Ian Richards is backing Michael Thompson to fend off challengers which include Tony Finau and Richy Werenski in the final round of the 3M Open.
* bet void due to changed tee times following bad weather
The big guns didn’t make it to the weekend at the 3M Open, with Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood missing the cut and Dustin Johnson withdrawing citing a bad back after a lacklustre 78 to follow his brace of 80s last week. And yet the tournament might be more exciting for it, with much drama to be played out over a closing stretch of holes which can produce some big changes in fortune.
We only have one year's form to go by and last year the top five after round three finished in the top five at the end of the final round, with only Carlos Ortiz making a final-round move to tie for fifth. As an avid follower of the Champions Tour, which used this course for many years, it is also worth noting that being near the lead was always the place to be entering the final round at Twin Cities. Despite some low rounds on Saturday, it's probably going to be difficult to come from a long way back on a bunched leaderboard - even if the final group are not world-beaters.
I have taken a lot of ribbing of late for backing Michael Thompson every time he gets in contention, but he's a player I like and the question is will 'Michael Thompson golf' - something he's referred to all week - stand up to the pressure on the final day and see him double his PGA Tour wins tally. The last two times he has been tied for the lead heading into the final round he won the Boise Open in the Korn Ferry Finals by three, and won his only PGA Tour title, the Honda Classic, by two.
That's an encouraging return for a player who showed how tough he is at the 2012 US Open, and should stand him in good stead. He has made only two bogeys all week and while he was really shaky on 16 and 17 during the third round, maybe an excellent par save at the last having found water with his tee shot will settle his nerves somewhat.
Followers of Sporting Life will already be on Richy Werenski at a tasty looking 90/1 but I am not sure he should be marginal favourite with 18 holes remaining. He has one Korn Ferry Tour win in a pro-am but on both tours has six runner-up finishes, which is almost putting him in Tony Finau territory when it comes to finishing the job.
He too looked unconvincing for a while on Saturday before a brilliant finish, but that came courtesy of a long putt after a poor drive at 16, a fabulous par save at 17, and a birdie at the last after he'd again pulled his driver left. If that putter continues to work as it did over the closing holes then he could of course win, but he looked a little shaky and his ball-striking might be exposed.
After joining the lead with a birdie on his first hole on moving day, Finau hit 2/1 – then proceeded to move backwards, before rallying well to end up two shots back and tied for third. I suspect many will be cheering him on as a popular nearly-man but as a betting proposition he simply isn’t one when in contention and the prices on offer make no appeal.
Charl Schwartzel hasn’t won in four years and while he has spent quite a large chunk of that time battling injuries, he has never struck me as the most clinical of closers down the years - Augusta aside. He played really well in the third round but has shot 72 and 70 on the two occasions he's contended since returning late in 2019, and he'll need to go a good deal lower to win here.
Max Homa makes up the top five and is three strokes back. He won the Wells Fargo in 2019 and has two other Korn Ferry titles to his name, however he has a very poor final-round scoring average, sitting 145th over the past year and 176th for the current season. Rounds of 65, 72 and 64 reveal a bit of a pattern and I suspect he may again follow a low score with a distinctly average one.
One of these five will likely win but I simply can’t see why Werenski is favourite over Thompson unless it’s just down to bookmaker liabilities on the former or maybe their pre-tournament odds. I would make Thompson favourite to make it three from three from the same position and he arguably has fewer questions to answer than any of those right in the mix. He's taken to repel challenges from further back and prove a bit too wise for Werenski.
Updated at 1300 BST on 26/07/20
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