There's just one round to go at TPC Sawgrass and for the second week-in-a-row Lee Westwood and Bryson DeChambeau sit first and second so read Steve's final thoughts on the week here...
“Westwood has converted 20 of 30 clear third round leads worldwide and two stroke 54 hole leaders on the PGA Tour have a 41% strike rate over the last 15 years. ”
13:20 - March 14, 2021
After a slow start to round three, halfway leader and 160.0159/1 Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Lee Westwood, found his groove on the back-nine and when he did this on the par three 17th, he moved two clear of the field.
Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 13:10.
Lee Westwood -13 3.3512/5
Bryson DeChambeau -11 4.03/1
Justin Thomas -10 6.611/2
Doug Ghim -10 21.020/1
Jon Rahm -910.519/2
Paul Casey -9 18.017/1
Brian Harman -9 32.031/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -8 42.041/1
Sergio Garcia -8 46.045/1
Chris Kirk -8 60.059/1
-7 and 90.089/1 bar
This time last week, Westwood took a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and he did very little wrong but Bryson DeChambeau, who had begun the final round tied for second, eased past him to win by one. Can Westwood get revenge today?
As highlighted last week, Westwood's overall record when leading through three rounds is pretty good. He's converted 20 of 30 clear third round leads worldwide and two stroke 54 hole leaders on the PGA Tour have a 41% strike rate over the last 15 years. Justin Ray's tweet below bodes well for Westwood but third round leaders don't have a brilliant record here.
Lee Westwood is the 16th player since 2010 to hold the 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour in back-to-back weeks.? Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) March 13, 2021
13 of the previous 15 players won at least one of those tournaments. Lone exceptions: Daniel Summerhays in 2013 and Jordan Spieth this season.
As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, since Steve Elkington won the second of his two titles in 1997 by seven strokes, after a 69 on Sunday, as many as 27 players have led or co-led through 54 holes at Sawgrass and only one of them (Stephen Ames in 2006) has shot a round in the 60s on Sunday.
That's slightly misleading though as Sawgrass is often playing very tough by the time we get to Sunday and although they haven't scored brilliantly, four of the last seven winners have been in front or tied for the lead after the third round and since Fred Funk won from four back in 2005 only one winner (Henrik Stenson in 2009) has trailed by more than three with a round to. But that too is a bit deceptive as Stenson had been tied for second behind the clear leader, Alex Cejka, who shot 79 in round four!
Having backed Westwood before the off at 160.0159/1 and having backed DeChambeau after round one at 12.011/1, I'm in a nice position and I haven't entirely given up on pre-event pick, Paul Casey, yet either.
Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm are clear and obvious dangers but if I had to pick one out as the value play today, it would be Bryson. His driving was bit off for the first two days but he made giant strides in that department yesterday and he looks the one most likely to put the pressure on Lee again.
16:20 - March 13, 2021
The Qatar Masters has been a tough grind in very windy conditions this week, with Saturday's third round the most brutal. Despite a number of holes being shortened today, the par 71 track averaged 74.43 and only four players broke par. Here's the 54 hole leaderboard with prices to back at 16:15.
Darren Fichardt -7 3.814/5
Jack Senior -6 8.07/1
Gaganjeet Bhullar -5 17.016/1
Antoine Rozner -4 7.26/1
JB Hansen -4 14.013/1
Jamie Donaldson -3 13.012/1
Brandon Stone -3 15.5
Thomas Detry -3 16.015/1
Chris Paisley -3 24.023/1
-2 and 32.031/1 bar
With the wind easing slightly, it's very hard to look past the leader, Darren Fichardt, who won this event way back in 2003. That was the second of his five European Tour titles and he also has 18 Sunshine Tour titles to his name so at 45, the vastly experienced South African is well-equipped for tomorrow's challenge.
Alone in second, 32 year-old Englishman, Jack Senior, is more likely to feel the pressure than the leader given he's yet to win on the European Tour - although he has won twice on the Challenge Tour.
Gaganjeet Bhullar was one of the four to break par today and he's looking to win his second European Tour, having won the Fiji International back in 2018. He's been prolific on the Asian Tour, winning nine times, so has plenty of winning experience to draw upon and he looks a fair price.
Antoine Rozner, tied for fourth and three off the lead, matched Bhullar's three-under-68 today and he's already a winner on the European Tour, having benefitted nicely from Andy Sullivan's mess up at the Golf in Dubai Championship in December. It would be no surprise to see him emerge as the biggest challenger to the leader tomorrow but he looks short enough to me.
There are a plethora of players lurking three, four and five back and any one of them could go low and push Fichardt hard tomorrow but I'm happy to have an extremely modest wager on the leader.
Given the stats that mattered last year were Scrambling and Putting and that South Africans have a strong record in the event, there's a lot to like about the leader and he's a fair price at 3.814/5.
10:10 - March 13, 2021
Although two days in, we haven't quite reached the halfway stage of the Players Championship. For the second day running, the enormous field just failed to get finished before darkness descended so a few groups need to return to the course today to finish up their second rounds but it has no bearing on the leaderboard.
Scott Brown, who sits tied for 18th on three-under-par and six off the lead, has two to play and he's the only one still out there that's under-par so here's the latest standings with prices to back at 10:00.
Lee Westwood -9 7.26/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -8 6.86/1
Sergio Garcia -7 11.010/1
Chris Kirk -7 16.5
Bryson DeChambeau -6 7.413/2
Sungjae Im -6 14.5
Brian Harman -6 30.029/1
Charley Hoffman -6 32.031/1
Doug Ghim -6 46.045/1
Denny McCarthy -6 60.059/1
Dylan Frittelli -5 80.079/1
Talor Gooch -5 75.074/1
Patton Kizzire -5 120.0119/1
Jon Rahm -4 15.014/1
Paul Casey -4 36.035/1
Corey Conners -4 55.054/1
Tom Hoge -4 210.0209/1
-3 and 65.064/1 bar
Having topped the Strokes Gained Putting stats on Thursday, the first round leader, Sergio Garcia, ranked 143rd for that stat on Friday. He had 34 putts in total, missing several short ones, including one from inside four feet at the par three third, but he did manage to convert for eagle at the par five 11th from four inches after this remarkable approach shot.
It was all a bit of a struggle for Sergio yesterday but he birdied two of his last three holes to muscle back in to contention and the 2008 champion could yet be the man to beat but it's my 160.0159/1 Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Lee Westwood, that shows the way after a superb bogey-free six-under-par 66 yesterday.
Fellow Englishman, Matthew Fitzpatrick, who beat Westwood by a stroke to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in December (although Westwood was still crowned Race to Dubai champion), trails by just a stroke and he narrowly heads the market, with Dave Tindall's each-way fancy, Chris Kirk, alongside Sergio in a tie for third.
In-running pick, Bryson DeChambeau, who double-bogeyed his opening hole in round two, is amongst a group of six players tied for fifth and just three behind Westwood. Last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational winner's long game was ragged again so if that clicks over the weekend, he could be the one to beat.
Looking at the in-running stats, up with the pace is the place to be at TPC Sawgrass. As many as three of the last four, or five of the last eight winners, have been in front at halfway and since Tiger Woods won from tied eighth and six adrift in 2001, only two winners have trailed by more than four strokes at halfway. Si Woo Kim sat tied for 16th and six adrift in 2017 and Tim Clark trailed by seven in a tied for 23rd.
The likes of Jon Rahm (-4), Jason Day (-3) and my pre-event pick, Paul Casey (-4), are just about close enough to put in a charge but those stats are off putting and we probably need to continue to concentrate on the leaders.
Westwood has an incredibly strong record when leading through 36 holes and he's converted 10 of 14 halfway leads worldwide. He converted his last five 36-hole leads in-a-row but it is worth stressing that four of those five were on the Asian Tour and whilst he's only once finished worse than second when leading at halfway, his worst ever performance when holding a halfway lead came here at Sawgrass in 2010.
Westwood finished fourth in 2010 after weekend rounds of 70 and 74. That was no match for Clark's 66-67 and the Englishman was beaten by four.
Westwood did very little wrong when losing by a stroke to DeChambeau at Bay Hill last week and the combination of the tournament trends and Westwood's record when leading at halfway suggest he's a perfectly fair price at 7.26/1. I'm quite surprised to see Fitzpatrick trading at shorter and of the two, he looks the better price at this stage.
Having backed Westwood at 160.0159/1 before the off, Casey at 75.074/1 and DeChambeau at 12.011/1 on Thursday night, I'm in a decent position going into the weekend but I've also now added Kirk.
Kirk's tee-to-green game has been superb of late and if he can hole a few putts he's going to be there or thereabouts on Sunday evening.
The third round of the Qatar Masters is well underway and live on Sky but it's an event I'm still swerving at present. It's a congested leaderboard and the blustery conditions are complicating the issue further so I may just leave it alone and continue to concentrate on the Players.
08:45 - March 12, 2021
It was perhaps a bit too ambitious to attempt to get 154 players around a set-up as tough as Sawgrass in one day and the opening round of the Players Championship hasn't quite concluded.
Play was suspended for darkness last night with the final group still having four holes to play. Will Zalatoris is the only player inside the top-11 and within four of the lead still out there and he only has one to play but unfortunately for him, it's the ultra-tough 18th. Having to come back today to finish off round one doesn't seem very fair and it's perhaps another reason why the early starters on day one fare so well here...
The last five winners of the Players Championship were assigned a morning tee-time on day one and the first round leaderboard is largely dominated by players than began the event yesterday morning, with Sergio Garcia, the 2008 champion, showing the way after a brilliant finish to his opening round.
Having begun at the 10th hole, the 41-year-old Spaniard finished round one with back-to-back birdies at seven and eight and an eagle at nine to post a seven-under-par 65. Here's the early leaderboard with prices to back at 08:40.
Sergio Garcia -7 6.611/2
Brian Harman -5 26.025/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -4 16.5
Corey Conners -4 22.021/1
Shane Lowry -4 32.031/1
Bryson DeChambeau -3 11.521/2
Will Zalatoris -3 27.026/1 (thru 17 holes of round one)
Lee Westwood -3 40.039/1
Denny McCarthy -3 120.0119/1
Rory Sabbatini -3 120.0119/1
Tom Hoge -3 200.0199/1
Jordan Spieth -2 21.020/1
Patrick Reed -2 30.029/1
-2 and 22.021/1 bar
As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, a fast start is extremely beneficial at Sawgrass. As many as three of the last six victors have won wire-to-wire and 15 of the 46 previous winners were in front after round one - including Sergio in 2008.
More than half of the winners (24) have been positioned inside the top-three after round one and 22 winners have either been leading or only one off the pace after round one.
We clearly need to be concentrating hard on the top of the leaderboard but it's not impossible to overcome a slow start. Craig Perks, the 2002 winner, sat tied for 27th and seven off the lead and in the last 25 years, four winners have trailed by six after the opening round.
And Justin Leonard in 1998 and Stephen Ames in 2006, who both tailed by six after round one, were both outside the top-40 after the opening round.
Looking at his most recent results, Sergio looks a fair price. On the last six occasions that he's led after the opening round he's gone on to win four times and finished second twice. That's a very strong record although only two of those six were on the PGA Tour. He won the Byron Nelson Championship in 2016 having led after round one, three months after finishing second at the Honda Classic.
Prior to those six efforts, Sergio had led an event after round one 18 times and the only occasion that he'd gone on to win was here at Sawgrass in 2008. Looking at those stats, he appears to be a lot more robust in-contention than he once was and it's hard to argue a case for taking him on.
As highlighted in the preview, strong recent form has been an important factor so it's perhaps not too surprising to see the first three home at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, back for more this.
Corey Conners, who was third at Bay Hill, is going to reward followers of Dave Tindall's First Round Leader piece, Lee Westwood has started nicely enough for the Find Me a 100 Winner column and last week's winner, Bryson DeChambeau, is the man the market considers most likely to trouble Sergio and I'm in agreement.
I took 12.011/1 last night as he finished up on 18 but DeChambeau still looks generously priced at 11.521/2 given he's a best priced 9/1 on the High Street this morning.
Happy to take a bit of 12 about Bryson on @BetfairExchange? Steve Rawlings (@SteveThePunter) March 11, 2021
I may, however, just enjoy the wall-to-wall coverage of the Players Championship and concentrate on that one alone.
Players Championship Pre-Event Selection:
Paul Casey @ 75.074/1
Bryson DeChambeau @ 12.011/1
Chris Kirk @ 17.016/1
Qatar Masters Pre-Event Selections:
Rasmus Hojgaard @ 34.033/1
Masahiro Kawamura @ 130.0129/1
Guido Migliozzi @ 130.0129/1
Eddie Pepperell @ 150.0149/1
Darren Fichardt @ 3.814/5
Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back Louis Oosthuizen 2u @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Lee Westwood 1 ½ u @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Kevin Na 1 ½ u @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Kevin Kisner 1 ½ u @ 180.0179/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 12.011/1 & 10u @ 2.26/5
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter