The Punter's In-Play Blog: Stenson still leads but is Rory ready to win again?

Henrik Stenson – one clear at Bay Hill
Henrik Stenson – still in front at the Arnold Palmer
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Henrik Stenson takes a one-stroke lead into today's fourth and final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational but is he good thing to convert? Read what Steve thinks with his final in-play thoughts for the week here...

“Since 1996, 310 players have held a one-stroke lead on the PGA Tour and 111 went on to win. That’s a strike-rate of 36% and Henrik’s record when leading by one is even stronger. He’s led by a solitary stroke on nine occasions worldwide and he’s won six times. And when he’s failed, he’s still finished second. That’s an extremely solid record.”

11:30 - March 18, 2017

With just a round to go at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, three European Tour giants, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose dominate the market along with 24-year-old Californian, Bryson DeChambeau. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 11:20.

Henrik Stenson -12 [2.96]
Bryson DeChambeau -11 [9.0]
Rory McIlroy -10 [4.9]
Justin Rose -9 [9.2]
Ryan Moore -9 [22.0]
Rickie Fowler -8 [17.0]
Charley Hoffman -8 [40.0]
Byeong-Hun An -8 [48.0]
Talor Gooch -8 [110.0]
Tiger Woods -7 [30.0]
Patrick Reed -7 [60.0]
-7 and [150.0] bar

Henrik Stenson played well enough to put a bit of daylight between himself and the remainder as round three drew to a close, but he missed birdie putts from 11 and seven feet at 13 and 15 and an eagle chance at 16 from 11 feet before going on to bogey the par three 17th. It felt like he should have shot at least two shots better and with Rory breathing down his neck, a bit of extra breathing space would have really helped.

His one-under-par 71 has seen him move one clear of DeChambeau and at [2.94] the Swede trades at the same price he did at halfway. The stats suggest that isn't too short.

Since 1996, 310 players have held a one-stroke lead on the PGA Tour and 111 went on to win. That's a strike-rate of 36% and Henrik's record when leading by one is even stronger. He's been ahead by a solitary stroke on nine occasions worldwide and he's won six times. And when he's failed, he's still finished second. That's an extremely solid record.

Since 1996, there have been six occasions when someone's led at Bay Hill by a stroke with a round to go and on the last four occasions the leader converted. Admittedly, the four read T Woods, T Woods, E Els and T Woods - and Tiger has a 10 from 11 strike-rate when leading by one. The only time he failed was way back in 1996 and he's converted ten straight since then so one could argue that the four from six stat at Bay Hill is pretty useless but recent history suggests being in front is the place to be.

Adam Scott, who had led by seven at halfway, capitulated badly to fall to third in 2014, having still led by three with a round to go, but in the last ten years, every other 54-hole leader or co-leader has finished either first or second.

A word of warning for Stenson backers though, all those stats suggest he has a great chance of winning but he finished second here in 2015 having led by two after 54-holes.

Rickie Fowler looked highly likely to be Stenson's biggest concern today but having drawn level with the Swede at one point on the back-nine yesterday, Fowler finished bogey-double-bogey to drop four back and with Rory McIlroy finishing strongly, eagling the 12th and birdying 16 and 18, he's the big danger to Henrik this morning.

Rory will have his supporters at around the 7/2 mark but his record when trailing by just two strokes with a round to go is awful. He's been this close through 54 holes 12 times previously worldwide and only once, at the Tour Championship in 2016, has he managed to win. It's also worth mentioning that - that's his last victory and he's not been at all convincing in-contention on day four since. Last year he got edged out by Graeme Storm in the South Africa Open before he injured his rib and he's been beaten twice this year (in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) when within one of the lead with a round to go. He's not for me.

DeChambeau could be fairly priced this morning given yesterday's level par followed a six-under-par 66 on Friday and that it's never easy to back up a low round and Rickie's more than capable of bouncing back after yesterday's late hiccup but perhaps the biggest threat to Henrik is Dave Tindall's man, Justin Rose.

Only last week I wrote this about Justin when he trailed Corey Conners by a stroke with a round to go of the Valspar Championship. "He's won three of his last eight starts worldwide and he should be the favourite. I never get him right, he seems to win when I'm not on and disappoint when I am but that has no bearing on what today brings so I've got Rose onside at [3.7]."

Of course, as sod's law would dictate, Rose went on to shoot a one-over-par 72 to finish fifth last week but that didn't mean I'm a sort of strange JR jinx, all that really did is highlight how unpredictable he is. Sometimes he's excellent in-the-mix and sometimes he's far from fabulous. Which one we get today is anyone's guess but I'm reluctantly leaving him out this time. Three strokes is plenty to spot a man of Stenson's calibre and I'd have wanted fractionally bigger than the 8/1 Rose trades at.

Tiger Woods would create quite a buzz if he got on a charge from five adrift but again, he doesn't appear to represent any value, and the only one I'm playing is Charley Hoffman at [42.0]. He led going in to the final round last year before finishing second and he's more than capable of stringing birdies together. Like DeChambeau, he fired the best round of the day on Friday before he shot a lacklustre round yesterday (-1) and I could see him coming with a rattle today.


10:30 - March 17, 2017

First round leader, Henrik Stenson, looked like he was wobbling as he finished his first nine holes yesterday. Having started at the 10th, he shanked a shot out of a bunker on the par five 16th before scrambling a par, he needed to hole from 15 feet on 17 for a par three, and he then needed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker on 18 to maintain parity. Understandably, he drifted out towards a double-figure price as he appeared to be losing control but composure returned on the front-nine and he birdied holes five, six and seven to post a three-under-par 69 to firm up at the head of the market. He is the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:20.

Henrik Stenson -11 [2.94]
Bryson DeChambeau -11 [8.0]
Talor Gooch -9 [30.0]
Byeong-Hun An -8 [17.5]
Charley Hoffman -7 [23.0]
Rickie Fowler -6 [13.5]
Patrick Reed -6 [19.5]
Luke List -6 [42.0]
Ryan Moore -6 [48.0]
Billy Horschel -6 [80.0]
Rory McIlroy -5 [18.5]
-5 and [23.0] bar

Alongside Stenson is Bryson DeChambeau and his presence is something of an annoyance given I backed him last week in the Valspar Championship at [130.0]. He withdrew there after a disappointing first round, reportedly suffering from a sore back, but he's fighting fit this week and the two leaders appear to be at the top of the leaderboard thanks to their straight driving and strong putting. After two rounds, Stenson and DeChambeau rank first and third for Driving Accuracy and fifth and second for Putting Average.

Given he held a clear lead after round one, I looked at Stenson's record when in front after the opening day and it wasn't especially impressive. In fact, it was quite off-putting, but his record when leading or tied at halfway is much better and that recovery after the sticky spell yesterday could prove decisive this week. He's been tied or leading through 36 holes 20 times in total and he's gone on to win on nine occasions. That's an impressive 45% strike-rate and his record has been particularly strong of late. On the last eight occasions he's been leading or tied for the lead at halfway he's produced these form figures - 1-1-7-1-1-2-2-1. And not included in those figures are his wins at the Wyndham Championship last year and his impressive Open Championship win in 2016. On both those occasions, he trailed by a stroke through 36 holes.

He plotted his way around yesterday, with his brilliant three wood splitting fairway after fairway, and provided the putts keep dropping, it's going to be really hard for those four and five adrift to get to him but whether a pair of carefully constructed rounds will be enough to hold off DeChambeau is debatable.

DeChambeau, who won the John Deere Classic last year, having been four adrift with a round to go, has been in this position before. He was tied for the lead at the Puerto Rico Open this time last year and he was tied at the top in Phoenix in February, but he came up short on both occasions. Rounds of 70 and 67 saw him finish second in Puerto Rico and he could only finish fifth in Phoenix after weekend rounds of 68 and 70. They weren't dreadful efforts by any means though and he clearly has the class to win from the front.

Talor Gooch needs a mention given he's alone in third but he's not for me. The PGA Tour rookie's second at the Sony Open at halfway before going on to finish 18th and his sole Web.Com Tour victory came from five strokes off the pace. He's clearly one for the future but this looks like a huge ask. Byeong-Hun An has to be respected but he's yet to win in the States and the one I liked at a decent price this morning was Charley Hoffman. Last year's 36-hole leader (finished second) was trading at [27.0] first thing but his prices has adjusted to where it should be now so I'm leaving him alone now too.

Of those trailing by five strokes or more, I like Rickie Fowler the best. He has a great record here and he'll be better suited to coming from off the pace but at just [13.5] he's too short given he's five behind a proven major winner. Like Fowler, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy and even Tiger Woods on -4, are still in this but I get the impression that they need two perfect rounds to catch the leaders if those at the top don't all tread water. None of the chasers appear to be driving the ball well enough to keep bogeys off the card.

Matt Every won from nine adrift at halfway in 2014 but that's misleading. Adam Scott had led by seven before rounds of 71 and 76 saw him eventually finish third and coming from off the pace here is tough. Vijay Singh trailed by seven when he won here in 2007, thanks to a pair of weekend 67s, but Tiger woods is the only other player to win from more than three adrift here since 1996.

I'm hopeful pre-event pick, Stenson, can kick on in round three but I've added DeChambeau at [8.2]. He may struggle to back-up yesterday's six-under-par 66 (matched only by Charley Hoffman) and his last two efforts when tied at this stage weren't brilliant, but he looks fractionally big given how far clear they are of the most dangerous chasers.


10:15 - March 16, 2017

Talk going into this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational was of thicker than normal rough but I watched almost every shot of the Featured Group coverage on Sky Sports yesterday afternoon and a low round looked perfectly possible. One of my picks, Bubba Watson, didn't score anywhere close to how well he played, Tiger Woods knocked it round in four-under-par, despite driving wildly, and Justin Rose recovered brilliantly after a slow start.

Dave Tindall's pick was four-over-par after a third of his opening round and he was matched at a high of [110.0] but he rallied superbly to end the day on -3 so there was definitely a low one out there somewhere and three men eventually delivered.

Playing in the afternoon, Aaron Wise and Talor Gooch shot seven-under-par 65s but they were both gazumped by another of my picks, Henrik Stenson, who went one better. Stenson now heads what is an incredibly tough looking market and given the front three have opened up a bit of a gap on those tied for fourth on -5 that makes sense but this is a really hard place to make the running.

Jason Day led all the way two years ago and Tiger Woods won wire-to-wire in 2002 but they're the only two to do so this century and Stenson record when leading after round one doesn't inspire a heap of confidence either. Since he won the Luxembourg Open in 2000 wire-to-wire, he's held a clear lead after round one six times and only converted once.

Obviously, he's now a major champion with a vast wealth of experience to draw upon but those stats don't read well, especially given how many top-class players are inside the top-20. In addition to the aforementioned Woods and Rose, the likes of Rickie Fowler (-5), Patrick Reed and Brian Harman (-4) and Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood (-3) all command huge respect.

On the plus side for us Stenson backers, yesterday's 64 was two strokes better than anything he's ever produced here and he's contended here in two of the last three years. As he did at the Valspar last week, Henrik unexpectedly missed the cut here 12 months ago but he was third behind Day two years ago and he hit a low of [1.11] in-running when finishing runner-up three years ago. How he starts today is going to be crucial to his chances of winning and although I'm not convinced he's a great price this morning, I wouldn't be surprised if he kicked on. He clearly loves the venue.

I'd have liked to have seen Fleetwood a couple of strokes nearer to Stenson but I'm more than happy with my lot today but I haven't left things alone entirely. As stated above, I felt Bubba played far better than he scored and he can go one way or the other. He could easily sulk and miss the cut but he's capable of fireworks and he's over-priced at [75.0] so I've had a small top-up on him.

I'll be back tomorrow when we've reached the halfway stage.

Pre-Event Selections:
Tommy Fleetwood @ [27.0]
Henrik Stenson @ [38.0]
Bubba Watson @ [46.0]
Zach Johnson @ [90.0]
Patton Kizzire @ [120.0]

In-Play Trades
Bubba Watson @ [75.0]
Bryson DeChambeau @ [8.2]
Charley Hoffman @ [42.0]

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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