The Punter's In-Play Blog: Stenson impossible to oppose

Henrik Stenson – two clear and odds-on at Bay Hill
Henrik Stenson – two clear and odds-on at Bay Hill

Henrik Stenson will take a two stroke lead into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so read Steve's final in-running thoughts of the week here...

“As much as I’d love to be able to make a strong case for one or two just off the pace at a decent price, Stenson really does look impossible to oppose.”

15.20 - March 22, 2015

Due to persistent strong winds and heavy rain, the Madeira Islands Open has unfortunately been cancelled so all we've got left this week is the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, live on Sky Sports at 17:30, where Henrik Stenson looks to be in control. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 15:15.

Henrik Stenson -16 1.728/11

Morgan Hoffman -14 11.010/1

Jason Kokrak -13 15.5
Ben Martin -13 16.5
Matt Every -13 18.5
Matt Jones -13 19.018/1

Sean O'Hair -11 42.041/1

Harris English -10 80.079/1
Kevin Na -10 110.0109/1
Brendan Steele -10 110.0109/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat -10 240.0239/1

Rory McIlroy -9 48.047/1
-9 and 140.0139/1 Bar

As he'd done in round two, Henrik Stenson played the last four holes of round three in four-under-par and with just a round to go, he's now very much the man to beat. I thought he looked a poor price before the off, a poor price at halfway, and I'm not remotely interested in backing him now at odds-on, but I suspect he'll win.

There are three statistical reasons for taking the Swede on at just 1.728/11. He's failed to convert his only two third round two-stroke leads on the European Tour. Since 1996, only 43% of two-stroke third round leaders on the PGA Tour have converted and thirdly, they're on a shocking run of late - the last eight have all failed. On that evidence, Stenson should be odds-against but there's plenty of evidence to suggest he's not too short at the price at all.

He may not have converted either of his two-stroke leads on the European Tour (this is the first time he's led by two in the States) but he's finished the job off three times out of four when he's been just one in front in Europe and we have to put the other stats in context too. Only 43% may have gone on to win but how many of the 160 players that have led by two on the PGA Tour since 1996 been anywhere near the calibre of Stenson? He's the third best player in the world on current rankings and given the strength of the chasing pack, he really ought to finish this off.

Morgan Hoffman, in second, has had an emotionally draining week already and could easily be running on fumes and none of the four players tied for third and three behind Stenson could be described as prolific. Jason Kokrak is still looking for his first PGA Tour win and the other three have all won just once before. As much as I'd love to be able to make a strong case for one or two just off the pace at a decent price, Stenson really does look impossible to oppose.

11.00 - March 21, 2015

We were treated to a magnificent finish to last week's PGA Tour event, the Valspar Championship, and the halfway leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is starting to hint at another classic finish this week. Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson both looked to be treading water yesterday before finishing their second rounds strongly, the defending champ, Matt Every, is bang there and early pacesetter, Morgan Hoffman, whose grandmother died in the early hours of Thursday morning, will have just about everyone pulling for him over the weekend. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:45.

Morgan Hoffman -13 8.415/2

Henrik Stenson -10 4.216/5
Harris English -10 8.415/2
Matt Every -10 24.023/1

Ben Martin -9 34.033/1

Rory McIlroy -8 5.49/2
Matt Jones -8 55.054/1
Danny Lee -8 70.069/1
David Lingmerth -8 80.079/1

Brooks Koepka -7 34.033/1
Louis Oosthuizen -7 42.041/1
Sean O'Hair -7 42.041/1
Ian Poulter -7 46.045/1
Kevin Na -7 48.047/1
Blayne Barber -7 240.0239/1

-6 and 55.054/1 Bar

The logical place to start is with the leader, Morgan Hoffman, who might just run out of steam. He's played incredibly well over the first two days but I fear for him over the weekend with such a strong chasing pack on his tail. He attends a ceremony in memory of grandmother prior to the third round starting today and I just wonder how that's going to affect him. He could continue to play free and relaxed golf, and having backed him at a juicy 50/1 on Thursday evening I hope that's the case, but it's a huge ask for him to go all the way. I haven't layed any of my wager back yet but I can't pretend I haven't been tempted. For the record, 13 players have held a clear lead at Bay Hill over the last 19 years and five of them went on to win. It's not going to be easy though - Adam Scott led by seven at this stage 12 months ago and failed.

Henrik Stenson, who finished his second round with four consecutive birdies, is the understandable favourite but as I was before the off, I'm more than happy to swerve him, as he's far from a value price. Stenson was unbeatable at the backend of 2013 when he won both the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship in September but those are the only two victories achieved on the PGA Tour when he's been within three of the lead at halfway. He's failed on 11 occasions, including last week when after sitting just one off the pace, he put in a disappointing third round and gave himself too much to do. He's more than capable of getting the job done on a course that clearly suits and I'm definitely nitpicking but at just a shade over 3/1 he doesn't represent value to do so, and nor does world number one, Rory McIlroy...

Rory didn't seem to be going anywhere yesterday and his price gently drifted right out to 13.012/1 but then he birdied the 2nd hole, his 11th of the round, and everything changed. A brave drive over water on the3rd signalled a devil may care attitude and birdies were made at the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th holes before he bogeyed the 8th. I can see Rory being aggressive over the weekend and he could very easily make up the five strokes he trails by, especially if Hoffman falters. He's a more attractive price than Stenson and I wouldn't put anyone off him but I fancy the value at this stage is with Dave Tindall's each-way selection Harris English...

It's interesting to compare Harris' record in-the-mix to Stenson's as its very similar - he's been within three of the lead 14 times on the PGA Tour, compared to Stenson's 13, and he too has won just twice. The Swede is third in the official world rankings whereas English is 52nd and he's desperate to move up the rankings to get in to the US Masters. On paper there's a sizable gulf between the two but when push comes to shove over the weekend, I don't think there'll be that much between them and I certainly wouldn't say that Stenson is more than twice as likely to win the tournament as English. I took 8.88/1 last night and I was more than happy to do so.

Both my pre-event picks, Sean O'Hair and Kevin Na, are tucked in just off the pace on -7 but I can't help but think they've got too much to do.

Over at the Madeira Islands Open, for the second year in-a-row, the event is starting to turn into a farce. The first round is yet to complete and play has been suspended again this morning, this time for due to heavy rain.

23:10 - March 19, 2015

With winds gusting up to 50mph, no play was possible at the Madeira Islands Open today (previewed here) and the event has already been reduced to 54-holes. The draw remains the same with the first round being played tomorrow, the second round on Saturday, and the third and final round on Sunday, weather permitting of course.

There have been no such problems stateside and the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational has just finished where pre-event favourite and world number one, Rory McIlroy, has given himself a lifeline with a birdie putt from 14 feet at the final hole. He played brilliantly from tee-to-green today but struggled to get to grips with the unusually slow greens. He shot a two-under-par 70 to trail first round leader, Morgan Hoffman, by four strokes and he's still trading at a single-figure price but I think he's up against it...

The greens should certainly be better in the morning and his supporters will hope he can go low but for him to do so, two things need to happen. Not only does he have to put a lot better, he'll also have to match today's superb tee-to-green game and that won't be easy by any means. And even if he does play well, with 31 players ahead of him, he has an awful lot of traffic to pass on a course that favours frontrunners.

Given he was trading at just 10.09/1, I thought Henrik Stenson was a short price before the off but he looks fairly priced now at just two points shorter following an opening four-under-par 68 and if I had to back one at a short price at this stage, he'd be the one.

With 50 players within four of the lead, the event is wide open at this early stage so I'm happy to wait until halfway to get stuck in in-running but I couldn't resist a small wager on the early pacesetter. A first round leader hasn't won the Arnold Palmer in ten years but between 1996 and 2004, four men went on to take the title after leading after day one and I thought Hoffman looked worth chancing at 50/1 on the Sportsbook and at 55.054/1 on the exchange.

The Florida resident has a fairly similar profile to last year's winner, Matt Every, and with an early tee-time tomorrow, the market might just be underestimating him.

My pre-event picks have started fairly well - Kevin Na is tied for second and Sean O'Hair is three off the lead and tied for 18th. I'll be back late tomorrow after round two or first thing Saturday morning.

Madeira Islands Open Pre-Event Selections:
Bradley Dredge @ 30.029/1 (stake saving wager only)
Peter Whiteford @ 50.049/1
Rhys Davies @ 80.079/1
Kennie Ferrie @ 100.099/1
David Law @ 300.0299/1

Arnold Palmer Invitational Pre-Event Selections:
Kevin Na @ an average of 62.0
Sean O'Hair @ 65.064/1

Arnold Palmer Invitational In-Play Picks:
Morgan Hoffman @ 50/1 (Sportsbook)
Harris English @ 8.88/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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