The Punter

The Punter's In-Play Blog: Rory and Viktor tied at the top

Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland
Rory and Viktor in action in round three

“The odds for Rory McIlroy & Victor Hovland both to shoot 68 or better in Round 4 have been boosted from 15/2 to 9/1 and that looks very fair.”

There's just one round to go at the 150th Open Championship and we look all set for a fabulous duel at St Andrews so our man's back with his final thoughts here...

10:10- July 17, 2022

It's all change at the top after an extremely entertaining third round at the 150th Open Championship yesterday.

The halfway leader, Cameron Smith, missed a four-foot par putt at the opening hole in round three to set the tone, PGA Tour rookie, Cameron Young, battled bravely all day until he putted off the green on the 16th hole, LIV golfer, Dustin Johnson, ran out of steam on the back-nine and world number one, Scottie Scheffler, for the second day in-a-row, missed umpteen short putts.

In stark contrast to Scottie, Viktor Hovland, holed almost everything he looked at on the front nine and after a slow start, Rory McIlroy birdied three holes in five from the fifth before producing this magical eagle two on the tenth.

Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:00.

Rory McIlroy -16 1.981/1
Viktor Hovland -16 3.185/40
Cameron Smith -12 15.5
Cameron Young -12 30.029/1
Scottie Scheffler -11 29.028/1
Si Woo Kim -11 65.064/1
Dustin Johnson -10 75.074/1
Tommy Fleetwood -9 170.0169/1
Matt Fitzpatrick -9 210.0209/1
Adam Scott -9 370.0369/1
Jordan Spieth -8 410.0409/1
Patrick Cantlay -8 550.0549/1
-7 and 1000.0999/1 bar

Having been paired together in the penultimate two-ball yesterday, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland will do battle again in today's final pairing and it's very long odds-on that one of them will be lifting the Claret Jug this evening.

Rory's odds-on to take the title and although he's too short for my liking, he's the correct favourite.

It's now eight years since he won his fourth and last major championship and he's been beaten on three of the last four occasions he's led or been tied for the lead through three rounds so there are negatives, but he knows St Andrews far better than his closest rival, he converted from the front in style in Canada last month, and he's definitely the one to beat.

This is far and away Hovland's best major performance to date and it would be verging on bizarre if he holed as many long putts today as he did yesterday. Now alongside Rory and four strokes clear of the remainder, he's bound to feel the heat as he bids to become the first Norwegian male to bag a major but he's converted all three of his 54-hole leads since he finished runner-up at the Boise Open on the Korn Ferry Tour back in 2019, having led by a stroke after three rounds. This is the first time he's evet been tied for the lead with a round to go.

As many as 33 of the last 35 major champions were within three of the lead with a round to go so it's hard to look beyond the front two but neither make any appeal at the prices this morning.

The two Camerons, Smith and Young, will do remarkably well to lift themselves after yesterday's disappointing day and if forced to name an alternative to the front two I'd plump for the world number one.

Cameron Smith Open.jpg

If, and it's a huge if, Scheffler starts finding the cup today, he could put some heat on the final paring and if the wind blows harder than forecast, that will play into the Texan's hands too. Odds of 29.028/1 are fair.

If Tommy Fleetwood is going to win a major championship, it's highly likely to happen when he puts in a charge from way off the pace as the leaders' stutter and I've thrown a few pounds in his direction at huge odds.

Fleetwood isn't one to go to war with when leading but he won the Abu Dhabi Championship form eight strokes back in 2017, the Nedbank in 2019 from six adrift and he shot 63 on Sunday to finish second at the US Open in 2018 having sat 23rd and six off the lead.

Odds around 200.0199/1 are sporting and he's a reasonable price at 25/1 with the Sportsbook in the Without V Hovland and R McIlroy market. And there's another couple of tempting bets I like on the Sportsbook this morning at 9/4 and 9/1...

The last time we had a multiple major champion and a Scandinavian seeking their first major clear at the top with a round to go at the Open Championship we were treated to an incredible treat when Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson separated themselves from the remainder of the field at Troon five years ago.

The pair began the final round separated by a stroke and five clear of the remainder and they put on quite a show. Lefty kept the Swede honest with a six-under-par 65 but Stenson cantered away at the finish to win by three with a sensational 63.

Rory McIlroy to win by three shots or more at 9/4 looks decent and the odds for Rory McIlroy & Victor Hovland both to shoot 68 or better in Round 4 have been boosted from 15/2 to 9/1 and that looks very good.

12:10- July 16, 2022

After two thoroughly entertaining but long days at St Andrews, we've reached the halfway stage of the 150th Open Championship and we've got a cracking 36-hole leaderboard to assess to boot. Here's the latest standings with prices to back at 12:05.

Cameron Smith -13 3.3512/5
Cameron Young -11 10.519/2
Rory McIlroy -10 5.04/1
Viktor Hovland -10 11.521/2
Dustin Johnson -9 13.5
Scottie Scheffler -8 14.5
Tyrrell Hatton -8 26.025/1
Kevin Kisner -8 430.0429/1 (played 16 holes of rnd 3)
Patrick Cantlay -7 30.029/1
Adam Scott -7 70.069/1
Sahith Theegala -7 95.094/1
Talor Gooch -7 110.0109/1
Matt Fitzpatrick -6 48.047/1
-6 and 80.079/1 bar

With little wind and kinder pin positions, we're already seeing some good scoring around St Andrews today.

One of my Find me a 100 Winner picks, Kevin Kisner, birdied five of the first six holes and we may well see a super low score posted from one of the early starters that are out of the race and running carefree (Kisner's currently eight-under through 16!) but it might not be so easy for the leaders.

Although far from wild, the wind is forecasted to pick up as the day wares on and with the pressure of trying to win such a momentous renewal of the world's most prestigious Championship, scoring won't be so easy this afternoon.

There wasn't a huge draw bias, with those drawn AM-PM averaging 143.7 compared to the 145.1 averaged by the PM-AM wave so there can be no excuses but the top-four on the leaderboard did all kick off the Championship on Thursday morning. Can one of them now kick on and lift the Claret Jug?

The only place to start is with the leader, Cam Smith. A popular choice with the tipsters, the Australian went off at around 30.029/1 and he goes into the weekend leading by two and trading at just a shade over 2/1.

The stats suggest that's a fair price given five of the last six Open winners at St Andrews were in front at halfway but there's a wealth of talent directly behind him and I'm in no rush to side with the 28-year-old Australian.

Smith is in search of his third win of the year having already captured the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Players Championship and his record when leading is fair enough.

He's led or co-led at halfway seven times previously and he went on to win on three occasions. That's a decent strike-rate but on the last occasion he led through 36 holes he had a very disappointing weekend...

A month after trading at a low of 2.111/10 at the US Masters, before racking up a triple-bogey six at the notorious 12th, Smith led the Memorial Tournament by a stroke at halfway but weekend rounds of 72 and 77 saw him finish the week in 13th place, beaten by ten.

That's a big negative but it could very easily be a one-off and he was brilliant in Hawaii in January when he shot 64-65 to win by one having led by three at halfway.

As already stated, five of the last six Open winners here were in front at this stage but the last three to kick on and win (Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods twice) were leading by three, four and five strokes.

Smith only has the luxury of a two-stroke lead and he'll be hoping to fare better than the last Aussie to hold a clear lead at St Andrews...

Way back in 1984, Ian Baker Finch went into the weekend three strokes ahead of Open stalwarts Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino. He shot 71-79 over the weekend to finish ninth before bouncing back seven years later to lift the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale.

With Open Championship form figures reading MC-78-20-33, this is the first time Smith has seriously contended at the biggest event of them all and I just wonder if, like Baker-Finch in '84, he's still serving his Open apprenticeship.

There's absolutely no doubt he's putted brilliantly for two days and if he continues to roll his rock as impressively he'll be very hard to beat but he's just a bit too short for my liking.

Cam Young plays alongside Smith in the final pairing today and he impressed greatly yesterday. It's never easy to back up a low round (another possible negative for Smith after his eight under-par 64 yesterday) but after a bogey at the second hole, the New Yorker dug in nicely to post a three-under-par 69.

The last time he'd led after the opening round was at the aforementioned Memorial Tournament in June and he finished the week in 60th place! He'd sat fourth at halfway but shot 73-84 over the weekend. That's a worrying weekend performance and the fact that he's still in search of his first PGA Tour title is worrying too. He's not for me.

Rory mcIlroy at St Andrews.jpg

After a steady four-under-par second round, Rory McIlroy is the clear and obvious danger to Smith and at odds in excess of 4/1, he looked a fair price first thing this morning but he just keeps shortening up. He was a 5.59/2 chance two hours ago and that was tempting but 5.04/1 is about right.

Universally popular, McIlroy would be a very fitting winner of the 150th Open Championship and with four top-three finishes in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and a third in this event back in 2010, he has a wealth of experience of the Old Course.

On paper, the world number two looks the logical alternative to the leader but he hasn't won a major since 2014 and his weekend performances haven't been convincing in the last two...

Having finished second at the Masters, eighth in the US PGA Championship and fifth at the US Open, he's had his best year at the majors since he last won one but the finishing positions don't tell the whole story.

McIlroy finished second from off the pace at Augusta (sat 23rd at halfway and shot 64 on Sunday) but his efforts after the opening round at the other two were disappointing.

Having led the US PGA after round one, he fell to 17th and nine behind through three rounds before again rallying from off the pace to finish eighth and having sat second after the opening round of the US Open he shot 73-69 over the weekend to finish fifth.

I'd love to see Rory win, and he's a fair price this morning but no more.

Viktor Hovland has finished his first two rounds in style. He birdied the 16th, 17th and 18th holes on Thursday before holing out for an eagle two on the tough 16th yesterday.

The Norwegian looks a fair price at 11.521/2 to win his first major championship but he'd be bucking the trends given his lack of Open experience (12th on debut last year) and his poor form coming into the event.

Dustin Johnson is back in-the-mix here after leading the Championship at halfway in 2015 (finished 49th) but I still have reservations about the fact that he now plays on the LIV Golf Tour and the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, who I backed after round one, looks a better bet given he's only a stroke behind DJ and he's a point bigger.

Tyrrell Hatton, alongside Scheffler in a tie for sixth, has won two Alfred Dunhill Links Championships so he knows how to get the job done around St Andrews but whether he's a fair price at 26.025/1 given the strength of the leaderboard and the fact that he trails by five strokes is debatable.

My Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Adam Scott, is one of the four men tied for eighth and seven off the lead, despite playing his first six holes of the Championship in four-over-par but he looks to have too much to do.

Ernie Els was seven back and tied for tenth at this stage before winning ten years ago but he needed an awful lot of help from the leader late on Sunday. That leader was Scotty so it would be some story if he were to gain redemption but I'm not holding my breath.

I've toyed with backing Hovland, who looks a decent price at 11.521/2, but after much deliberation I'm going to leave the Championship alone for now and see what today brings. Hopefully a Kisner-style charge by Scotty and Scheffler!

22:55 - July 14, 2022

After a very long day, the first round of the Open Championship has finally drawn to a close so here's the first-round leaderboard with prices to back at 22:45.

Cameron Young -8 11.010/1
Rory McIlroy -6 4.67/2
Cameron Smith -5 10.519/2
Robert Dinwiddie -5 400.0399/1
Scottie Scheffler -4 10.519/2
Dustin Johnson -4 19.018/1
Viktor Hovland -4 28.027/1
Talor Gooch -4 80.079/1
Kurt Kitayama -4 80.079/1
Lee Westwood -4 95.094/1
Brad Kennedy -4 420.0419/1
Barclay Brown (am) -4 600.0599/1
Xander Schauffele -3 17.5
-3 and 38.037/1 bar

With the late afternoon starters leaking oil as their interminably long rounds ground on, the clubhouse leaders, Cameron Young, Rory McIlroy, and Cameron Smith all shortened up. And rightly so.

With tricky pin positions, several drivable par fours and firm and fast conditions, the pace of play has been incredibly slow and as the day progressed it got worse with rounds taking well over six hours.

My ante-post pick, Jordan Spieth, and his playing partner, Jon Rahm, dropped shots coming in, after numerous waits on the tee and on -1 and +1 they have plenty to do. The stats say too much.

As highlighted earlier today, 13 of the 14 Open winners at St Andrews since WWII were inside the top-ten after the opening round and Jack Nicklaus is the only winner to be trailing by more than two strokes (see below). A fast start here has been imperative and concentrating on the leaders looks the way to go.

1946 - Sam Snead - tied 4th and two off the lead
1955 - Peter Thompson - tied 10th and two off the lead
1957 - Bobby Locke - tied 4th and two off the lead
1960 - Kel Nagle - tied 2nd and two off the lead
1964 - Tony Lema - tied 5th and two off the lead
1970 - Jack Nicklaus - tied 8th and three off the lead
1978 - Jack Nicklaus - tied 13th and three off the lead
1984 - Seve Ballesteros - tied 5th and two off the lead
1990 - Nick Faldo - 3rd and one off the lead
1995 - John Daly - tied for the lead
2000 - Tiger Woods - tied 2nd and one off the lead
2005 - Tiger Woods - lead by a stroke
2010 - Louis Oosthuizen - 2nd and two off the lead
2015 - Zach Johnson - tied 2nd and one off the lead

For the first time on the PGA Tour, Cameron Young hit every single green in regulation today and he now leads by two, despite three-putting the par five 14th green.

He's now trading at 11.010/1 and that's the lowest he's hit but he's yet to win on the PGA Tour and that has to be a concern.

Cameron Young at the Open.jpg

Young led The Heritage by two back in April but finished third (shot 73 on day two after 63 in round one) and he finished tied for 60th at the Memorial Tournament in June after being tied for the lead after round one but he did win back-to-back events wire-to-wire on the Korn Ferry Tour last year after shooting 64 on day one.

Rory McIlroy hasn't won a major championship in eight years but after a seemingly simple six-under-par 66, that began with a 55-foot birdie putt on the first, he's given himself a great chance to go in again and not leading after round one could prove to be a plus.

As highlighted in the Side Markets piece I wrote on Wednesday, Rory's record when leading after round one has been poor since he won this Championship wire-to-wire in 2014, and his finishing positions on the last 14 occasions he's led after the opening round read 8-2-5-2-8-5-7-3-10-4-6-13-8-17. It's a completely different story when he's sat second after the opening round...

So far, Rory's sat second or tied second after the opening round only 12 times (he's led or co-led 33 times!) and on three of the four occasions that he's trailed by two after round one (as he does here), he's gone on to win.

His record when sitting second is clearly better than when having to handle the pressure of leading but he finished only fifth at the US Open in June after sitting tied for second through 18 holes and on all 12 occasions he's sat second after round one he's shot a bigger score in round two.

That's perhaps not that surprising given you have to go low to be that close to the lead and it certainly wouldn't be enough of a stat to put me off but at just a shade over 7/2, given it's been so long since he won a major, he makes little appeal.

Cameron Smith, who's alongside Robert Dinwiddie in a tie for third, having putted superbly today, looks a fair price and no more and the one I like after round one is the US Masters winner, Scottie Scheffler, who also finished second at the US Open last month.

It may seem like a big ask to win the Open in the same year as the US Masters but we've seen seven men achieve the feat in the last 60 years and we might be due an eighth given Tiger Woods, here in 2005, was the last man to do it.

As many as nine of the last 10 Open winners at St Andrews had previously posted a top three in the US Masters so Augusta form holds up really well at St Andrews and Scheffler has the advantage of a morning start tomorrow.

Rory, having finished second to Scheffler in April would also make that stat read 10 of the last 11 should he go on to win but the world number one, Scheffler, looks the value at this stage.

We saw how ridiculously long the afternoon rounds were today and Rory doesn't go out until 14:59 tomorrow. That's a long tome to sit around and stew.

Had he started and finished better, the pre-event second favourite, Xander Schauffele, would be very much closer to the lead. He bogeyed the first and the 17th and he failed to birdie the drivable par four 18th to finish on -3 and Dustin Johnson is another that's bang in-contention on -4.

Johnson was the halfway leader here in 2015 but after sitting around for days because of bad weather, he shot 75-75 to finish 49th! That doesn't put me off and I was tempted to play him at around 23.022/1 as he finished his round today but his involvement on the LIV Tour does put me off.

The LIV golfers are being treated like pariahs by everyone not involved with Greg Norman's baby and that can't possibly be deemed a plus.

In addition to backing Scheffler, I also had a small bet on Kurt Kitayama as he finished up his opening round this morning at a big price. He played really nicely in the Scottish Open last week (finished second) so he was always on the radar and he looks a fair price now at around 80.079/1 on -4.

14:15 - July 14, 2022

And just like that the forecast has changed slightly. Now predicted to gust fractionally harder this evening, as opposed to ease, Young has now been matched at a low of 1.171/6 to end the day in front.

13:50 - July 14, 2022

This morning's very early leader, Webb Simpson, faded away on the back-nine to post a one-under-par 71 at St Andrews in the 150th Open Championship and Cameron Young is now the man to catch.

Generally a 160.0159/1 shot before the off, Young has been matched at a low of 13.012/1 to win the Championship but it's the pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, sitting on -5 after 12, that still heads the market.

Young was matched at a high of 130.0129/1 to end the day in front and after posting an eight-under-par 64, he's been matched at a low of 1.271/4 in the First Round Leader market.

Plenty of fancied runners are yet to even start their opening rounds and the wind is still forecasted to ease but the 25-year-old New yorker has set quite a target on his Open debut.

08:50 - July 14, 2022

The 150th Open Championship has only just kicked off but I thought I'd kick the blog off early to take a look at the weather and to remind readers of the importance of a fast start.

After a couple of blustery days at the home of golf, the wind has died down a bit today and it's forecasted to drop even further as the day wares on - possibly favouring the later starters.

One of Dave Tindall's three First Round Leader tips, Webb Simpson, who was in the very first group out, made the turn leading on -3 despite a dropped shot at the par three eighth but he's just dropped another stroke at the tenth.

Webb Simpson at the Open.jpg

As highlighted in the preview, in the 14 Opens at St Andrews since WW2, Jack Nicklaus is the only man to win having trailed by more than two strokes after round one, but he only trailed by three (twice) and 13 of the 14 winners were inside the top-ten after the opening round. That really does need to be factored in if you're planning to bet in-running.

Having first published the preview on Sunday, there have been a few more bets added in the outright market (detailed below), and in addition to the three Find Me a 100 Winner selections listed below, I've also had a few bets in the side markets, which I looked at here yesterday afternoon.

If you're wondering where Justin Rose is on the leaderboard, he's a very late withdrawal and he's been replaced by Rikuya Hoshino. Sweden's Alex Noren was the first alternate but he took the decision to play in the Barracuda Championship (previewed here) instead.

Open Pre-Event Selections:
Jordan Spieth (ante-post)
Collin Morikawa @ 32.031/1
Lucas Herbert @ 160.0159/1
JT Poston @ 250.0249/1

In-Play Picks:
Scottie Scheffler @ 10.519/2
Kurt Kitayama @ 120.0119/1
Si Woo Kim @ 90.089/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back 2 u Adam Scott @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

Back 1 u Kevin Kisner @ 310.0309/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

Back 1u Stewart Cink @ 500.0499/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

Side Market picks:

Rory McIlroy 1st Round Leader @ 24.023/1

Jordan Spieth 1st Round Leader @ 40.039/1

JT Poston Top 20 Finish @ 6.411/2

Lucas Herbert Top 20 Finish @ 5.49/2

Wire to Wire Winner - Yes @ 21.020/1

Padraig Harrington - Top Senior @ 2.89/5

Barracuda Championship Selections:
Mark Hubbard @ 28.027/1
Sean O'Hair @ 100.099/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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