The Punter's In-Play Blog: Fowler in front but is he vulnerable?

Rickie Fowler – the third round leader in Phoenix
Rickie Fowler – the third round leader in Phoenix

Shubhankar Sharma has won the Maybank Championship on the European Tour, so our man has turned all his attention to the Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour, where Rickie Fowler leads by a stroke with a round to go. Read Steve's final in-play thoughts for the week here...

“Phil Mickelson comfortably converted a six-stroke 54-hole lead in 2013 but seven of the last eight third round leaders have been beaten and Fowler showed yet again yesterday that being right up with the pace isn’t necessarily ideal.”

08:20 - February 04, 2018

Joe Dyer's 60/1 each-way pick, Shubhankar Sharma, has stormed to victory at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia with a ten-under-par 62 final round to win cosily by two over Jorge Campillo. I'll look at that result in tomorrow's de-brief but for now I'm going to concentrate on the Waste Management Phoenix Open where Rickie Fowler assumed command with a late rally in round three. The world number seven birdied 16, 17 and 18 to edge ahead and here are the latest standings with prices to back at 08:15.

Rickie Fowler -14 3.65
Jon Rahm -13 4.67/2
Bryson DeChambeau -13 14.5
Chez Reavie -13 15.5
Daniel Berger -12 13.012/1
Phil Mickelson -12 15.5
Xander Schauffele -12 16.015/1
-10 and 42.041/1 bar

Fowler's late rally yesterday has set up a great chance for redemption after a couple of near misses in the event. He finished runner-up here in 2010 when an emerging star - choosing to lay up on the par five 15th when almost everyone felt he should have gone for the green - and he traded at a low of 1.031/33 before finding water off the tee on the drivable par four 17th two years ago, but the recent stats say being in front at this stage isn't a plus!

Phil Mickelson comfortably converted a six-stroke 54-hole lead in 2013 but seven of the last eight third round leaders have been beaten and Fowler showed yet again yesterday that being right up with the pace isn't necessarily ideal. Having played some immaculate golf over the first two days, with many of the contenders firing in birdies on moving day, Rickie played the first seven holes in one-over-par. He relayed brilliantly late on yesterday and he's three from seven when leading through three rounds worldwide but he's not for me given the damning tournament stats.

Although 54-hole leaders have struggled of late, no winner has been outside the top-six places in over 20 years (as far as I've gone back) so we probably can't go scanning miles down the leaderboard. Many a winner has made up a lot of ground in round three but playing catch-up on a Sunday has been tough and four of the last five winners were sitting second with a round to go.

Given the stats, pre-event pick and world number two, Jon Rahm, looks a tastier price than Fowler at almost a full point bigger and the two players alongside him, Bryson DeChambeau and Chez Reavie, look fairly-priced at 14.5 and 15.5 respectively.

DeChambeau won the John Deere Classic from four adrift last year and his sole win on the Web.Com Tour occurred on the only occasion he led through 54 holes. In addition to those two victories, he moved from fourth to second between rounds three and four at the Puerto Rico Open in March last year (shot 67 in round four) so his in-contention record looks strong.

Reavie won the Canadian Open from the front and he's also won twice from off the pace on the Web.Com Tour but that sole PGA Tour win was nearly ten years ago now and at the prices available, I much prefer DeChambeau.

My scattergun approach at halfway didn't go brilliantly but I do at least now have Mickelson onside at a decent price and I'd love to see him win a fourth title. I'm not sure he should be a shorter price than last year's Tour Championship winner, Xander Schauffele, on the same score though. Alongside those two is Daniel Berger and the market could well be right that he's the most likely of the three to win but I'm only going to add Schauffele and DeChambeau to my portfolio now.

I'm happy to effectively oppose Fowler and to swerve Reavie and Berger at prices I perceive to be on the short side at this stage but I'll be following the event closely later and I'll be looking for trading opportunities should they arise. As highlighted in preview, the par four 17th has a habit of tripping up odds-on shots so keep your eyes peeled for some late drama.

I'll be back tomorrow with the De-Brief.

17:15 - February 03, 2018

As suspected, it was all change at the Maybank Championship after round three and my halfway fancy, Dylan Frittelli, is now tied for the lead with Jorge Campillo. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 17:10.

Dylan Frittelli -15 4.03/1
Jorge Campillo -15 8.07/1
Berry Henson -14 20.019/1
Khalin H Joshi -14 30.029/1
Phachara Khongwatmai -13 20.019/1
Hideto Tanihara -13 20.019/1
Marc Warren -13 23.022/1
Ryo Ishikawa -13 23.022/1
Nino Bertasio -13 27.026/1
Prayad Marksaeng -13 30.029/1
-12 and 30.029/1 bar

Looking at past course results, it's a mixed bag. The last three winners at Saujana have come from off the pace - winning from six, two and three shots adrift - so backing a few outsiders from outside the top-ten may well pay dividends, but if the previous five results are anything to go by, we need to concentrate on the leaders. All five winners sat first or second with a round to go.

Given his three closest rivals are all looking to win on the European Tour for the first time and that he's looking to win for a third time in 24 starts, Frittelli looks a perfectly decent price at 4.03/1. Campillo has got in his own way every time he's had a chance to win and the two players tied for third were huge outsiders before the off.

There are six players two of the lead and eight just three adrift so it's hard to imagine that the frontrunners will be given an easy passage. In addition to Frittelli, I've got Prayad Marksaeng in-the-mix and I've now added Pablo Larrazabal too. The Spaniard shot an immaculate eight-under-par 64 yesterday to get to within three of the lead and I thought he looked a generous price at 50.049/1.

*Please note that the leaders tee-off at 1:50 UK time.

I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with a round to go.

15:45 - February 03, 2018

We've reached the halfway stage of the Waste Management Phoenix Open and it's a close affair with 25 players within four of the lead. Here's the current leaderboard with prices to back at 15:30.

Rickie Fowler -10 3.412/5
Bryson DeChambeau -10 15.5
Daniel Berger -9 9.617/2
Chez Reavie -9 22.021/1
Chesson Hadley -8 30.029/1
Chris Kirk -8 42.041/1
Scott Stallings -8 70.069/1
Jon Rahm -7 9.617/2
Justin Thomas -6 19.018/1
-7 and 38.037/1 bar

Having opened up the event with rounds of 60 and 65, Phil Mickelson converted a four-stroke halfway lead here with ease in 2013 but he's the only 36-hole leader or co-leader to win in ten years and in the last dozen years, we've seen winner here come from four, five, six and even seven times (on three occasions!) so the leaders look vulnerable and Fowler looks short enough to me.

My sole selection, Jon Rahm, was matched at a low of 3.953/1 yesterday but his course management wasn't great late on in the round and he managed to find water twice - off the tee at the par five 15th where he made a bogey six and at par four 17th where he scrambled a brilliant par.

Dave Tindall's Daniel Berger looks nicely placed in a tie for third but I'm happy to scan a bit further down and play five outsiders given the stats.

I'm not convinced that the aging Phil Mickelson will definitely win another PGA Tour title but if he is to do so, from off the pace at a venue he adores makes sense, so he's onside now at 40.039/1.

Byeong-Hun An, another of Dave's fancies, was the 54-hole leader last year and he moved three clear during round four before capitulating late on. I thought he was fairly priced at 40.039/1 too and I've also played Adam Hadwin, Patrick Reed and John Huh at bigger prices.

Hadwin has shown his liking for desert golf at the CareerBuilder Challenge, both last year and this. He shot 59 before finishing second 12 months ago and he finished third there last month. He finished 12th in this tournament 12 months ago and given he's no bigger than 40/1 on the High Street, I thought 55.054/1 was tasty.

Patrick Reed is fully five adrift still but he found his mojo on the back-nine yesterday, playing the last eight holes in five-under-par, and he looked too big to me at 120.0119/1. And I've also thrown a few pounds at John Huh (also on -5 and five back) at a monstrous 480.0479/1

I may add another one or two in-running later or may just assess the situation again after round three but I certainly wouldn't put anyone off trying to catch a few longshots in-play.

I'll be back shortly with a quick look at the Maybank Championship.

16:20 - February 02, 2018

I very rarely look at a tournament at the halfway stage and consider everyone that made the cut to still be in with some sort of chance but that's my conclusion at the Maybank Championship.

Nino Bertasio and young Thai, Phachara Khongwatmai, show the way on 11-under-par but 23 players are within three of the lead and even those that made the cut on the number are only seven adrift. With 81 making the weekend, they've got a lot of traffic to pass but I expect much change tomorrow.

Lee Westwood shot a second round ten-under-par 62 today to move up into a tie for third so we know big moves are possible in the favourable early conditions and the last three course winners have trailed by seven, nine and seven strokes at halfway. Big moves from off the pace are clearly not a rarity.

From just three adrift and tied 14th, I quite like Thai veteran, Prayad Marksaeng, at a triple-figure price, and I've backed last week's fancy, Dylan Frittelli too. The South African has won two of his last 23 starts and at the halfway stage, he tops the Scrambling stats.

David Lipsky, who I backed after round one, is also scrambling well (ranks fifth) but he can't get the putts to drop. He has a Putting Average ranking of 104th so far this week but his luck might change over the weekend. He had umpteen putts shave the hole today and his eagle putt on the 18th did particularly well to avoid the hole - taking a sharp right turn a foot from the hole.

My sole selection before the off, Scott Hend, who missed the cut by a stroke despite birdying his last four holes today, moaned about the greens after round one (see below tweet) so a bit of luck is required on the dance floors. They don't look great so patience is required but it's absolutely wide open and given the leaders tee off at 2:00am UK time, I'm taking it very easy and playing to very small stakes.

I'll be back tomorrow morning with a look at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the halfway stage.

20:40 - February 01, 2018

As so often happens in Malaysia, a weather front moved in to disrupt play at the Maybank Championship today and the first round is yet to be completed. Mike Norman's each-way selection, Chris Paisley, is safely in the house and showing the way on -7 and fellow Englishman, David Horsey, sits in a tie for second on -6. Horsey flew out of the stalls last week too but he fell from second to 22nd over the next three days.

Alongside Horsey is Michael Lorenzo-Vera but he still has a couple of holes of round one to play and then there's a group of six players all tied for fourth that includes Dave Tindall's each-way fancy, David Lipsky.

I'm kicking myself for not backing Lipsky before the off but I've been away for a few days and by the time I got home late last night they'd already kicked off. I see he was generally a 50.049/1 chance on the exchange before the off so I was quite happy top take 20.019/1 this afternoon when he was already safely in the clubhouse.

My sole pre-tournament pick, Scott Hend, is already out of it after a dreadful first round but it's fair to say he wasn't too impressed by the greens!

Having backed the last three winners on the PGA Tour before the off at odds of 85.084/1, 11.010/1 and 26.025/1, I'm pushing my luck to expect a fourth in-a-row but I'm quite confident that this week's sole selection, Jon Rahm, can go very close at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

As shown in Josh Culp's tweet below, everything got on top of Rahm last week but he can relax again now and enjoy playing a course he knows intimately.

Having gone to Arizona State, Rahm has lived close to and played Scottsdale for years and as he's demonstrated in each of his last two victories, in California and Dubai, that his game is really well suited to desert golf.

The first round is far from over yet but at the time of writing, Rahm's opening four-under-par 67 sees him sitting tied for fourth and just one stroke of the lead and I'm happy to stick with what I have there for now.

Maybank Championship Pre-Event Selection:
Scott Hend @ 100.099/1

In-Play Picks:
David Lipsky @ 20.019/1
Dylan Frittelli @ 12.011/1
Prayad Marksaeng @ 120.0119/1
Pablo Larrazabal @ 50.049/1

Waste Management Phoenix Open Pre-Event Selection:
Jon Rahm @ 12.5

In-Play Picks:
Phil Mickelson @ 40.039/1
Byeong-Hun An @ 40.039/1
Adam Hadwin @ 55.054/1
Patrick Reed @ 120.0119/1
John Huh @ 480.0479/1
Bryson DeChambeau @ 14.5
Xander Schauffele @ 16.015/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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