The Punter's In-Play Blog: Is Pieters poised for Portuguese prize?

Golfer Thomas Pieters
Thomas Pieters - the odds-on favourite in Portugal

We've got odds-on favourites in Portugal and Mexico, but will Thomas Pieters and Viktor Hovland convert? Read Steve's final in-running thoughts for the week here...

“David Lynn won the 2013 edition from six back and Richard Green trailed by seven in 2010 so recent winners, Kristoffer Broberg and Nicolai Hojgaard, look worth chancing at odds-in excess of 40.039/1 for tiny stakes."

10:00 - November 7, 2021

This week's events, the Portugal Masters on the European Tour and the World Wide Technology Championship on the PGA Tour, were both inaugurated in 2007 and they've panned out in similar fashions all week so far this year.

The early leaders at both events, Nino Bertasio in Portugal, and Matthew Wolff in Mexico, both opened-up with ten-under 61s but both have fallen away and both tournaments now have odds-on favourites with a round to go. Here are the two leaderboards with prices to back at 9:50.

Thomas Pieters -16 1.8910/11
Matthieu Pavon -16 2.982/1
Lucas Bjerregaard -12 20.019/1
Kristoffer Broberg -11 44.043/1
Nicolai Hojgaard -10 46.045/1
Sam Horsfield -10 50.049/1
-9 120.0119/1 bar

Viktor Hovland -19 1.695/7
Talor Gooch -17 5.95/1
Justin Thomas -16 5.79/2
Carlos Ortiz -14 34.033/1
Sergio Garcia -13 850.0849/1
JJ Spaun -13 170.0169/1
-12 and 150.0149/1 bar

It looks like a two-man tussle in Portugal between the four-time European Tour winner and 2016 Ryder Cupper, Thomas Pieters, and the European Tour maiden, Matthew Pavon.

The market's correct to make the more experienced of the two the odds-on jolly but I'm in no rush to side with either. Pieters is never particularly reliable in-contention and Pavon is in front through three rounds for the first time.

Pieters has twice converted clear leads at the Czech Masters, in 2005 and 2019, but on the four other occasions he's led or been tied for the lead he's been beaten.

Pavon is in uncharted waters but his record when leading through two rounds is lamentable. He went from two clear to four back at the Turkish Airlines Challenge on the Challenge Tour in 2016 before rallying in round four to finish second but on the two occasions he led on the European Tour - at the Oman and Irish Opens in 2018 - he finished 31st and 10th!

The pair are well clear of the remainder and in calm conditions one of them really ought to be able to do enough to lift the trophy but it's often far from straightforward on the European Tour and we've witnessed a couple of off the pace winners here in the past.

David Lynn won the 2013 edition from six back and Richard Green trailed by seven in 2010 so recent winners, Kristoffer Broberg and Nicolai Hojgaard, look worth chancing at odds-in excess of 40.039/1 for tiny stakes.

With recent victories to draw upon, they'll be running free today and either man could go low enough to give the leaders something to think about.

Over in Mexico, the defending champion, Viktor Hovland, has edged a couple of strokes clear following an immaculate nine-under-par 62 around El Camaleón yesterday, and he's an understandably warm favourite to keep hold of the trophy.

The 24-year-old Norwegian was beaten at the Boise Open on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 after leading by a stroke through 54 holes but since then he's converted from the front at both the Puerto Rico Open in 2020 and at the BMW International Open on the European Tour in June.

John Huh eventually got the better of Robert Allenby in a protracted playoff back in 2012 after the pair had begun round four trailing by seven and five strokes respectively but the weather was foul that year and every other winner of the event has been inside the top-four places and within three of the lead with a round to go.

Everything points to Hovland and his accuracy from tee-to-green should stand him in good stead. So far this week he ranks second for Driving Accuracy and third for Greens In Regulation so if he can keep everything neat and tidy today he's going to take all the beating but he's short enough now. Although he's converted both of his last two 54-hole leads he didn't break 70 on either occasion, and it was far from smooth sailing. I'm more than happy to have got him onside yesterday but I'd be in no rush to back him at less than 1.75/7.

Talor Gooch is Hovland's closest pursuer but a week ahead of his 30th birthday, the Oklahoman is still in search of his first PGA Tour title and the pre-event favourite, Justin Thomas, who trails Hovland by three, looks the biggest danger.

It's been far from a stellar year for Thomas and he'll need to find fairways around this tight track to push the leader today but he came from behind for both of his last two wins - at the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational last year (four strokes) and the Players Championship in March (three strokes) - and he looks a very fair price at almost 5/1.

08:45 - November 6, 2021

The round one leader, Nino Bertasio, has had his lead cut from four to two strokes at the Portugal Masters and Belgium's Thomas Pieters has replaced him at the head the market. Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 08:20.

Nino Bertasio -12 6.05/1
Thomas Pieters -10 5.85/1
Adri Arnaus -10 8.415/2
Lucas Bjerregaard -10 12.5
Matthieu Pavon -10 12.5
Callum Shinkwin -9 12.5
Sam Horsfield -8 15.014/1
-7 and 27.026/1 bar

Bertasio's second round 69 yesterday was a decent enough effort given the circumstances. It's never easy to back up a super-low round and Thursday's 61 can certainly be filed under super-low.

I wasn't keen on his chances after round one and I haven't had a change of heart. The 33-year-old is yet to win on the European Tour and the stats suggest he's vulnerable.

David Lynn, in 2013, and Andy Sullivan two years later, are the only halfway leaders to go on and take the title here and plenty of winners have come from off the pace.

In the four renewals between 2009 and 2012, the winners came from three, four and five (twice) strokes back at this stage and the last three winners have trailed by five, six and eight shots at halfway.

This event is wide-open and I suspect the leaderboard will look quite different at the end of today.

As highlighted in the preview, the last nine winners in-a-row have all ranked inside the top seven for Putting Average so it's perhaps not surprising to see six of the top-11 at halfway ranking inside the top-eight for that stat.

Having driven nicely for two rounds and ranking third for Greens In Regulation after two rounds, Sam Horsfield interests me. The Englishman has been playing superbly from tee-to-green but he's not finding the bottom of the cup as often as he should.

Horsfield trails by four but he'll close that gap today if one or two putts start dropping and it's a similar story for the well-fancied pre-event 28.027/1 chance, Min woo Lee.

The 23-year-old Aussie, who won the Scottish Open in July, ranks second for Greens In Regulation (Bertasio ranks first) but he only ranks tied for 36th, alongside Horsfield, for PA,.

Lee trails by fully six strokes but just like Horsfield, if the putter warms up, he has the tee-to-green game to shoot up the leaderboard and they're my two in-play picks at this stage.

Over at the World Wide Technology Championship, the first round leader, Matthew Wolff, was matched at a low of just 2.546/4 as he threatened to pull away from the field but he stuttered towards the end of his second round, bogeying two of the last three holes. Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 8:25.

Matthew Wolff -13 5.69/2
Scottie Scheffler -11 6.86/1
Viktor Hovland -10 7.87/1
Carlos Ortiz -10 17.5
Justin Thomas -9 10.09/1
Billy Horschel -9 23.022/1
Aaron Wise -9 27.026/1
Sergio Garcia -9 30.029/1
Talor Gooch -9 34.033/1
Ryan Palmer -9 70.069/1
Michael Thompson -9 80.079/1
Anirban Lahiri -9 85.084/1
JJ Spaun -9 90.089/1
Bill Haas -9 120.0119/1
-8 and 42.041/1 bar

This event is shaping in much the same way as the Portugal Masters. The first-round leader, Matthew Wolff, who, like Bertasio, opened up with a ten-under-par 61, still leads after a decent second round but with 14 players within four strokes, it's another wide-open affair.

It's a high-class leaderboard with the defending champ, Viktor Hovland, the pre-event favourite, Justin Thomas, the hugely talented maiden, Scottie Scheffler, and the home hero, Carlos Ortiz, all snapping at Wolff's heels.

Wolff and Scheffler head the market but Hovland looks a big danger and after a ridiculously poor start to the tournament (three-over-par through nine holes) and having been matched at a high of 490.0489/1, Thomas is on the charge at a venue that suits him perfectly.

Having backed Thomas before the off, I've now also added Hovland. The defending champion has experienced two unfortunate incidents so far this week - one that might actually turn out to be a plus, and one that most certainly wasn't a positive...

He lent Danny Lee his driver on the range on Wednesday as it's fractionally longer than Lee's. The pair were speed training and curious to see if the extra length made a difference, but Lee belted it so hard he broke the club!

With no manufacturers on site this week, Hovland had a big problem but he eventually managed to borrow a shaft from James Hahn and although it's slightly shorter than his usual, it hasn't hampered him so far.

"It almost helped me this week because it's a little shorter. It probably goes 10 yards shorter, but I just felt like I could really hit it a little lower and a little straighter. So I'm hitting that thing really well."

Hovland's second stroke of misfortune was to hit a greenside sprinkler head on the first hole yesterday (his tenth hole of round two) and that led to a lost ball and a double-bogey six.

"I didn't have very far in and I pushed it a little bit and literally landed four steps right of the pin, hits a sprinkler head and goes in the trees over the green. That was obviously--that's a bad break."

Although course form holds up nicely here, we're yet to see anyone defend the title. Hovland is poised to become the first and I thought 8.07/1 was just too big but much like the Portugal Masters, the stats here suggest that we could very easily witness an off the pace winner.

Hovland trailed by seven at this stage last year and the 2016 winner, Pat Perez, trailed by five so with a huge group of ten tied for fifth and just four off the pace, and a further pack of seven trailing by only five in a tie for 15th, Wolff and co are going to have to keep going low.

The two I like at big prices are Michael Thompson, who's tied for 5th on -9, and Garrick Higgo, who's a stroke behind in a tie for 15th.

Thompson doesn't contend very often but when he does, he's usually reliable. He won the 3M Open from the front last year and he was brilliant at the Honda Classic in 2013, repelling all challengers in challenging conditions. I thought he was over-priced at 80.079/1 and I was surprised to see Higgo trading at 100/1 with the Sportsbook.

The South African won the Palmetto Championship on the PGA Tour from off the pace (trailed by six at halfway and after three rounds) in June and having won back-to-back on the European Tour in April and May, he's in search of his fourth title in less than eight months.

08:45 - November 5, 2021

There was a very slight draw bias in favour of the afternoon starters on day one of the Portugal Masters (0.26) but it was morning starter, Nino Bertasio, that was the star of the show.

The 33-year-old's ten-under-par 61 was four shots better than afternoon starter, Adri Arnaus, five better than Gavin Green, and six shots better than anyone else in the field could muster.

Bertasio led this event at halfway back in 2017 so he had a bit of course form to boast but his challenge dwindled away and he eventually finished 12th. He also led after the opening round of 2019 Scottish Open before finishing fourth and he's led after rounds two and three on a further four occasions without converting.

The Swiss-born Italian won a couple of Alps Tour events way back in 2014 but he's never tasted success at a higher level than that and despite looking like getting the better of the weather today, with the wind forecasted to drop, he looks short enough at around 5.04/1.

Over at the World Wide Technology Championship, Matthew Wolff matched Nino's ten-under-par 61 and he looks a better bet than the Italian at odds in excess of 7.06/1. Fred Funk won the inaugural staging of the event wire-to-wire in 2007 and two of the last four winners, Patton Kizzire and Matt Kuchar, were both leading after round one.

There was a bigger draw bias in Mexico with the early starters enjoying an advantage of almost a stroke (0.98) and with the wind predicted to drop today, those drawn AM-PM look like getting the better of it.

Both events have been in existence since 2007 and we've only witnessed two first round leaders go on to win in Portugal. Andy Sullivan, in 2015, and David Lynn two years earlier, were both tied for the lead after the opening round.

Both events look wide-open at this early stage so I'm going to wait and see what today brings and I'll have a more detailed look at halfway.

Portugal Masters Pre-Event Selections:
Joakim Lagergren @ 70.069/1 - Non Runner
Sebastian Soderberg @ 70.069/1
Renato Paratore @ 70.069/1 and 66/1 each-way (Sportsbook)
Andy Sullivan @ 70.069/1

In-Play Picks:
Sam Horsfield @ 15.014/1
Min Woo Lee @ 32.031/1

World Wide Technology Championship Pre-Event Selection:
Justin Thomas @ 19.018/1

In-Play Picks:
Viktor Hovland @ 8.07/1
Michael Thompson @ 80.079/1

Garrick Higgo @ 100/1 (Sportsbook each-way)

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back 1.5 u Pep Angles @ 160.0159/1
Place order to lay 8u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back 2 u Lucas Herbert @ 150.0149/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back 1.5 u Stephan Jaeger @ 190.0189/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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