The Punter's In-Play Blog: Can Xander or Jordan buck the trends?

Golfer Xander Schauffele
Xander Schauffele during round two in Phoenix

There's just one round to go at the Phoenix Open and Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth have pulled three clear of the remainder but can either man go on to convert?

“Xander has led or co-led four times previously without winning and it’s very hard to see Jordan repeating yesterday’s miracle round. Can he really keep missing fairways and scoring so well? I have my doubts.”

11:15 - February 7, 2021

On a day of ridiculously low scoring at the Phoenix Open yesterday, Jordan Spieth fired a ten-under 61, despite ranking dead last for Driving Accuracy, and the halfway leader, Xander Schauffele, fired a very impressive six-under-par 65, despite opening the third round four-five-five. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:10.

Xander Schauffele -18 1.991/1
Jordan Spieth -18 3.9
Scottie Scheffler -15 14.5
KH Lee -15 38.037/1
Justin Thomas -14 13.5
Louis Oosthuizen -14 30.029/1
Brooks Koepka -13 46.045/1
James Hahn -13 150.0149/1
Steve Stricker -13 280.0279/1
-12 and 160.0159/1 bar

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, third round leaders have a poor record in this event and with only two of the last 11 converting. That's a poor return and the two that did buck the trends, Phil Mickelson in 2013 and Rickie Fowler two years ago, were six and four shots ahead with a round to go.

Bizarrely, given this event nearly always serves up a tight finish and that four of the last five renewals have gone to a playoff, this is the first time we've seen more than one man at the head of affairs with a round to go since Chis DiMarco and Jonathan Kaye were tied back in 2004 so if we want to follow the trends and take on the 54 hole leader, we're getting two for the price of one this year. And both look opposable.

Xander has led or co-led four times previously without winning and it's very hard to see Jordan repeating yesterday's miracle round. Can he really keep missing fairways and scoring so well? I have my doubts.

I've layed the front two at 2.01/1 and 3.9 and I'll be hoping pre-event pick, Justin Thomas, is the one to catch them.

If looking for alternatives to the two in front, Thomas is the obvious choice but both Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka are interesting contenders. Oosthuizen is not the most reliable in-contention and he'll be better suited to being out of the limelight and Koepka has already won here from off the pace. The four-time major winner's first PGA Tour success came in this event back in 2015 when he won from three off the lead with a round to go, having sat tied 20th and seven adrift at halfway.

And finally, I backed James Hahn yesterday, but he looks very big at around 150.0149/1 this morning. He won on the Korn Ferry Tour and the 2015 Genesis Open from four off the lead and he got into a playoff at the Sony Open in 2018 having trailed by seven with a round to go.

16:30 - February 6, 2021

Dustin Johnson was matched at a low of 1.528/15 as he threatened to ease away form the field on the back nine during round three of the Saudi International today but a double-bogey at the tricky 13th halted progress and he needed a pair of birdies to finish the day to move two clear of the field. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 16:25.

Dustin Johnson -13 1.814/5
Victor Perez -11 14.013/1
Tyrell Hatton -10 12.011/1
Tony Finau -10 13.5
Andy Sullivan -10 25.024/1
Soren Kjeldsen -10 100.099/1
Viktor Hovland -9 22.021/1
Sergio Garcia -9 36.035/1
-9 and 55.054/1 bar

At one point during round three, it looked like DJ and one or two others might pull away and open up a bit of a gap but Johnson's double hampered his progress and a number of other contenders finished really poorly.

I timed a small in-play punt on Kevin Na perfectly given he dropped five strokes in five holes after I'd backed him, my 80.079/1 pre-event pick, Bernd Wiesberger, played his final five holes in three-over-par, having been matched at a low of 6.611/2, and the halfway leaders, Ryan Fox and Stephen Gallacher, both shot over-par rounds. With the exception of Andy Sullivan, all the challengers to DJ with a round to go were outside the top-seven places at halfway and with a two-stroke lead, it's hard to look past the world number one.

DJ has led or co-led with a round to go in a 72 hole stroke-play event 22 times previously and he's gone on to win on 11 occasions so there's a statistical argument that he's a bit short at around 1.84/5 but I'm not in any sort of rush to take him on. This track suits his game perfectly and he's clearly the man to beat.

My Find Me a 100 Winner 120.0119/1 pick, Victor Perez, is his nearest challenger and I'm more hopeful than confident. He was impressive enough when winning the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2019 when the event turned into a duel on Sunday but going head-to-head with DJ is likely to prove somewhat harder than duelling with European Tour maiden, Matthew Southgate and the dangers to DJ are probably sitting three off the lead.

Viktor Hovland is possibly too far back in tied seventh and four off the lead, Tony Finau is notoriously poor in-contention, and the recent Abu Dhabi Championship winner, Tyrrell Hatton, looks the most likely one to worry DJ.

I think Johnson will convert his lead but if he does underperform tomorrow, Hatton is the one most likely to capitalise. He's now an incredibly strong performer in-contention and I was happy to take a very small chance at 12.5.

11:35 - February 6, 2021

A birdie at the par fourth 18th in round two of the Phoenix Open saw Xander Schauffele edge one clear of the field at TPC Scottsdale but with 16 players within four of the lead, it's a tight looking leaderboard. Here's the 36 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:30.

Xander Schauffele -12 2.6813/8
Keegan Bradley -11 16.5
Steve Stricker -11 32.031/1
Scottie Scheffler -10 10.09/1
Sam Burns -10 14.5
KH Lee -10 50.049/1
Nate Lashley -9 90.089/1
Brooks Koepka -8 19.018/1
Billy Horschel -8 34.033/1
Jordan Spieth -8 48.047/1
James Hahn -8 90.089/1
Matthew NeSmith -8 120.0119/1
JT Poston -8 75.074/1
Patton Kizzire -8 70.069/1
Carlos Ortiz -8 44.043/1
Justin Thomas -7 16.015/1
-7 and 44.043/1 bar

In the five years between 1997 and 2001, four 36-hole leaders went on to win the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale but in the 19 years since, only four more have obliged - Phil Mickelson twice (2005 & 2013), JB Holmes (2008) and Rickie Fowler two years ago.

The two playoff protagonists 12 months ago, Webb Simpson and Tony Finau, trailed by five and six strokes respectively at this stage and we've seen a couple of other winners come form a mile back. Brooks Koepka sat tied for 20th and seven shots adrift in 2015 and Hunter Mahan also won from seven back and tied 57th in 2010. I'm in no rush to steam into the leader at less than 2.77/4.

Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, who are both in search of their first wins on the PGA Tour are the most obvious candidates should the leader fail to convert and pre-event pick, Justin Thomas, is still in it according to the market, despite trailing by five. He's had a bizarre couple of days and needs to eliminate the errors. He triple-bogeyed the drivable par four 17th on day one and then opened up round two with a double-bogey six at the tenth yesterday!

Picking a few players off the pace at decent prices looks like a decent way to play the event at this stage and the two I like are Patton Kizzire and James Hahn, although I'll also be keeping an eye on Carlos Ortiz, Nate Lashley and JT Poston in-play.

I'll be back later with a look at the Saudi International after three rounds although Dustin Johnson is threatening to run away from the rest having taken a two-stroke lead at the turn.

08:55 - February 6, 2021

Play resumed as planned at the Saudi International this morning and the halfway stage has been reached. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with approximate odds before the third round began.

Ryan Fox -10 13.012/1
Stephen Gallacher -10 34.033/1
Dustin Johnson -9 2.747/4
Kevin Na -8 17.5
Bernd Wiesberger -8 21.020/1
Andy Sullivan -8 24.023/1
David Horsey -8 80.079/1
Tony Finau -7 13.012/1
Tommy Fleetwood -7 16.015/1
Victor Perez -7 38.037/1
Joost Luiten -7 90.089/1
Marcus Kinhult -7 150.0149/1
Calum Hill -7 150.0149/1
Viktor Hovland -5 21.020/1
Tyrrell Hatton -5 23.022/1
Justin Rose -5 50.049/1
Bryson DeChambeau -5 20.019/1
-6 and 70.069/1 bar

Having won the inaugural event two years ago and having finished second when defending 12 months ago, Dustin Johnson looks perfectly poised at just one off the lead but it's a packed leaderboard with oodles of class and it's an event I'm happy to observe for now.

Viktor Hovland is five off the lead but given he was drawn PM-AM and that - that side of the draw was disadvantaged to the tune of 4.3 strokes, I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see him get closer to the lead today.

It's possibly worth remembering that the first two winners were in front at halfway however, so playing catch-up could be tough. Especially given the very early scoring in round three looks good.

Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen is the early mover in round three and the leaders tee-off at 09:15 UK time. The live Sky coverage begins 15 minutes later and it should make for great viewing.

20:40 - February 5, 2021

The threat of lightening caused a two-hour suspension of play at the Saudi International today and they'll be back in the morning to finish off the second round with some players having as many as eight holes to play.

New-Zealander, Ryan Fox, who bogeyed the final hole of his second round, holds the clubhouse lead on -10 but Scotland's Stephen Gallacher is alongside him with still six to play.

Bryson DeChambeau, who was at the head of the market after an opening five-under-pat 65, struggled today and he's currently on +1 for the day and in a tie for 24th but it was a different story for fellow American and world number one, Dustin Johnson, who cruised through the field with consummate ease.

With four holes left to play of his second round, DJ trails by only two strokes and he understandably heads the market.

I'm going to leave this one alone and I'll try and return in the morning with a snapshot of the halfway stage, It's a congested leaderboard and a bit of a confusing picture given we've only got two renewals to look back on but it's perhaps worth remembering that both previous winners, DJ and Graeme McDowell, were in front at halfway.

The second round of the Phoenix Open is well underway and 53-year-old Ryder Cup captain, Steve Stricker is tied for the lead with Keegan Bradley but Dave Tindall's 200/1 fancy, Matthew NeSmith, who led after round one, has only just started his second round and he trails by just two.

I'll be back in the morning with a more detailed look at the halfway stage.

15:30 - February 4, 2021

The first round of the Saudi International has ended and with a differential between the AM and PM starters of 2.4 strokes, the early leaderboard is dominated by those that played this morning.

The coverage on Sky has now finished and they've moved on to the early Featured Groups at this week's PGA Tour event - the Phoenix Open - which I've previewed here and it's a good job because I'm fed up chuntering to myself.

The team on Sky generally do a really good job but it infuriates me how they just keep saying the draw will even itself out, or that the stagger will unwind, without looking at the forecast. It's so misleading.

According to the Windfinder forecast, which I find extremely accurate, tomorrow's morning starters are NOT going to enjoy the same conditions that today's early starters did.

As highlighted in the Find Me a 100 Winner column, the forecast always suggested an advantage to those drawn AM-PM and unless the forecast is wrong, that's how it's going to pan out.

As expected, the wind picked up steadily throughout the afternoon today but it looks very consistent tomorrow and if anything, it's going to blow harder in the morning than it is in the afternoon.

Despite the draw, and probably in error, I threw a few pounds at Christiaan Bezuidenhout as he finished up his round today at 50.049/1, in the hope he'd birdie at least one of his last two holes - the short par four 17th and the par five 18th - but unfortunately he didn't and when he returns to the course in the morning he'll have seven strokes to find on the early leader, David Horsey.

The 35-year-old Englishman threatened to break 60 this morning after a hot run on the back nine which saw him make seven birdies in eight holes but he could only par the 18th.

A stroke behind Horsey on -8 is Scotland's Stephen Gallacher and one of my pre-event picks, Bernd Wiesberger, is alone in third on -6 with Bryson DeChambeau lurking one further shot back in the group of six on -5.

Dustin Johnson, who finished first and second in the first two editions, ended his day on -3, alongside my two Find Me a 100 Winner picks, Victor Perez and Lee Westwood, but he played better than his score suggests and he'd have been much closer to Horsey if the putter had behaved.

Saudi International Pre-Event Selections:
Matt Wallace @ 80.079/1
Bernd Wiesberger @ 85.084/1

In-Play Picks:
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ 50.049/1
Kevin Na @ 7.26/1
Tyrrell Hatton @ 12.5

Phoenix Open Pre-Event Selections:
Justin Thomas @ 11.521/2
Webb Simpson @ 20.019/1

In-Play Picks:
Patton Kizzire @ 75.074/1
James Hahn @ 95.094/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:

Saudi International
Back Victor Perez 1 ½ u @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 8.07/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Victor Perez 1 u First Round Leader @ 80.079/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Lee Westwood 1 ½ u @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 8.07/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Phoenix Open
Back Brendan Steele 1 ½ u @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 8.07/1 & 8u @ 2.01/1
Back Keith Mitchel ½ u @ 500.0499/1
Back Keith Mitchel 1u each-way @ 250/1 (Sportsbook)
Place order to lay 10u 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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