Open de Espana: In-play preview ahead of round four

Golf
Nacho Elvira (centre) carries our hopes into Sunday
Nacho Elvira (centre) carries our hopes into Sunday

With a 125/1 selection firmly in the mix, golf expert Ben Coley assesses the state of play ahead of the final round of the Open de Espana.

Were you to draw up an ideal scenario with which to head into the final round of an event like the Open de Espana, it would go something like this: world-class player lurking, potentially world-class player leading, another from the home brigade in second and a complete nobody surprising everybody in fourth.

And that's precisely what we have on the outskirts of Madrid, with pre-tournament 9/2 favourite Jon Rahm two adrift of Ryder Cup hopeful Paul Dunne, the pair separated by a talented Nacho Elvira, who lives not too far away from the course. That complete nobody in fourth is Henric Sturehed, ranked 645th in the world and playing his rookie season, and the only thing which seems fairly certain heading into Sunday is that victory will prove just beyond the Swede.

Several firms can't split Dunne and Rahm, and it's in fact the latter who shades favouritism on the exchanges at the time of writing. That feels about right: Rahm is fourth in the world, he's proven pretty ruthless in contention, he plays from outside the final group and Dunne will have to watch his every move from the fairway, while dealing with moving crowds who go off in pursuit of their man.

Dunne has failed to convert either of his 54-hole leads at European Tour level, but that shouldn't be held against him. First, he was a mere amateur when unsurprisingly struggling in the Open Championship at St Andrews, and then he lost a play-off to a seasoned, tough-to-beat operator in Morocco. Since then, he's become a winner and while not from the front, it was in some style as he carded a final-round 61 to beat Rory McIlroy to the British Masters title.

Those memories will help Dunne, but I'd be a little worried by his shots towards the end of round three. He's led from the get-go here and it just looked to be getting to him as first he pulled one into the water on 17, and then he pulled one just over the water on 18. Getting out of those two holes in level par is a boost for the Irishman and it may be that his wobble is behind him, but given the strength of the opposition I couldn't back him at the price.

And now to Elvira, who was advised at 125/1 (six places) prior to the off. He's put together back-to-back 66s to move into second and earn a crack at his national title, and it would be some achievement to win it given the company he keeps. Evira has only once been inside the top two with a round to play and he fell to sixth in a good renewal of the Qatar Masters, and it's fairly easy to envisage a similar outcome if he struggles early on.

On the other hand, his record at Challenge Tour level when presented with an opportunity to win is very strong, and he did very little wrong when beaten by Jeunghun Wang in a play-off virtually two years ago to the day. On a golf course where he can afford to be a little shaky from the tee, and with those behind Rahm nothing to be too concerned about, I've high hopes that he can at least break par and seal a full place payout.

Given that another 66 will likely win him the title and that neither the man in first nor the man in third can be backed at 2/1, I'm in no rush to choose between the two most likely winners. Rahm has to overcome pressure which accompanies the mass galleries following his every move and might also be running on fumes, while for Dunne there's more to this than a mere piece of silverware. If one of them is to win it, they'll have earned it.

If you're looking for a bet away from the outright market, Andy Sullivan should be good enough to continue his progress and bag a top-five finish, which is available at 6/4 with two firms at the time of writing. Sullivan has played the best golf in the field over the last two days and by some distance, and there are at least three men among the five ahead of him who could really struggle.

Odds of 6/4 that he passes just one of those while fending off a fairly humdrum group in behind are more than fair and we might get bigger still when a few more go up.

Posted at 1800 BST on 14/04/18.

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