The first major of 2018 is here with the stars of golf heading up Magnolia Lane for The Masters and what a tournament we are promised. A whole host of leading lights head to Augusta National in excellent form and that has created any number of possible stories. The one thing that looks to be guaranteed is that the back nine on Sunday will be special.
It was certainly special for Sergio Garcia last year. In fact it was so appealing that he went an extra hole before beating Justin Rose in a playoff to win the Green Jacket. He’s here to defend the title but the list of players wanting to wrestle it from him is stacked with quality.
2017 – Sergio Garcia
2016 – Danny Willett
2015 – Jordan Spieth
2014 – Bubba Watson
2013 – Adam Scott
2012 – Bubba Watson
2011 – Charl Schwartzel
2010 – Phil Mickelson
2009 – Angel Cabrera
2008 – Trevor Immelman
I don’t think anyone needs reminding about the golf course. Even those who are not golf fanatics know the nuances to Augusta National. The course is a par 72 which stretches to 7,435 yards but it is not massively long.
The course is not particularly demanding off the tee with the fairways very wide but the test comes into the greens and on and around them. The greens are fairly big but such are the undulations on them that you need to find the right parts of them else the ball could meander into some very tough areas to get up and down from.
As everyone will know the key to scoring on this course is to make full use of the par 5s so we’re looking for quality iron players who can putt and who can get it out there to go after the four lengthy holes.
Literally everyone who needs to be in the field for such a quality event is in it and there are a number of potential winners. Those who would create the biggest stories would be Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods but the likes of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Jason Day all make up a serious field.
The beauty of this tournament is how they honour their former champions and there are many of them in the field while those looking to win the tournament for the first time such as Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Alex Noren and Matt Kuchar also tee it up. Ian Poulter was the last man into the field after he dramatically won in Houston last week.
This is a very tight betting market at the head of it. So tight is it that we have three joint favourites heading into the week. Rory McIlroy is one of those while former winner Jordan Spieth is another. Justin Thomas is the other one with him looking to land back-to-back major championships. All three can be taken at 11/1. It would complete the Grand Slam for McIlroy were he to win it while Spieth should have won this twice in just three outings here. Thomas needs an improvement on his record here but he’s the hottest player in golf currently.
Dustin Johnson is a point bigger but his form looks to have deserted him at exactly the wrong time. He infamously couldn’t tee it up here last year having fallen at home in the lead up to the tournament so he will be itching to get onto the first tee. He is 12/1 to win his first Masters title.
Two men come at 14/1 in the betting and they include the great Tiger Woods who is looking to complete something of an amazing story. When he underwent a back fusion few thought he would play golf again but he arrives at Augusta with a legitimate shot of winning. Justin Rose is the man alongside him in the market and having only lost in a playoff here a year ago he’ll fancy his chances after excelling in the 12 months since then.
Former champion Bubba Watson and former world number one Jason Day come at 18/1 in the market. Watson has won twice this season already and is perfectly geared up for a third Masters success while Day has also lifted silverware this season and will fancy his chances. It is 20/1 bar those named.
Usually I like to look for a bit of value in my main bets but so many of the leading contenders show up in top form this week and many stories have been set up so well that there is not a lot of value around. Given that, it is a week to just back who we think will win and keep the value for the regular events.
With that in mind my first pick is going to be Bubba Watson. To be fair I have fancied him for this ever since his return to form halfway around Riviera a couple of months ago but his win at the WGC Match Play just confirmed in my mind that he is the one to beat. Bubba ticks every box here. He’s long, he’s hitting plenty of greens in regulation and as we saw in Austin, his short game is bang on point. Watson has already won twice around here and it is going to take something special to deny him a third on this form.
Phil Mickelson is another man who knows how to win around here and there is no doubt in my mind that he arrives here in good enough nick to be fitted for another Green Jacket. Mickelson had been threatening to win for a while and then he took care of a good field in Mexico. The key to his success that week was his iron play and his short game and that is exactly what is needed here. There are some huge stories to be written on Sunday and Mickelson could write an amazing one.
I’ll throw a couple of darts at a pair of outsiders who have the credentials and the profiles to make a decent run at this title at three figure prices. The first of those is Adam Hadwin who will look to emulate Mike Weir and win as a Canadian. Hadwin arrives here with four top 20 finishes in a row and statistically he is hitting the ball excellently. In his last three strokeplay events he has been in the top five for greens hit in the right number and if he could hole anything at the Valspar he would have gone close to the title. As it is he finished twelfth. Putting is not usually a problem for him though and with the way he is hitting the ball he could well get himself in the mix this week.
If you are a follower of sequences then Russell Henley is the man for you. His last three finishes here have been 31, 21 and 11 so if that carries on he wins this week. That is all coincidence of course but he is not without a chance this week. Having run well at Houston last week he comes here with his confidence high and there are few better putters than he in the game at the minute. Henley has an excellent record in Georgia with six top 20 finishes in his last seven starts in the state and if he can dial a few irons in his putting stroke could see him contend here.
PLACED – Back B.Watson to win The Masters (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 17.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back P.Mickelson to win The Masters (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 21.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-6)
Back R.Henley to win The Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-6)
Back them here:
Back A.Hadwin to win The Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-7)