BMW PGA Championship final round preview: Debutants Laporta and Canter chased by experienced quartet

The West Course at Wentworth witnessed a thrilling third round which left two unheralded players first and second, but all to play for on Sunday.

Heading into its final day, the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, is being skippered by a pair of rookie sailors.

The West Course at Wentworth presents a far from straightforward test, with tricky crosswinds, undulations like the high seas, and greens that can be as baffling as the shipping forecast.

In the last quarter of a century only Scott Drummond and Ben An have won here with zero knowledge - and 14 of the last 16 winners had experience of plotting their way around the course on a Sunday when starting in the top three.

None of that seemed to bother Italy's Francesco Laporta and England's Laurie Canter on Saturday.

The pair of tournament debutants started the day in the final two groups and on Sunday they will be the last pair to leave harbour.

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Laporta carded a 69 to lead on 14-under, Canter's 70 left him one blow back, but they will be chased to the line, principally by the quartet in a tie for third on 12-under: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Billy Horschel, Adam Scott and Jamie Donaldson.

Laporta insisted afterwards that he feels no pressure, that in fact finishing fourth last week in the Italian Open was a greater strain on him.

"I'm feeling relaxed," he said. "Last week saved my card and I feel comfortable now. I'm playing better. It will be tough, but I like to be under pressure. This is what we play for."

He may be emboldened by the prospect of becoming the fourth Italian winner of this event in 26 years, much as Canter hopes to become yet another Englishman who completes the journey from youngster outside the ropes to champion inside them.

Between them, the top six thrilled the galleries on the back nine with 18 birdies, one eagle and not one dropped shot.

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After holing that eagle putt at the last Donaldson said: "Everybody went mental. The pins will be more difficult tomorrow, but the crowds are electric. You want to hit good shots in front of this many people. It's the best, just awesome."

Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders and the key stats.

Francesco Laporta - leader on 14-under

Winner of the 2019 Challenge Tour Grand Final, the Italian has landed three top four finishes in the last two seasons at the top table, the most recent of them last week on home soil.

His responses to ending a round on the European Tour with a lead, however, have been less sure. He was also the solo halfway leader in the 2016 Trophee Hassan II but finished 76-78 for T22nd. He repeated that 36 hole position in the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship then closed 69-74 for T17th. And after a 63 earned him a first round lead in this year's Canary Islands Championship, the birdies dried up at the weekend and he finished T27th.

To weigh against those struggles at the top, both his Challenge Tour wins came from leading after 54 holes. He may well rue missing two short birdies putts on 17 and 18.

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Laurie Canter - solo second on 12-under

Like Laporta the Englishman has a shaky record with a European Tour lead. He shared the 18 hole top spot in the 2018 Italian Open, but finished T36th. Two years later, in the same event, he led after 18, 36 and 54 holes before a final round 72 left him in second. Shortly afterwards he tied the third round lead in the DP World Tour Championship before a closing 71 left him tied fifth.

The chasers - tied third on 12-under

Billy Horschel revealed when finishing tied fourth on his tournament debut two years ago that he has always been a big fan of the course and he's backed that up again this year. He also arrived in smart form, having been the seventh low scorer in last week's Tour Championship.

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Christiaan Bezuidenhout said after a back nine of 32: "I've been playing well lately. I just feel on top of my game really. Working on the right stuff, my game feels better, I'm getting closer. Always exciting going into a Sunday with a chance to win a tournament."

The new Wentworth seems to suit Adam Scott more than the old version. Five previous starts on the West Course had failed to reap a top 10 and now he looks set to end that drought, maybe in the best way possible.

Jamie Donaldson has twice finished in the top 10 at Wentworth, but not since 2011 and he's missed his last three cuts on the course. He's made four eagles this week, three in the second round and then again on the 18th hole to prompt overnight dreams of veteran triumph.

The Ryder Cup hopefuls

Shane Lowry loves the course: he has eight top 15 finishes in 11 visits with a best of second in 2014. He gave himself a boost by draining a 9-foot birdie putt at the 18th.

Bernd Wiesberger was 3-over-par through six holes on Thursday, facing not only a missed cut this week, but also slipping out of automatic Ryder Cup qualification. His third round 67 vaulted him up both leaderboards.

Lowry has valid hopes of getting a wildcard pick from Padraig Harrington. Wiesberger has no such fall-back and therefore has two enormous prizes in his sights on Sunday. Will Whistling Straits be an inspiration or a distraction for them both on Sunday? They start the final round on 11-under, three behind the leader.

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Wentworth stats

16 of the last 25 championship winners were first or tied first heading into the final lap and another six (22 in total) were in the top five and ties.

The three exceptions, however, reminds us that the West Course has witnessed some really dramatic final round comebacks. Anders Hansen was T7th and five shots back when winning in 2007, Simon Khan was T13th and seven back in 2010 and Alex Noren was the most dramatic: T21st when seven back in 2017 (we can also add Rory McIlroy to this list: he was tied fourth on the leaderboard, but seven back when he triumphed in 2014).

Let's also add a reminder of something we noted in the Halfway Hut: knowledge of being in-contention matters in this event. 14 of the last 16 winners here had been in the top three (and ties) after 54 holes in a previous championship. In other words, they knew exactly what it was like to sleep on the idea of winning the event.

Who in the current top 10 boasts that experience? Only Bezuidenhout and Lowry, with Horschel close after his tied fourth two years ago. In the top 25, Shubhankar Sharma and Justin Rose (both T14th) qualify.

And here's a final thought, the Scrambling rankings of the most recent winners here: Tyrrell Hatton first (2020), Danny Willett eighth (2019), Francesco Molinari first (2018), Alex Noren fourth (2017). A little further back both Luke Donald in 2012 and Ben An in 2015 ranked first for saving par.

Here are the top 10's current Scrambling rankings: Laporta 5th, Canter 53rd, Bezuidenhout 10th, Donaldson 17th, Horschel 5th, Scott 46th, Lowry 12th, Crocker 23rd, Wiesberger 53rd.

Conclusion

Bezuidenhout, Horschel and Lowry have the course experience and the scrambling skills to take on the vulnerable top pair. Bezuidenhout is 6/1, Horschel 8/1 and Lowry 10/1. We highlighted Bezuidenhout in the Halfway Hut at 14/1. If you're already on it might pay to add Horschel. Otherwise the South African looks to have a great shot at the title.

Can Sharma join the ranks of those comeback performers?! He's ranking fourth for Scrambling, was tied third after 54 holes in 2019, and has three top 20s in his last four starts. He's a huge 200/1.

READ MORE: Stricker's Ryder Cup wildcards: Rookie error or Captain sensible?

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