0129/1
Scott Piercy @ 150.0149/1 (added after preview published)
D.A Points @ 1000.0 (added after preview published)

In-Play Picks:
Jordan Spieth @ 16.015/1
Rickie Fowler @ 38.037/1
Greg Chalmers @ 38.037/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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