The Punter's In-Play Blog: Higgs a fair price to convert

Golfer Harry Higgs
54-hole leader leader, Harry Higgs

Rory McIlroy has won the WGC HSBC Champions in China and there's just a round to go at the inaugural Bermuda Championship. Will Steve's in-play pick, Harry Higgs, convert his two stroke lead?

“Eight of the last 11 players to take a two shot lead into the final round of a PGA Tour event have won .”

13:30 - November 3, 2019

Rory McIlroy has edged out the defending champions, Xander Schauffele, in a playoff in Shanghai and I'll have more on that in tomorrow's debrief but the golf action hasn't finished yet as there's still a round to go at the Bermuda Championship. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 13:25.

Harry Higgs -17 2.68/5
Brendon Todd -15 6.25/1
Brian Gay -14 8.415/2
Bo Hoag -14 12.011/1
Scottie Scheffler -13 11.010/1
-12 and 22.021/1 bar

Given this the inaugural staging of the Bermuda Championship, we don't have any previous in-running stats to peruse but we do know that eight of the last 11 players to take a two shot lead into the final round of a PGA Tour event have won and that since 1996, 171 players have led by two strokes in a 72 hole stroke-play event on the PGA Tour and 79 of them went on to win. That equates to 46%, suggesting Harry Higgs is a perfectly fair price at around 2.68/5.

With a benign day forecast, the scoring should be good today and making ground up from off the pace could be tough. Higgs is a decent price given the weather forecast and the record of two-stroke leaders on the PGA Tour so having backed him yesterday at 9.28/1, I'm happy to let the bet ride and I'm not adding anyone else.

The leaders tee-off at 15:40 (UK time) and it's live on Sky Sports from 17:30.

09:00 - November 2, 2019

After a third consecutive five-under-par 67, pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, has hit the front at the WGC HSBC Champions with a round to go. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 08:50.

Rory McIlroy -15 1.991/1
Louis Oosthuizen -14 5.79/2
Xander Schauffele -13 6.611/2
Matthew Fitzpatrick -13 11.010/1
Paul Waring -12 40.039/1
-11 and 30.029/1 bar

As highlighted in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, five of the last nine winners, and seven of the 13 in total, have been in front after three rounds here and Rory McIlroy has converted nine of 14 clear 54-hole leads in his career to date. He shot 71 in round four at the last WGC event (the St Jude Classic) to finish fourth, having led by a stroke with a round to go, but he's successfully converted eight of his last 11 clear leads and anywhere close to even money is more than fair.

Louis Oosthuizen is someone I always want to oppose in-the-mix. This is the sixth time he's trailed by a solitary stroke with a round to go and he's failed on each of the last four occasions. He won the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour 12 years ago from one back but I'm happy to take him on. He won the South African Open last December but that's his sole success in almost four years.

LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN November 2018.jpg

Xander Schauffele finished his third round brilliantly, birdying the last three holes having been matched at 23.022/1 this morning. He looked to be drifting out of contention but after that finish, the defending champ is the biggest danger to Rory now. Having backed Rory before the off and Fitzpatrick after round one, I've had a stakes saving wager on Xander but maybe the winner is sitting even further back because this place has created all sorts of drama in the past and we definitely can't rule out an off the pace winner or a long odds-on shot getting turned over tomorrow...

Tony Finau was matched at a low of 1.211/5 before losing a playoff last year, having led by three with a round to go, and 12 months earlier, Justin Rose won from eight strokes back with a round to go when Dustin Johnson blew a six stroke lead, having been matched at just 1.061/18! One of my pre-event picks, Abraham Ancer, is within five of the lead so if there is going to be a surprise off the pace winner, I hope it's him.

We've reached the halfway stage of the inaugural Bermuda Championship and we're faced with a wide open leaderboard. Here are the latest standings with prices to back at 08:55.

Scottie Scheffler -11 4.84/1
Harry Higgs -11 9.08/1
Brendon Todd -11 11.521/2
Aaron Wise -10 6.86/1
Wes Roach -10 19.018/1
Boo Weekley -10 22.021/1
Russell Knox -9 10.519/2
-8 and 21.020/1 bar

We're only a couple of months into the new PGA Tour season and the theme continues. Yet again we have another leaderboard dominated by Korn Ferry graduates.

Scottie Scheffler is the man to beat according to the market but I'm not convinced he should be so much shorter than Brendon Todd or Harry Higgs, in particular.

Todd is a PGA Tour winner - he claimed the Byron Nelson Championship five years ago - but he's lost his way badly since. He finished 28th at the Houston Open last time out with erratic rounds of 76-67-74-66, so quite how he backs up yesterday's 63 is debatable, and that came 28th came after a run of four missed cuts to start the new season. I'm happy to swerve him.

Higgs is an interesting candidate. The 27-year-old, who's a good friend of Bryson DeChambeau, who he went to college with, has progressed to the elite tour the hard way. He won the 2018 Peru Open on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica en route to winning the Order of Merit to progress to the Korn Ferry Tour and he won the Price Cutter Charity Classic on the Korn Ferry in July.

Higgs is yet to make a bogey and one could argue he's playing the best golf so far this week given he's tied for the lead having played from the wrong side of the draw. The PM-AM starters averaged 2.76 shots more than those drawn AM-PM and Higgs and Russell Knox are the only two players inside the top-seven drawn PM-AM.

Knox is an obvious danger, as is the highly talented Aaron Wise but I'm happy to have a small wager on Higgs who looks fairly priced at 8/1.

10:55 - November 1, 2019

Thanks largely to a red-hot putter and an accurate driver, Matthew Fitzpatrick followed up an opening 66 with a second round 67 today to hit the front but after a pair of five-under-par 67s, it's Rory McIlroy that dominates the market. Here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:45.

Matthew Fitzpatrick -11 5.95/1
Rory McIlroy -10 2.8615/8
Xander Schauffele -9 6.86/1
Adam Scott -9 9.08/1
Sungjae Im -9 12.011/1
Haotong Li -8 26.025/1
Victor Perez -8 50.049/1
Louis Oosthuizen -7 38.037/1
-6 and 60.059/1 bar

The leaderboard hasn't changed much between rounds one and two, with the top-six after day one still sitting inside the top-six and ties at halfway. Fitzpatrick moved up a couple of places to take up the running but pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, was the biggest mover, thanks largely to this magnificent approach at the par five 18th to set up an eagle three to finish the day.

Having backed Rory before the off and Fitzpatrick yesterday at 17.016/1, I'm happy with my lot for now and history suggests that they're in a decent position with two rounds to go. Although we've seen plenty of final round drama here, and I'll have more on that tomorrow, all 13 course winners to date have been inside the top-eight places and no more than four strokes adrift. If that trend continues, the winner is listed above.

Only five of the 13 have been in front at halfway and Fitzpatrick's record when leading or co-leading through 36 holes is two wins from seven. He hasn't managed to convert any of his last four halfway leads but he's a player I trust in-contention. He's mentally strong and he's been a tough nut to crack in previous years but he led the last WGC by two at halfway (the FedEx St Jude in July) before finishing fourth and he's let three events slip through his fingers in Europe this summer, without doing much wrong, so he'll be desperate to finally get a win.

I'm tempted to cover the defending champ, Xander Schauffele, but I'm going to sit on my hands for now and see where I am this time tomorrow.

Over at the inaugural Bermuda Championship, the early starters enjoyed the better of the conditions on day one. The AM starters averaged 1.96 strokes less than the PM starters and only three players in the top-15 after round one teed off yesterday afternoon.

Russell Knox, who trails the early pacesetter, Scottie Scheffler, by just two strokes, shot an impressive seven-under-par 64 in the trickier afternoon conditions and he fared best of the latter starters. Ordinarily he'd be one to side with now but it looks like he's going to be disadvantaged again today with the wind forecasted to drop as the day wears on.

Given the forecast, I'm more than happy to sit this one out for now too but I'll be back in the morning with another look at the halfway stage.

13:05 - October 31, 2019

Pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, was matched at a high of 22.021/1 today as he played his first ten holes of the WGC HSBC Champions in level-par but he's back at the head of the market again now after a terrific finish to his opening round.

Starting on the back-nine, McIlroy set the tone with a bogey at the tenth and it looked like his frustrating day was going to continue when he missed a three-footer for eagle at the par-five second. That little miss seemed to stir the world number two into action though and he tapped in for the four and birdied the third, fourth and fifth, before just avoiding the water with his tee-shot on the par three sixth.

A two-putt par was safely secured at six before another birdie followed at seven and he eventually ended the day just three behind the early pacesetter, Haotong Li, who shot an impressive eight-under-par 64, with Paul Krishnamurty's superb Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Victor Perez, alone in second. Here's the current sate of affairs with prices to back at 13:00.

Haotong Li -8 10.519/2
Victor Perez -7 32.031/1
Xander Schauffele -6 7.06/1
Adam Scott -6 11.521/2
Sungjae Im -6 15.5
Matthew Fitzpatrick -6 17.016/1
Rory McIlroy -5 4.77/2
Corey Conners -5 30.029/1
Matthias Schwab -5 65.064/1
-4 and 36.035/1 bar

It's very early days but we probably should be concentrating on those listed above already. In 13 previous editions at this venue, only two winners have been outside the top-ten after the first round and Phil Mickelson, ten years ago, is the only winner to come from more than four strokes adrift after the opening round. And he only trailed by five.

As highlighted in the preview, power off the tee is usually the key to victory here but it's noticeable how highly the early pacesetters are ranked for Driving Accuracy this time around, with the players reporting the rough to be particularly gnarly this year.

Although being up with the pace is key, Li, who ranks second for DA after the opening round, doesn't make much appeal at just 10.519/2. Francesco Molinari, who won wire-to-wire in 2010, is the only first round leader to go on to win and the Chinese star is bound to feel a bit of heat in front of a partisan crowd.

The defending champ, Xander Schauffele, is an obvious contender, despite a slightly scruffy finish to his first round but the one I like today is Paul's each-way fancy, Matthew Fitzpatrick, at 17.016/1. He's had a great year and he's been unlucky not to have won yet.

The Bermuda Championship (previewed here) is already underway and having initially only backed Dominic Bozzelli, I've since added Fabian Gomez at 70.069/1. Live coverage of the event begins at 16:30 UK time and I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with the venue.

WGC HSBC Champions Pre-Event Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 7.413/2
Justin Rose @ 19.018/1
Kurt Kitayama @ 160.0159/1
Abraham Ancer @ 160.0159/1

In-Play Picks:
Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 17.016/1
Xander Schauffele @ 6.86/1

Bermuda Championship Pre-Event Selections:
Dominic Bozzelli @ 70.069/1
Fabian Gomez @ 75.074/1 (bet paced after preview published)

In-Play Pick:
Harry Higgs @ 9.28/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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