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Masters preview


We are here, Masters week, and that excitement that’s been building for weeks, has gone into overdrive everyday. Sunday night, a wide range of golfing personalities took to Twitter, and other Social Media platforms, to share their photos of Augusta National. The pairings then got released on Tuesday afternoon, which again got people more than excited for the start of the event.

Those that won’t be excited this year, are those that are big Tiger Woods fans, as the current World No.1 misses his first Masters, in his glittering career. Tiger played here once as an amateur back in 1995, and then made his first appearance as a pro in 1996. He missed the cut in his first start as pro, but the very next year he won the first of his four Green Jackets.

Without Tiger though, there is still plenty of action to enjoy, and this year is one of the most open Masters  in a very long time.

We have a whole host of hopeful debutants, who will all be looking to break the record, and become the first debutant to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. With the likes of Harris English, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Speith and Patrick Reed all making their debut, and coming into this week off the back of a great season, it would not be a huge surprise to see that happen.

The Course: Augusta National, par 72, 7,435 yards. This is one of, if not the most renowned courses in golf, and every player makes it their lifetime ambition to drive down Magnolia Lane, and tee off at this wonderful golf course for the first time. Well known for it’s fast greens and short rough, players will have to ensure their approaches into the greens are on point, and their putting matches.

Length is a factor here, you don’t see many short hitters win here, with the most obvious exception being Zach Johnson, who won it in very different conditions, back in 2007. So long hitters should have an advantage, as their approach shots into the greens should be made easier by their tee shots.

If you are one of the shorter hitters, then your play with the long irons will become very important. Scoring well on the Par 5s is a must if you want to contend here, and if you don’t, you could well lose a lot of ground.

Despite this, I still think it’s the greens that catch people out the most, the quick undulating surfaces give players all sorts of nightmares, so players will be mapping out the ideal landing spots, to make the putts as easy as possible. If you do miss the greens, scrambling ability will be vital, so look to players with a good short game.

Course experience still remains a vital component, and I will definitely be looking to Augusta veterans for a winner this year. As aforementioned, you have to go back to 1979 to find the last time a player won, on their first visit to this wonderful course. There are players that play this course well a lot of the time, and therefore become obvious picks, but if you’re looking for an outsider, a player with at least one showing here is always helpful.

Of course you’re going to consider debutants, there’s too many (20+) here not too, so for me, it’s worth looking at the players adaptability when playing other courses for the first time.

Market Leaders: Rory Mcilroy 14/1, Adam Scott 18/1, Phil Mickelson 22/1, Jason Day 25/1, Sergio Garcia 28/1

The first three in the betting pick themselves, Mcilroy is always going to favourite when Tiger isn’t in the field, and Scott won here last year, so there’s no surprise those two head the betting. Mickelson is a four-time winner here, so again he earns his place at third in the betting, despite injury worries.

As for Day and Garcia, both have proven they are in with a shout this year for different reasons.  Day’s form of 2-wd-3 obviously proves he is comfortable with Augusta, and his win at the WGC Match-Play means he comes in the shortest he ever has, whilst Garcia has been playing some of the best golf of his career in recent months, and will appeal to many.

I have a main concern for both, and that’s why in the end I managed to look past both, as I did the three at the head of the betting.

Day has been out of tournament action for six weeks, since his win at the WGC, due to thumb and back problems, and this week he has said that although he is ready to go, he will have his thumb wrapped for precaution. This would worry me as a Day backer greatly, because if he was as ready to go, as he says he is, I cannot see why you would hinder your chances with any strapping. There is also a rumour that he has had to have a cortisone injection to get through the pain, which to me would suggest he’s struggled with pain during his preparation.

As for Garcia, he has never been shy to voice his opinion about the course, once stating that he simply didn’t like Augusta. The exact quote read “I don’t like it, to tell you the truth. I don’t think it is fair,” Garcia said. “Even when it’s dry you still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway. It’s too much of a guessing game.” He did later apologise for this, but it just sounds as if he finds anything he can to blame for his misfortune here, and isn’t ideal.

On top of that, he’s also said in the past, he doesn’t feel he’s good enough to win a major, and that is an obvious concern. Self belief is a huge part of winning golf tournaments, and although he’s found some more in recent months, it would still bother me that he has thought like that in the past. I am sure every golfer has, but keeping it to yourself, and saying it to the media is very different, in my opinion. It sounds as though he’s struggled to cope with the pressure, and added attention that’s been on him heading into these major championship, due to his obvious talent.

Whilst many find the self confidence, or what some might consider arrogance of some of the younger players on Tour a negative, this attitude sits a lot better with me than the past negativity shown by someone like Garcia. Patrick Reed and Matt Every are both prime examples of players who know they are good enough to win, and are very forthcoming about, and it will be interesting to see who comes out with the most majors by the end of their career, someone like Garcia, or those similar to Every and Reed.

Enough of that, here are five players who I will be backing to get the job done at Augusta this week.

Matt Kuchar 25/1 (Ladbrokes, SportingBet) 2.5pts e/w: Despite failing to convert on two chances to win, in as many weeks, Kuchar has shown plenty coming into Masters week, and his form on this course has been solid, since 2010.

In that time, Kuchar has the most top-10s on the PGA Tour with 43, backing up his label of “Mr. Consistency”. Not only has he amassed this great number of top finishes, but he’s also added 4 PGA Tour wins to his résumé, in that time, and in very prestigious events too. His first win that came between 2010-2013 was at the FedEx Cup play off event, The Barclays, followed two years later with a win at the Players Championship.

Both of these events are massive on the PGA Tour calender, for multiple reasons, especially the Players, which is often referred to as “the 5th major”. It didn’t stop there for Kuchar however, as he then went of to win twice in 2013, at both the WGC- Match Play and The Memorial. His 2013 season really put him amongst the game’s elite, and I expect that to continue for a while.

Not only does he have these impressive wins under his belt, and some great current form, but he also boasts great course form at Augusta, and when you couple those two things together, he looks to fit the profile this year.

He first played here in 2002 and although he missed the cut back then, he managed to make the cut on his 2nd appearance, eight years later, in 2010. This started his current streak of four straight made cuts here, and those four finishes look like this; 24th in 2010, 27th in 2011, 3rd in 2012 and 8th in 2013, which proves just how comfortable he is with the layout now.

There are no real weaknesses in his game, and at the moment he is the model of consistency, so hopefully he can keep that up here, en-route to his first major victory. As aforementioned, he has missed out on two golden opportunities to win in the last two weeks, but this seemed out of character and I would like to think he’s learnt from both experiences.

This will be 6th visit to Augusta and I am hoping his time will finally come, to win a major. The Masters looks to be the best chance of him winning one, and I wholeheartedly believe he will wear the Green Jacket at some point in his career.

At 25/1 it’s hard to tell whether Kuchar represents good value or not, considering he’s still yet to win a major, and has recently shown weakness when in contention, but I am happy to take a chance on him. He is a proven winner, with a now, great record here, and experience at Augusta has always been considered vital.

Brandt Snedeker 35/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w: 2014 hasn’t been the year Brandt Snedeker would of been hoping for so far, but a T8 finish in his last start at Bay Hill restores faith.

Much like Kuchar, Snedeker has become increasingly consistent over the years, ranking high himself in top-10 finishes since 2010, and his form at Augusta National is solid too.

In six Masters appearances, he has only missed the cut once, back in 2009. He played here for the first time in 2004 and finished 41st, then finished 3rd on his next start, back in 2008. After the aforementioned missed cut in 2009, Snedeker went on to finish in the top-20 in three consecutive appearances, finishing 15th, 19th and 6th, the 6th coming twelve months ago.

The 6th place finish here last year could of, and should of been a whole lot better, as he went into the final round sharing the lead with Angel Cabrera. He failed however, to keep it together during the final day and shot a +3 round of 75, which saw him drop into a share of 6th with impressive debutant Thorbjorn Olesen.

There is no getting away from the fact that up until his last start, Snedeker has been out of sorts, and that is why you can get 40/1 on him this week. He has been suffering from injuries over the last couple of years, and he needs to put a few weeks together before we see him feature regularly again.

What I am hoping, is that his 8th place finish at Bay Hill was enough to give him the confidence he needs to play well again, in the first major of the season. He has proved now on multiple occasions that he can navigate his way round Augusta, and if he’s hot with the putter he can win anywhere he likes. Despite improving last time out, he will still of needed to improve his approach game, and hopefully he is in shape this week.

During a practice round with Harris English yesterday, he advised the debutant to hit a full pitching wedge to the par-3 12th, rather than a 3/4 9 iron, the shot recommended to him by his caddie, only to see his playing partner slam dunk it for a hole-in-one. Not only can he play well himself here, he can also draw on his experience to give help to others before the off, and hopefully he can process such thoughts for himself over the weekend.

It is taking a chance this time around, whereas last year I was convinced he could get the job done, I am now hoping the confidence gained from his performance at Bay Hill will be enough for him to play well again, in his pursuit of the Green Jacket. If he can get off to a good start in round one, I think that will settle him and give him the boost he needs to go on and contend, over the weekend.

Lee Westwood 50/1 (General*) 1pt e/w: Lee Westwood, like Snedeker has not had a great start to 2014 by any means, but again like Snedeker, he played well on his last start, finishing 17th in Houston last week.

It was a relief to see Westwood have a good tournament at the Shell Houston Open, as he’s always one to keep tabs on at Augusta, and this year may be the time to be on the Augusta veteran.

Yes you can call him that, he’s played here on fourteen occasions now, and has finished 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 8th in that time and this time I can see him going one better, despite another major heartbreak last year, at the Open. Westwood has now finished at least 3rd in all four majors, and Augusta is still the best stomping ground for him.

He led the 2010 Masters going into the final round, only to be beat by an impressive Phil Mickelson, who finished round 4 and the week, with a bogey-free 67 to finish three strokes ahead of Westwood. Although it was the worst round of the week for him, Westwood still finished under par, despite starting erratically.

I will find it really hard to accept if he finishes his career without a major, considering the level he’s played at for so many years, and he deserves one as much as any player in the game.

One thing that may work in his favour, is that he will come into this week slightly under the radar, due to his slow start this season, so less pressure from the outside may mean he can give himself a break and stay calm if he finds himself in contention again. It’s not as if Westwood doesn’t know how to win, he’s done it 39 times since turning professional, so hopefully this week he makes it the magic 40, when donning the Green Jacket.

Between 2010-2013 he has finished; 2nd, 11th, 3rd and 8th, and although he’s not in the best of form currently, he should be able to better that 8th place finish in 2013.

The long and short of it is, that Westwood tends to turn it on when he drives down Magnolia Lane, and if he can stay cool under pressure, with long-term caddie Billy Foster now back on the bag, he may just get that major he’s been longing for.

Angel Cabrera 66/1 (General*) 1pt e/w: It is importable to write off “El Pato” and considering his form at Augusta National, he constantly comes in at a big price.

His price has gradually dropped over the last few weeks, especially after Tiger Woods withdrew, but 66/1 about a player who has won here, and finished in the top-10 a further four times since 2002 is still more than fair.

Course experience, and form is vital when looking for a Masters winner, and this man has it in abundance. He went toe-to-toe with last year’s winner Adam Scott last year, eventually losing in a play-off.

Cabrera shared the 54-hole lead with Brandt Snedeker, and it wouldn’t of been easy playing with someone, who was clearly so nervous going into the final day. That is where Cabrera appeals so much.

He is well known for his calm demeanour, and that’s exactly why he contends in and wins major championships. He has won both the Masters and the U.S Open and considering his credentials here, I see no reason why he won’t compete again.

The man could literally miss every cut throughout the season, before pulling into Augusta, and I would still have to consider him, and this time I couldn’t leave him out.

There’s not much that needs to be said about him, his last five finishes have been, 2nd, 32nd, 7th, 18th and 1st, and he’s only missed three cuts in his long career, so he is one of the safest bets in the field to play well here, in my opinion.

Stephen Gallacher 250/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: I was not keen to get too many debutants on side, but one player who has really started to elevate his game in the last couple of years, is Stephen Gallacher.

The Scot, a European Tour regular has now won three times on Tour, despite it being nine years between his first win in 2004 and his second in 2013.

He is best known for his wins at the Dubai Desert Classic, which he has won back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. This is one of the bigger events on the European Tour schedule and he had to fight off pressure from the likes of Rory Mcilroy to get the job done.

We know he can go low, he highlighted that with his flawless -9/63 in the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic this year, and hopefully he can be a quick learner and get to grips with Augusta quickly on the first visit.

Although debutants don’t win here, as a rule, I see no reason why he can’t go well, and I really do think if he gets in contention he could put up a strong challenge.

If it wasn’t for his strong performance in the WGC- Cadillac, last month when finishing T6, I may not of picked him. This does however show he is willing to rub shoulders with the best in the game, and is not daunted by the big stage.

If there is a weakness in his game, it can be his putting, but this season he has been pretty solid on the greens and hopefully he can keep that up here. We know putting will be vital and the speed of the greens is what often catches out first-timers here, so that would be my main concern.

This is a price orientated pick, he seems a bit on the big side for someone who has got a win this season, and last, and also performed well at Doral (WGC Cadillac) at the first time of asking.

The greens at Doral caught plenty out this year, because of the wholesome changes made to the course, so the fact he coped well, shows some encouraging signs that he could do it here. He is a late bloomer, at 39 he has only just started playing his best golf, but hopefully that can aid him in dealing with the added pressure that comes with his first Masters appearance.


 Special Bets

 First Round Leader: K.J Choi 100/1 (Ladbrokes) 1pt e/w: 

K.J Choi has been playing some good golf in this wraparound season, and this week he will be returning to his favourite major venue, Augusta National.

Choi has finished 4th, 8th and 10th here in the past, proving his competence around this track, and he’s also featured at the top of the leaderboard on more than one occasion after day one.

He was in the top-5 after round one, in 2004, 2010 and 2011, and I do not see why he can’t start fast again this year. At 100/1 I think it’s well worth the gamble that the Korean can get out of the blocks fast, once again and this is the avenue I decided to go down in backing him this week.

I was going to back him outright, after he started 2014 well, but his last three events have put me off in that respect. I am though, still more than happy to see if he can give us a quick return on the week, and start the week as we mean to go on.

Total Points Staked: 15

Profit/Loss for 2014: +160.45

It’s the first major of the year, and I am sure everyone is getting that bit more excited every day. Despite finding it incredibly tough to narrow the players down, I am happy with my selections, hoping that past experience at Augusta shines through. This is arguably the best group of Masters debutants we have had in a while, and it’s possible Fuzzy Zoeller’s record is gone this week.

*Denotes that price is available at StanJames, who are offering six places.

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