Augusta National Golf Club
After all the pre-tournament hype & bullshit, the plethora of tips & previews, the mostly futile antepost bets and media noise about whether Tiger Woods & Jason Day will or won’t play, Masters week is finally here!
Time to get down to the serious business of 2017’s first and most anticipated Major and how to make some money off it.
This is for our disadvantaged younger generation, who mostly can’t concentrate for more than a few lines, & for those older lazy f*cks who simply can’t be bothered:
Winner - Phil the Thrill
Top5 - Berger
Top10 - Charley
Other - Boom Boom
Danny Willett defends after his surprising, to me at least, win last year. A repeat looks impossible as he’s hardly been spotted on a leaderboard in 23 starts since that career-defining victory. His only Top40 placing this year, in fact, has been 5th in a piss-weak Malaysian event in Feb!
Jordan Spieth returns off the back of a rare missed cut last week and, despite last year’s implosion on the 12th hole Sunday (an ugly quad-bogey 7!), with an Augusta cv that reads a phenomenal: 2nd; 1st; 2nd!
Rory also returns, again seeking to complete that elusive career Grand Slam and, like Speef, seeking redemption for a Sunday implosion. In Rory’s case it was 2011 and a blown 4-shot lead as he dropped 6 shots in 3 holes on the back nine Sunday.
Augusta will, as ever, present immaculately and will require: course management (difficult for most 1st-timers), 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 it’s not an especially difficult course, it is a proper examination of all aspects of players' games as well as their nerves under pressure. That’s why it’s almost always won by players with strong and consistent lead-in form.
Few can repair a form slump at Augusta and most newbies find it takes time to acquire the requisite course management skills.These factors also make punting easier because more than half the field simply has no winning chance!
Those at the top of the bookmaker markets (see below) are largely the same players as last year but with Dustin Johnson now top dog, coming in off 3 huge wins and having swapped ranking places with Jason Day:
Dustin Johnson 6.50
Jordan Spieth 8.00
Rory McIlroy 8.50
Jason Day & Hideki Matsuyama 19.00
Jon Rahm & Rickie Fowler 23.00
Phil Mickelson & Justin Rose 26.00
Adam Scott & Henrik Stenson 29.00
Justin Thomas & Bubba Watson 34.00
Then come: Sergio, Casey, Sneds, Oosty & Hatton, all in the 40/1 - 50/1 range.
The markets reflect the rise-and-rise in recent times of Dustin Johnson, Hideki-San & especially Jon Rahm along with the decline in form and appeal of traditionally good Augusta performers like: Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood & Jim Furyk.
Kicking out the Favourites
Regular readers & Twitter followers will know I detest short prices and am always looking for rationales to lay and oppose favourites.
Recent Masters winners have been priced as follows: Willett (50/1), Spieth (10/1), Bubba (25/1), Scotty (28/1) & Bubba (50/1). Prior to that, Charl, Immelman, Zach & Cabrera were all 50/1+ winners, three of them in triple figures.
Masters favourites have thus rarely won over the past 10 years; none at single figures. So, to remove the single-figure odds bearers from consideration, I’m using:
- ‘Augusta Scar Tissue’ theory to oppose Rory & Jordan and;
- ‘He just can’t keep winning’ and ‘single figure odds’ theories to dismiss Dustin. I tipped the big lug to win last year at 20/1 and, not for the first time, he narrowly let me down!
Others in the Market
A quick comment on other shorter-priced players:
Scott - looks below his best but will surely contend if he putts well all 4 days;
Day - more off-course drama than usual; his head, understandably, will be in the wrong place;
Bubba - far below his best in 2017 to date; looks to have little chance
Fowler - should go close without winning, as usual;
Rahm - huge talent, unlikely to win (Masters debut theory) but can place;
Mickelson - hasn’t missed a cut this year; course master; great chance;
Reed - not playing well enough (no Top5’s in past 7 months). Not yet ranked Top5 in the world either!;
Hatton - same comments as Rahm;
Matsuyama - below his best since winning Phoenix early Feb; place chance perhaps;
Rose - same comments as Fowler;
Stenson - can’t handle Augusta: 11 starts, no Top10’s;
Garcia - it’s a Major, ‘nuff said;
Thomas - 3 missed cuts in recent months rules him out;
Casey - solid Augusta & recent form; Top5-10 chance;
Snedeker - playing well, under the radar of most; course performer; Top5-10 chance.
Win Selection Criteria
Along with price value, of course, I have four criteria for my Masters win selection:
1. Good lead-in form. Looking at the past five Masters, there was only a single missed cut in the calendar year form of all the winners (Spieth, Farmers Insurance Open 2015). Every other recent winner made the cut in every start in the year of their wins!;
2. Tournament experience. Nobody has won The Masters without at least one previous Augusta Top-35 except Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979;
3. Longish driving. The course will play to 7,700-7,800yds and players must now be able to get it out 290+yds off the tee to be able to contend. With apologies to the likes of Gentleman Jim Furyk (270yd avge);
4. The Talent and the cojones to pull of those magical recoveries or par saves under Sunday pressure.
For me this tournament has strong echoes of 1986 where a great and much-admired champion (Jack Nicklaus) at the age of 46 delivered an unexpected and emotional flourish to sign-off his Major-winning career. Fyi, Phil Mickelson is aged 46 and he’s my win tip.
Some might argue that Phil had already signed-off in style at the 2013 Open Championship or in last year’s epic Open Championship head-to-head with Henrik Stenson. However, for me, Phil showed last year that the fire still burns sufficiently brightly and Augusta is more likely than any other course to get his competitive juices flowing one more time.
Lead-in form. While he hasn’t contended for a win this year, he has made the cut in all of his 8 starts, with 4xTop20’s.
Course knowledge. He assuredly knows the course! 24 starts: 3 wins, 12 other Top10’s incl 6xTop3’s! Jeez, he could have won this 6 times!
Driving distance. Phil’s still driving it well over 290yds.
Finally, his short game needs no introduction. He’s highly ranked (Top10) on tour in: putting, strokes gained around the green and birdie & eagle frequency - despite his often wayward driving. And he ticks the talent / cojones boxes as well as any player in the field.
For my money, if Phil drives reasonably well this week, he wins. A price of 32.00 is available on Betfair as I type (Sunday morning in Uganda) while the bookies have him around 26.00 and are paying up to 8 places! Money for nothing, each way punters might claim!
23-y-o Dan Berger is the only nod to youth among my selections this year and is my Top5 value selection at 18/1 - 20/1; I rate him 12/1. He turns 24 on Friday & is the only player in the field with a birthday during the tournament. #BirthdayFactor!
The 2015 PGA Rookie of the year finished a very meritorious 10th on his Augusta debut last year and soon afterwards broke through to win the FedEx St Jude; his first of many PGA Tour victories, I’m sure.
He’s been too inconsistent in 2017 thus far, probably attributable to adapting to a change to Callaway hardware, for me to recommend him as a win bet, but he looks to me to have limitless potential and an almost perfect game for Augusta. He has no real weaknesses except bunker play; hopefully he can mostly avoid them!
I think he can contend, perhaps without winning. Fyi, he was the narrowest of my various selections, fractionally ahead of the equally: promising, credentialled and temptingly-priced Brooks Koepka.
Charley Hoffman is again my tip, as he has been the past two years (paid out in 2015). He’s currently available at 8/1 - 9/1 and there’ll be better prices closer to tee-off.
Charley’s only played Augusta three times and finished in the Top30 on all three occasions. A 4th at Riviera and 2nd at Bay Hill in recent starts show his game is in great shape to again deliver an Augusta place payout at false odds.
57-y-o Frederick Steven (Boom-Boom) Couples is one of my all-time favourite players to watch and a popular and consistent performer at Augusta where he won his only Major title (among 64 career wins!).
Sadly plagued for the umpteenth time by serious back troubles, he missed most (8 months) of 2016, but has come back in 2017 with: 2nd, 6th, 1st & 4th in his four Champions Tour starts. He’s said he now needs to space his starts in order to manage the back and hopefully he’sready play all four rounds this week with minimal pain.
If, as seems evident, he’s (sort-of) healthy, I don’t see why he can’t resume where he left off in 2015 when he recorded his 5th consecutive Masters Top20 at age 55!
If you can’t find a decent Top20 market (I haven’t seen one yet) a worthwhile alternative would be to back him in the ‘Top Senior’ market where he’s currently the 5/1 third fave behind 50-y-o Stricker & 59-y-o Langer.
My pre-tournament strategy for this year is more or less unchanged and I’ve layed quite a large group of players who meet any of the following criteria:
- Short-priced players, with the exception of the freakishly in-form Dustin Johnson;
- Course rookies (eg Rahm, Hatton, Pieters, Hadwin, Fleetwood);
- Proven Augusta non-performers (eg Stenson, Grace, Reed, Kaymer, Woodland) and;
- Players with too many missed cuts this year (eg Bubba, Thomas, Schwartzel).
Finally, if you like a bit of back-to-lay exchange action, look for ‘name’ players whose prices will significantly shorten should they get on the leaderboard at any point, enabling us to ‘green-up’.
My top two are actually both Argentinians:
- The ridiculously talented Emiliano Grillo (126.00) who was 17th on debut last year and;
- Perennial course performer & previous winner Angel Cabrera (201.00) who finally showed some signs of life in Houston last week.
Cheers and Good Luck with your golf punting!
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