The Punter

The Punter's In-Play Blog: Can Hodges hold firm in round four?

Golfer Lee Hodges
Lee Hodges in action in round two

There's just one round to go at the 3M Open and Steve's 100.099/1 fancy, Lee Hodges, has increased his lead to five strokes...

  • Hodges looking to emulate Harman

  • Defending champ still lurking

  • Stats suggest the leader's a fair price

07:40 - July 30, 2023

My Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Lee Hodges, began the third round of the 3M Open with a four stroke-lead but his mettle was soon tested when he found water off the tee at the par four second.

Always a tough hole, the second was the hardest on the course yesterday, averaging 4.4, so when he holed out for a bogey five it wasn't a disaster, but it was still going to be interesting to see how he'd react.

In search of his first PGA Tour title, it would have been perfectly understandable if the early bogey destabilised him, but he responded brilliantly, with a pair of steady pars and back-to-back birdies at five and six.

There was an irritating three-putt bogey on the ninth but that just galvanised him to play out a composed and impressive five-under-par back nine.

Pre-event 130.0129/1 shot Kevin Yu was matched at as low as 5.04/1 when he got to within two of Hodges after he'd played his first 11 holes in a remarkable eight-under-par, but the wheels fell off after he missed from inside five feet on the par five 12th to get within one. With none of his immediate challengers after round three putting in a low one, Hodges now leads by five.

Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 7:30am on Sunday.

Lee Hodges -20 1.374/11
J.T Poston -15 8.415/2
Tony Finau -14 11.010/1
Aaron Baddeley -13 70.069/1
-12 and 75.074/1 bar

Just one week after Brian Harman converted a five-stroke 54-hole lead at the Open Championship (won by six), Hodges now also leads by five with a round to go and the stats suggest he's a fair price to emulate Harman.

Daniel Berger failed to convert a five-stroke 54-hole lead at the Honda Classic last year but the nine players to hold a five-shot lead on the PGA Tour before him went on to win and the two since have both converted (Harman last week and Billy Horschel at the Memorial Tournament in June 2022).

Anyone taking Hodges on at long odds-on will point to last year's renewal when Scott Piercy failed to convert a four-stroke 54-hole lead (shot 76 to finish fourth), and the fact that Hodges is looking to get off the mark on the PGA Tour may lead to some jitters.

It's very hard to look beyond Hodges' playing partner, J.T Poston, and the defending champion, Tony Finau, as potential party poopers and both are very capable of getting on a hot streak. But all things considered, Hodges looks a fair price at 1.374/11.

08:40 - July 29, 2023

For the second day in-a-row, poor weather caused a significant delay at the fifth edition of the 3M Open but with only six players yet to complete round two, the top-32 on the leaderboard are all in the house, so here's the latest state of play with prices to back at 8:30.

Lee Hodges -15 2.8415/8
Tyler Duncan -11 22.021/1
Tony Finau -10 7.613/2
J.T Poston -10 12.5
Kevin Streelman -10 25.024/1
Brandt Snedeker -10 75.074/1
Emiliano Grillo -9 15.014/1
Billy Horschel -9 36.035/1
David Lipsky -9 50.049/1
Hideki Matsuyama -8 19.018/1
-8 and 44.043/1 bar

As highlighted yesterday when looking at the state of play after day one, in the first four editions of the 3M Open we saw two winners up in the van throughout and two start slowly.

The inaugural winner, Matthew Wolff, who trailed by seven after round one, trailed by eight at halfway in 2019, and the 2021 winner, Cameron Champ, sat 19th and four adrift at this stage.

Having trailed by just a strike after round one, the 2020 winner, Michael Thompson, was tied for the lead after rounds two and three and last year's champ, Tony Finau, was never outside the top-four all week long, but he did trail by six at halfway.

Scott Piercy led by three at halfway 12 months ago and by four with a round to go but the veteran shot 76 on Sunday, allowing Finau to cruise to a three-stroke victory.

Piercy's late stumble highlights just how easy it is for things to go wrong at TPC Three Cities. With so much water in play, although the course is very scoreable, if someone's game is only marginally off, disaster awaits - as Hideki Matsuyama discovered late on yesterday when he hit his approach shot into the water on 18.

That mistake saw the Japanese drop a shot instead of pick one up at the par five finisher but there were no such woes for my Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Hodges, who had picked up from where he'd left off when they returned to the course after the weather delay.

The first thing he did was hole from 25 feet for a birdie three on the ninth and after back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, he signed off the day with two more on the last two holes to post a seven-under-par 64 to follow Thursday's 63.

That was a second round score that was bettered by just one player - another of my outside fancies, Stewart Cink, who shot 63 to comfortably make the cut after a dreadful 74 on Thursday.

Hodges is the 54th man to hold a four-stroke lead on the PGA Tour since 1996 and 22 of the previous 53 went on to win.

That's a 42% strike-rate suggesting Hodges is slightly bigger than he should be but there are a couple of reasons to swerve the frontrunner.

As already stated, although scoreable, this is a dangerous track if the nerves kick in and Hodges is in search of his first PGA Tour title.

Hodges also has the defending champ, Finau, within five strokes of him, and that's closer than he was 12 months ago when he collared Piercy, so a successful defence is certainly doable.

With the 2019 RSM Classic winner, Tyler Duncan, within four and multiple PGA Tour winners, J.T Poston, Emiliano Grillo, Kevin Streelman, and Billy Horschel also hot on his heels, as well as the defending champ, Hodges will need to keep the pedal down today.

He sounds confident, saying: "I've got a great attitude out there. Me and my caddie (Andrew Medley), we're 70-something on the points list, like what do we have to lose, you know?

"We've committed to every shot we've hit so far, which has been great. We'll continue to do it, because what do we have to lose."

Confidence and the right attitude can only take you so far though, and he'll certainly need to improve on his three previous performances when he's been in-the-mix at halfway on the PGA Tour.

He's never held a lead before, but he's been within three strokes at halfway three times on the PGA Tour and he's finished 48th, 44th and 18th. That's a sizable negative.

Winning on the PGA Tour is a big deal though. Steppingstones to that first success are very often required and on a more positive note, he was just one off the lead at halfway when he won the Portland Open by two strokes three years ago.

All things considered, he's certainly not a skinny price at around 2.89/5 given he's no bigger than 6/42.50 shot on the High Street.

09:05 - July 28, 2023

After playing his first four holes in five-under-par, the defending champion, Tony Finau, threatened to take a stranglehold on the fifth edition of the 3M Open yesterday morning but he slowed down considerably after that and after getting to six-under-par through six, he ended the day on just five-under-par.

One of my Find Me a 100 Winner selections, Lee Hodges, shows the way after day one following a bogey-free eight under-par 63 but Hideki Matsuyama, who is one of four men tied for second on -7, is the new and understandable favourite after day one.

Stormy weather late in the day prevented the opening round from completing yesterday and the latter starters still have a couple of holes of round one to play when they return to the course today but none of them are threatening the leaders.

Looking at the first four editions of the 3M Open, we can probably scan quite a way down the leaderboard given two of the first four winners started quite slowly.

The inaugural winner, Matthew Wolff, sat 49th and seven off the lead and the 2021 winner, Cameron Champ, sat 38th and five back after round one. Both opened up with two-under-par 69s.

The other two winners, Michael Thompson and Tony Finau were up with pace throughout. Thompson sat second and one off the lead and Finau sat third and two back last year, and I suspect we might see a similar scenario this time around.

Overnight rain and no wind will render TPC Three Cities defenceless today and low scores are expected which is going to make it tough for those that started slowly to make up ground today.

There doesn't appear to be any rain in the forecast over the weekend but there are 16 players within three of the lead as it stands and it's highly likely that a reasonable number of those players will go low again in today's scorable conditions.

The key stats in each of the first four editions have been Greens In Regulation and Strokes Gained Approach and after day one, Matsuyama tops both of those metrics.

Matsuyama on day one of teh 3M Open.jpg

The Japanese star had the ball on a string all day yesterday and only a lukewarm putter prevented him from putting daylight between him and the rest.

He's unlikely to suddenly start holing putt after putt but he might not have to. The inaugural winner, Wolff, ranked only 39th for Strokes Gained Putting and sixth for Putting Average and Finau ranked 42nd and 37th for those two metrics.

Matsuyama ranks 44th for PA and 108th for SGP after day one so some improvement is probably required but given he's no bigger than 9/25.50 on the High Street, I was happy to get him onside at 6.611/2 this morning.

This is Matsuyama's best start of the season and on the last two occasions that he sat second after round one he went on to win - at the US Masters and the ZOZO Championship in 2021.

Like all today's afternoon starters, Hideki is going to have to find a way to cope with the stifling afternoon heat and that's a negative, especially if the likes of Emiliano Grillo, J.T Poston or Kevin Streelman, who all have early tee times today, kick on early, but all things considered, I thought odds in excess of 5/16.00 were fair.

15:10 - July 27, 2023

On of my three pre-event selections, Cameron Champ, has withdrawn from the 3M Open before the off and another of the three, Adam Hadwin, is two-under-par after after eight holes but he's already miles behind the defending champ, Tony Finau!

The world number 19 hasn't been playing well of late, producing recent figures reading 72-MC-32-45-MC-MC but he's put that form behind him in fine style so far, starting his defence by playing the first six holes in six-under-par and we're already wondering whether he can break 60!

Having been matched at a high of 23.022/1 before the off and having gone off at around 21.020/1, Finau has already been matched at a low of 4.3100/30.

I'll be back tomorrow, when we've hopefully finished the opening round, but that's by no means a given looking at the forecast. A hot and steamy afternoon awaits, and thundery weather can't be ruled out.

3M Open Pre-Event Selection:
Adam Hadwin @ 50.049/1
Cameron Champ @ 90.089/1 - N/R
Taylor Pendrith @ 90.089/1

In-Play Pick:
Hideki Matsuyama @ 6.611/2

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
2 u Lee Hodges @ 100.099/1
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 12u @ 2.01/1
1 u Troy Merritt @ 270.0269/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
1 u Stewart Cink @ 280.0279/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
1 u James Hahn @ 310.0309/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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