The Punter

The Punter's Open In-Play Blog: Can Rahm reel in Harman at Hoylake?

Golfer Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm after birdying the 18th in round three

There's just one round to go at the 151st Open Championship and Brian Harman still leads by five and our man's back with his final in-running thoughts...

  • Harman with one hand on the Claret Jug

  • Leader odds-on but a very fair price

  • Rahm and Hovland can take advantage of any mishaps

22:30 - July 22, 2023

After a steady start to round three of the Open Championship at Hoylake, the world number three, Jon Rahm, ignited the event with a sensational back nine as conditions improved in the middle of the day today.

Having trailed by 12 in a tie for 39th and having been matched at a high of 340.0339/1, the Spaniard was matched at as low as 6.05/1 as he crafted an eight-under-par 63 thanks to birdies at seven of his last ten holes as the wind switched to a southerly and almost died.

Rory McIlroy started fast, with birdies at three of his first five holes and he was matched at just 5.59/2. The world number two could very easily have been five-under-though six had he holed a few more makable putts but he lost his way after that, playing his last 13 holes in one-over-par.

The halfway leader, Brian Harman, bogeyed two of the first four holes and he drifted all the way out to above 5.04/1.

With Tommy Fleetwood holing a lengthy birdie on two and Rahm sat in the clubhouse on -6, Harman's lead was down to two and he looked like he might be in a spot of bother.

Tommy, who was matched at a low of 4.03/1, was the new favourite as they made their way to the fifth tee, but Harman reestablished his stranglehold thereafter, making birdies at five, nine, 12 and 13 and he heads into the fourth and final round with his five-stroke lead intact.

Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 22:15.

Brian Harman -12 1.654/6
Cameron Young -7 9.89/1
Jon Rahm -6 8.415/2
Viktor Hovland -5 24.023/1
Tommy Fleetwood -5 29.028/1
Jason Day -5 38.037/1
Sepp Straka -5 55.054/1
Antoine Rozner -5 110.0109/1
Shubhankar Sharma -4 240.0239/1
Alex Fitzpatrick -4 520.0519/1
Rory McIlroy - 3 55.054/1
-3 and 250.0249/1 bar

Harman has led three times with a round to go on the PGA Tour but only by a stroke and he has a reasonable record. He won the first of his two titles at the John Deere Classic nine years ago having led by one through three rounds, but he finished third at the Travelers Championship in 2015 and second at the 2017 US Open, having led by a solitary stroke through 54 holes.

Macdonald Smith lost a five-stroke lead at the Open 98 years ago and Jean Van de Velde famously lost a five-stroke lead at Carnoustie in 1999.

I've no idea what conditions were like in 1925 but they were foul in '99 and that had a huge bearing on the result. Paul Lawrie beat Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff having trailed by ten through 54 holes and that's the most strokes any Open winner has trailed by after three rounds.

Van de Velde is one of ten men to fail to convert from five in front after three rounds since 1996 on either the DP World Tour or the PGA tour but 52 have gone on to win in that period.

That's an 84% strike rate which suggests Harman is a reasonable price at 1.654/6 but if you're not on before the off at 170.0169/1 and you missed the 23.022/1 after round one when he trailed by just one, or the 5/23.50 after round two, do you really want to back him at a fairly short odds-on price? I know I don't.

I think the price is more than fair but I'm not a fan of taking odds-on and it's perhaps worth remembering that Sergio Garcia failed to convert a three-stroke lead when in search of his first major in 2007, Adam Scott was reeled in by Ernie Els having led by four at Troon 11 years ago and only 12 months ago, Rory and Viktor Hovland were four clear of the rest with a round to go at St Andrews and they finished third and fourth!

It's also worth bearing in mind that Harman scrambled a par five at the 18th today and that he went to the range afterwards, suggesting a wee bit of doubt might be creeping in.

If Harman does become the third man in history to give up a five-stroke lead (the biggest in Open history), who's likely to capitalise?

His nearest challenger is Cam Young who finished second on debut 12 months ago but while he's playing superbly tee-to-green, he isn't putting especially well and he's still in search of his first victory.

He came form off the pace to finish second last year and he was awful in-contention at the John Deere Classic two weeks ago when he finished sixth, beaten by five by Sepp Straka, having led by two at halfway.

Rahm will do well to back up today's incredible 63 but he looks a reasonable alternative to the two ahead of him, who might just drag each other down in the final two-ball.

The world number three has shortened up fractionally in the last hour or so, but I was happy to 9.08/1, and I was also happy to throw a few pounds in Hovland's direction at 25.024/1.

Hovland at the Open 23.jpg

He was a big disappointment in round four last year at St Andrews, shooting a 74 in round four, which was ten more than the winner, Cam Smith, but the Norwegian looks ready to win his first major and off the pace with low expectations ahead of the final round is the easiest way to do it.

11:00 - July 22, 2023

The world number 26, Brian Harman, who began the Open Championship trading at around 170.0169/1, was a 26.025/1 chance on Thursday night when he trailed by a stroke in a tie for fourth after the opening round and he was a 5/23.50 chance at lunchtime yesterday after he'd posted a quite spectacular bogey-free 65 in round two.

His price drifted slightly yesterday afternoon after pre-event 40.039/1 chance, Jordan Spieth, started his second round nicely and the world number 11 hit a low of just 6.411/2 when he got to within five of the leader with three birdies in his first six holes but he lost the three strokes gained early on the back-nine and as the big names stuttered on Friday afternoon, Harman's price hardened up again. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:50.

Brian Harman -10 2.89/5
Tommy Fleetwood -5 6.25/1
Sepp Straka -4 24.023/1
Min Woo Lee -3 22.021/1
Jason Day -3 22.021/1
Shubhankar Sharma -3 150.0149/1
Jordan Spieth -2 21.020/1
Cameron Young -2 32.031/1
Emiliano Grillo -2 95.094/1
Adrian Otaegui -2 210.0209/1
Rory McIlroy -1 13.012/1
Wyndham Clark -1 44.043/1
Max Homa -1 55.054/1
Viktor Hovland Level 50.049/1
-1 and 110.0109/1 bar

If we look at nothing but Harman's lead, the stats suggest he's a great price at around 7/42.75.

In the 12 previous Open Championships at Royal Liverpool, six winners were in front and the furthest anyone trailed by at halfway was four strokes (Sandy Herd 1902). Harman leads by five.

Harman is the fourth player to lead by as many as five strokes since WW11 and two of the three before him went on to win. Gary Player in 1974 and Louis Oosthuizen in 2010.

Brain harman in round two.jpg

And if we look at the record of five-stroke 36-hole leaders on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour over the last 27 years, the numbers suggest he should be odds-on.

Harman is the 41st player to hold a five-stroke advantage since 1996 and although six of the last 11 have failed to convert, 29 of the 40 kicked on to take the trophy.

The weather forecast last night, which suggested high winds and heavy rain, looked like hampering Haman but the wind (so far) isn't as strong as predicted and neither is the rain. And the very early play today suggests the course is more scorable than many thought it would be.

If the wind doesn't pick up too much and the rain remains light, Harman's task is going to made easier. Shots can be lost quite quickly in foul weather but with the world's best in attendance, one or two players always defy logic and post a score. If the weather isn't too severe, we can expect far less variance and that should be in the leader's favour.

All things considered, and looking at the early play, Harman is a great price but there are most definitely negatives.

As highlighted in yesterday afternoon's update, Harman's record with a 36-hole lead is poor. In fact, he's zero from five so far. And his record is getting progressively worse.

Harman finished second to Brooks Koepka at the 2017 US Open (beaten by four), having led by a stroke after three rounds, on the first occasion he led at halfway.

He finished third at the Tournament of Champions in January 2018, having been tied at halfway, and he was fourth at the Sony Open the following week, after leading by three.

He then finished sixth at the Travelers Championship in June 2018, after being one clear at halfway, and he finished only 13th at the Shriners Hospitals Open in 2020, having been tied at halfway.

And we may only have to look at last week's Scottish Open to see why the 36-year-old hasn't added to his tally of two wins since 2017. Harman sat tied for third and just two off the lead but shot 74 on Sunday to finish 12th.

He's not been the most resolute in-contention and if he boards the bogey bus early today, he may struggle to disembark.

As stated above, two of the three men to lead by five since WWII went on to win but Bobby Clampett, in 1982, shot 78 on Saturday and 77 on Sunday at Troon to finish tied for 10th!

And it's perhaps worth looking back to the 2014 edition of the Open here...

Rory McIlroy led by four strokes at halfway and he went into the weekend trading at just 1.9420/21. After a 68 on Saturday, he led by six with a round to go but it wasn't plain sailing.

Rickie Fowler, who began the third round four back in second and two strokes clear of the rest, was matched at a low of 2.56/4 on Saturday when he momentarily headed Rory but he finished poorly as Rory picked up the pace on the back nine, but McIlroy still only won by two after a 71 on Sunday.

Trailing by nine, Rory has plenty to do, and he doesn't look a fantastic price this morning but he'll be licking his chops at the conditions if the wind stays calm and the course remains soft.

Rory at Hoylake.jpg

Harman's biggest danger is clearly Tommy Fleetwood and his gritty finish to his second round should give him plenty of believe.

He's the fan's favourite and rightly so but like the leader, he's not the most resolute in-the-mix and as much as I'd love to see him win, I couldn't entertain backing him at around 5/16.00.

There's no denying that the 7/42.75 on offer on the exchange about the leader is more than fair but it could look ridiculously short if the nerves kick in early.

I traded the leader back and fore while he sat in the clubhouse yesterday afternoon to reduce my losses and I also made the 9/2 with the Sportsbook about the winner being inside the top five all week my 'bet of the week'.

That bet will land if either Harman or Fleetwood stay inside the top-five today and go on to win, so I'm happy to sit on my hands today and see what happens and I'll be back this evening with a look at the state of play after 54 holes.

14:15 - July 21, 2023

After a brilliant up-and-down par save at the opening hole, early starter, Brian Harman, birdied four holes in-a-row to put daylight between himself and the rest of the field on a tricky, blustery morning at the 151st Open Championship.

The world number 26, who was generally a 170.0169/1 chance before the off, kept it going nicely after that, even when in trouble on the tough par four 12th, and he didn't deviate from par until making an eagle three at the last.

Harman is now a 5/23.50 chance on the exchange to win with two rounds to play and he's already been matched at as low as 1.021/50 to finish the day in front. And that doesn't look too short!

We've seen 17 players hold a clear lead at the Open this century and seven of them went on to win but the three to lead by four or more all went on to lift the Claret Jug - Tiger Woods (4) in 2005, Louis Oosthuizen (5) in 2010, and Rory McIlroy (4) here at Hoylake in 2014.

Although it's a healthy position to be in, and his current price doesn't look short, Harman's record with a 36-hole lead isn't too clever.

The first time he held a lead or co-lead at halfway was at the 2017 US Open, where he eventually finished second to Brooks Koepka (beaten by four), having led by a stroke after three rounds.

Since then, his finishing positions when leading or co-leading have been getting progressively worse. He finished third at the Tournament of Champions in January 2018, having been tied at halfway, and he was fourth at the Sony Open the following week, after leading by three. And he then finished sixth at the Travelers Championship five months later, after being one clear at halfway, before finishing 13th at the Shriners Hospitals Open two years later, having been tied at halfway.

An awful lot will depend on what the likes of Tommy Fleetwood and Scottie Scheffler can do this afternoon and I'll be back at halfway with a more detailed look but given how tough Hoylake is playing, I'd be surprised if Harman's price lengthens throughout the afternoon and I'd be utterly amazed to see anyone catch him.

22:15 - July 20, 2023

The first day of the 151st Open Championship has just drawn to a close and it's been a joy from start to finish.

Hoylake member, Matthew Jordan, kicked the tournament off at 6:35 and he didn't disappoint, shooting a fabulous two-under-par 69 that sees him sitting tied for 13th after round one.

The South African amateur, Christo Lamprecht, began his first major championship an hour after Jordan and he was the first big surprise of the day.

The big-hitting 22-year-old shot an incredible five-under-par 66 to post the clubhouse lead before another local enjoyed the support of the home crowd.

Although growing up just down the road, prior to this week, Southport's Tommy Fleetwood hadn't played the course since Rory McIlroy won the Championship here nine years ago, but it didn't show. He matched Lamprecht's 66 and those two sat alone at the top for more than three hours before Argentine, Emiliano Grillo, birdied three of the last four holes to join them.

Tommy Fleetwood at the Open.jpg

As per usual, the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, ranked highly for every Strokes Gained category except Putting but he still managed to post a very respectable one-under-par 70 this morning and fellow early starter, Jordan Spieth, started nicely with a two-under-par 69, despite a double-bogey six on the eighth and a bogey six at the tough par five finishing hole.

The star of the show all through the day was the course, and in-particular, the severe pot bunkers that caused carnage throughout.

Only 31 of the 156 players in the line up managed to break par today and 15 of the 18 holes played over-par with the par four 14th playing the toughest at an average of 4.35.

Poor Justin Thomas signed for an 82 after making a nine at the 18th after finding two greenside bunkers and the world number three, Jon Rahm, looks to have too much to do after finding the sand at the last to record a bogey six and a three-over-par 74, but Rory McIlroy pulled off a spectacular par five there having needed two shots from one of the greenside traps.

Rory was definitely not at his very best today, but he recovered admirably on the back-nine having been two-over-par through 13 holes. He turned his day around with a 40-foot birdie at the tough 14th and his level par 71, which sees him sit five off the lead, keeps him in the hunt.

A bogey at the last may well have proved fatal if the stats can be believed - 50 of the last 52 Open winners have been within five strokes of the lead after round one. Here's the leaderboard with prices to back at 22:10.

Tommy Fleetwood -5 7.613/2
Emiliano Grillo -5 34.033/1
Christo Lamprecht -5 130.0129/1
Brian Harman -4 26.025/1
Adrian Otaegui -4 130.0129/1
Antoine Rozner -4 130.0129/1
Wyndham Clark -3 22.021/1
Max Homa -3 25.024/1
Alex Noren -3 90.089/1
Stewart Cink -3 250.0249/1
Shubhankar Sharma -3 370.0369/1
Michael Stewart -3 1000.0999/1
Jordan Spieth -2 20.019/1
Si Woo Kim -2 65.064/1

Selected Others
Scottie Scheffler -1 8.27/1
Brooks Koepka -1 20.019/1
Viktor Hovland -1 23.022/1
Patrick Cantlay -1 24.023/1
Xander Schauffele -1 26.025/1
Rory McIlroy level 11.010/1
Tyrrell Hatton level 36.035/1
-2 and 50.049/1 bar

As highlighted in the preview, and as the above stat suggests, a fast start is imperative in this major.

Francesco Molinari, Todd Hamilton in 2004, and Stenson seven years ago are the only winners in the last 18 years to be outside the top-ten after the opening round and five strokes is the furthest any winner has trailed after round one this century.

That's bad news for Rahm and the defending champion, Cam Smith, who shot a one-over-par 72, and Rory may need a near immaculate second round in the morning to get into the mix.

There are some big names ahead of the world number two and although I'm on from the off, after having a small saver following his win in the Scottish Open, I'd be in no hurry to take just 10/111.00 now given how much traffic he must pass and how tough the track is.

Fleetwood and Scheffler also look short enough.

It's now 31 years since an Englishman won the Open (Nick Faldo in 1992) and I'm far from convinced Tommy has the steel to win from the front. He's far better from off the pace.

Scheffler's tee-to-green game is sensational but while he's missing as many puts as he is, he simply must be swerved.

The late starters averaged 73.95 compared to the 72.74 shot by the early starters today but with the forecast suggesting the best of the weather will be first thing tomorrow, I've had a tiny bet on Adrian Otaegui, who tees off at 7:30, and I was tempted to get Grillo onside too.

As a recent winner (Charles Schwab Challenge in May) sitting in the world's top-50 (41), looking for his first major success, the 30-year-old ticks a number of stats boxes and he's out at 08:25 but that was his first win in nearly eight years and it's hard to see him winning.

It's hard to envisage Otaegui winning too but he might make a nice trade at 140.0139/1 if he starts nicely.

Koepka looks a real menace, sitting just four off the lead, and he's another I was tempted by, but I've played just two more in-running so far - the US Open champ, Wyndham Clark, who shot -3 this morning, and the world number eight, Max Homa, who teed off late today. Both sit just two off the lead in a tie for seventh.

I'll back tomorrow night or on Saturday morning with a look at the state of play at halfway.

Open Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 8.88/1
Cam Smith @ 20.019/1
Dustin Johnson @ 46.045/1

In-Play Picks:
Wyndham Clark @ 23.022/1
Max Homa @ 25.024/1
Adrian Otaegui @ 140.0139/1
Jon Rahm @ 9.08/1
Viktor Hovland @ 25.024/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
2 u Keegan Bradley @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
2 u Ryan Fox @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
1.5 u Nicolai Hojgaard @ 230.0229/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
0.5 u Pablo Larrazabal @ 1000.0999/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Barracuda Championship
0.5 u each-way Andy Sullivan @ 200/1201.00

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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