The Punter's In-Play Blog: Simpson looks home and hosed

Golfer Webb Simpson
Webb Simpson – seven strokes ahead at Sawgrass

There's just a round to go at the Rocco Forte Sicily Open and the Players Championship so read what our man thinks about the latest state of play before today's final rounds here...

"Giving up a huge lead in round four isn’t completely unheard of. As highlighted yesterday, Alex Cejka failed to convert a five-stroke advantage here in 2009 and world number one, Dustin Johnson, managed to mess up from six ahead at the HSBC Champions event as recently as October last year but I’ve gone back to 1996 and 16 players have led by seven strokes with a round to go on the PGA Tour. They all won."

09:00 - May 12, 2017

One week after losing to Ireland in the final of the GolfSixes alongside Romain Wattel, Mike Lorenzo-Vera has given himself a tremendous chance to go one better at the Rocco Forte Sicily Open. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 8:50.

Mike Lorenzo-Vera -15 2.447/5
Joakim Lagergren -13 4.57/2
Julien Guerrier -13 4.77/2
Lucas Bjerregaard -12 7.613/2
Andy Sullivan -9 42.041/1
Andrea Pavan -9 65.064/1
-8 and 32.031/1 bar

It very much looks as though something is going to have to give here. The front three are all looking to win their first European Tour titles.

Lorenzo-Vera has just one Challenge Tour win to his name, dating back to 2007, Joakim Lagergren's sole success to date is the 2014 Northern Ireland Open Challenge and, as highlighted yesterday, Guerrier, has won twice on the Challenge Tour but he's yet to win on the bigger stage.

Lorenzo-Vera was someone who appeared on the radar before the off as he fitted the criteria I looked at, but he made little appeal at around 40.039/1 given he's 33 and yet to win and he's an even less attractive proposition at less than 6/4 this morning.

As highlighted yesterday, Guerrier has performed quite poorly in-the-mix this season and so that leaves Lagergren as my idea of the most likely of the leading trio to convert. He did at least make a playoff at the Qatar Masters two years ago and he's a more consistent type but just like the other two, more often than not, he's been pretty woeful when in with a chance to win.

A double-bogey six at the opening hole yesterday put Lucas Bjerregaard behind the black ball but that was his only deviation from par in the wrong direction in round three and he still looks menacing from just three adrift. Unlike the three leaders, Bjerregaard knows what it takes to win on the European Tour and I've topped up at 8.07/1.

The two course winners here to date, Thorbjorn Olesen and Alvaro Quiros, were both in front after the third round but both showed that it's possible to mess up a decent lead and players from way off the pace threatened in both editions. Quiros was matched at 1.051/20 when he stood on the seventh tee with a seven stroke lead last year but he finished up needing to make aa quite brilliant putt on 18 just to get in to the playoff. Olesen, in 2012, was more convincing that Quiros but he still only beat Chris Wood by a stroke after the Bristolian had began round four nine adrift, and Haotong Li was beaten by one last year, having sat tied 11th and eight off the lead after three rounds.

Given the shenanigans in the two renewals here to date, with three players looking to get off the mark on the European Tour showing the way this time around, we might just see a bit of fun this afternoon and I've chanced a few chasers at ludicrous prices.

The Players Championship looks a done deal. Webb Simpson continued to play brilliantly in round three, with this chip-in eagle at the 11th the highlight.

Giving up a huge lead in round four isn't completely unheard of. As highlighted yesterday, Alex Cejka failed to convert a five-stroke advantage here in 2009 and world number one, Dustin Johnson, managed to mess up from six ahead at the HSBC Champions event as recently as October last year but I've gone back to 1996 and 16 players have led by seven strokes with a round to go on the PGA Tour. They all won.

I'm not sure I'd be in a rush to side with Simpson at 1.171/6 but I'm not in a rush to lay off any of the position taken yesterday either.

I'll be back tomorrow with the De-Brief.

09:00 - May 12, 2017

Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard and Frenchman, Julien Guerrier, lead the Rocco Forte Sicily Open and they're the two to beat according to the market. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 8:50.

Julien Guerrier -9 3.8514/5
Lucas Bjerregaard -9 4.03/1
Steven Brown -8 11.521/2
Ryan Evans -8 12.5
Mike Lorenzo-Vera -7 8.27/1
Joakim Lagergren -5 18.017/1
-4 and 32.031/1 bar

Julien Guerrier is enjoying a decent run of form. This is the fourth time he's put himself in to contention this year but he's yet to win and the two-time Challenge Tour winner is still looking for his first European Tour success.

Guerrier was tied for the lead with a round to go at the Oman Open in February, but he finished third, beaten by three, he started well at the Open de Espana but fell out of the mix with a poor third round and he went into the fourth and final round of the China Open a fortnight ago trailing by just a stroke before a 72 on Sunday saw him plummet from third to 20th. Given his unconvincing efforts in-the-mix, I'm a little surprised to see the market favouring him over Bjerregaard and I fancy the Dane is the man to beat.

Bjerregaard is looking to win his second European Tour event, having won the Portugal Masters in September impressively, and he's also looking to emulate his countryman and GolfSixes partner, Thorbjørn Olesen, who won the Sicily Open here in 2012, having begun the weekend one off the lead.

Having been engrossed in the Players Championship, I haven't watched anywhere near enough of this event to pass judgement or to get heavily involved but from what little I did see yesterday, wind has been a huge factor again this year and Bjerregaard looked to be playing some lovely stuff.

I'm still smarting from missing out on Bjerregaard from the start, but he does look the man to beat now so I've had a tiny wager at 4.1 and I've also thrown a few pounds at Andy Sullivan who lost his way on the back-nine yesterday, having been matched at just 5.04/1.

Over at the Players Championship, the scoring has been incredibly good but one man, Webb Simpson, has taken it to another level and but for a double-bogey at the par three 17th, he'd have broken the course record. He still tied it with a nine-under-par 63, despite finding water off the tee at the penultimate hole, and he leads the event by five! Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 8:55.

Webb Simpson -15 2.915/8
Patrick Cantlay -10 12.5
Charl Schwartzel -10 18.017/1
Danny Lee -10 55.054/1
Alex Noren -9 15.5
Chesson Hadley -9 27.026/1
Charles Howell III -9 55.054/1
Jason Day -8 10.519/2
-8 and 20.019/1 bar

Simpson's round was a joy to watch yesterday. Having eagled the par five second, he went on to shoot five-under-par on the front-nine before parring the 10th and then it all got a bit ridiculous. Birdies dropped on 11, 12, 13 and 14 and just when it looked like the streak would surely end, he did this on 15.

Another birdie followed at the par five 16th and he was the first player ever to reach 11-undr-par in a single round at Sawgrass. Had he birdied the 17th instead of double-bogeying it, he'd have been the first player to birdie seven in-a-row at Sawgrass but instead he had to be content with being only the seventh to shoot 63.

Everything points to Webb now statistically. Three players have led the Players Championship by three or more and all three went on to win. The last was Jason Day two years ago who maintained a four-stroke margin through rounds three and four.

On the PGA Tour since 1996, 32 players have led an event through 36-holes by five strokes or more and 23 of them (71.9%) successfully converted. And bizarrely, if we look solely at five-stroke leaders at halfway, that percentage rises over that same period to 78.9% with 15 of 19 going on to win.

At getting on for 2/1, Simpson must be the play but there are negatives. He won the Shriners Hospitals for Children by six strokes in 2013, having been four clear at halfway, but he's led or co-led after 36 holes 11 times previously and that's the only time he's gone on to win. And although nobody's given up a three-stroke lead or better at halfway in the Players, Alex Cejka led by five with a round to go in 2009 but finished ninth!

The stats are so overwhelmingly positive for Simpson that I've felt compelled to back him but only enough to cover the week's stakes and I've also had a small wager on Bryson DeChambeau, who was on my radar before the off. Pre-event pick, Jason Day, is the most likely player to catch Simpson according to the market, and Dave Tindall's pick, Patrick Cantlay, is there too should Webb falter.

09:55 - May 11, 2017

The second round of the Rocco Forte Sicily Open is underway but I'm going to ignore it for now. I haven't watched any of the event and I'm already fed up with it!

Having backed Lucas Bjerregaard at 200/1 when he placed in China two weeks ago, he was always going to be on my radar here, at a venue that was sure to suit, but with my attention on last week's De-brief, Wednesday night's football preview and of course, the Players Championship, the low-key Rocco Forte Sicily Open got put to the bottom of the pile on Monday.

I'd done a lot of work on the tournament last week but thought I'd park it until Tuesday. That was a big mistake. Bjerregaard was tipped up early in several places and by the time I turned my attention to the tournament his price had well and truly gone, so to see him lead after round one is slightly galling.

I was obviously tempted to get him onside now, but I thought that he'd shortened up enough before the off and he looks a fraction short now too. He's led after round one three times previously and he's finished 15th, 45th and 27th so he's not been a great frontrunner so far.

I was also quite keen on Andy Sullivan before the off and given he was only two off Bjerregaard's early lead, he was a tempting proposition but I've decided to let today unfold before I make any further investments. Both my pre-event picks look out of it already but I don't want to rush in.

Over at the Players Championship, there was more frustration in the shape of an unlikely suspect - Sergio Garcia. I very rarely back Sergio but I was a little surprised to see him trading at as big as 50.049/1 for a tournament he's won before and performed well in with a degree of regularity but I was put off by the draw.

An early start on Thursday has been a big advantage over the years and although the six first round leaders this year are equally split between early and late starters, those that teed off early still averaged 1.39 strokes less than those than began in the afternoon yesterday. A morning start on Thursday at Sawgrass IS a big plus so I was always going to be cautious about backing someone drawn in the afternoon and when I checked Sergio's recent form here it looked very clear. Having put up form figures reading 8-3-2 at Sawgrass between 2013 and 2015, the 2008 winner had finished down the field at the last two renewals, finishing 54th and 30th, with an afternoon start on day one.

Given he'd missed his last three cuts and he was drawn in the afternoon, I thought it made sense to let him go unbacked this time around so I went to bed last night sulking after he'd raced to seven-under-par through 15 holes and having seen him trade at a single figure price!

To be fair, Sergio wasn't the only one I left out because of the tee-times and I was complaining about not backing Bryson DeChambeau, Kyle Stanley or even Billy Horschel, and I've woken up pleasantly surprised to see the Spaniard has given me a chance to get on - having been matched at just 7.26/1, Sergio finished the round with a trio of fives! He failed to birdie the par five 16th, found water on the par three 17th and bogeyed the tough 18th. He's given me an opportunity to board the bus and I've taken it. Garcia loves Sawgrass and if he can banish the finish to yesterday's round he can get right in to the mix heading in to the weekend.

Dave Tindall's fancy, Patrick Cantlay, is one of six tied at the top but it's world number one, Dustin Johnson, alongside him on -6, that now heads the market. Those six are one ahead of another half-dozen players and there are 14 players, including Garcia and my pre-event fancy, Bubba Watson, tied for 13th on four-under-par and just two off the lead. To say it's wide open is an understatement but concentrating on those within two of the lead might make sense. As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, 14 of 44 winners have been in front after round one and 21 of 44 have been leading or one off the pace after round one so winning after a slow start is particularly tough here and having shots in hand as the course dries out gets harder is important.

In addition to backing Sergio, I've also now chanced last year's winner, Si Woo Kim, who shot five-under-par yesterday, and Billy Horschel, who's alongside Sergio and Bubba. Like Sergio, Horschel didn't make the pre-event portfolio because of the draw.

I'll be back tonight to take a look at the state of play at halfway in Sicily and again first thing in the morning with a look at the 36-hole leaderboard at Sawgrass.

Rocco Forte Sicily Open Pre-Event Selections:
Tapio Pulkkanen @ 80/1 (Sportsbook)
Sebastian Heisele @ 80/1 (Sportsbook)

In-Play Picks
Lucas Bjerregaard @ 4.1
Andy Sullivan @ 34.033/1
Andrea Pavan @ 65.064/1
Ryan Evans @ 300.0299/1
Francesco Laporta @ 400.0399/1
Lucas Herbert @ 400.0399/1
Mikko Korhonen @ 500.0499/1

Players Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Jason Day @ 17.5
Bubba Watson @ 90.089/1
Ian Poulter @ 110.0109/1

In-Play Picks:
Sergio Garcia @ 27.026/1
Billy Horschel @ 42.041/1
Si Woo Kim @ 44.043/1
Webb Simpson @ 2.915/8
Bryson DeChambeau @ 55.054/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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