Rahm & Spieth hot on his heels
Final round a Sunday prelude to Super Bowl LVII
11:45 February 12, 2023
Excellent news: after the best part of a fortnight playing catch-up the PGA Tour is back on track and the forecast is set fair for the final round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.
Even better, although it's not going to be particularly strong, a wind of about 15mph should add a touch of Sunday spice.
We've also got a fine leaderboard with plenty of star quality and intriguing tales behind each of them.
After rounds of 68-64-68 Scottie Scheffler leads by two on 13-under 202 as he seeks to successfully defend the title - his first on the PGA Tour - he won last year.
He owns a curious record with 54 hole leads.
He didn't convert the first two he had on the PGA Tour but through no great fault of his own - he broke par in the final round both times. The next occasion was the Masters last April which he won, his fourth victory in six starts.
He suddenly seemed a different beast in the final round. But when leading by two at Colonial last June he carded a 2-over-par 72 to miss out to Sam Burns and a 3-over-par 73 at East Lake saw him lose a grip on the Tour Championship.
The flipside of that is that he's 45-under through his last 11 rounds at TPC Scottsdale. He's available at 2.3211/8.
Jon Rahm and Nick Taylor share second on 11-under. The Spaniard is the clear second favourite on 4.1 as he chases a fifth win in seven starts and a first triumph in Arizona, a state he refers to as his American home after attending college there.
Taylor is set to land a first tournament top 40 in his ninth start and attributes the turnaround to his relocation to Scottsdale and his relatively new claw grip on the putter. He's 23.022/1.
His fellow Canadian Adam Hadwin is a further shot back and priced 32.031/1 by a market which recalls he was seventh at this stage last year before carding a 74 that left him 26th.
Sat alongside him is our in-play pick Jordan Spieth who is now 15.5.
He completed a second round 63 yesterday morning, ground out a third round 69, has a course low score of 61 in his bank and has carded a final round 65 in the past. We're on him at 32.031/1 and will stick with that situation.
Can we look beyond the top five?
The five players sharing sixth are all good - Tyrrell Hatton, Sungjae Im, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Xander Schauffele - but I can't see the elite trio all struggling which means those chasers will need to push and keep going to post a low score.
I'll be back tomorrow with the Punter's De-Brief reviewing both the WM Phoenix Open and another dramatic finale on the DP World Tour in Singapore.
14.10 February 11, 2023
It was a tricky Saturday in the Singapore Classic with just two of the 15 players in the final three-balls breaking 70 - and that pair both carded 69s.
In contrast, the sixth-last group out included Find Me a 100 Winner pick Jeunghun Wang and Alejandro del Rey who both recorded 66s to leap into a share of the 54 hole lead on 14-under 202.
And, nearly two hours before the halfway leaders returned to the scorer's hut, Richard Mansell logged a 65 that leaves him alone in third, one shot behind the new pace-setters.
Wang, priced 4.84/1, has experience of leading with 18 holes to play - and history of hanging around. Five times he has been leading or sharing the lead, every time he ended the week second or better, twice he won, but both times he had a significant advantage (three and seven shots).
He's also won from both one and three shots back of the lead so he's used to the heat of final round battle and is using perspective at the moment, as he continues his return to action following national service.
"When I'm feeling bad or sad," he said after the third round, "I always think about military service and then I feel better."
Our initial lay at 10.09/1 has been matched, the second remains at 2.01/1.
Del Rey said "this is a course I've liked since the first day" and has won on the third and second tier when leading with 18 holes to play (his only experience of that situation on the top three tiers).
He's looking to improve on a DP World Tour best of ninth in the 2021 Canary Island Championship so Sunday is a big opportunity and new ground for him. He's 6.411/2.
Mansell (5.85/1) has twice been second with a round to go on the main tour and led last year's Dunhill Links Championship by four at this stage.
He's still seeking a first win and admitted that he's been fighting his game a little recently: "I've used more energy and stress than I would have liked to."
This trio will be chased by Tom McKibbin, Nathan Kimsey, Sami Valimaki and Marcel Schneider on 12-under, plus Andy Sullivan, Paul Waring and Matthieu Pavon a further shot back.
I was most tempted by Sullivan at 30.029/1 who has won from both seven and three shots back (he's currently the latter), but his last 22 examples of trailing by between one and four stokes have yet to reap a win.
Instead, I'm going to settle with having Wang onside.
Note that they start early with the threat of heavy rain and lightning in the forecast.
10:20 February 11, 2023
We've had two days at the WM Phoenix Open but the field is yet to complete the opening two rounds as the weather continues to throw curveballs at PGA Tour officials.
Nonetheless, Friday certainly witnessed excellent action in sometimes very blustery conditions.
The best golf of all came from the defending champion Scottie Scheffler who thrashed a bogey-free 7-under 64 to set a 36 hole clubhouse target of 10-under 132.
He made birdies at 17 and 18 and it really ought to have been three-in-a-row to close but look at how gusting the wind was at the 16th:
Scheffler is now the 3.39/4 favourite, just ahead of Jon Rahm at 4.47/2.
The Spaniard added a 66 to his opening 68 to grab solo second two blows behind the leader as he seeks to turn consistent tournament form (seven top 20s) into a first genuine tilt at the title (and improve on his best finish of fifth).
There is plenty of potential for things to change on the front page when play resumes early on Saturday. Adam Hadwin is alongside Rahm through 10 holes while Sungjae Im is 7-under for the week (through 12).
And a trio of big names might also get involved: Xander Schauffele is 6-under through 12, Jordan Spieth 5-under through 12 and Rory McIlroy 3-under through 13. The latter two are both 5-under for their second laps.
Naturally, the market views Schauffele the main threat at 7.613/2, Spieth is 32.031/1 while McIlroy opened the week 10.519/2, was 60.059/1 after round one, has been matched as high as 190.0189/1 and is now 26.025/1.
I'm going to add Spieth to the in-play picks. He's got a 5'2" birdie putt awaiting him first thing with the par-5 15th and short par-4 17th to come.
Only Scheffler is gaining more strokes on the field with approach play and the Texan is a three-time top-10 finisher at Scottsdale who carded a third round 61 when fourth two years ago.
A little nugget for you ahead of the third round: the last tournament winner to not break 70 in the third round was Tom Lehman in 2000 and of the 24 champions since then no less than 18 went sub-68.
I'll give the market a chance to settle and solidify before coming back this afternoon with a pre-final round look at the Singapore Classic.
12:30 February 10, 2023
The weather gods are really not on golf's side at the moment with torrential rain causing a break in play at the Singapore Classic which means that, after two days of action, the second round is not quite complete (the last groups out have five holes to play first thing tomorrow).
There is potential for a big weekend story, however.
First round leader Tom McKibbin added a 69 to his opening 64 to claim the clubhouse lead on 11-under and is available at 10.519/2.
Hailing from the same club (Holywood) as Rory McIlroy the 20-year-old will attract headlines but so, too, would a win for the man (slash boy) currently tied with him - Chinese amateur Wenyi Ding.
The 18-year-old won last year's US Amateur, enjoyed stunning returns on the China Tour in 2021 (seven starts, all top five including one win) and he made the cut in the strong Saudi event last week.
He is now 5-under through 13 holes with two (yes, two) eagle-2s on his second round card. He's priced 16.015/1.
Sat one blow behind this youthful pair are the German Marcel Schneider and England's Andy Sullivan, both of whom have completed their 36 holes, priced 12.5 apiece.
It looks wide open at the moment but the market continues to lack substance so I'm sticking with Find Me a 100 Winner pick Jeunghun Wang who is currently sharing fifth and two shots back of the lead with one hole to play of his pre-cut lap.
Main Each-Way selection Antoine Rozner is 31st after a level-par second round. Excruciatingly, only one man above him in the scoring didn't break par.
09:50 - February 10, 2023
After the weather disruptions of the last two weeks on the main tours across the world it was perhaps no surprise that there were more problems in the WM Phoenix Open.
They were nowhere near as significant as in Dubai and at Pebble Beach but frost in the desert delayed the start of the first round and it remained unfinished by evening.
A picture has emerged however and principally in the fate of the pre-tournament favourites.
Rory McIlroy, who was matched between 10.09/1 and 11.010/1 (for over £85,000) before the off needed 73 blows and is now sitting outside the cut line. He can be backed at 60.059/1.
He did hit one great shot though -
Alongside him on 2-over are last year's runner-up Patrick Cantlay and Collin Morikawa, now 170.0169/1 and 120.0119/1 respectively. Justin Thomas is faring only a little better on 1-over through 12 (50.049/1).
In contrast, two stars who have never finished outside the top 20 at TPC Scottsdale are thriving again.
Jon Rahm (who despite that consistency is yet to finish better than the fifth he landed on debut when still an amateur) is 3-under through 13 holes and the clear favourite at 4.67/2.
Xander Schauffele (who has been second and third in his last two visits) carded an early wave 4-under 67 and is now 7.613/2.
He trails the Canadian pace-setters who posted 66s: Nick Taylor (available at 80.079/1) and Adam Hadwin (25.024/1). The latter was on the top page of the leaderboard through 54 holes last year before falling away with a Sunday 74; the former has a tournament best finish of 49th from eight previous visits.
Aussie Jason Day is maintaining his good run of form. Seventh last time out at Torrey Pines he is 4-under through 10 and now 16.5. He was 20th on his event debut in 2008 but in three returns since then failed to break the top 50.
I'm going to add Viktor Hovland to the mix. He missed the cut on his course debut last year but he twice missed the cut at El Camaleon before winning back-to-back.
He's 1-under through 12, facing an 18-foot birdie putt, with two par-5s and a short par-4 to come in his first round. This test suits a player who gets on a roll via aggressive ball-striking and he's shown in the past he's up to that (he's also won in the desert albeit Dubai). I like him at the current 29.028/1.
11:30 - February 9, 2023
Emboldened by making his first cut of 2023 last week - and carding a third round 67 to celebrate - Northern Irishman Tom McKibbin scored eight birdies in a bogey-free 64 that earned him the first round lead in the Singapore Classic.
The Classic Course at Laguna National is sometimes known as 'The Beast' but not for this 20-year-old who said afterwards: "The course is pretty tricky if you find the wrong spots on the greens but I navigated it well. I played nicely last week and it's nice to continue that form."
McKibbin has been tipped by Padraig Harrington to "win quick" on the main tour but the youngster is in new territory. Coincidentally, his only previous professional experience of leading at the end of a round came last February in the Cape Town Open when he was clear after 36 and 54 holes before finishing third.
The market is a little lacking in substance currently but McKibbin, backed between 140.0139/1 and 170.0169/1 before the off is now 12.5.
Four players are lined up one shot behind him after 65s: the Frenchman Mathieu Pavon (who rebounded from a poor final round when in-contention last week and is 13.5), Sami Valimaki (the fourth time in eight seasonal starts that he has been top five after 18 holes, he is 11.521/2) plus two Swedes, Joakim Lagergren 13.5 and Simon Forsstrom 29.028/1.
The ultra-consistent Jordan Smith shot a 67 to share ninth and heads the betting on 10.519/2.
My top selection in the Each-Way Preview Antoine Rozner and Find Me a 100 Winner pick Jeunghun Wang both emulated Smith's score to now be 12.5 and 40.039/1. I'll stick with those and wait for the market to form before adding any in-play options.
Despite that nickname, there was plenty of low scoring but, should the wind get up, it does look like a trappy test. We could be in for another fun DP World Tour weekend.
Note: Steve didn't make selections this week so I have noted mine and Dave Tindall's from the Each-Way columns below.
My Singapore Classic Pre-Event Selections:
Antoine Rozner @ 29.028/1
Rafa Cabrera Bello @ 51.050/1
John Catlin @ 67.066/1
Dave Tindall's WM Phoenix Open Pre-Event Selections:
Tom Kim @ 29.028/1
Rickie Fowler @ 51.050/1
Erik Van Rooyen @ 251.0250/1
Viktor Hovland @ 29.028/1
Jordan Spieth @ 32.031/1
Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back 2u Si Woo Kim @ 150.0149/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back 1u Garrick Higgo @ 450.0449/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4
Back 2u Jeunghun Wang @ 100.099/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
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