The Punter's In-Play Blog: Mitchell might just take some stopping

Golfers Keith Mitchell
Keith Mitchell - the third round leader at Quail Hollow

After another absorbing day in Charlotte, the Wells Fargo Championship is poised for a fascinating finale. Can Keith Mitchell convert from the front or will we see another Quail Hollow closer?

"Rory has won just four of the last 13 events in which he’s been either one or two strokes off the lead with a round to go and on the last four occasions he’s sat first, second or third he’s shot 73, 73, 76 and 72 to finish fourth, fifth, fifth and third."

12:20 - May 9, 2021

Keith Mitchell shot the best round of the day at the Wells Fargo Championship yesterday - a five-under-par 66 - and he takes a two stroke-lead into today's fourth and final round. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 12:15.

Keith Mitchell -9 3.65
Rory McIlroy -7 3.45
Gary Woodland -7 7.26/1
Luke List -7 15.5
Scott Stallings -5 42.041/1
Satoshi Kodaira -5 70.069/1
Viktor Hovland -4 21.020/1
Patrick Reed -4 27.026/1
-4 and 36.035/1 bar

Apart from a poor final round last week, when it transpired that he played with a bent putter, when shooting 82 at the Valspar, Keith Mitchell has hit form and he might just take some stopping.

He won the Honda Classic impressively two years ago, having trailed by a stroke after three rounds, and two-stroke 54-hole leaders on the PGA Tour have a better record than his odds imply.

His odds look fair at first glance but as highlighted in the In-Play tactics section of the preview, this is a tough place to make the running and third round leaders have an ordinary record.

The last two tournament winners, Max Homa and Jason Day, were in front after three rounds. Homa was tied with two others and Day was two clear, but in the seven events here prior to Day's victory, only two were won by the 54-hole leader or co-leader and the 2015 edition was won by course specialist, Rory McIlroy, who led by four.

Like Mitchell, and the 2018 winner, Day, Zach Johnson (2009) and Billy Mayfair (2010) both led this event by two with a round to go and both finished outside the top-ten. They were poor final round performances but the prize for the worst effort by a third round leader here goes to Sergio Garcia who managed to get beat in extra time in having led by six in 2005!

McIlroy won his first PGA Tour title here in 2010 by four strokes, having trailed by four with one round to play, and we've witnessed four players take the title from three back.

Understandably, Rory is the market leader with a round to go but he makes little appeal at the price. As detailed yesterday, he's only just changed coaches so there must be a concern that his swing may not hold up under extreme pressure and he doesn't have the greatest or records in-contention of late anyway...

Rory has won just four of the last 13 events in which he's been either one or two strokes off the lead with a round to go, on the last four occasions he's sat first, second or third he's shot 73, 73, 76 and 72 to finish fourth, fifth, fifth and third and as the tweet below demonstrates perfectly, he can't be relied upon to deliver on a Sunday.

I backed Woodland modestly yesterday and he looks a fair price still, so I'll be cheering him on but other than that, I'm scratching my head. Mitchell looks a fair price but I'm happy not to get any further involved. The record of 54-hole leaders puts me off and as fascinating as the final round looks, it doesn't appear to be a tournament to get stuck into financially. I'm sticking with what I have, even though it isn't much.

23:00 - May 8, 2021

Pre-event favourite, Garrick Higgo, birdied the last four holes of his third round today at the Canary Islands Championship to take a two-stroke lead into tomorrow's final round and he's a warm favourite to win his second event in two weeks, having successfully converted a two-shot lead at the Gran Canaria Open a fortnight ago. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 22:40.

Garrick Higgo -20 1.695/7
Richard Mansell -18 7.26/1
Calum Hill -17 8.415/2
Andrew Johnston -15 30.029/1
Maverick Antcliff -15 44.043/1
Tapio Pulkkanen -15 70.069/1
-14 and 90.089/1 bar

When Higgo won two weeks ago he was the third consecutive two-stroke 54-hole leader to convert on the European Tour, following victories for Dustin Johnson in Saudi Arabia and Justin Harding in Kenya.

He was a 2/1 shot before the final round a fortnight ago so he's considerably shorter this time around and given the stats, he's arguably too short.

Since 1996, 174 players have taken a two-stroke lead into round four of a European Tour event and 77 went on to convert. That equates to a 44% strike rate suggesting odds of around 1.75/7 are short enough about Higgo but there are other factors to consider.

The 21-year-old South African is in tremendous form, he has the confidence of a very recent three-shot margin win to draw upon, and he only has two players within five strokes of his lead. When he won the Gran Canaria Open, he had five players within three with a round to go.

It's also worth highlighting what a huge deal a victory would be tomorrow for his two closest pursuers...

Sitting alone in second, Richard Mansell, a pre-event 130.0129/1 chance, is looking to win on the European Tour for the first time in just his ninth event. He's won once on the Europro Tour and he's already finished second on both the Challenge Tour and the European Tour (last year's Euram Bank Open) so the 26-year-old has some experience of being in-the-mix.

Pre-tournament 42.041/1 chance, Calum Hill, missed the cut here last week but the 26-year-old Scotsman was in fine form before that with form figures reading 4-MC-8-3-29 and with three Challenge Tour wins already under his belt, he's arguably more likely to press the leader than Mansell tomorrow.

Andrew Johnston is the most likely winner from five back but it's now more than five years since his sole success on the European Tour (the 2016 Open de Espana) and I'm happy to stick with the leader having backed him at the halfway stage at 5.24/1. He was very impressive when winning two weeks ago and I fancy him to go in again.

The third round of the Wells Fargo Championship is just drawing to a close and I'll be back tomorrow with a look at that one. Last week's Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Keith Mitchell, has hit the front, which is obviously extremely irritating, but Rory McIlroy still heads the market.

13:00 - May 8, 2021

In stark contrast to the Canary Islands Championship (currently live on Sky), which hasn't captured my imagination, this week's PGA Tour event has been a joy.

Staged at the magnificent Quail Hollow, the Wells Fargo Championship looks a really tough tournament to call but it's been a fascinating watch already. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 12:50.

Matt Wallace -6 8.615/2
Gary Woodland -6 10.09/1
Patrick Rodgers -6 20.019/1
Kramer Hickok -5 46.045/1
Rory McIlroy -4 6.611/2
Carlos Ortiz -4 22.021/1
Keith Mitchell -4 36.035/1
Scott Stallings -4 55.054/1
Scott Piercy -4 65.064/1
Abraham Ancer -3 19.5
Bubba Watson -3 26.025/1
Phil Mickelson -3 50.049/1
Luke List -3 60.059/1
-2 and 25.024/1 bar

The leaderboard is dominated by players drawn PM-AM over the first two days and that's understandable given that side of the draw enjoyed an advantage of 2.07 strokes.

The top-four at the halfway stage all started on Thursday afternoon and Carlos Ortiz and Scott Stallings are the only two inside the top-nine that began the tournament on Thursday morning but despite the disparity in the scores, we have a very congested leaderboard with as many as 40 players within five of the lead.

Quail Hollow member and two-time former winner, Rory McIlroy, now heads the market after a five-under-par 66 in round two but can he be relied upon to build on yesterday's round?

Rory's been working with Pete Cowen since he finished tied for 10th at the Players Championship in March so he could be described as a work in progress. It's rare that a player, even as good as Rory, can move coaches and find consistency within months so I'm happy to swerve him. Although I'd happily be wrong.

Rory back to his best would be great for the game and if he does find consistency over the weekend, keep an eye on the USPGA Championship market. The year's second major starts a week on Thursday and we're back to the 2012 venue, Kiawah Island, where Rory romped top an eight-stroke victory. Still available at 19.018/1, he'll be a single-figure price on Monday if he wins here.

Rory working with Cowen has actually benefited the player I like best at this stage, the co-leader, Gary Woodland.

Cowen being around to help Rory has given Woodland an opportunity to reconnect with his coach and he sounded incredibly confident about his game when interviewed after his round yesterday.

I tend to take what players say about the state of their game with a pinch of salt as they, quite rightly, need to talk it up and stay confident but Woodland sounded especially ebullient, saying he knew he'd play well this week before the tournament had started.

There's obviously a risk it could all unravel today but I thought he was a fair price at 10.09/1, and that he made far more appeal than Matt Wallace at 8.615/2 on the same score. Woodland is looking to win his fifth PGA Tour title and his first since he won the US Open almost two years ago, whereas Wallace is seeking his first success on American soil.

Woodland was in front at halfway at Pebble Beach when he won his major so he's reliable enough in-contention and if one of the leading four is going to go on and take the title, he'd be my idea of the most likely to do so.

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, it's possible to win from off the pace here and Rory famously won from nine back at halfway in 2010. That explains why class-acts Viktor Hovland and Justin Thomas are trading at just 28.027/1 and 32.031/1, despite trailing by five and six shots respectively. This is wide open.

My pre-event pick, Bubba Watson, holds every chance from three back and Find Me a 100 Winner picks, Phil Mickelson and Matt Jones, can't be ruled out either. Lefty lost his way badly on the back nine yesterday but he hit the first lay back target and he's still only three off the lead. And after a nice finish to his second round, Jones is only four back.

Other than a small bet on Woodland, who looks fractionally big at 10.09/1, I'm happy to leave the event alone for now and see what today brings.

10:20 - May 8, 2021

The third round of the Canary Islands Championship is already underway and it's live on Sky from 11:30 UK time, with the leaders teeing off half-an-hour earlier but it's an event I'm struggling to enjoy.

This is the second week in-a-row that the Golf Costa Adeje has been used for a European Tour event, following Dean Burmester's 25-under-par romp to victory last week in the Tenerife Open, and as far as I'm concerned, it's one week too many.

I couldn't muster up much enthusiasm for what's a carbon copy of last week's birdie-fest before the off and it's a dull event to watch but I do at least think there's a fair bet to be had...

Adri Arnaus finished his second round with six birdies in his last seven to lead on -14 with Garrick Higgo, who won the first of the three Canary Islands Swing events, the Gran Canaria Open, sitting alone in second, just a stroke behind the Spaniard.

Those two dominate the halfway market and so they should given low-scoring events like this suit the frontrunners but I'm a little surprised to see Higgo trading so much bigger than the Spaniard. Arnaus has found winning his first European Tour event tough whereas Higgo impressed greatly two weeks ago when winning his second.

Trailing by three, last week's winner, Dean Burmester, is an obvious danger but Higgo looks a very fair price at 5.24/1 given his class, his ability to close and the fact that he's no bigger than 7/2 on the High Street.

I'll be back shortly with a look at the Wells Fargo Championship at the halfway stage.

08:45 - May 7, 2021

The second round of the Canary Islands Championship has just got underway and it's an event I'm still reluctant to get heavily involved in.

Spain's Adri Arnaus, who ended the first round two adrift of the early leader, Francesco Laporta, is the new favourite but he looks one to be wary of. The talented 26-year-old is yet to win on the European Tour and he's tripped himself up several times when he's had a chance to break his duck previously.

The South African pair of Garrick Higgo and Justin Harding are the next most likely winners according to the market but on a congested early leaderboard, they trail by three and four strokes respectively and after the opening day's play, there are 26 players within four strokes of the lead.

My sole selection, Eddie Pepperell is alongside Higgo in a tie for 16th, despite bogeying his opening hole of the tournament and if his putter warms up, he may have a chance given he ranks first for both Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation after round one but the only logical bet at this stage is on the leader...

It's hard to win from the front but on a course where scoring is low it's even harder to come from off the pace.

This is the second time Laporta has led after the opening round of a European Tour event and it didn't end well last time. He finished 22nd at the Trophee Hassan II in 2016 but he's a more experienced player now and on the last two occasions he's led on the Challenge Tour after the opening round he's gone on to finish second and first. And that win also came in Spain, at the Challenge Tour Grand Final in November 2019.

Laporta is no bigger than 11/1 on the High Street so the 14.013/1 available on the exchange this morning is more than fair.

Over at the Wells Fargo Championship, 260.0259/1 Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Phil Mickelson, leads by two after a sensational seven-under-par 64 around Quail Hollow.

He put his improved form down to a relaxed three-ball, playing alongside Lanto Griffin and recent Corales Puntacana Championship winner, Joel Dahmen, who he's been having plenty of banter with on Twitter.

I'm hoping Phil can keep his concentration levels up when he tees off at 12:34 UK time because he and his fellow early starters should enjoy quite an advantage with the wind forecasted to rise as the day wares on.

Yesterday's afternoon starters averaged 71.43, compared to the morning wave's 72.26 so given today's forecast, those drawn late-early could finish up enjoying quite an advantage.

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, a slow start can be overcome at Quail Hollow so with the forecast in mind, and given how relaxed the group was yesterday, I've added Dahmen to the portfolio at 55.054/1. He's clearly in good heart after his first PGA Tour victory and given he was runner-up here in 2019 and that he only trails Phil by four, I thought that was a fair price.

Canary Islands Championship Pre-Event Selection:
Eddie Pepperell @ 65.064/1

In-Play Picks:
Francesco Laporta @ 14.013/1
Garrick Higgo @ 5.24/1

Wells Fargo Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Bubba Watson @ 85.084/1
Bill Haas @ 1000.0

In-Play Picks:
Joel Dahmen @ 55.054/1
Gary Woodland @ 10.09/1

Find me a 100 Winner Selections:
All Wells Fargo Championship
Back 2u Matt Jones @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4
Back 1u Phil Mickelson @ 260.0259/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4
Back 2u Phil Mickelson Top-20 Finish @ 6/1
Back Beau Hossler 1/2 u @ 710.0709/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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