Augusta, Amen Corner, Magnolia Lane, Green Jacket, The Masters. This is all you’re going to hear this week, and I for one won’t get bored with hearing it at all.
It’s finally here, Masters week, and the start of the first major championship in the golfing calendar. The attention as ever has revolved around both World No.1, Rory McIlroy and current World No. 111, Tiger Woods, both for very different reasons.
After his Open Championship win last July, McIlroy has found himself just one major short of the career grand slam and that major is, the Masters. He famously lead here after 54 holes as a 21-year old in 2011 but he blew his chance of his first major success, shooting an 80 in the final round.
He has come on leaps and bounds as a player since, and now has an Open Championship, a U.S Open and two US PGA Championships to his name, and will arrive at Augusta this week more determined than ever to get the job done, and completely erase that memory from four years ago.
A player who will be equally determined to succeed, however is trending in a completely different direction to McIlroy is the aforementioned, Tiger Woods.
A four-time winner of this event, Woods ended all speculation last week via Twitter and confirmed he will tee it up this week, despite persistent doubt at to whether he would be “tournament ready” in time. Alarm bells rung loudest when Woods missed the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, an event he has won eight times. Woods was adamant he did not want to play until he was ready to compete, something that shouldn’t surprise anyone, given his competitive nature.
There’s no telling what sort of shape his game is going to be in come Thursday, especially given the fact he hasn’t played Tournament golf since February, but if you believe everything you read, his game is in much better shape than it was the last time we saw him play.
So with these two dominating the headlines, who else is being considered a top contender for the much coveted “Green Jacket”? Tiger Woods is 50/1 which will no doubt tempt some, despite his obvious struggles in the last 18 months, but let’s look at the five players behind 6/1 favourite, Rory McIlroy in the betting.
Jordan Spieth – 11/1
Arguably the best player in the World right now, Jordan Spieth has starting fulfilling his potential over the last six months, and is now beginning to exceed expectations, except maybe his own.
Since shooting to prominence in 2013, with a win at the John Deere Classic, Spieth has a further two wins, one at the Australian Open last November, the other at the Valspar Championship in March and currently ranks #4 in the world.
In 2014, Spieth made his debut at Augusta, not only that, but after 54-holes was tied for the lead with eventual winner, Bubba Watson. Spieth at one point went two-strokes clear of Watson and was on-course to be the youngest ever winner of the Masters (Tiger Woods was 21). It wasn’t to be, as Watson retook the lead on the back-9 and never gave Spieth another chance.
In recent weeks he has posted back-to-back runner-up finishes in his last two starts, being beaten by an inspired Jimmy Walker in the Valero Texas Open, a home event for both players, and last week he fought his way into a play-off with J.B Holmes and Johnson Wagner, with the former coming out victorious.
It would be ridiculous to write Spieth off, and I will not do that but at 11/1 he makes no great appeal as a betting prospect. History suggests finishing well in consecutive seasons is very difficult, with only Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood posting back-to-back top-10s in the last two seasons, and although 2013 champion Adam Scott has finished no worse than 14th in the last four seasons, it is very difficult to stay consistent around Augusta.
Top-15 finishes at the Masters are hard enough, let alone backing up a 2nd place finish with a win a year later, and I sense Spieth may struggle with the added expectation from both himself and the US media this time around.
If price was no factor, then of course I would like to have someone like Spieth on-side, especially with the form he’s in, but from a betting stand-point I am happy to avoid him at 11/1.
Bubba Watson – 12/1
2014 champion, Bubba Watson will be looking to defend his Masters title for the second time in his career, and will hope to improve on his effort in 2013, following his 2012 victory. He finished in a tie for 50th in 2013, and he was very forthcoming about his struggles with defending that year.
A year later and he wins his second Masters title, and this time around I can only imagine he’ll fare better than he did in 2013. He looks better equipped to defend this time around, as he followed up his win here last year, with a win at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November, whereas after winning at Augusta in 2012, he went without a win until February 2014.
He has finished no worse than T14 since his win in November, and his last 3 starts read 3-14-2. His most recent finish of 3rd came at another WGC, this time the Cadillac in Doral and he had a real chance of winning there as well, before blowing up late on, on Sunday.
Whilst again he doesn’t particularly appeal at 12/1 this time around, this course no doubt suits his game to the ground, and he definitely has the ability to tear this course to pieces, and become only the second player to win three Green Jackets in four years, the other? Jack Nicklaus
Jason Day 16/1
Jason Day has finished inside the top-20 on three of his four visits to Augusta, and had it of not been for an injury which forced him to withdraw in 2012, he could have easily of made it 4/4 top-20’s here, which is obviously superb.
He finished 2nd to Charl Schwartzel on debut in 2011, and has since followed that up with a 3rd place finish in 2013 and a more modest 20th place finish last year.
This time around however, he looks to of put the worst of injury worries behind him, something that has hampered his career, and he managed to add his 3rd PGA Tour title at Torrey Pines back in February. After going four years between his first and second PGA Tour wins, he’s got two in the space of 12 months, ahead of this years Masters, and that is a much more encouraging strike-rate.
Like his compatriot, Adam Scott, Day tends to play a limited schedule on the PGA Tour, most probably due to fitness issues, but this year he has played in six events on the PGA Tour, finishing in the top-10 three times including his win, and top-20 a further two times, including on his last start at the Bay Hill last month.
He has finished runner-up at both the Masters (2011) and the U.S Open (2011,2013) so he certainly has the major pedigree, and for me Augusta is the most likely venue for Day to fulfil the potential he clearly has.
At 16/1 he was slightly harder to rule out than both Spieth and Watson, but again I am going to leave him out as I feel his price is about right.
Dustin Johnson 16/1
Dustin Johnson has been in the form of his life since returning from his 6-month leave of absence from the PGA Tour, and he will no doubt be as confident as he ever has been, when driving down Magnolia Lane.
However, if I was to pick a major for Johnson to finally break the duck at it wouldn’t be here, owing to the fact his T13 finish in 2013 is by far his best effort here.
He missed the cut last year, and apart from that has finishes T30, and T38 twice. Now this isn’t to say I am happy to rule him out, as I am not, I just think there is better value elsewhere, now he’s shortened to 16/1.
Johnson obviously has distance off the tee on his side, so he has that going for him, but I would just rather be on him for any of the other three majors, where he has placed in the top-5 of each.
He’s missed two cuts this year, one at his first competitive tournament in 6 months, the other at the tough Honda Classic and other than that he’s finished no worse than T6 on four starts. He has won and finished runner-up in a play-off in that time too, so although form points very much in his favour I am going to leave him out based on price and a lack of solid course form.
Adam Scott 20/1
The “outsider” of the top 5/6 in the betting is 2013 Masters Champion, Adam Scott. Scott has a phenomenal record around Augusta National, and has finished no worse than 14th on his last four starts, so his one of very few that performs here, year in-year out.
Looking at his form in 2015, you would be forgiven for thinking that Scott is struggling at the moment, but this is without a doubt down to his change of putter in recent weeks.
As he looks to prepare for life without anchoring in 2016, Scott attempted to revert back to the standard size putter, firstly at WGC-Cadillac, and he fared well finishing T4 but he has not been able to replicate that since.
He missed the cut in Tampa last month, at the Valspar Championship and also only managed a T35 finish at Bay Hill, a course he won at in 2o11.
This is largely, if not all down to his putter, he is struggling on the greens but he has confirmed he will return to the long putter this week, and with that news he becomes a whole different prospect altogether.
If you look over at course form here over the last four years, Scott is very hard to top, with Watson’s two wins possibly the only exception. Scott has finished 14-1-8-2 in his last four attempts and he has a clear affinity with Augusta National.
In my opinion, based on the fact he will be using the long putter, I see Scott as the pick of the bunch at the head of the betting, and as a result will be including him in my plan.
Other players such as Henrik Stenson (22/1), Jimmy Walker (25/1) and Phil Mickelson (25/1) are also well fancied, and of the three I am only confident of leaving Stenson out.
I do not rate the Swede’s chances at all, based on his record here, and his suspect short game when in contention at Bay Hill last month.
Jimmy Walker has been tussling with Spieth and McIlroy for the title of “best player in the World” in recent months, and enters this week a career-high #10 in the World Rankings and also finished an inspiring 8th on debut last year.
That leaves Mickelson, who as we all know is a big fan of this place, donning the Green Jacket no less than three times in his career and after a return to form last week, he has understandably shortened in the market. I’m still not convinced his short game is where it needs to be to win this week, and he disappointed over the weekend in Houston last week, finishing T17, despite looking like he was going to contend over the course of the first two days.
The Course and relevant stats: Augusta National, par 72, 7,435 yards. Well known for its short rough, and lightening fast greens, Augusta provides a unique test that every golfer dreams of taking on.
Due to the short rough, longer hitters tend to prosper here, as their advantage off the tee in terms of distance gives them an immediate advantage over those who are short-to-average in terms of Driving Distance.
There have been obvious exceptions, Zach Johnson who is well-known for his modest distance off the tee won here in 2007, but conditions were very different that year, and since his win only Charl Schwartzel, who ranked 4oth in Driving Distance the year he won has really bucked the trend of longer hitters winning.
Good scoring on the par-5s is essential, even when Johnson won in 2007 he did so by taking advantage of the long holes, as he finished -11 on the par-5s whilst last year’s winner, Watson finished -8, which was also his 72-hole score for the week.
The top three last year (Watson, Jonas Blixt and Spieth) shot a combined -19 on the par-5s over the course of the week, whilst they shot +3 on the par-4’s. Spieth shot level par on the 4’s, whilst Blixt was +2 and Watson was +1. Both Spieth and Watson shot level par on the par-3s, making they scores on the par-5 the most relevant whilst Blixt also finished -1 on the week on the par-3s.
This confirms how important it is to take advantage of the birdie holes on this course, whilst it may be somewhat damage limitation on the par 4s.
For me this also makes par-4 performance important, and if you could find someone you like who ranks highly in both par-4 and par-5 performance (scoring average), who can also get it out there off the tee, you should find yourself a solid selection.
It’s worth nothing that Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) still remains the only debutant to win the Masters, despite the efforts of both Blixt and Spieth last year.
Tiger Woods also remains the only player to miss the cut the year since 1979, to win the Masters a year after missing the cut, when he won in 1997.
Trends are eventually broken, and I’m sure a player will win the Masters a year after missing the cut at some point in the future, and a debutant seems to have an increasingly good chance as the years go by, although it does seem hard to imagine someone winning on their first attempt around Augusta.
As a result I am happy to avoid debutants, and would advise anyone to back any debutant they may fancy in the side markets, such as top-20.
After analysing the head of the betting and looking at relevant course and statistical information, I have narrowed down my picks.
Here are my selections for the 2015 Masters.
Adam Scott 20/1 (General, Betfair 7 places) 2pts e/w:
There’s not a lot to say that I haven’t already, but with the long putter in the bag, I am fully confident Adam Scott can continue his rich vein of form at Augusta, and without the added pressure of being defending champion this time around, I am sure he can contend once again.
Even when he was in “defending champion” mode, he still managed a very respectable 14th place finish, and I expect him to emulate that this time around.
His record at Augusta in recent years is very difficult to match, with Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood the only other two players to of finished in the top-15 in the last two Masters, both of whom have ultimately failed to win here, or at any major for that matter.
Simply, there is no one in the field that can boast a consistent run of form as Scott has in the last few years, with a win in-between and therefore I do think he represents some value at 20/1.
Jimmy Walker 25/1 (General, Betway 6 places) 2pts e/w:
Possibly the best statistical fit this week, Jimmy Walker looks a great bet to win his first major championship, just two weeks after securing his 5th PGA Tour win 18 months.
Walker ranks 17th in Driving Distance, 12th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 4th in Par 5 Scoring Average, which highlights just how high of a level he is playing at, at this stage in his career and all three of these are important factors for me this week.
He played in his first Masters last year, finishing 8th, and I can certainly see him going better than that this time around.
Whilst expectation will be raised this time around, even in his current form he is not one that the spotlight is completely focused on, thanks to the likes of McIlroy, Spieth and Watson and that may just help him.
Obviously he is not coming in “under the radar” as such, due to his dramatic rise over the last 18 months, but he still manages to stay away from the headlines in major weeks, that of course would change should he win this week.
Despite being an experienced PGA Tour pro, and 36 years of age, Walker has only made 10 appearances in major championships, and last year was the first time he appeared in all four in one season.
Once again his performances in the majors last year went slightly unnoticed, thanks to likes of McIlroy who won two, and Rickie Fowler who placed in the top-5 of all four. Walker did however finish in the top-10 of three of the four majors, with his T26 finish at the Open Championship his worst effort of the season.
So despite the fact he has a relative lack of experience in major championships, he took to them like a duck to water last year, and I can only see him improving on those finishes this year, so winning one of the four seems a very real possibility.
For me he is now in the prime stage of his career, and if he is going to add major championships to his resume, it will be in the near future.
Even without his win two weeks ago, he looked set for a big week here at the Masters, but all that win has done is 1. Add to his confidence and 2. Shorten his odds. I still think however at 25/1 he does represent good value and I think he should definitely be at the forefront of people’s minds.
Brandt Snedeker 50/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:
It wouldn’t be a Masters preview without Brandt Snedeker, right? Well apparently that is the attitude I take because in the two Masters previous prior to this I have tipped him on both occasions, so this is the hat-trick.
I am hoping its third time lucky, as this is the biggest price he has been in the last three renewals and I am still confident he can win here one year. He was 45/1 in 2013 when he came 6th, and he was 35/1 last year as he finished 37th, his worst finish in his last four starts.
Twice Snedeker has co-led after 54 holes, back in 2008 when he finished 3rd, and more recently 2013 when a disappointing final round saw him drop to 6th place.
Snedeker is now a 7-time winner on the PGA Tour, thanks to his win at Pebble Beach in February, his second at that event.
He is now part of Butch Harmon’s stable, which normally elevates a player’s game (see Jimmy Walker) and hopefully with the help of Harmon he can take the next step in his career and win a major.
As far as Driving Distance is concerned, Snedeker doesn’t fit the bill, ranking 118th on Tour, but he ranks in the top-40 in both par-4 and par-5 performance, so that is promising.
He gets it done around Augusta, despite a lack of length off the tee, as proved by him missing just one cut in his seven appearances. He finished 41st on debut, which is understandable, and only 37th last year but he wasn’t fully fit. Other than that he’s finished inside the top-20 four times, twice in the top-10, so he is clearly more than competent around this track.
With what looks like an injury-free season so far, plus the addition of Harmon as his coach, I feel like this may be one of his best chances yet, and I certainly hope that is the case.
Billy Horschel 80/1 1pt e/w (Betfred, BetVictor) 1pt e/w:
The 2014 FedEx Cup champion may well be rounding into form at the right time, after his 3rd placed finish at the Valero Texas Open two weeks ago, his first top-10 of the year.
After winning $11m and becoming a father for the first time, two days after it’s not at all surprising that their has been a decline in Horschel’s form in recent months.
Horschel won the last two events of the FedEx Cup play-offs back-to-back, after just scraping through on the number for the BMW Championship, showing just what a fierce competitor he is.
It’s been the story of his career so far. There has been a lack of consistency, which is something I am sure he is keen to address. He had been struggling with the putter this year, but he seemed to work it out on his last start, and found himself in good company in round 4, with 1st placed Jimmy Walker and 2nd placed Jordan Spieth in his 3-ball.
Last year on his Masters debut he finished T37, making 12 birdies and 2 eagles in the process. The problem for him was the 21 bogeys and 1 double bogey he made as well. You would think on his second visit here, he may well able to significantly reduce the amount of mistakes made, and keep a cleaner scorecard.
He opened up with a round of 75 on the Thursday as well, which never helps as Augusta is not a catch-up course, and he would have become naturally more aggressive as a result, which would of affected his game for the rest of the week.
Now that he’s got that good finish in Texas under his belt, and should be more confident as a result, I really fancy him to perform a lot better on his second visit to Augusta, and we all know how hot he can get once he gets going.
At 80/1 I think he represents decent value, as I believe he has the perfect mentality for major championships. This was highlighted when he finished 4th at the US Open at Merion in 2013.
I may add a couple of picks during the week, but for now I am set on these four. There are a few players I feel can go well, but not necessarily win, so I may have to look deeper into the top-10/top-20 market for those.
Enjoy Masters week, and good luck with your bets!