With bad weather forecast, play has been brought forward for the final round of the Shell Houston Open today where Sung-Hoon Kang leads by three. Read Steve's final in-running thoughts on the tournament here...
“I’m hoping that Russell Henley can go low and put the heat on the two above him but Fowler is the value ahead of today’s final round. He’s won the Wells Fargo Championship and the Players Championship from three adrift with a round to go and I’m a little surprised to see him so big on the exchange given he’s no bigger than 6/4 on the High Street.”
10:30 - April 2, 2017
For the second day in-a-row, Rickie Fowler finished his round poorly and after dropping three strokes over the last two holes, Dave Tindall's each-way selection trails Sung-Hoon Kang by three strokes going in to today's fourth and final round. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 10:20.
Sung-Hoon Kang -17 2.35/4
Rickie Fowler -14 2.915/8
Russell Henley -13 6.611/2
Luke List -12 17.016/1
-8 and 270.0269/1 bar
Sung-Hoon Kang was matched at just 1.594/7 yesterday after he'd birdied two of his first four holes but bogeys at five and seven followed and he did well to compose himself in tricky conditions to shoot under-par for the day after that. It's never easy to lead and for someone looking to get off the mark on the PGA Tour it's even harder so his one-under-par 71 was a decent enough effort but with Rickie Fowler flying, it wasn't good enough to keep him out in front on his own...
Given the tricky conditions, Fowler played some incredible golf and he'd caught the Korean by the 14th to go odds-on himself. Rickie hit a low of 1.4640/85 after he'd raced to eight-under-par for the day after just 14 holes as punters were confident he'd pass Kang and power away to the winning line but his finish was tardy. A bogey at the tricky 17th was followed by a four-putt double-bogey at 18 but he seemed philosophical enough when talking to Sky's Tim Barter afterwards.
"There was a lot of good. Still in a great spot for tomorrow, put everything behind us and go win the golf tournament."
And I fancy he might just do that. I'm hoping that Russell Henley can go low and put the heat on the two above him but Fowler is the value ahead of today's final round. He's won the Wells Fargo Championship and the Players Championship from three adrift with a round to go and I'm a little surprised to see him so big on the exchange given he's no bigger than 6/4 on the High Street.
Kang has to head the market with a three-stroke lead but he's a long way from home given how big the prize is and he looks vulnerable to me, provided they even play.
With some really bad weather forecasted to hit today, the organisers have moved play forward and the event is scheduled to tee-off at 7.15 local time (13.15pm UK and Ireland), with the leaders out at 9.05am (15.05pm). It's entirely feasible that the weather front hits early today and the event could yet get reduced to 54-holes but if they do get started OK, it's live on Sky Sports 4 from 15:30.
I'll be back tomorrow with a look back at this tournament and I'll be back this evening with my US Masters preview.
11:35 - April 1, 2017
Day two of the Shell Houston Open was something of a strange affair with the likes of Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scot, Patrick Reed and J.B Holmes all missing the cut. They'll be relieved to be missing the wild and windy weather forecasted over the weekend and especially all the rain on Sunday and I can't help but wonder how hard those around the cut mark would have tried. Especially those playing in next week's US Masters.
The main story wasn't the big names missing out on weekend employment though; the day belonged to Korea's Sung-Hoon Kang, who remarkably holed putts totalling more than 200 feet! It all added up to a bogey-free nine-under-par 63, to follow Thursday's fabulous 65, and he leads the event by six having set the 36 hole tournament scoring record. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 11:30.
Sung-Hoon Kang -16 2.568/5
Russell Henley -10 7.06/1
Hudson Swafford -10 12.011/1
Rickie Fowler -9 6.411/2
-8 and 29.028/1 bar
Kang is the ninth player to lead by six strokes at halfway on the PGA Tour in the last 20 years and of the previous eight, only three were beaten - although I'm tempted to ignore one of them.
Chris DiMarco was six strokes clear of the field at The International in 2004 but that now defunct tournament used the Modified Stapleford scoring system. For the record, DiMarco shot 77-78 over the weekend and he finished sixth but I'm not convinced we should give it as much credence as the others.
The five winners were Tim Herron (1996 Honda Classic), Tiger Woods (2000 US Open), Phil Mickelson (2006 BellSouth Classic), Rory McIlroy (2011 US Open) and Martin Kaymer (2014 US Open) and the two others to get beat were Darren Clarke at The Heritage in 2005 and Jhonattan Vegas at the Barbasol Championship last July.
It's striking that three of those six-stroke leads came at the US Open and it makes me wonder if the stats are worthwhile. Having experienced top-class players clear in a major championship isn't comparable to the situation we have here. Kang hasn't won outside of Korea before and it's impossible to see him repeating the heroics of the first two days. If I knew for sure that the tournament would be played out over four rounds I'd be tempted to take him on at around the 6/4 mark but the weather forecast is a huge spanner in the works.
With the US Masters starting on Thursday, the PGA will be desperate for this event to be done and dusted before Monday but tomorrow's forecast looks grim. Without knowing their plans, we're all in the dark and if the tournament got reduced to three rounds Kang's current price would look generous.
I'm not going to be around to watch the event live tonight so I'm being very cautious. I'll shout on Russell Henley, who I backed before the off, and Aaron Baddeley (on -8), who I backed yesterday, and hope that they get 72 holes in but even if I was about I'm not sure I'd get involved.
Kang is a great price if they only play 54 holes but a poor one if it's 72. I suspect they'll try their utmost to get all four rounds in and that Kang is probably too short at present but I don't want to lay him and then hear it's been reduced, hours after I get in from a night out.
I'll be back tomorrow with another look but before I go, some thoughts on how the market could be traded this evening...
If you've backed Kang and you're considering whether to lay anything back later, and they haven't declared whether it's a three or four round tournament and the weather forecast still looks dodgy, wait until the completion of round three as any trades struck after won't stand if there's no more play.
Conversely, it may be worth backing the leader just before the end of round three on the exchange because if the event gets reduced to 54 holes tomorrow you'd get paid out as a winner. It's a bit of a messy situation and someone's going to get upset somewhere along the line if it gets reduced but there isn't any way around it. If you are going to try that approach however, do bear in mind that the market might factor all that in and if the event does go the distance the leader will drift so you may decide to lay the leader back, soon after the completion of round three.
It's a bit of a minefield and I'm quite pleased I'm going out. Good luck!
11:10 - March 31, 2017
With less than a week to go before the US Masters, many of the leading contenders are warming up for the year's first major at the Shell Houston Open and the big market mover for the Augusta showpiece yesterday was Dave Tindall's pick for this week, Rickie Fowler. His opening bogey-free 64 at the Golf Course of Houston saw him move 10 points in the US Masters market, from 36.035/1 to 26.025/1, and at less than 3/1, he's a very firm favourite for this event now.
Anyone looking at that and thinking it's a short price, with so much of the event remaining, may want to think again. If his previous results when he's led or co-led after round one are anything to go by, then Rickie's going nowhere. He's sat atop of the leaderboard four times previously in his career and he's finished inside the top-two places every time. His very first professional victory came at the Kolon Korea Open in 2011, after he'd sat tied for the lead after round one, and he's finished runner-up at the Memorial Tournament, the Australian PGA and the Phoenix Open when he's led or co-led through 18 holes.
This isn't what I'd describe as a front runners course and some of the winners and beaten playoff protagonists have started quite slowly, although no winner as opened up with anything worse than 70. Phil Mickelson, when he won in 2011, sat 33rd and seven adrift after round one and last year's winner, Jim Herman, sat 32nd and five back, so we can scan quite a way down the leaderboard for contenders this morning.
I wouldn't put anyone of Fowler but given he's playing in the afternoon today, when there's forecast to be a fraction more wind than in the morning, I'm happy to let him go for now. The 2015 winner, JB Holmes, who I backed on Monday at 50.049/1, shot a disappointing one-over-par 73 yesterday but my other four all fared quite well with Russell Henley, on -5 and three off the lead, the best of the four. I'm happy enough with how they've all started but I have added three more to the portfolio...
I've followed Paul Krishnamurty in on Vaughn Taylor, who sits alongside Henley on five-under-par, and I've added two big-priced Aussies - Aaron Baddeley and Geoff Ogilvy - who both trail Fowler by four. Australians have a great record at this venue and given they're both multiple winners that have started nicely; I thought they looked worth chancing.
J.B Holmes @ 50.049/1
Russell Henley @ 60.059/1
Billy Horschel @ 75.074/1 (average)
D.A Points @ 200.0199/1
Cameron Tringale @ 250.0249/1
Vaughn Taylor @ 85.084/1
Aaron Baddeley @ 160.0159/1
Geoff Ogilvy @ 250.0249/1
Rickie Fowler @ 2.9215/8
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