The Punter's In-Play Blog: Bryson's the man to beat at Bay Hill

Golfer Lee Westwood
54 hole leader, Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood leads the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a round to go but can he go on to covert? Our man has his doubts...

"The reigning US Open champ is very much the man to beat and 3.412/5 is more than fair given the tournament stats and how prolific he is."

11:15 - March 7, 2021

The early part of the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational had to be seen to be believed yesterday. Jordan Spieth was back doing Jordan things - acing the par three second, saving par after driving into the water on three and relentlessly holing monster putts hole after hole - and Bryson DeChambeau was doing Bryson things - smashing up the mould and cutting off most of the water at the par five sixth off the tee.

And after all the early drama provided by the two Americans, 47-year-old Englishman, Lee Westwood, finished eagle-par-birdie to head them all. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 11:05.

Lee Westwood -11 6.611/2
Bryson DeChambeau -10 3.412/5
Corey Conners -10 7.413/2
Jordan Spieth -9 9.28/1
Keegan Bradley -9 15.5
Tommy Fleetwood -8 13.5
Rory McIlroy -7 15.014/1
Richy Werenski -7 80.079/1
Doug Ghim -7 85.084/1
Jazz Janewattananond -7 95.094/1
Tyrrell Hatton -6 34.033/1
-6 and 80.079/1 bar

Having been matched at 180.0179/1 before the final round, Francesco Molinari won here two years ago having sat tied for 17th and five adrift with a round to go so it is possible to win here from off the pace but that looks very much like a one-off.

As Justin Ray highlights below, the vast majority of winners here are hard on the pace and it's actually even harder to win here from off the pace than that tweet suggests. Phil Mickelson took the title here in 1997, having sat tied fifth and just two off the lead, but since then, Molinari is the only winner to come from outside the front three places with a round to go.

Westwood finds himself in front after his brilliant finish to round three but the stats are against him slightly.
Although Hatton won from the front 12 months ago, five of the last seven 54 hole leaders have been beaten and he's one from three when leading through three rounds on the PGA Tour. Although it's 11 years since he led through three rounds in the States.

He led the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic by a stroke before going on to win by three but he was beaten at both the US Masters and the Players in 2010 having led by a stroke.

Westwood's overall record when leading is pretty good though. He's converted 20 of 29 clear third round leads worldwide and the last time he led by a stroke, at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January 2020, he went on to win by two.

Just one behind Westwood and at the head of the market, DeChambeau is without doubt the one they all have to beat. He's been lurking like a bad smell all week and is perfectly poised to pounce.

Having led after the first two rounds, Corey Conners has been under plenty of stress and as highlighted on Friday, first round leaders have a poor record. Him running out of steam today wouldn't be a surprise and of the front three, he's the one I least fancy.

Jordan Spieth has definitely turned a corner but a series of outlandish strokes have seen him retain such a lofty position and it's very hard to envisage that continuing today. He's been in-contention in each of his last three starts but he's gone backwards on Sunday every time and it feels like he isn't quite ready to win again just yet. He's also playing here for the first time and debutants have a woeful record so that's against him too.

Although a major winner, Keegan Bradley is now hopeless in-contention and is readily opposed and everyone else just looks to have too much to do.

Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood were my two pre-event picks but I don't hold out much hope for either and I'm glad I've layed my stakes back on Rory. Although both will be favoured by coming from off the pace, the stats are against the pair at this venue and I can't help but keep going back to Bryson.

The reigning US Open champ is very much the man to beat and 3.412/5 is more than fair given the tournament stats and how prolific he is.

11:35 - March 6, 2021

Corey Conners backed up his opening 66 with a neat and tidy three-under-par 69 at Bay Hill and having been tied at the top with Rory McIlroy after round one, he's now clear at the top at the halfway stage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here's the leaderboard with prices to back at 11:30.

Corey Conners -9 8.07/1
Martin Laird -8 18.017/1
Rory McIlroy -7 5.14/1
Viktor Hovland -7 6.05/1
Lanto Griffin -7 20.019/1
Bryson DeChambeau -6 8.415/2
Paul Casey -5 21.020/1
Sungjae Im -5 23.022/1
Jordan Spieth -5 24.023/1
Justin Rose -5 34.033/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -4 29.028/1
Tommy Fleetwood -4 40.039/1
-4 and 65.064/1 bar

As highlighted yesterday, this is a tricky event to gauge looking at the in-running stats. As many as five of the last 11 winners were in front at halfway but in the last 14 years, we've seen four winners trailing by at least six at this stage.

Matt Every trailed by nine when he defended the title in 2015 but that's a bit misleading. Adam Scott held, and subsequently blew, a seven-stroke 36-hole lead but major winners, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh have all recently won here form off the pace at halfway.

McIlroy trailed by six in a tie for 11th three years ago and Singh and Woods both trailed by seven in 2007 and 2008. Since then, Woods has also won here having trailed by five (2009) and four (2013) and both Paul Goydos (1996) and Francesco Molinari (2019) trailed by four but that's it as far as off the pace winners go here since '96.

It's generally quite tricky to play catch up here (unless you're a major champion) and the ten winners after Goydos were all within two of the lead at halfway.

From an in-running stats perspective, putting has been the key so far this week, as it so often is at Bay Hill. The 2011 winner, Martin Laird, who sits second, is the only player inside the top five ranking outside the top-ten for Putting Average. He ranks 37th for both PA and Strokes Gained Putting and if those figures improve over the weekend, he could be over-priced at present.

Laird won the Shriners back in October, 11 years after he won it for the first time so a second Arnold Palmer ten years after his first can't be discounted but this is a very hard tournament to call at this stage and I'm being cautious.

Viktor Hovland is the big danger to the current favourite, Rory McIlroy, but he needs to stop making so many errors (five bogeys so far this week) and there are a plethora of quality players lurking on five and four under par.

I've had a tiny bet on Christiaan Bezuidenhout (-4) at 65.064/1, but other than that, I'm more than happy to see what round three brings and to take it from there.

11:25 - March 5, 2021

The opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational is all done and dusted, and Rory McIlroy and Corey Conners are tied at the top. Here's the leaderboard with prices to back at 11:20.

Rory McIlroy -6 4.216/5
Corey Conners -6 15.5
Bryson DeChambeau -5 5.95/1
Jason Kokrak -4 22.021/1
Byeong Hun An -4 50.049/1
Sebastian Munoz -4 55.054/1
Viktor Hovland -3 12.5
Matthew Fitzpatrick -3 17.5
Sungjae Im -3 21.020/1
-3 and 34.033/1 bar

Morning starter, Rory McIlroy, looked like finishing the day with the sole lead and he was matched at 1.351/3 in the 1st Round Leader market but Corey Conners, playing in the afternoon began his opening round like a scolded cat, playing his first seven holes in six-under-par to draw alongside McIlroy.

The Canadian dropped a shot at 18 (his ninth of the day) but birdies at three and six saw him take the lead and he was matched at just 1.041/25 in the 1st Round Leader market before bogeying the ninth to slip back to -6.

As highlighted in the preview, I backed Rory before the off but it was always my intension to trade the position and that's exactly what I did. As I suspected might be the case, Rory was allocated a morning tee-time and he was included in one of the two Featured Groups on Sky so I was able to monitor his play very closely, although as it transpired, I would have been better off if I hadn't...

As you'll see from my Twitter feed, all went swimmingly as I traded him in and out as he came to and got through difficult spots on the course and I certainly did the right thing to lay him back after his tee-shot on 18 given he went on to drop a shot there but this monster birdie putt at the second hole, which kicked off a run of five straight birdies, scuppered my plans a bit.

That run prevented me from backing him back again so I've now just got a juicy free bet after effectively backing him at an average of 10.17 and laying him at an average of 8.71. I'll take that for now although it's tempting to take the profit now...

Rory has led or co-led after round one 27 times previously and he's only gone on to win on five occasions. That's a strike rate of less than 20% but it's a record that's getting worse.

Rory won the Open Championship wire-to-wire back in 2014 but that's the only time he's converted a first-round lead in the last eight years and on 14 of the last 15 occasions that he's held the lead or co-led after round one he's been beaten. And the record of first round leaders at Bay Hill doesn't bode well either...

Rory and Corey are bidding to become the first- first round leader to win since Jason Day won wire-to-wire in 2016 but first round leaders don't have a great record and prior to Day, Chad Campbell, back in 2004, was the last to go on to win.

Last year's early pacesetter, the two-time winner, Matt Every, followed his opening 65 with an 83 to miss the cut and he's the second player this century to achieve that unwanted feat. Trevor Immelman shot 69-80 in 2003. Even the eight-time winner, Tiger Woods, failed to convert a first round lead back in 2007 and since Woods won wire-to-wire in 2002, as many as 32 players have led or been tied for the lead after round one with Day and Campbell the only two going on win.

This is a hard event to gauge this early on. As evidenced above, first round leaders don't have a great record and over the last 14 years, we've seen winners trailing by four, five, six and even seven strokes after the opening round but on the other hand, five of the last 11 winners were leading at halfway.

Given how tricky it is, I'm remaining cautious at this early stage but I have had a small bet on Keven Na at 180.0179/1, who trails by five in a tied for 29th. I wanted to back him before the off but he didn't quite drift to the price I wanted. He's a streaky player that loves the course so he could soon make up the ground if he hits a hot spell.

Pre-Event Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 11.010/1
Tommy Fleetwood @ 65.064/1

In-Play Picks:
Kevin Na @ 180.0179/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ 65.064/1
Bryson DeChambeau @ 3.45

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back Kevin Kisner 2 u @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Branden Grace 1 ½ u @ 180.0179/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back Keith Mitchell 1u @ 290.0289/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 12.011/1 & 10u @ 2.26/5
Back Aaron Wise 1u @ 300.0299/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 12.011/1 & 10u @ 2.26/5

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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