Here it is already, the first major of the year and widely regarded as the biggest event in the golfing calender, The Masters.
Augusta, The Masters’ host course since it’s inaugural staging in 1934, is one full of tradition, beautiful scenery and of course wonderful memories. All major championships are special and any golfer would be happy to win any one of the four, but given the choice of just one, I would happily bet that a resounding amount of players would choose to take home the Green Jacket presented to the winner here, over any of the other three.
Onto this year and if you only turn your attention to golf once a year for this special week you will notice, thanks to the bookmakers’ prices that recently crowned World No.1, Jason Day is the slight favourite heading into the week, ahead of the two players he has been fighting that title for in recent months, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
The other two that make up the top-5 in the betting this year are two former winners of this event, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson meaning three (Scott, Spieth and Watson) of the top 5 in the betting have won this event.
McIlroy should maybe have won here, all but for a collapse on the back-9 in 2011 which allowed Charl Schwartzel to get fitted for the Green Jacket, whilst Jason Day finished 2nd with compatriot Scott behind him that same year and all these players will fancy their chances again this time around. Apart from McIlroy who has fallen short so far in 2016, each of the other four players have picked up a wins on the PGA Tour this year so this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting Masters in years.
Course and key stats/trends: Augusta National, 7,435 yards, Par 72. This course requires you take advantage of the Par 5’s and also be steady on the par 4’s. When Zach Johnson won back in 2007 with a score of +1 he was -11(!!) for the Par-5’s as he set up to play them as three-shot holes. In more recent times, Bubba Watson was -8 on the par 5’s (he won the event at -10) and Jordan Spieth was -12 on the long holes (finished the week -18), so how a player performs on the par 5’s generally dictates how they finish that week. Bogey avoidance is also important and Augusta is well known for it’s quirky shots around the greens, so you don’t want players who are really struggling with their short game. Also that incredible trend still remains that since Fuzzy Zoeller (1979), not one player has managed to win on their first start at Augusta National. Spieth went close two years ago before winning on his second start but he much like Tiger has generally been an exception to most trends, so it’s a big ask for most. To put it into context, not one player making their debut in 2015 managed to finish inside the top-20, with Bernd Wiesberger going the closest (T22).
With all this in mind, here are my four selections for this year’s Masters.
Bubba Watson 12/1 (BetVictor, Bet365, WilliamHill) 4pts win: Not an original pick by any means, as Watson seems to be drawing just as much interest from punters as the “big three” and rightly so. Watson has won two of the last four Masters and has never missed the cut here in seven starts.
The reason for this is that this course sets up absolutely perfect for him. When he returned in 2013, one year after beating Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off to win his first Green Jacket, Watson was outspoken in saying he felt under pressure to perform, and it showed. He finished T50 that year, but just one year later he is again winning the Masters.
When he returned in 2015 he said he felt he could cope better with the pressures of being defending champion and he did slightly, finishing T38 on the week. He’s not alone in struggling to defend, Tiger Woods is the last person to defend the Masters and that was back in 2002 and Woods is well known for doing things many others cant on the golf course.
When Watson won in both 2012 and 2014 he had finished in 2nd place at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, something he did again this year, so let’s hope that’s a good omen.
He hadn’t won in 2012 before coming to Augusta and winning however in 2014 he had already won the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in February of that year, something he did again this year. It all looks too obvious and for that reason he just cannot be ignored.
No one player sets up better for this golf course than Watson in my opinion and as a result I think he represents good value – even at 12/1.
Watson ranks T19 in Par 4 Peformance, T3 in Par 5 Scoring Average and 5th in Bogey Avoidance which means his game is in perfect shape to win here for the third time.
Hideki Matsuyama 40/1 (General) 35/1 (Skybet 8 places) 1.5pts e/w: Hideki Matsuyama has already proven early in his career that he has the major pedigree, finishing T19 or better in each of the four majors (4 starts here, and 3 starts in the others), with his T5 finish here in 2015 his best to date.
Matsuyama had played 12 events so far in the 2014/15 PGA Tour season before heading to Augusta and his record looked like this. 0 Wins, 1 2nd, three other top-5s and a further top-10 so he was in good form, however this time around there’s a big difference. He has turned that 0 in the win column to a 1, winning the Phoenix Open (where he had finished 2nd last year) which can only help his cause this time around.
He hasn’t played as much this time around heading into the week, due to withdrawals through injury and a change in schedule but he still has 1 win and two top-6’s finishes including at T6 finish in his most recent stroke-play event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
After finishing 5th here last year, the 24-year old posted two T18 finishes at the Open Championship and the U.S Open and then finished T37 at the PGA Championship so he really is finding some consistency at major level, something that can only bode well for his chances this time around.
He was an improving player when he played so well last year and he has improved even more over the last 12 months (highlighted by his win) so I see no reason why he can’t contend this week.
After opening 71-70 over the first two days, Matsuyama really got it going over the weekend, finishing 70-66, saving his best round until Sunday. He obviously just grew in confidence throughout the week and started to hole plenty more putts and with this now being his 5th Masters appearance, he could well get off to a quick start. His record here from first to most recent start reads – 27-54-MC-5 so he had been solid if unspectacular up until last year but with that top-5 now under his belt he will certainly feel he can win come Sunday.
Matsuyama ranks T8 in Par 4 Performance, T31 in Par 5 Scoring Average and 35th in Bogey Avoidance, all very pleasing statistics going into this week.
Patrick Reed 45/1 (General) 40/1 (SkyBet 8 places) 1.5pts e/w: Reed is such an exceptional player that any time he is hovering around the 50/1 mark (he was 50/1 as recently as last night) I feel like he must be considered.
Whilst his attitude on and off the golf course is not to everyone’s liking, he knows how to play golf and most importantly knows how to win. He come under heavy criticism for saying he was a top-5 player in the world, back when he won the WGC-Cadillac in 2014 but now at #10 in the Official World Golf Rankings, he is heading the right direction to be just that.
With that win at the WGC-Cadillac in 14′, Reed became the youngest player to win a WGC event, one of just five players to win three times on the PGA Tour before his 24th Birthday, joining the illustrious list of Woods, McIlroy Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson and also became the only player to win three events on Tour before playing in his first major championship.
He has not won since the Hyundai Tournament of Champions back in January 2015 however he currently leads the Tour in top-10 finishes this season with 7, the most recent of which came last week in Houston, where he caught fire on the last day and hopefully he can carry that momentum into this week.
Reed now has two looks at Augusta (MC 2014, 22nd 2015) under his belt and now on his third start I feel like he is ready to win that Green Jacket and his first major title, at what seems a generous price for such a proven winner.
He had a good chance to get his first of what I can only imagine will be multiple major wins in the future at the US Open last year but he buckled under pressure shooting 76-71 over the last two days to fall to T14. With his first major disappointment out the way I think he will bounce back in great fashion this year and contend on more than one occasion in the majors, starting here.
Reed ranks 12th in Par 4 Performance, 55th in Par 5 Scoring Average and 2nd in Bogey Avoidance, so if he can up his game ever so slightly on the par 5’s this week and keep up his good play on the 4’s this week, he should definitely be in with a shout of winning here.
I am going to stick with these three in the outright market, those that came the closest however to being included were Rickie Fowler (18/1) and Jimmy Walker (80/1). I have already got the latter at 100/1 onside, after backing him during the first round of the Shell Houston Open last week but at 80/1 I feel he is probably about the right price given his average form leading into the week in comparison to the last two years. With Fowler I am probably just being greedy. It was unlikely I was ever going to get anything like the 25/1 I wanted by the time it was time to post this preview, however with Bubba already onside at sub 20/1 I felt like I needed to look a bit further down the market.
In the side markets I like Bernd Wiesberger at 14/1 to be Top Continental European and Smylie Kaufman to be Top Debutant (16/1) . Wiesberger was 22nd last year on debut, finishing behind Sergio Garcia (17th) and Henrik Stenson (19th) as Top Continental European however this year I think he can improve last year’s showing and I am incredibly confident he can be in the top-4 in this market, covering the each-way part of the bet at least.
Kaufman has already won in his debut season on the PGA Tour winning the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open back in October and has also posted a further two top-10s and four more top-25s (three of which were top-15s). He has taken to the Tour like a duck to water and his T8 finish in his first ever WGC event back at the Cadillac last month was particularly pleasing. He finished T12 the following week at Bay Hill, another tough test so he’s in great form. He failed to make it through his group in the WGC Match-Play but he did have a tough draw, facing McIlroy, Kevin Na and Thorbjorn Olesen in his group matches.
A top-20 here may well be good enough to be Top Debutant with Wiesberger taking the honours last year with a 22nd place finish, so I thought it made plenty of sense to back him in this market rather than at 6/1 in the Top-20 market as I was keen to have him on-side somehow. Kaufman ranks T26 in Par 4 Performance, T15 in Par 5 Scoring Average and 47th in Bogey Avoidance so he’s doing the right things statistically to perform well here.