The market suggests a head-to head duel between Tiger Woods and Justin Rose but is it that simple? Read what our man thinks ahead of today's fourth and final round in Florida...
“How Woods reacts to being in the heat of battle after so long is the big unkown and the most fascinating aspect of the final round. He used to be incredible in-contention and it would be amazing to see the old ruthless Tiger back but at 42 and without a win in five years, it’s far from certain we’ll see it.”
10:40 - March 11, 2017
The Hero Indian Open has just finished and despite trading at a low of 1.011/100, 40.039/1 pre-event pick, Andrew Johnston, has just lost in a playoff to Matt Wallace. I'll have more on that result in tomorrow's De-brief but for now I'm going to concentrate on this week's PGA Tour event, where Tiger Woods has turned up to make it quite exciting!
One week after his lifelong rival, Phil Mickelson, won for the first time in five years, fellow veteran, Woods, has put himself in a perfect position to emulate him. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard at the Valspar Championship, with prices to back at 10:35.
Corey Conners -9 9.08/1
Tiger Woods -8 3.412/5
Justin Rose -8 3.65
Brandt Snedeker -8 6.411/2
Patrick Reed -6 17.5
Sam Burns -6 40.039/1
-5 and 75.074/1 bar
Canada's Corey Conners failed to Monday qualify for the Valspar Championship but he snuck into the field as the third alternate when Kyle Stanley withdrew and it's fair to say he's taken advantage of his late inclusion. Having led after rounds one and two, he shot a hugely impressive three-under-par 68 yesterday but can he really go all the way?
Conners' story is quite like Shubankhar Sharma's last week in Mexico. Although a winner on the European Tour, Sharma had never been in-contention in a tournament the size of the WGC-Mexico Championship, and when it came to the crunch the Indian fell from first to ninth. Conners' plan today is to "try to really focus on breathing" and having a gent like Justin Rose partnering him in the final two-ball will help him no end but it's really difficult to see him winning at a venue where third round leaders have an awful record anyway.
Given Rose began the week as a 22.021/1 chance, it's perhaps slightly surprising, although totally understandable, to see him trading at a slightly bigger price than Tiger Woods, who began the week trading at around 30.029/1. Rose has been trailing by just a stroke with a round to go only three times previously and he's finished second, 11th and fifth but all three occurrences were a long time ago. The third occasion was way back at the 2007 US Masters and he's a far better player in-contention now.
Rose could only finish fourth at the DP World Tour Championship having led by a stroke with a round to go in November and Sergio Garcia beat him in a playoff at the Masters last year after the pair had began the final round tied at the top but he won on four of the five previous occasions he led by a stroke or began the final round tied so he's a rock solid performer in-contention. He's also been in-the-mix regularly lately and that's not something we can say about Tiger...
How Woods reacts to being in the heat of battle after so long is the big unkown and the most fascinating aspect of the final round. As Justin's tweet shows below, he used to be incredible in-contention and it would be amazing to see the old ruthless Tiger back but at 42 and without a win in five years, it's far from certain we'll see it.
This will be the 70th time Tiger Woods is at/within 1 of the lead after 54 holes on the PGA Tour. He has gone on to win 62 of the previous 69 instances (win percentage of 89.9). He's never finished outside the top-5.? Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 10, 2018
Brandt Snedeker could be the one to capitalise if the front two in the market fail to deliver and Justin's picked up on a bizarre trend that supports his claims.
I love stats but that's coincidental claptrap surely and I'm not in any sort of hurry to side with Sneds. He's paired with Woods again today and although he tied with him yesterday, Woods had bettered Snedeker's score on the previous 11 occasions they'd played together. That looks a far more pertinent stat and it's a far more damning one too.
Nobody is scrambling better than Justin Rose and he ranks third for Strokes Gained Putting, so the weakest part of his game is strong. He's won three of his last eight starts worldwide and he should be the favourite. I never get him right, he seems to win when I'm not on and disappoint when I am but that has no bearing on what today brings so I've got Rose onside at 3.7011/4 and I've also backed Patrick Reed at 17.5.
Reed ran Jordan Spieth very close here three years ago, eventually losing in a playoff and I thought he looked a bit big given he's only two behind Woods, Rose and Snedeker.
14:10 - March 10, 2017
Debates are rumbling on about the suitability for tournament golf at the Hero Indian Open's venue this week - DLF Golf and Country Club. Multiple European Tour winner, Marc Warren, shot a 14-over-par 86 today but he wasn't the only one to shoot a round in the 80s. He was one of 13! Tempers frayed between Pablo Larrazabal and Emiliano Grillo, who both shot over-par playing in the final group and European Tour captain, Thomas Bjorn, made it clear what he thought about today's set-up with this cheeky tweet.
Why???? Thomas Bjorn (@thomasbjorngolf) March 10, 2018
The course may divide opinion, but there's no denying that it's created an interesting 54-hole leaderboard and I'm quite looking forward to tomorrow's drama. Here's the state of play after round three, with prices to back at 14:00.
Shubhankar Sharma -7 3.1511/5
Matt Wallace -7 6.05/1
Stephen Gallacher -6 7.26/1
Emiliano Grillo -5 9.617/2
Andrew Johnston -5 10.519/2
Matthias Schwab -5 22.021/1
Pablo Larrazabal -4 23.022/1
Sihwan Kim -4 42.041/1
-3 and 55.054/1 bar
Given his hectic week in Mexico, the travel, the media attention, and yesterday's course record 64, Shubhankar Sharma did well to return to the fray and shoot level-par today and now tied for the lead, he's definitely the man to beat. It's notoriously hard to follow up a low round so it was a decent knock today given only nine players broke par.
It's going to be fascinating to see how the 21-year-old handles the pressure of leading his national open but everything we've seen from him so far suggests he'll be fine.
Alongside Sharma is Matt Wallace, who putted brilliantly on occasions today and I fancy his chances more than I do Stephen Gallacher's. The Scot shot the best round of the day today - a five-under-par 67 - so he needs to back that up tomorrow and back it up while in-contention. And I've never been especially impressed with him in-the-mix.
I'm hopeful that pre-event pick, Andrew Johnston, will contend and I haven't completely given up on Hideto Tanihara either. Sharma moved from 55th to second between rounds one and two and Gallacher went from tied 25th to third between rounds two and three so we certainly can't rule out an off the pace winner.
The course is so tough, with the prospect of disaster lurking on every hole, that predicting the outcome is very hard so I'm going to stick with what I have for now and I'm going to look to trade the event in-running in the morning. The finish to the course is absolutely brutal and so far this week, four of the last five holes have ranked amongst the seven hardest on the course. Anyone posting a score ahead of the leaders will be well worth siding with given holes 14, 16, 17 and 18 have averaged a combined 1.5 strokes over-par this week. The par five 15th offers a tiny bit of respite coming in but it's not reachable in two and that too is averaging over-par at 5.05.
10:35 - March 10, 2017
How quickly this game changes. With the US Masters looming large, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy's games are intensive care but from nowhere, Tiger Woods is now a contender for the year's first major. Spieth and McIlroy have both missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, having played the first two rounds in five-over-par, but Tiger trails by two after rounds of 70 and 68 and he's now just a 15.014/1 chance to win at Augusta. Here's the 36 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:30.
Corey Conners -6 16.015/1
Tiger Woods -4 5.85/1
Paul Casey -4 8.88/1
Brandt Snedeker -4 12.5
Ryan Palmer -4 25.024/1
Kelly Kraft -4 46.045/1
Justin Rose -3 9.417/2
Webb Simpson -3 17.016/1
Jason Kokrak -3 32.031/1
Keegan Bradley -3 36.035/1
Sean O'Hair -3 42.041/1
-2 and 28.027/1 bar
PGA Tour rookie, Corey Conners, who was a 1000.0 chance before the off, hasn't yet record a top-25 finish and it's surely only a matter of time before he gets swallowed up by the stellar chasing pack? Last year's winner, Adam Hadwin, was in front at this stage 12 months ago but he was the first 36-hole leader to win since KJ Choi in 2006 and this event is still wide open.
Charl Schwartzel won the 2016 edition having sat tied for 15th and four off the lead and the 2013 and 2014 winners were even further back at this stage. Kevin Streelman was 31st and seven off the lead and 12 months later, John Senden won from tied 35th and eight back. If we take Conners out of the equation, there are 29 players under-par within three strokes of each other and we may even have to look beyond them to find the winner.
The resurgent Woods is now the favourite but his price is unattractive given the competitive looking leaderboard and how long it's been since he was right in-the-mix and Paul Casey makes even less appeal given his appalling strike-rate. He's still only won just once on the PGA Tour, way back in 2009, and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't flatter to deceive yet again.
This is a really open and unpredictable tournament still so I'm remaining cautious, but I have backed one. Sean O'Hair took this title ten years ago and he lost in a playoff three years ago too so we know he's comfortable here and he's also putting really well this week. I could pick ten out at this stage and still not pick the winner but I thought he was a fair price at 42.041/1.
It's tough going again at the Hero Indian Open, where the leaders are midway through the back-nine and I'll be back later with a look at that one at the conclusion of round three.
13:35 - March 09, 2017
Things have happened in a hurry at the Hero India Open, where it looked like Argentina's Emilio Grillo was going to be given an easy ride at halfway. Grillo was six clear of the field as I kicked off the blog when Pablo Larrazabal bogeyed the 17th hole but in no time at all, he's now just four clear. And it's the favourite, Shubhankar Sharma, that's looming the largest. Here's the leaderboard with prices to back at 13:30.
Emiliano Grillo -11 2.26/5
Shubhankar Sharma -7 4.94/1
Pablo Larrazabal -6 13.5
Andrew Johnston -6 13.5
-5 and 65.064/1 bar
Last week's shock WGC-Mexico Championship contender, Sharma, who teed off in the morning yesterday, starting on the 10th, played his first nine holes in a five-over-par 41. The slow start was understandable given his newly-received US Masters invite, the journey from Mexico (arrived in India late on Tuesday), the obvious media attention and the emotional let-down he would have felt after falling out of the places in Mexico, having led for two days there. That he's picked himself up today and shot a course-record eight-under-par 64, which included a 30 on the back-nine (11 shots better than yesterday!) to move to within four of the lead, is testament to what an incredible talent he looks to be.
I pointlessly, as it transpired, looked back to see how five and six shot leaders have fared on the European Tour since 1996 so now I've looked at four-stroke leaders at halfway. We've seen a total of 33 players take a four-stroke lead into the weekend in a 72-hole stroke play event and 18 successfully converted. That's a shade over 54% so one could argue that Grillo is a fair price at odd-against but I'm not going to.
Sharma has been so impressive of late and he's a huge danger to the leader now. Having began the week as a 14.013/1 chance, he was matched in-running yesterday at 110.0109/1 but he's shortening all the time now. He was available at just a shade under 6.05/1 after he'd birdied the 18th but he's moved a point since and I can see him shortening up fractionally still.
Indian golfers have won 12 of the last 26 renewals and I fancy that could soon be 13 from 27. I know he's only just burst on to the scene very recently, but Sharma already looks like being the best Indian golfer we've ever seen. I'm a bit cross that I missed the bigger prices but I took 5.49/2 at the close of play and I fancy that was around a point too big. He looks like the real deal to me and all of a sudden there's a reason to get up early and watch the third round.
11:30 - March 09, 2017
With this week's two tournaments - the Hero Indian Open and the Valspar Championship - playing continuously, apart from a few hours when I'm asleep anyway, it's not been easy to know when to kick the blog off but I'll start with the Hero Indian Open, where the second round is still in progress.
Pre-event third favourite, Emiliano Grillo, has brought his strong PGA Tour form to India and sauntered clear of the field with an incredibly impressive 65-68 start to get to 11-under-par. At the time of writing, Pablo Larrazabal is the closest challenger still on the course but he's five behind the Argentine so it's quite an advantage he enjoys.
Looking at past stats, as far back as 1996, somewhat bizarrely, five-stroke halfway leaders on the European Tour have fared better than six-stroke leaders. Only one of the seven five-stroke 36 hole leaders failed to convert - Michael Campbell at the 2009 English Open - but three of the five six-stroke leaders were beaten. That man Campbell again, at the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in 2001, Ian Poulter at the Turkish Open four years ago and Sam Torrance at the 1996 European Masters.
I've clumped the two together and that gives us 12 occasions that someone has led by five or six strokes, with eight of the 12 converting. If we take those stats literally, Grillo is clearly too big at odds of over 1.84/5 but I don't want to back him.
A player of Grillo's obvious talent should be able to nudge it round for two days and maintain enough of a gap to take the title but there are all sorts of big numbers being racked up here this week (as was the case 12 months ago too) and I can still recall him leading the Africa Open with a round to go in 2014, when he opened up round four with a nine at the par four first! The stats suggest he's a good thing at the price and maybe he is but I'm never keen on taking odds-on about a golfer and I'm even less keen with still two rounds to go around such a devilishly hard course.
Should Grillo have a poor day tomorrow, there are plenty of dangers lurking and we might yet get an exciting finale. I'll look again after the third round but a couple of my picks are on the fringes of contention so I haven't given up yet. I followed Dave Tindall in with his each-way pick, Andrew Johnston, and he's playing some lovely golf.
After a one-under-par 70 on a tricky afternoon on day one of the Valspar Championship, Tiger Woods is the third favourite behind last year's US Masters playoff protagonists, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. It's going to be fascinating to see how he fares in round two and I really hope he kicks on and contends but I'm in no rush to side with him or anyone else towards the head of the market.
As highlighted in the preview, we've seen winners come from miles back at this venue so if you haven't got involved yet, don't be afraid to take a chance on an outsider or two from off the pace. I'm going to wait and see what today brings but I have had a small top-up on Henrik Stenson at 100.099/1. He has the class to get the burners on today and that price will look silly if he does.
Hero Indian Open Pre-Event Selections:
Anirban Lahiri @ 15.5
Andrew Johnston @ 40.039/1
Hideto Tanihara @ 55.054/1
Oliver Fisher @ 95.094/1
Gregory Havret @ 95.094/1
Shubhankar Sharma @ 5.49/2
Valspar Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Henrik Stenson @ 25.024/1
Jason Dufner @ 85.084/1
Ollie Schniederjans @ 95.094/1
Zach Johnson @ 110.0109/1
Bryson DeChambeau @ 130.0129/1
Sean O'Hair @ 42.041/1
Henrik Stenson @ 100.099/1
Sean O'Hair @ 44.043/1
Justin Rose @ 3.711/4
Patrick Reed @ 17.5
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter