Masters Tournament Preview

Masters Tournament

7-10 April
Augusta National Golf Club
Georgia, USA

Executive Summary, for persons who can’t be bothered reading more than a few lines..
Winner - Dustin Johnson
Top 5 - Brooks Koepka
Top 10 - Charley Hoffman

Introduction

It always seems a long wait for The Masters. I usually have my first ante-post bet around Christmas and from January onwards the 16th green, azaleas, magnolia drive and green jackets compete for attention in my dreams with Pia Wurtzbach, Shakira and Angelina Jolie. And the wife, of course!

Jordan Spieth emphatically answered last year’s 'Age vs Youth' question to validate suspicions of the arrival of a new era of twenty-somethings that could dominate the top level of the game for years. Little has happened since to debunk that theory.

However, there is some fragility around all of those top-level ‘kids’ and I’ll be steering clear of them this time around; read on to find out why.

For those of a patriotic ilk, this year’s Masters is a fantastic ‘national pride’ matchup with: USA, South Africa, Australia and Great Britain having the strongest claims.

The Course

Augusta will, as ever, present immaculately and will require: reasonably long driving, nerveless scrambling and consistently good putting on bentgrass / rye greens that are typically very fast.

Part of the attraction of Augusta is that while not an especially difficult course it is a searching examination of most aspects of players' games and their nerve under pressure. That’s one reason why it’s almost always won by quality players, in great recent form across a variety of courses, who also putted well that week.

The Favourites

Those at the top of the bookmaker markets are the same players as last year, though some prices have shortened, most notably: Aussies Jason Day & Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler.

Jason Day 8.00
Rory McIlroy 8.50
Jordan Spieth 9.00
Bubba Watson & Adam Scott 13.00
Rickie Fowler 15.00 - 19.00
Dustin Johnson & Phil Mickelson 19.00 - 21.00
Justin Rose 26.00 - 31.00
Henrik Stenson & Louis Oosthuizen 26.00 - 34.00

Then come the only other players shorter than 50/1: Charl Schwartzel, Hideki Matsuyama & Patrick Reed
Apart from the three shorteners mentioned above, the top of the market has fluctuated little throughout the past year while Tiger Woods steadily drifted out of the price picture (he was paying 13.00 last August!) before inevitably withdrawing last week.

Why Oppose the Top Players?

Simply because, in my opinion, their prices are too short relative to their chances of winning.

The so-called ‘Big Three’ have all had an air of fragility about them in the months leading in to Augusta with Jason Day, perhaps surprisingly, appearing the strongest! All three are paying single figure prices which I think are several points too short.

As recently as the Dell Matchplay, Jason Day reminded us of his all too frequent propensity to suffer injury. Of course, he went on to win it but that proneness to injury allied with his previous narrow failures to get over the line when in contention at Augusta combine to cause me to oppose him at 7/1.

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth have both consistently been below their imperious bests in 2016 so far, and without a win between them since Spieth won in Hawaii early in January. Both have been putting poorly, too; not a recipe for success at Augusta! Both should win at Augusta in future years but neither fills me with confidence in 2016. There is huge pressure on both, too!

I’m sure McIlroy is still trying to forget his implosion when 54-hole leader in 2011. The old adage says tournaments only start on the last 9 holes on Sunday! Rory, in the lead, went triple-bogey, bogey, double-bogey from the 10th hole and was gone! He’s never had that Rory-swagger at Augusta since.

Spieth’s pressure is not related to Augusta scar tissue but in trying to live up to the often unrealistic expectations raised by his phenomenal 2015; he’s still only 22 years old! Also, he has been a notch below his best in recent months and ranks an uncharacteristic 67th on tour in total putting. Finally, he’s the defending champion and nobody since Tiger in 2002 has won the right to ‘put on his own green jacket’.

In fact, only Nick Faldo & Tiger in the past 40 years have successfully defended.

A quick comment on each of the other favourites:

Scott - will win if he can putt well for 4 days;
Bubba - can’t keep winning every other year;
Fowler - will go close without winning, as usual;
Mickelson - sentiment says yes, chronology says no;
Reed - just below his best, but a dangerous animal;
Schwartzel - is too hard on himself, needs to relax a notch;
Matsuyama - will go close without winning, as usual;
Rose - will go close without winning;
Stenson - Scandinavian men don’t win Majors;
Garcia - it’s a Major, ‘nuff said;
Oosthuizen - May lack the skill-set; another albatross would help;
Zach Johnson - doesn’t drive it long enough; well below his best form.

My Selections

Along with price value, I have three criteria for Masters win selections:

Good form. Looking at the past 6 Masters, there was only a single missed cut in the calendar year form of all winners (Spieth, Farmers Insurance Open 2015). Every other winner made the cut in every start in the year of their wins!

Course experience. Nobody wins this without at least one previous Augusta Top-35. Also, 9 of the past 12 winners had a prior Top10; four has previously won.

Longer driving. The course will play to 7,700-7,800yds and these days players must be able to get it out 300+yds off the tee to be able to contend.

Winner

This is where it gets tricky for me! My Twitter followers will know how disappointed I’ve been with Dustin Johnson over the course his 27 Majors, including two where I backed him at long odds and where he should have won but for whatever reason (nerves, dumbo caddie, lack of IQ or judgement, bad luck) he didn’t.

However, based on my above criteria, and taking price into account, he represents the best value win bet this year at 19.00 - 21.00. His Augusta form has steadily improved over the years, with last year’s 6th his best, and in 2016 so far he’s been the epitome of consistency with four Top10’s in 7 starts.

Top 5

The only other player of real price value in the upper levels of the market was Brooks Koepka at 51.00 - 81.00 around the bookmakers. It might be a year too early for a Major win (he turned pro in 2012), so I’m recommending him as a value Top5 punt @ around 12.00. (I rate him 8.00).

He finished Top35 in all four Majors in 2015 (T10 Open Championship; T5 PGA Championship), has 3 x Top10’s in 7 starts this year, was 33rd on his Augusta debut last year, hits it a mile, fearlessly, and thus ticks most of the Augusta boxes.

Top 10

I prepare my own Top 10 market & compare it with the early market prices to determine the biggest 'overs' – price too generous. Last year I tipped Charley Hoffman and he duly obliged at prices ranging from 13.00 - 18.00 which more than paid for my sins in other markets!

He’s playing well and thus a sound selection again this year at a similar price.

Exchange Betting

Laying the favourites can be justified here - see comments above. My pre-tournament strategy is to lay quite a large group, to lose the same amount each, as follows:

Players shorter than 50/1 (51.00) with the exception of: Dustin Johnson, Scott, Reed & Koepka and;
Course rookies (eg Thomas, Sullivan, Knox) and;

Proven Augusta non-performers (eg Stenson, Grace, Kaymer) and;

Players in the 50/1-150/1 range with too many missed cuts this year (eg Dubuisson, Westwood, Fitzpatrick, Haas, English, Poulter, Leishman ….)

If you like a bit of back-to-lay exchange action, some quality players are at quite big prices on Betfair relative to their ability. Here we’re looking for ‘name’ players whose prices will significantly shorten should they get on a leaderboard at any point. They are: Jimmy Walker (110.00), Jason Dufner (180.00) & Lee Westwood (250.00) and their exchange prices should lengthen nearer tee-off.

Cheers and Good Luck with your golf punting!

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