There's just one round to go at the Sentry TOC and our man's pre-event pick, Collin Morikawa, looks poised to pounce. Read our man's final in-running thoughts for the week here...
"English has done nothing wrong but it’s hard to win wire-to-wire, he hasn’t won in more than seven years, and he’s only one clear of a major champion who’s in search of his third win in 14 starts."
11:35 - January 10, 2021
After three rounds of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the leaderboard looks very much like it did at halfway. The top-five players through two rounds still occupy the top-five places with Sungjae Im moving up from tied sixth to tied fifth to join them. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:30.
Harris English -21 3.412/5
Ryan Palmer -21 4.3100/30
Collin Morikawa -20 4.1
Daniel Berger -18 12.5
Justin Thomas -17 15.014/1
Sungjae Im -17 32.031/1
Patrick Cantlay -16 46.045/1
Joakim Niemann -16 100.099/1
Billy Horschel -16 100.099/1
-14 and 200.0199/1 bar
The likes of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, who were all on the fringes of contention and trading at less than 20.019/1 at halfway, have all been left behind after the top-five at halfway all shot five-under-par or better on another day of good scoring.
The halfway leader, Harris English, shot an impressive seven-under-par 66, thanks in part to a great par save at the last after his second shot found the hazard, but he's been joined by Ryan Palmer, who shot the round of the week so far, a nine-under-par 64, and my pre-event pick, Collin Morikawa, is lurking menacingly after an eight-under-par 65. He and Palmer towed each-other along brilliantly on the back-nine yesterday. Palmer birdied six of the last seven holes and the only hole that Morikawa failed to match him on was the par four 16th where he missed his birdie attempt from ten feet.
Looking at the historic in-running stats here, we can't look beyond those listed above and it's unlikely that anyone from outside the top-three will take the title. Xander Schauffele shot a remarkable final round of 62 to win from five shots back and tied fourth two years ago but we have to go all the way back to course specialist Stuart Appleby's 2005 victory in windy conditions to find the last winner to be trailing by any more than two strokes with a round to go. In what transpired to be Appleby's second of three consecutive wins, the Aussie shot 67 in round four to win from four adrift.
Given they rank first and second for Putting Average so far this week, if they continue to putt as well today, the two leaders are going to take some shifting.
When interviewed after his third round, Palmer revealed that he started marking his ball with a line four starts ago and that he's putted brilliantly ever since, and English made over 126 feet of putts yesterday alone. Putting is always an important stat at the Plantation Course and that's a concern for their nearest challenger, pre-event 36.035/1 pick, Morikawa, who only ranks 24th for PA so far this week. He's in the van on account of his brilliant iron-play and his ability to save shots around the green. Through three rounds, he ranks first for Scrambling and Sand Saves and third for Greens In Regulation.
Those putting stats are a slight concern but there didn't look to be too much wrong with the flat-stick on the back-nine yesterday and I'm in no rush to lay him just yet at odds in excess of 3/1.
English and Palmer, who both got into the event on account of the fact that they reached last year's Tour Championship, rather than because they won last year on the PGA Tour, are both in search of their first individual wins in a very long while. Palmer won the Zurich Classic alongside Jon Rahm in 2019 but hasn't won an individual PGA Tour event since he claimed the Sony Open 11 years ago and although he won the QBE Shootout for a third time alongside Matt Kuchar last month, English is in search of his third PGA Tour title, more than seven years after his second.
Of the two, I fancy English more than Palmer. He's been in terrific form for a long while, he looks as cool as a cucumber and he doesn't have any controversy to overcome after the third round...
On a day of incident, which saw Justin Thomas quite rightly apologising for using a homophobic slur on the fourth green, Palmer had to justify why he scraped divots away with his foot on the ninth fairway as his ball appeared to roll towards them after a duffed chip.
"I screwed up, I have to be better. I will be better. I deeply apologize to everybody and anybody who was offended."? Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 10, 2021
Justin Thomas has apologized for using a homophobic slur after missing a putt on Saturday: https://t.co/nq1GwsTP6W pic.twitter.com/VEI1P65Cwz
According to the PGA Tour website, rule 11-3 in golf states that while a ball is in motion, you must not deliberately alter physical conditions or lift or move a loose impediment or movable obstruction to affect where the ball might come to rest.
Palmer claimed his actions were in anger after the chunked chip but having watched it live, I thought he might have been in trouble and I suspect the incident may weigh on his mind. Given his poor record in-contention over the last ten years or so, I'd have been against him here anyway, but this can't have helped his cause any.
It's always difficult to gauge how much a pre-event wager effects in-play thoughts and having already got Morikawa onside before the off, I'm questioning myself here but he really does look like the value play at in excess of 3/1 on the exchange.
English has done nothing wrong but it's hard to win wire-to-wire, he hasn't won in more than seven years, and he's only one clear of a major champion who's in search of his third win in 14 starts.
Given how hard it is to make up ground here in benign conditions, that he only trails by a stroke and that he's two clear of Daniel Berger in fourth, at 4.1, Morikawa looks like the obvious play.
13:45 - January 9, 2021
Having ended the first round tied for the lead with Harris English, defending champion, Justin Thomas, was matched at just 2.265/4 after he'd played his first nine holes of round two in four under-par at the Sentry Tournament of Champions yesterday. The world number three looked like he might assume command but a scruffy level par back-nine has left us with an extremely open affair to assess. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 13:40.
Harris English -14 6.25/1
Justin Thomas -12 6.25/1
Collin Morikawa -12 13.012/1
Daniel Berger -12 14.013/1
Ryan Palmer -12 27.026/1
Xander Schauffele -11 13.5
Patrick Reed -11 15.5
Sungjae Im -11 29.028/1
Brendon Todd -11 55.054/1
Dustin Johnson -10 10.5
Bryson DeChambeau -10 19.018/1
Jon Rahm -10 19.5
Patrick Cantlay -10 32.031/1
-10 and 55.054/1 bar
With no wind to speak of, so easily did the Plantation Course play yesterday that the opening hole was the only one to average over-par so Thomas' level-par back-nine was an unexpectedly pedestrian stretch of play.
Along with Daniel Berger, two of my three pre-event picks, Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa, hit the low rounds of the day - eight-under-par 65s - and that's put both back in-the-mix. Morikawa is now tied for second and two off the lead and DJ is tied 10th and only four back.
History tells us that this is a very hard course at which to play catch up so DJ still has plenty to do and English looks a fair price given he leads by two.
Sergio Garcia in 2002 and Stuart Appleby three years later both won from seven adrift at halfway and Xander Schauffele trailed by five two years ago but every other winner here (since 1999) has been within four strokes of the lead through 36 holes and benign weather makes coming from off the pace harder.
Given it's so open and that all three of my pre-event picks are in-contention (Patrick Reed trails by three) I'm going to leave things alone and see what today brings. Although tempted by English, it's seven years since he won and on the last two occasions that he's held a clear lead at halfway he's been beaten. He finished second at the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open, having led by two at halfway, and he finished fifth at the 2019 Mayakoba Golf Classic having led by a stroke.
11:45 - January 8, 2021
The first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions is all done and dusted and the defending champion, Justin Thomas, is back in front. Here's the 18- hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:40.
Justin Thomas -8 3.55
Harris English -8 8.88/1
Patrick Reed -6 11.010/1
Sungjae Im -6 28.027/1
Sergio Garcia -6 38.037/1
Ryan Palmer -6 44.043/1
Robert Streb -6 95.094/1
Nick Taylor -6 150.0149/1
-5 and 18.5 bar
Playing in the final two-ball, Justin Thomas stood on the 13th tee on five-under-par for the round, just two strokes better than his playing partner, Dustin Johnson, but the world number one looked certain to close the gap or even draw level after their respective drives.
Thomas hit an awful tee-shot into the right rough and it was odds-on a lost ball but with seconds to spare, DJ's brother and caddie, Austin, stood on Thomas' ball and it proved to be a highly pivotal moment.
Thomas chipped out backwards on to the fairway before saving par from 37 feet and DJ missed his birdie attempt from close range. DJ then drove into the hazard on 14 before making a bogey five, as Thomas rolled in a birdie to get to -6. And the gap just widened further after that.
DJ's putting wasn't great, and he ended the day on -2, fully six off the lead. And that looks like too much of a deficit given the weather forecast...
Having trailed by six after round one, Patrick Reed lost in a playoff last year and Xander Schauffele won the event in 2019 having trailed by six after the opening round but that looks too far back this year with no significant wind in the forecast.
The Plantation Course isn't a tough track in benign conditions and the scoring is going to be low over the next three days, making it really difficult for anyone to make up ground.
As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, excluding Schauffele's victory two years ago, since Stuart Appleby won from off the pace in windy conditions in 2005, 13 of the 14 winners had been inside the top five places and within two of the lead after round one and the odd man out, Geoff Ogilvy in 2010, was only three off the lead.
Although DJ was a big disappointment, pre-tournament pick, Patrick Reed, finished birdie-eagle to get within touching distance and I've added Sergio Garcia this morning at 40.039/1.
Given the stats here, and the prospect of three relatively benign days ahead, we need to be concentrating on the leaders and Sergio looks over-priced given he's a former winner and that he started slowly yesterday, bogeying both the opening hole and the par four third. He recovered nicely after that, despite not finding as many greens in regulation as he'd have liked so if he can get his irons dialled in a little better, he could very easily be there or thereabouts come Sunday.
Dustin Johnson @ 8.07/1
Patrick Reed @ 19.018/1
Collin Morikawa @ 36.035/1
Sergio Garcia @ 40.039/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter