The Punter's In-Play Blog: Molinari poised for historic third home title

Golfer Francesco Molinari
Francesco Molinari - can he win a third Italian Open?
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Forecasted bad weather has seen the tee times brought forward in Ohio so with both final rounds being played out simultaneously, we're set for a busy afternoon. Our man looks at the current state of play at both events here...

“If Bryson DeChambeau goes on to convert from the front, few could argue that he didn’t deserve a win this year. He’s been knocking at the door since he finished fifth in Phoenix back in February and sooner rather than later it’s going to open.”

08:25 - June 03, 2018

One week after winning the BMW PGA Championship, Francesco Molinari has positioned himself nicely to claim his third Italian Open title. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 8:15.

-16 Lee Slattery [8.6]
-15 Francesco Molinari [3.55]
-15 Thorbjorn Olesen [6.4]
-14 Martin Kaymer [10.5]
-14 Danny Willett [18.0]
-13 Rafa Cabrera-Bello [14.0]
-13 Andy Sullivan [19.5]
-13 Haotong Li [22.0]
-13 Jordan Smith [30.0]
-12 and [30.0] bar

Lee Slattery's nine-under-par 62 in round three is the round of the week so far and it sees him leading by one but whether he can stay there is highly debatable. Following one low round with another is never easy and Slattery isn't the most prolific. The 39-year-old is playing in his 365th European Tour event and he's looking for just his third win. And whether we can read too much in to it is debatable but all five previous third round leaders at this venue were beaten.

Last week's Wentworth winner, Molinari, is the man to beat. So far this week he's ranked first for Greens In Regulation and Scrambling and his bogey at the sixth hole in round three yesterday is a collector's item. That's his only dropped shot over the first 54 holes and three rounds of 66 have put him in a terrific position to become the only Italian to win their national title three times.

Molinari's handled himself brilliantly so far this week and if he can keep his cool as well as he did last Sunday he's going to take some stopping but it's possible that the magnitude of the situation hits home at some stage. Jockeying for position over the first three rounds is one thing, delivering the goods on payday in front of an adoring crowd, when mental fatigue must be a consideration, is something else though and I fancy the man alongside him in a tie for second, Thorbjorn Olesen, represents better value at more than twice the price.

The Dane has been in the wilderness for some time now and having won European Tour titles in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016, as well as the World Cup with Soren Kjeldsen in 2016 and the GolfSixes with Lucas Bjerregaard last year, Olesen will feel it's about time he won again.

Olesen's already been matched at less than 2/1 but he finished his third round tardily. He failed to birdie the par five 15th and bogeyed 16 before parring the last two holes.

A stroke behind the market leaders is halfway leader, Martin Kaymer, and the 2016 Masters champ, Danny Willett, but neither make much appeal. Both have been poor for a very long time now and this is the first time either man has been in-contention with a round to go in ages. Kaymer hasn't been this close to the lead after 54 holes since January last year when he finished fourth in the Abu Dhabi Championship and Willett hasn't been anywhere near this close to the action for a very long time. He hasn't been within seven strokes of the lead anywhere through three rounds since he blew a three-stroke lead at the Maybank in Malaysia in February last year!

Given Kaymer went from 41st to first between rounds one and two and that Slattery moved up from tied 17th to the top of the leaderboard between rounds two and three, an off the pace winner here must be a legitimate possibility so this is a tricky event to bet on. My halfway pick, Haotong Li, is close enough to mount a challenge and I'm happy to stick with him for now.

After a fascinating third round at the Memorial Tournament, Bryson DeChambeau has hit the front, courtesy of four birdies in his last six holes. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 8:20.

Bryson DeChambeau -14 [3.5]
Patrick Cantlay -13 [5.6]
Kyle Stanley -13 [6.6]
Joaquin Niemann -13 [8.0]
Byeong Hun An -12[11.5]
Justin Rose -10 [15.5]
-9 and [34.0] bar

*Leaders tee off early at 14:30 UK and Ireland time

If Bryson DeChambeau goes on to convert from the front, few could argue that he didn't deserve a win this year. He's been knocking at the door since he finished fifth in Phoenix back in February and sooner rather than later it's going to open.

It's right and proper that he should head the market but he's only a stroke clear of three and I'm not convinced he's a great price at around the 5/2 mark. Whilst he's appeared solid in-contention, and he's won from the front on the Web.com Tour (in Ohio two years ago), this is his first experience of having a target on his back on a PGA Tour Sunday and I'm not convinced he's value at the odds on offer.

I can't help but think this is too much too soon for Chilean youngster, Joaquin Niemann, and I'm not a massive Patrick Cantlay fan, betting wise, although the 26-year-old Californian is looking to extend the run of two-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, following his first PGA Tour success in the Shriners back in November. Patton Kizzire, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jason Day and Justin Rose have all won twice already this season and it's the latter named that could be the man to watch.

Between 2007 and 2012, five of the six winners came from at least three back here after 54 holes. Kenny Perry won from three back, K.J Choi was five adrift, and four men trailed by four. And one of the four was Justin Rose in 2010.

The Englishman is looking to go back-to-back after winning the Fort Worth Invitational last week and victory would see him reach number one in the official world rankings so it's a big ask but if there's any value to be had, and I'm not convinced there is, he could be the play from four back given he's a bigger price this morning than he was before the off with just five players ahead of him.

Tiger Woods is amongst those tied for seventh and five off the lead and Rory McIlroy can't be ruled out completely from six back given Kevin Na traded at long odds-on four years ago before losing in a playoff having trailed by seven with a round to go. We could be set for all sorts of fun today and I'll be back tomorrow with the De-brief to look back on it all.


09:55 - June 02, 2018

The scoring in Italy wasn't quite as low on day two as it had been on Thursday but it was still low enough and Martin Kaymer fired the week's fourth eight-under-par 63 to hit the front. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 09:45.

Martin Kaymer -11 [10.0]
Francesco Molinari -10 [5.8]
Rafa Cabrera-Bello -10 [7.6]
Thomas Pieters -10 [12.5]
Graeme McDowell -10 [14.5]
Danny Willett -10 [28.0]
Thorbjorn Oleseen -9 [22.0]
Haotong Li -9 [23.0]
Erik Van Rooyen -9 [34.0]
Robert Rock -9 [50.0]
Jens Dantorp -9 [80.0]
-8 and [23.0] bar

With last week's BMW PGA Championship winner and pre-tournament favourite, Francesco Molinari, fellow Ryder Cup stars, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Thomas Pieters, and three major winners in Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Danny Willett, all occupying the first six places after 36 holes, the cream has risen to the top already at the Gardagolf course and from a betting perspective, the Italian Open looks like a minefield.

With the exception of Tommy Fleetwood, who's lurking on seven-under-par, my pre-tournament picks look cooked already and I was particularly disappointed with Matt Wallace. I expected him to be in-the-mix at this stage after his opening six-under-par effort on Thursday but having been bogey-free on day one, he dropped four strokes yesterday on his way to recording a one-over-par 72.

The event looks devilishly hard to predict and I could have very easily left it alone for now but China's Haotong Li looks a little over-priced at [23.0]. The Dubai Desert Classic winner has crept in to the argument with progressive rounds of 68 and 65 and he most certainly knows how to win if he gets the chance.

Over at the Memorial Tournament, Kyle Stanley and Joaquin Niemann have opened-up a bit of a gap and I'm frustrated not to be on either or both. Stanley is a great tee-to-green player but a poor putter most of the time, but his putting improves significantly on really fast greens. I backed him for that reason in the US Masters and I looked at him here too and as mentioned yesterday, I made Niemann one of my players to follow in Monday's De-brief.

Anyway, here are the latest standings with prices to back at 9:50.

Kyle Stanley -11 [9.0]
Joaquin Niemann -11 [9.8]
Byeong Hun An -9 [19.5]
Jason Day -8 [8.4]
Hideki Matsuyama -8 [13.0]
Bryson DeChambeau -8 [19.0]
J.B Holmes -8 [34.0]
Wesley Bryan -8 [75.0]
Justin Rose -7 [10.5]
Henrik Stenson -7 [22.0]
-6 and [15.0] bar

Most weeks the draw doesn't have much of a bearing but there's been a sizable bias here. Only three of the top-13 players at halfway were drawn in the afternoon on Thursday and the AM-PM side of the draw averaged more than three and half strokes less than those drawn PM-AM.

My big fancy, Bubba Watson, was drawn on the wrong side so he's done OK to get to -6 and just five off the lead and I certainly haven't given up on him yet but looking back at the stats, he's got his work cut out now.

Since 1996, only five winners have been outside the top-four places at halfway at this stage and one of those, Bart Bryant, in 2005, was bang in-contention anyway. He sat tied seventh and just two off the lead. William McGirt, who took the title two years ago and Tiger Woods, in 2009, were both six adrift and outside the top-20 at halfway and K.J Choi, in 2007, and Jim Furyk, five years earlier, both won from outside the top-ten and seven off the lead, so winning from off the pace is possible.

Jason Day heads the market and I can see why but he's started brightly before here and fell away so I'm happy to leave him alone and I'm reluctantly leaving Justin Rose alone too.

Suspecting a slow start after last week's win in Texas, I had him in mind as someone to back in-running but his putting figures were awful on Thursday and he looks too short now so that ship's sailed without me.

Dustin Johnson, who sits alongside my man Bubba on -6, has plenty to do for a 14/1 shot and Day and Rose both look short enough to me so there's plenty of value elsewhere. Stanley is a perfectly fair price given he leads and he's putting well, the market isn't showing enough respect to multiple PGA Tour winner, J.B Holmes, and last year's Heritage winner, Wesley Bryan, looks too big at [80.0]. And I couldn't resist throwing a few pounds at Si Woo Kim at a monstrous price too.

11:40 - June 01, 2018

Matteo Manassero described the Gardagolf course as "tricky" beforehand but after a downfall of rain leading up to the Italian Open it's been anything but. England's Robert Rock and Laurie Canter skipped round in 63 strokes yesterday morning and South African, Richard Sterne, also shot eight-under-par in the afternoon.

Scoring is good again today and I'm going to wait until the halfway stage to get further involved but I did add one more before the off, after the preview had been posted...

I saw on Tuesday that Padraig Harrington had-had his coach, Pete Cowan, with him and then I heard that he'd won Wednesday's pro-am, so I threw a few pounds at him at huge odds and it feels like it could have been a masterstroke if it wasn't for a few hiccups.

Pod started the event terribly, with three bogeys in his first five holes, and then after a run of five birdies he double-bogeyed the last to post a level-par 71 so it was a bumpy start but he's been great this morning and what ever happens here, he might be one to keep an eye on going forward.

Over at the Memorial Tournament, my only selection, Bubba Watson, had the misfortune of being drawn in the afternoon yesterday and after a one-under-par 71 he sits in a tie for 29th and six off the lead. The morning starters shot 1.48 strokes better than those that played in the afternoon so an early start was quite advantageous, but it didn't hinder one of Dave Tindall's picks, Hideki Matsuyama.

The 2014 winner holed more than 100 feet of putts to top the Strokes Gained Putting stats but he didn't always need the flat-stick. A run of four straight birdies on the back-nine was ended spectacularly with this hole-out eagle at the 17th.

It's a bit frustrating to see Joaquin Niemann tied for the lead given he went off at around [200.0] and I haven't had a penny on, despite making him one of my players to follow in Monday's de-brief! I just thought this might be too big an event for him so early in his pro career but he's only [20.0] now.

I'm going to leave this one alone for now too and I'll be back tomorrow with a detailed look at the halfway stage.

Italian Open Pre-Event Selections:
Tommy Fleetwood @ [13.5]
Alex Levy @ [50.0]
Matt Wallace @ [65.0]
Joakim Lagergren @ [150.0]
Padraig Harrington @ [420.0] (placed after the preview posted)

In-Play Pick:
Haotong Li @ [23.0]

Pre-Event Selection:
Bubba Watson @ [44.0]

In-Play Picks:
Kyle Stanley @ [9.0]
J.B Holmes @ [36.0]
Wesley Bryan @ [80.0]
Si Woo Kim @ [130.0]


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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