There's just one round to go at The American Express and three men are tied at the top. Can Tony Finau finally bag his second PGA Tour win? Read Steve's final thoughts on the event here...
“In 11 of the last 14 renewals we've seen at least one player trade at odds-on without winning and in each of the last two renewals there have been two. It should be a fun evening!”
12:00 - January 24, 2021
World number 22, Tony Finau, who's still in search of his second PGA Tour win, more than four years after his first (the 2016 Puerto Rico Open), is one of three men tied at the top at The American Express with a round to go. Here's the 54 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:50.
In the nine previous renewals of this event since the format changed form five rounds to four, only one winner has been any further than three back with a round to go and five of the nine winners were leading or tied for the lead.
Brian Gay won from tied seventh and six strokes adrift in 2013 but that wasn't as far back as it sounds. Scott Stallings, who finished tied fourth, had led by five with a round to go. David Lingmerth shot 62 to get into the playoff from seven back and he was also beaten in extra time in 2014, having trailed by five after 54 holes but the stats suggest winning from off the pace won't be easy.
Although he has many near misses since his Puerto Rican success, and he's renowned for being flaky in-contention, Finau heads the market and rightly so. He's only ever actually led or co led after three rounds three times before and his record is stronger than one might think. He finished fifth at the 2018 US open having been tied for the lead and on the next two occasions, at the HSBC Champions in 2018, where he led by three, and at the Phoenix Open a year ago, where he began the final round tied for the lead, he was beaten in extra time. Xander Schauffele beat him in a playoff in China and Webb Simpson beat him in Phoenix. I'm not sure anyone can back him with confidence though and I'm happy to continue to oppose him.
Si Woo Kim has played very nicely from tee-to-green and had he putted only slightly better he'd be clear by now. Given this is effectively a putting competition and there's probably more chance of his tee-to-green game deteriorating slightly than there is of his putter warming up, I'm happy to continue to oppose him too.
Local lad, Max Homa, is putting really nicely and he won't be frightened to win if his 2019 Wells Fargo Championship victory is any sort of gauge. He began the final round tied for the lead there and went on to win by three so he's done it before.
Alone in fourth, Richy Werenski is also in search of his second PGA Tour win. He won the Barracuda Championship from off the pace in August so he too can draw on the memories of a recent win but the one I like is Brian Harman.
After three rounds, Harman ranks third for Putting Average, fifth for Strokes Gained Putting and tied fourth for Par 4 Scoring and they're the key stats at this event. Having originally layed him before the off, I've got him back onside this morning and the only two inside the top-seven I'm now opposing are Finau and Kim.
I'll be trading the event this evening but I'll try and avoid getting itching fingers. As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, in 11 of the last 14 renewals we've seen at least one player trade at odds-on without winning and in each of the last two renewals there have been two. It should be a fun evening!
16:00 - January 23, 2021
We've had to wait a while for the first European Tour action of 2021 and we even had to wait a further three hours for the fog to clear on day one of the Abu Dhabi Championship in the early hours of Thursday morning but given the 54-hole leaderboard below, it was well worth the wait.
Rory McIlroy -13 2.0621/20
Tyrrell Hatton -12 3.613/5
Tommy Fleetwood -11 6.86/1
David Lipsky -10 34.033/1
Marc Warren -10 50.049/1
Rafa Cabrera Bello -9 70.069/1
Jason Scrivener -8 250.0249/1
-7 and 140.0139/1 bar
Having led after round one, Rory McIlroy lost his way yesterday, but he rallied this morning when finishing off his second round and after a two-under-par front-nine in round three, this somewhat fortunate eagle three on the 10th kept the momentum going nicely.
Rory has never won his first event of the year but he's come close here enough times. This is the 11th time he's played in the tournament and he's already finished fifth, third three times and second on four occasions. Can he finally get the job done?
Although he's come agonisingly close to lifting the trophy (beaten by one three times), this is the first time that he's led after 54 holes here and his record when leading after three rounds is admirable enough. He's led or co-led after 54-holes 22 times previously and he's gone on to win on 12 occasions. That's a very fair strike rate of 55%.
He's only ever held a one-stroke lead three times previously and he converted two of the three.
With Tyrrell Hatton hot on his heels and the two-time Abu Dhabi Championship winner, Tommy Fleetwood, in third, and just two back, odds of around evens don't look huge.
As it was for Rory, it's been a long day for Hatton, and having returned to the course with five holes of round two remaining, and with a five-stroke lead, he's played all 23 holes today in a lacklustre level par total. Rory bounced back today after a poor day on Friday and Hatton is more than capable of playing much better tomorrow than he did today but given this is the first tournament for both in some time, there's also a very real chance that the pair will find the longevity of today leaves a mark.
I'm against the pair and I'm happy to keep them as small losers in the book. Given Fleetwood's course record, he really should be the one to capitalise if the front two stutter even slightly tomorrow. He's a reasonable winner in the book so I'd be happy to see him win but I'm never convinced by his in-contention game under the gun (although it's better here than anywhere else) and I'm happy to throw a few pounds at a couple of big-priced candidates from slightly off the pace...
Paul Casey is the only winner not to be inside the front five places with a round to go here but he only trailed by three in 2007 so up with the pace is the place to be really. Pablo Larrazabal was trailing by three in 2014 and every other winner bar one has been within two with a round to go.
Gary Stal is the odd man out, he trailed by as many as eight after 54 holes in 2015 but his victory was more down to Martin Kaymer's infamous collapse than anything else. The poor man led by ten early on in round four but lost the plot completely after that.
Given the stats, one of the front three really should emerge with the trophy but I thought both Rafa Cabrera Bello and Christiaan Bezuidenhout were worth chancing.
Rafa had a poor third round today but that's typical of him in-contention and he'll be better suited to being off the pace tomorrow. He's only won three times on the European Tour but he's been trailing with a round to go on each occasion. He was only one adrift when he won the Dubai Desert Classic (next week's event) in 2012 but he trailed by four at the Scottish Open in 2017 and he was eight back with a round to go at the Austrian Open in 2009. Many a winner has bounced back after a poor third round when it looks like their chance has gone and I thought 70.069/1 was a juicy price given he only trails by four.
Bezuidenhout is a further two strokes adrift and he has far more traffic to pass but I managed to back him at the close of play at an average of 200.0199/1 plus and odds of around 150.0149/1 still look reasonable. He's an extremely talented player capable of very special things and if there's a super low round out there tomorrow, he may well be the man to shoot it.
12:10 - January 23, 2021
We've reached the halfway stage of The American Express and Sungjae Im has struck the front. Here's the 36 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 12:00.
Sungjae Im -11 5.04/1
Tony Finau -10 6.86/1
Abraham Ancer -10 8.415/2
Si Woo Kim -10 11.010/1
Nick Taylor -10 22.021/1
Brandon Hagy -10 46.045/1
Emiliano Grillo -9 25.024/1
Francesco Molinari -9 27.026/1
Doug Ghim -9 44.043/1
-8 and 36.035/1 bar
My lay book looked in decent shape after the opening round and I could have cashed out for around £200 but the second round went against me and I'm now behind the black ball.
I layed four of the top-six before the off and before I tinkered with the book this morning the cash out figure was -£110. It's now -£121.
It doesn't help that four of the last five winners were inside the top-three and within a stroke of the lead but it's not inconceivable that we get an off the pace winner and I've layed the front four in the market again.
The 2019 winner, Adam Long, sat outside the top-10 and six off the lead at halfway and David Lingmerth was seven back and tied for 24th through two rounds before getting beat in a playoff in 2016.
If Sungjae Im, Tony Finau, Abraham Ancer or Si Woo Kim go on to win, and I did nothing more with the book, I'd lose between £527 and £533, the others I layed before the off (details in preview) are losers in the book for between around £200 and £300 and should one of the players that I haven't layed go on to win, I'd win £565 but I'll be tweaking it again at some stage.
If I took my bookmaking hat off and had to pick a winner, it would probably have to be Im. The classy South Korean knows how to win and two of the last five winners led by a stroke at halfway.
8:10 - January 23, 2021
Tyrrell Hatton held a five-stroke lead at the close of play yesterday but having played his remaining six holes of his second round in one-over-par this morning, and after a great finish to the round by Rafa Cabrera Bello, who birdied the 11th, 14th, 15th and 17th to sign for a second consecutive 67, the Englishman's lead has been trimmed to just one. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 8:05.
Hatton's finish to round two has opened-up the event nicely. In the 15 previous editions of the Abu Dhabi Championship we've seen winners come from four (twice), five and six strokes adrift at halfway and only three 36-hole leaders have gone on to win.
Having layed both McIlroy and Hatton, I'm just going to sit back and see what round three brings but the two-time winner, Tommy Fleetwood, who's recovered brilliantly after a slow start, looks nicely poised on -6.
The third round is already underway, it's currently live on Sky and the leaders tee-off in less than half-an-hour. Good luck!
21:50 - January 22, 2021
After firing a bogey-free 64 in round one, Rory McIlroy birdied two of his first three holes today and he hit a low of 1.834/5 but he soon lost his way after that, bogeying the par three fourth and double-bogeying the fifth.
The world number six struggled for much of the day but as darkness descended, he birdied the par four 14th, despite yet another poor drive, and he's back up into a tie for second behind runaway leader, Tyrrell Hatton.
Hatton, who played in the group behind Rory, has already been matched at a low of 1.75/7. He made his third eagle of the week at the par five second and he birdied four holes in-a-row from the seventh. His last action of the day was to drive into a bunker on the 14th but given he's five clear of the field, he's going to be hard to beat.
Having backed Rory before the off at 7.87/1, and having layed him at 2.56/4, I'd be in a strong position if I'd left it at that but I've also layed Hatton at an average of 2.56/4 so they're both very small losers in the book now.
I'll take a more detailed look after the third round tomorrow and I'll also consider the state of play at the halfway stage of The American Express on the PGA Tour. That one's currently live on Sky.
15:30 - January 21, 2021
After a fog delay of nearly three hours this morning, the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship is far from finished and the final three-balls still have 12 holes of their opening rounds to play.
The weather forecast had suggested that there would be a draw bias and so it proved with the latter starters enduring much stronger winds later in the day. And the delay just accentuated the bias. The weather looks worse tomorrow, with the wind blowing steadily all day long, and there's even a chance that today's early starters get to play a fair percentage of their second rounds in more benign conditions on Saturday.
Nobody that started late today has played any more than 12 holes of round one and the leaderboard is entirely dominated with AM starters. Here's the latest state of play with prices to back at 15:25
Rory McIlroy -8 2.56/4
Tyrrell Hatton -7 4.57/2
Fabrizio Zanotti -6 60.059/1
Romain Langasque -5 42.041/1
Rafa Cabrera Bello -5 46.045/1
Victor Perez -4 32.031/1
Matt Wallace -4 42.041/1
Lucas Herbert -4 60.059/1
Nacho Elvira -4 130.0129/1
-3 and 24.023/1 bar
After a superb bogey-free 64, Rory McIlroy, leads and baring some sort of miraculous second round by one of the afternoon starters when they return in the morning, he'll still be in front when he kicks off his second round late in the day tomorrow. And that's a bit frustrating given I wrote this in the preview.
"If Rory does (as expected) get the morning draw, he could also be of interest in the 1st Round Leader market as he's ended the opening round in front twice previously here."
Hopefully, a few readers took note and jumped aboard as I didn't! He was generally a 16/1 chance and was matched at a high of 20.019/1 on the exchange.
So, what now with Rory? He's clearly the one they all have to beat but he's no value at around 6/4 and having taken a position to trade before the off on him at 7.87/1, I've now opposed him at 2.56/4 to make him a loser in the book.
Assuming he does remain in front, this will be the 27th time in his career that Rory has led or co-led after round one and he's only gone on to win on five occasions. That's a strike rate of less than 20% but it's a record that's getting worse.
Rory won the Open Championship wire-to-wire back in 2014 but that's the only time he's converted a first-round lead in the last eight years and on 13 of the last 14 occasions that he's held the lead or co-led after round one he's been beaten.
Abu Dhabi Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Bernd Wiesberger @ 48.047/1
Matt Wallace @ 50.049/1
Andy Sullivan @ 60.059/1
The American Express Lay Book:
Worst Case Scenario -£444
Best Case Scenario +£529
Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Abu Dhabi Championship
Back John Catlin 1u @ 500.0499/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 15.014/1 & 10u @ 2.56/4
The American Express
Back Patton Kizzire 1 ½ u @ 100.099/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 8.07/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Andrew Landry 1 u @ 150.0149/1
Place order to lay 8u @ 8.07/1 & 8u @ 2.01/1
Back Hudson Swafford 1 u @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 8u @ 8.07/1 & 8u @ 2.01/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter