Augusta National Golf Club
After fervent & lengthy anticipation, especially with so many top players having shown great form already in 2018, not least Tiger Woods, Masters week is finally here!
Time to get down to the serious business of the year’s first and most anticipated Major and how to make some money!
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 will be 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.
Also, it’s remained largely unchanged year-to-year so course form is more relevant and copious than for other Majors. This is a ‘second shot course’ where Par4 scoring (or Par4 bogey avoidance) is key.
The weather forecast is for mostly cloudy weather, some rain on Saturday and 10-12mph winds.
For me, this was a toss-up between 3 players: Garcia, Rose & Spieth.
Sergio Garcia defends after his emotional monkey-off-the back win last year. Three Top10’s in six starts this year (incl a win) shows the requisite good lead-in form. A repeat win is historically unlikely but with a baby daughter recently added to the family he might mentally be in a sufficiently good place to be one of those rare successful defenders. I rate him 17/1 (18.00) whereas his market price is way more attractive.
Justin Rose has been playing super-well all year, just under the radar; 3xTop10’s in six starts in 2018 suggests to me he’s peaking for this. With runners-up positions at Augusta in two of the past three years there is nobody more deserving than most of a green jacket. Further, I rate him 13/1 (14.00) while the market offers better. My only concern is that he could well end his career as a Masters nearly-man.
Jordan Spieth comes in off the back of a good performance in Houston last week and, despite 2016’s implosion on the 12th hole Sunday (an ugly quad-bogey 7!), with an Augusta cv that reads a phenomenal: 2nd; 1st; 2nd & 11th.
He’ll be thereabouts on Sunday at a course that absolutely fits his game but has suffered some uncharacteristic woes with his putting and that, combined with his short price, causes me to pause
Based purely on price value, my win selection is thus Sergio Garcia.
The Other Favourites
Rory McIlroy returns, again seeking to complete that elusive career Grand Slam, but has been too inconsistent to make him a recommendation at a pretty short price.
Dustin Johnson generally seems to find a way not to win Majors so I’m happily ignoring him at a very short price.
Justin Thomas can win but his Masters starts (39th; 22nd) suggest to me that Augusta National has him beaten thus far. He’ll win this, but I suggest he’s not worth backing as short as 11/1 (12.00) in this field. Paste him in your hat for 2019 or 2020.
Bubba Watson is a problem for me cos I simply dislike his personality; I can’t bring myself to back or lay him! His 2018 form, including 2 wins & a 9th is undeniably superb. In addition, he won The Masters in 2012 & 2014 so he ticks most of the boxes. He can win but I won’t be aboard.
Jason Day started the year in red hot form but has cooled in two starts since. Given his proclivity for catching a cold or suffering a niggling injury, the 18/1 on offer is too short in my opinion.
Tiger Woods is clearly getting his game and mojo back as evidenced by recent placings (12th, 2nd, 5th) and will be a sentimental favourite. However, I believe he comes in competitively underdone in just the 7th start of his comeback and I’d want 25/1 in order to consider backing him. Also,he’s failed to get it done on Masters Sunday since 2005, despite regularly being in contention, and is now 42 years old.
Phil Mickelson, five years older than Tiger, arrives in superb form and I’ve love to see him win. However, he has a knack of regularly throwing in wild or risky shots and that trait puts me off spending any money on him at 20/1.
Top 5 Selection
Those looking for a value price for Top5 should consider Russell Henley at prices ranging as high as 28/1. He’s served his course apprenticeship with an Augusta record that reads (oldest first): MC, 31, 21, 11.
That looks like progressive form to me! I rate him just 18/1 this week off the back of a timely 8th in Houston last week.
Top 10 Selection
If Kevin Chappell could putt a bit better he’d just about be the favourite this week! He’s been one of the best in the world tee-to-green in recent months and only his putting has held him back. Nonetheless, he has 3xTop10’s in 2018 from eight starts.
I was going to make him my win selection but ultimately decided he’d barely achieve a pass mark on the greens so instead opted to back him for Top10 at 12/1. I rate him 6/1 so the double overlay looks too juicy to miss! He was 7th at Augusta last year (44th at his only other start in 2012).
Other Market Selections
I usually like to tip Freddie Couples in this market but he comes in undedone this year with only one start since November.
Instead, I’m going for Charley Hoffman who’s been in solid enough form since his 2nd in the Hero World Challenge in November. He has never finished outside the Top30 in four starts at Augusta.
With doubts over the recent form of Day, Scott & Leishman, I have some man-love for up-and-comer Cameron Smith here as the 8/1 outsider in a 4-man field.
Top European (as opposed to top continental european)
I like Sergio Garcia in this at circa 10/1. In a field devoid of: Americans, South Africans, Aussies & Asians this is a superb price for a guy I rate 17/1 to beat everybody. QED!
My pre-tournament strategy for this year is more or less unchanged and I’ve layed the following players:
All players priced 50/1 or shorter, with the exception of: Rose, Spieth, Bubba & Garcia;
All course rookies (eg Schauffele, Frittelli, Finau, Li);
All Augusta non-performers (eg Noren, Reed, Kaymer, Fleetwood, Hatton) and;
Most players with two or more missed cuts this year (eg Fowler, Poulter, Oosthuizen, DeChambeau, Kisner).
Finally, if you like a bit of back-to-lay exchange action, my top two to poke their noses onto the leaderboard at some stage are:
Brendan Steele (330.00) who was 27th in his second Augusta start last year and who hasn’t missed a cut since August and;
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (160.00) who was 15th in his only Augusta start (2016) and who has been playing well in top company this year (5th WGC Mexico & quarter-finalist WGC Dell Matchplay.
Cheers and Good Luck with your golf punting!
Monday 2 April 2017.
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