1140 – March 04, 2017

After holing-out from the fairway on the par four 14th hole in round two yesterday, Rory McIlroy threatened to run away with the WGC-Mexico Championship and he was matched at a low of [1.88] but three missed putts on the last three holes, from just six, four and three feet, have kept the tournament competitive. Here’s the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 11:30.
Rory McIlroy -9 [2.76]

Justin Thomas -7 [9.4]
Phil Mickelson -7 [14.0]
Ross Fisher -7 [40.0]

Dustin Johnson -6 [6.2]
Daniel Berger -6 [28.0]
Andy Sullivan -6 [60.0]

-5 and [36.0] bar
At first glance, Rory’s finish looks horrific but don’t make the mistake of assuming he’s lost his touch on the greens or his confidence with the putter because missing short putts has been the theme this week, as Dustin Johnson highlighted well after his round yesterday…

Everyone’s going to miss short ones on these wiggly greens so the secret is to keep finding them and it’s no surprise to see that Rory ranks number one for Greens In Regulation so far this week, but can he keep it up? He’s surprised me how well he’s played after his injury layoff and he appears to have put his bout of sickness on Wednesday behind him so there’s no reason to suggest he won’t keep moving forward.

McIlroy’s record when leading at halfway was a little bit patchy at one time but he’s won on each of the last three occasions that he’s led at this stage and in big events – the Open, the USPGA and the Dubai Desert Classic. He might just take some stopping.

The Irishman plays with Ross Fisher and Phil Mickelson today and I’m not convinced they’re going to be his biggest challengers over the weekend.

Although he’s been beaten in a WGC event in China, and he currently ranks fourth in GIR and first for Strokes Gained Putting this week, I just can’t see Fisher winning. The Englishman, who learnt his trade growing up at tree-lined Wentworth, is clearly enjoying the venue and I don’t want to do him a disservice but he can get nervy in low-grade European Tour events and I can see him struggling as the pressure intensifies.

Lefty has putted really well so far this week and somewhat bizarrely, he seemed to get a little bit of impetus teaming up with his brother Tim yesterday after his regular caddy, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, had to pull out after three holes yesterday, when he became the latest to fall victim to some sort of stomach ailment. He might be back on the bag today and that will be a big plus for Phil because as decent a golfer as Tim is, Phil was left to read all his own putts yesterday and Bones is clearly the best possible wingman for Lefty.

A day or even a weekend of Mickelson left almost entirely to his own devices could be too much of a handicap. Having Bones back would be a significant boost but we simply can’t ignore the glaring fact that he’s now 46-years-old or that he’s trying to win for the first time since 2013.

Justin Thomas, who’s already won three times this season on the PGA Tour, had been putting brilliantly this week but he might need to improve tee-to-green if he’s going to win. He’s reigned in his powerful long game so far (ranks 25th for Driving Distance) but that isn’t helping him find the fairways. Surprisingly, given how tight it is here, none of the front four rank any better than 38th for Driving Accuracy (Fisher) but Thomas ranks 71st for DA! Thomas only ranks 27th for GIR so far too, so his putting really has been saving him over the first two days and he might not be able to sustain that.

Despite him being three adrift, the big danger to Rory is Dustin and had I not backed him before the off, I’d be backing him now at [6.0]. He has missed lots of short putts but so has everyone and he looks in such a good place right now that I fancy he’ll remain patient enough to get his reward for some excellent tee-to-green play. The brand new world number one is right there in Rory’s mirror. He’ll be the one the Irishman fears and rightly so.

With DJ bang there and Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters still on the fringes of contention (both on -5), I’m not without a chance with my pre-event picks going into the weekend but I have added one more.

Andy Sullivan hasn’t been playing well for a while but his irons are dialled in this week and given he’s shown plenty of tenacity in-the-mix in the past, I thought he was a fair each-way price at 66/1 with the Sportsbook, who are still offering four places.

The third round of the Tshwane Open is up and running and live on Sky Sports. Sweden’s Alexander Bjork holds sway after just five holes of round three and I’ll be back later with a look at that one at the close of play.
12:35 – March 3, 2017

After ten years of being staged at what’s now called Trump Doral, where big hitters were massively advantaged and where the trends were very simple to follow, as a punter, I was disappointed when I heard that this tournament – now known as the WGC-Mexico Championship – was moving to Mexico for the next seven years but now I’ve seen Club de Golf Chapultepec in all its glory, it’s a great move.

It’s going to take a little while to completely get to grips with this tight, tree-lined, altitude-affected gem but it’s going to be worth the effort as it’s a joy to behold and we should see plenty of nice patterns emerging. And maybe we already are? There are only five Americans in the top-13 after day one and on first impressions; it looks like players that have enjoyed the diversity encountered on the European Tour might have a bit of an edge here. And it doesn’t look, at this stage, as if the big hitters are going to get the advantage I felt they might.

I also fancied scoring might be a little better than it was yesterday but, after shooting four-under-par 68s in round one, six players are tied at the top. The half dozen include, for the second week in-a-row, one of Dan Geraghty’s First Round Leader picks, Ross Fisher, who is alongside Ryan Moore, Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker and one of my pre-event picks, Jon Rahm. And it’s tight below those six too with a further seven players just a stroke back in a tie for seventh, including Rory McIlroy and another of my selections, Thomas Pieters.

Rory did really well yesterday given he was throwing up on the eve of the event and that he still didn’t feel great yesterday but Henrik Stenson backers have already done their dough. The reigning Open Champ also suffered with stomach issues but he had to withdraw from the tournament after just 11 holes.

Despite his bout of illness, Rory heads the market now, ahead of pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson, who played quite well yesterday until he got to the greens! Everyone is new to the course this week and it was noticeable how many were struggling with their putting but the new world number one, DJ, who’s ordinarily a great putter on Poa annua, managed to miss six putts inside five feet yesterday and he’s still only three off the lead.

I ummed and ahhhed too long to grab a bit of [22.0] about Phil Mickelson but I wasn’t too distraught. I would have liked to have had a small wager on him at that price given his start but he hasn’t won anywhere since 2013 so if he were to fade away from here on in it wouldn’t surprise me, but he certainly seems to be enjoying the challenge so far. I thought his interview below was illuminating and it made me think a bit more about playing at altitude. It’s not just that they can hit it further, it’s the fact that they can get a more lofted club in their hands from further out…

Given how tight it is and that I’m still learning about the course, I’m not going to get any further involved at this stage. My big fancy this week was Louis Oosthuizen but he shot two-over-par yesterday and he looks cooked already but my other three- DJ, Rahm and Pieters – have all started well enough so I’ll just follow them and enjoy educating myself about the course.

Over at the Tshwane Open on the European Tour, which is live on Sky Sports now, I added Justin Hicks and Darren Fichardt late on Wednesday, after the preview had been published and after they’d drifted but they haven’t fared brilliantly and my sole selection at the start of the week, George Coetzee, has already done his very best George Coetzee impression.

He made seven birdies and two double-bogeys around his home course yesterday and he’s already made two bogeys and one birdie at his first three holes today – either side of an hour-long suspension in play. He’s currently eight strokes off the leaders, Alexander Bjork and Scott Jamieson, but it’s a bit too early to give up on him around here. As Joe Dyer’s each-way fancy, Thomas Aiken, showed this morning, when he made ten birdies and a bogey to record a nine-under-par 62, ground can be made up rapidly around Pretoria Country Club if conditions allow.

Given the hiatus in play, I’m going to see how far we get today and I may take another look this evening but my attention is almost entirely on the WGC-Mexico Championship this week and my interest in the Tshwane will wane further if they don’t keep on track.
Tshwane Open Pre-Event Selections:
George Coetzee @ 12/1 (Sportsbook)
Darren Fichardt @ [60.0]
Justin Hicks @ [110.0]

WGC-Mexico Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Dustin Johnson @ [8.4]
John Rahm @ [38.0]
Louis Oosthuizen @ [65.0]
Thomas Pieters @ [90.0]

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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