Australian Masters Preview

BetEasy Masters
Metropolitan Golf Club, Oakleigh, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
20-23 November 2014

Introduction

Formerly a showpiece of any Australian golf season, the Australian (BetEasy) Masters looks to be in decline, possibly tracing back to the loss of its co-sanctioning arrangement with the European Tour in 2009. The lack of depth in this year's field, and three changes of title sponsor in the past four years, tend to confirm its struggle for relevance in the current era.

In my view, the decline of the event is not unrelated, either, to a move away from its traditional home at Royal Huntingdale. For an analogy, one only has to consider what's happened to the Volvo World Matchplay since it abandoned its spiritual Wentworth home.

I well recall watching Greg Norman win the (stupid) gold jacket on many occasions and, in more recent years, Tiger Woods too, but no such superstar drawcards will be on show this week – with all due respect to Adam Scott.

Scheduling this event opposite the European Tour's end of season money-fest in Dubai & the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan is guaranteed to diminish the upper-level quality of the field while playing opposite QSchool events in Europe and the USA guarantees the absence of much promising talent. In addition, a dozen Aussies are playing the Asian Tour in Manila this week. Bad timing? You betcha!

I hope the two following legs of Australia's 'Triple Crown', The Emirates Australian Open in Sydney next week and the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines on 11-14 December, attract stronger fields.

History

The Masters has mostly featured Australian winners albeit, and irritatingly for me, on a variety of courses in recent times. Adam Scott won the past two, at Royal Melbourne & Kingston Heath, and is a logical and hot (3.50) favourite to three-peat here; something that's never been achieved in the history of this event.

Australians have, in fact, won 26 of the 35 Masters dating back to the event's inception in 1979, despite the regular presence of invited superstars. The previous Aussie winners who will be on hand this week are all veteran 40-somethings: Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Richard Green, Peter Lonard & Rod Pampling.

The Course

Metropolitan is one of Melbourne's many wonderful and challenging sandbelt courses and is expected to feature, as is normal at this time of year, some wind and those hard fairways that require choleric acceptance of one's fate in the face of big bounces and too-long fairway rolls.

At a par of 72 and measuring over 7,200yds (6,600m) it's long enough, while its greenside bunkering is striking, extensive and crafty. Always impeccably manicured, Metropolitan is rightly ranked among Australia's best tests of golf.

It's hosted at least a dozen big tournaments, though none since 2001 when Steve Stricker won a January-weakened WGC-Matchplay. Brad Faxon (1993) & Lee Westwood (1997) won the most recent Australian Opens hosted here and since Faxon & Strick are among the best putters you'll ever see, that's one selection criterion nailed down. The large, fast, undulating, bent grass greens simply invite superior putters to perform well!

Despite the genuine length of the course, the amount of fairway roll likely to be on offer means longer driving is not as relevant to my player assessments as GIR and approach play into what are expected to be hard greens. As ever, a quality short game will go a long way.

Top of the Early Markets:

3.50 Adam Scott
17.00 Geoff Ogilvy
26.00 Boo Weekley, Marcus Fraser, Steve Bowditch & Stuart Appleby
34.00 Ryan Fox, Greg Chalmers, Robert Allenby & Richard Green.

Who will Win?

Realistically, Adam Scott only needs to bring his 'B' game tee-to-green, and putt moderately well, to annex this one. He's played just twice since the Tour Championship at East Lake in mid-September, with a rusty 38th in the Japan Open followed by a more solid 12th in the WGC-HSBC Champions last week. That's form progression in anybody's language and Adam (338 OWGR pts) meets a very weak field here where he massively outranks even the next highest ranked: Ogilvy; 88pts.

However, if you're a non-believer, have reservations about it being his first tournament at Metropolitan, hate super-short prices (like me) or suspect Scotty will falter, then Ogilvy, Fraser, Appleby & Green carry most appeal for the win, based on their recent good form against stronger fields, combined with an ability to handle Metropolitan's challenges.

Who might Place at a Good Price?

I won't be getting carried away with outright win, each-way or Top5 betting, given that Scott, Ogilvy and one or more of those mentioned above seem likely to challenge for places.

I'm therefore recommending two Top10 bets based on player form and quality allied to an attractive price (ie a longer price than I calculated in assessing the field for this event):

First up is Victorian-born Adam Bland, who has notched Top10's in 3 of his 5 most recent starts - on the JGTO Tour (Japan). He has much appeal at his opening Top10 price of 9.00; my calculated price was just 5.50.

Bland's GIR, par4, overall scoring and sand save stats (top10 in all these categories in Japan this year) along with a return to his home environment make him an appealing Top10 selection, despite being just an average putter.

Rhein Gibson opened paying 7.00 for a Top10 while my calculated price was just 4.75.

He has during the past year steadily thrown off that mantle of being a nobody who once shot 55 and comes in off the back of a solid recent run of form including two 3rd's & a 4th since June, as well as making the cut in The Open Championship; the poor bastard then got paired with Tiger & Spieth in Rd3 and subsequently disappeared!. That last start 4th was, incidentally, in the WebCom Stage 2 qualifier in Texas (Kingwood) last week where a lot of excellent players finished behind him.

It's Rhein's optimum time of year too, having placed 4th in both the Nanshan China Masters & Emirates Australian Open late in 2013 to finally kick-start his pro career.

Best Longshot?

My favoured roughie is Melbourne-born Ryan Lynch who, suddenly and unexpectedly, has found his best form in recent weeks with a win in the WA PGA Championship. He then proved that was no fluke by finishing 13th at last week's Mazda NSW Open.
He's opened at 151.00 (38.50 the place 1,2,3,4,5) & 12.00 for a Top10 and looks worthy of a small speculative investment.

Cheers and good luck with your golf punting!

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