The Punter's In Play Blog: Sullivan heads the market but event is wide-open

Andy Sullivan heads the betting but watch out for charges from the pack
Andy Sullivan heads the betting but watch out for charges from the pack

Justin Thomas has won the CIMB Classic but there's an intriguing fourth round to play in Portugal where any one of around 20 players could win. Steve 'the Punter' Rawlings, gives his in-play thoughts...

"This isn't the strongest of leaderboards and I wouldn't put anyone off taking the 3.55/2 available about Nuneaton's finest."

Sunday, 10:19

The CIMB Classic has just finished and Justin Thomas has bounced back after a poor third round to easily defend his title, beating Hideki Matsuyama by three strokes, so my attention is now turned to the Portugal Masters, where Anders Hansen and Mikko Korhonen lead by a stroke over Padraig Harrington. Here's the third round leaderboard with prices to back at 10am.

Anders Hansen -18 7.26/1
Mikko Korhonen -18 6.611/2

Padraig Harrington -17 6.05/1

Andy Sullivan -16 5.14/1
Paul Lawrie -16 15.014/1
Chris Paisley -16 17.5

Marc Warren -15 16.5

Stephen Gallacher -14 27.026/1
David Lipsky -14 44.043/1
Nacho Elvira -14 50.049/1
Callum Shinkwin -14 55.054/1
Jens Fahrbring -14 120.0119/1

-13 and 48.047/1 Bar

It's now more than 14 years since semi-retired Dane, Anders Hansen, converted a five stroke, third round lead to win the PGA Championship at Wentworth for a first time. He won it again five years later and his only other win to date came at the Joburg Open in 2009 but those victories both came from of the pace and since that initial win in 2002, he's led or co-led a further five times after round three and failed to convert every time.

Third round leaders have a terrible record here too. Alvaro Quiros, who was always a rock-solid, reliable contender in-the-mix, converted a one-stroke lead In 2008 and Sullivan hacked up last year, extending a four shot 54-hole margin to nine. Alex Levy won a weather-shortened 36 hole event two years ago and that needs disregarding, but in nine years we've already witnessed six winners from off the pace. And some of them have come from miles back!

Steve Webster shot 64 in round four to win the inaugural edition by two having trailed by just a stroke after three rounds but we've witnessed winners from three, four (twice), six and even seven adrift with a round to go. We saw yesterday with Hansen how much ground can be made up here and this year's renewal looks ripe for another closer to take the spoils.

Thomas rebounded brilliantly in Malaysia and I can see Andy Sullivan bouncing back after his error-strewn third round too. The bulk of his sizeable army gave up the ghost on the back-nine yesterday, retreating to the bars, but they'll be back out there today and I can see him giving them much more to cheer. I've backed him at 5.49/2 and I've also backed all the players not already backed that are sitting four and five off the pace at big odds.

My plan today is to follow Padraig Harrington and cheer him on. The Irish crowd are great value and even though I've not backed the three-time major winner, witnessing him win again would be special given how many of his countrymen are out here following him.

I'm flying back tomorrow but that's going to delay everything next week so my de-brief and previews won't appear until Tuesday at the earliest.

Friday, 21:00

I've had a long, tiring and enjoyable day at the Portugal Masters but I can't help but feel slightly disappointed with my pre-event picks.

I watched Marcel Siem play well for much of this morning but after a bright start he finished poorly and I then turned my attention to pre-tournament favourite and confident pre-event pick, Thomas Pieters, but it soon became obvious that his putter was too cold for him to make up the necessary ground after a poor first round.

I stopped with the Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Alex Noren Group for a while before dropping back to witness the Padraig Harrington charge for a bit and there was a great atmosphere with both groups. Sulli's Army is vocal and good humoured and Pod's posse equally fervent but I wanted to check out my each-way pick, Joakim Lagergren, so I followed him for much of the afternoon.

The difference between following Sulli or Pod compared to Lagergren was stark. I went from being lost in the crowd to almost imposing on what I assumed to be his coach and girlfriend. Sulli had his army and Pod had his posse. Lagergren had me and no more than a few assorted others.

Despite the lack of followers and the poor play by his partners, Magnus Carlsson and Roope Kakko, who both shot over-par to miss the cut with ease, Lagergren really impressed me. I missed a few holes but every birdie I saw was a tap in and it was a shame to see him finish bogey-bogey-par. He played better than his score suggested and I can see him contending over the weekend. Whether he'll win is another matter and it's fairly obvious who they all have to beat now.

Andy Sullivan is an incredible 37-under-par for his last six rounds here and if he nudges it around in his average score of six-under-par tomorrow he'll be very hard to beat. This isn't the strongest of leaderboards and I wouldn't put anyone off taking the 3.55/2 available about Nuneaton's finest. His army of fans clearly inspire him, he won here last year by nine strokes and I see him defending from here.

Over in Malaysia, course form, so far, has held up well, with the last two men to win at the West Course, Justin Thomas and Anirban Lahiri, sitting first and second and halfway.

I was close to leaving the event alone but I thought there was just enough juice in Russell Knox's price at 10.09/1. He will be defending his WGC-HSBC title next week and from just three off the lead and tied third, I thought he was value to arrive in Shanghai with another trophy tucked away.

Thursday, 20:00

I'm usually happy to see my picks get drawn in the morning on day one but I was rather hoping my main fancy this week, Thomas Pieters, would be assigned an afternoon tee time today.

I've flown out to watch the Portugal Masters with a mate of mine but with our flight not landing until 10am this morning I was never going to get to see much of Pieters' opening round. By the time we got to the course he'd already played 11 holes and I was disappointed to see he was still only level par.

We caught up with him on the par five fifth, just in time to see him hit a cracking second shot to set up a very makable eagle putt. He three-putted for par! Birdies at the eighth and ninth got him to two-under-par so he's not dead in the water yet but I can't say I'm confident.

As highlighted in the preview, if we disregard the 36-hole renewal of two years ago, five of the other eight editions to date have been won by someone inside the top-five and within three of the lead so a fast start clearly helps, but there is hope for Pieters backers.

Tom Lewis in 2011 and Richard Green 12 months prior, both won after opening round of 70 which saw them both trail by six.

We spent the the afternoon following the Nicolas Colsaerts, Marcel Siem and Pablo Larrazabal three-ball and it turned out to be good choice. Colsaerts' length is truly amazing and Siem scored better than his play deserved but it was Pablo that provided all the entertainment.

The poor Spaniard played well but he just couldn't get a putt to drop and it all caught up with him on the 12th tee when he completely lost the plot, punching his clubs with enough ferocity to tip over his bag which he then kicked a couple of times. It was quite a bizarre spectacle but it seemed to do the trick. He was a lot calmer after that and he seemed to be seeing the funny side to it all afterwards.

It wasn't a great day for my main hope, Pieters, but my other four picks all fared better and it's been a good day for the each-way column and for Paul Krishnamurty's Find Me A 100 Winner column, with his sole selection, Eddie Pepperell, who sits tied for second and just a stroke adrift of first round leader, Marc Warren, having already met Paul's initial lay back target.

I've not got involved in-running in Portugal yet and as I thought might be the case, I've not had a chance to look at the CIMB Classic on the PGA Tour but I'll take a look tomorrow after they've reached the halfway stage.

Pre-event Selections (Portugal Masters)

Thomas Pieters @ 8/1 (Sportsbook)
Peter Hanson @ 36.035/1
Stephen Gallacher @ 65.064/1
Joakim Lagergren @ 75.074/1
Marcel Siem @ 90.089/1

Pre-event Selection (CIMB Classic)

Ryan Moore @ 16/1 (Sportsbook)

In-Play Bet (CIMB Classic)

Russell Knox @ 10.09/1

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