GOLF specialist (@Vince_RFC) shares his expert opinion on this week's US Masters at Augusta
The Masters | 5th-8th April 2018 | Sky Sports
As is always the case the bookies are offering a variety of different place terms ranging from the normal five (at ¼ odds) to 10 places (at 1/5th) and anything in between. You won’t find the better prices at SkyBet or Coral who are offering the 10 places though.
It’s complete personal preference which route to take, as is whether it’s worth taking each way on the favourites or just going win only.
It’s a tricky one but for the purposes of this I’ll highlight the best price available coupled with best terms and go each-way.
It’s the big one, The Masters and Augusta. The one even the most casual of sports fans think of when they hear the word “golf”.
Fortunately for us the 2018 renewal has the makings of being one of the best ever. Unlike last year where the top thre (DJ, Rory and Spieth) went into the week as clear favourites this time round you can make a serious case for a dozen or so players. Great news for those hoping for a spectacle but it makes my job here very difficult.
Augusta National needs no introduction, it’s a majestic place. I could go into detail about the course and history but I couldn’t do it justice if I’m honest and there’s plenty of articles out there that can. Rather than do that I’m just going to delve straight in, starting with the stats and trends Augusta continuously throws up.
Being the only Major to be played on the same course every year makes the Masters unique and means we’ve got some very useful information to use in the quest to pick the winner.
I could go on for ages about trends over the last X amount of years but I’ll try and be concise. For general trends I like to look back over a 10-year period and for more player specific ones over five years but that’s personal preference.
Anyway, the main things to spring out, looking at the winners over the last 10 years are previous course form and recent form. Slightly obvious and words that could be said most weeks maybe but the numbers speak for themselves.
Of those 10 winners all of them made the cut the previous year and seven had recorded a top 10 finish previously. Five of those had already picked up a win that season and nine of them at least two top 15’s in the season.
Now, lets move onto a closer look at the last five winners and their run-ups to putting on their green jackets.
From Adam Scott back in 2013 through Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett and finally last years winner Sergio Garcia. Willett and Garcia both won the Dubai Desert Classic in the early part of the year. I can’t see that trend continuing this time round with Haotong Li this years winner but Rory was in second so there’s possibly something to take into consideration.
Scott, Watson and Willett all had top three finishes at the WGC Cadillac a month prior to their Masters wins, a tournament which has since moved to Mexico which makes that a slight mute point possibly. However, Sergio was 12th there last year so maybe it’s not mute point and a recent good showing in a high class field is of value.
The other thing to highlight is form at Riviera, previously the Northern Trust, now the Genesis Open. Bubba did the Riviera/Augusta double in 2014, something he’s halfway to repeating again this year but both Scott and Spieth had top 10’s there in their years.
Speaking of Spieth he’s probably the anomaly of the group as he was just in the form of his life leading up to the Masters in 2015. His record read 7-MC-7-4-17-1-2-2 with the final second coming at the Houston Open the week prior. Most tend to take the week off but Jordan has always played it.
There’s differing views on it obviously but those who did well at Houston last year and went straight to Augusta did fairly well on the whole there too.
It’s very difficult at the best of times to win back to back tournaments let alone when one of them is a Major so having won the Houston Open in dramatic fashion Ian Poulter is up against it. He was superb over the final three days to book his spot at Augusta but he’s got his work cut out to repeat it.
He’s in great form though so a top 20 finish could be within his reach but inevitably he’ll be well backed and the prices are too short.
Those who played well over the weekend do tend to go into the Masters with some momentum and carry it on though.
Last year nine of the top 20 in Houston went to the Masters and seven finished in the top 35, though only three were in the top 20 again. Even still, there’s something to take from that so it may be worth looking at those who played well this past weekend.
Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar and Daniel Berger were the ones you arrive in Georgia with a top 20 finish there.
Favouritism is split between Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith and Justin Thomas at the time of writing depending which bookies you look at but along with Dustin Johnson are all available at 12/1 best price.
Rory leapt into that position after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational a few weeks ago. In his own words he produced “the perfect round of golf” on the Sunday afternoon to clinch the win in style. If he produces that level of play again at Augusta he’ll take some stopping but that’s a big if for me.
Other than that round he hasn’t performed at the high level that we’ve come to expect from the Northern Irishman for a while now and he’ll need his best. He could well win and I’d like to see him complete the career grand slam sooner rather than later but he’s not for me at the price.
Justin Thomas (12/1 Bet365)
Justin Thomas is though at 12/1 and is my first pick.
The 24 year-old is looking for his second Major in a row after winning the USPGA last August and comes into this week in very good form. Since that win Thomas has finished in the top 20 in 12 of his 14 tournaments, winning three.
His last win came at the Honda Classic at the end of February, which came a week after T9th at Riviera. That was followed by losing a playoff at the WGC Mexico against Phil Mickelson but the signs from that little run are more than good.
After a few weeks off he reappeared at the Matchplay last week with the possibility of reaching world number one a possibility. As it turned out it was there for the taking on Sunday but by his own admission it played on his mind and didn’t perform.
That’s a slight worry maybe but matchplay is a very different proposition to stroke play and having numerous wins under his belt already negates any doubt about his mindset. He should be able to improve on his T22md last year and my main fancy by a distance.
Bubba Watson (18/1 Sportingbet)
Another who’s odds have tumbled on the back of two recent wins is Bubba Watson,
As I’ve already mentioned he won at Riviera this year and he also won the Matchplay since. He’s favoured by many and is a contender for sure but at the price isn’t for me.
Nor is Jason Day, 18/1. I don’t know why but the Aussie is just never really for me and I nearly always invariably just skip straight past him, sorry Jason.
Tiger Woods (14/1 Ladbrokes)
Tiger Woods is another who is far too short to be betting on at 14/1 let alone 11/1 which is available in a few places.
Many a casual punter have been backing him blindly and will continue to do so at whatever price is offered up. There’s no doubt he’s been impressive recently with a record of 12-T2-T5 but can he do it for four consecutive days in a row on the biggest stage once again?
I may well end up eating my words but I can’t see it, T20/T10 is entirely plausible but another green jacket? Not for me.
Rickie Fowler (28/1 Unibet)
Rickie Fowler is someone I’ve been considering recently. He sits in that bracket of very good player who will win a Major at some point but is just below the top tier.
He’s picked up a bit of traction with a few decent but not amazing performances, notably T11th at the Arnold Palmer.
He had a decent start in Houston before dropping back over the weekend but that wouldn’t concern me at all but that traction he picked up has forced his price too low for me now.
Justin Rose (14/1 Bet365)
Someone I never get right is Justin Rose.
Runner up in twice in the last three years and top 5’s in his last two starts means he’ll have his backers and rightly so but I prefer others.
Two-time champion Phil Mickelson falls into that same category too. Lefty has been playing some of his best golf for a long time as shown in winning in Mexico but I couldn’t be trusting him at that price.
Dustin Johnson (12/1 Ladbrokes)
But for a tumble down some stairs before the off last year there are many who think Dustin Johnson would be the defending champion this week. Some aren’t over it yet.
I mentioned earlier that the last 10 winners all made the cut the previous year, so in theory a DJ win would go heavily against the trend. He’s been heavily overlooked for some reason so far this year for some reason, presumably because he’s not played too much and hasn’t wowed everyone when he has done.
But when you look at the results he’s been in the top 10 in 80% (4) of his stroke play events in 2018 whilst the other was a T17th finish at Riviera. Not too bad at all really.
I can’t quite pull the trigger in him though, mainly because of another under the radar top tier player in much prefer in Jordan Spieth who’s my second pick.
Jordan Spieth (11/1 Ladbrokes)
I tend to normally stick to having just one of the main contenders onside but with so many of them this time I can’t narrow it down to just the one.
Spieth's record at Augusta is nothing short of remarkable, 2-1-2-11. It’d be foolish to write him off based solely on a not great form but is actually pretty good much like DJ with that record.
But that’s exactly what seems to have happened recently and makes me even more keen to side with him. T9th at Riviera followed by T14 in Mexico are good precursors even if he did then miss the cut at the Valspar since.
A T3rd in Houston is almost the perfect result and is almost identical to 2015 where he was T2nd there before winning the Masters. Jordan led the field in shots gained both off the tee and approaching the green but his putting was near at the other end of the scale, 109th in shots gained putting.
On much tougher greens I’d expect him to improve this week though so I’m not too worried.
He’s underrated by many, I think possibly because he lacks that little something that others have but he’s an incredibly good golfer and at the price I’d back him every single time.
Xander Schauffele (90/1 William Hill)
Xander Schauffele's a nice looking 90/1. The young Californian burst onto the scene last year in taking T5th at the US Open which he quickly showed wasn’t a fluke by winning his maiden title at the Greenbrier Classic a few weeks later. That got him into The Open where he was T20th and he’s not looked back since.
A surprise win at the Tour Championship shot him up the world rankings and he’s carried on this year were he left off sitting 26th in the World at the moment. He’s been in decent form recently finishing T9th at Riviera and T18th in Mexico along with a succession of good but not brilliant finishes prior.
There are a few weaknesses in his game though, one being his putting which is always important on the Augusta greens but I can look past that.
Debutants haven’t got the best of records at Augusta either but those will the talent can be an exception to the rule, as Thomas Pieters showed last year finishing T4th.
I’d put Xander in that same category and I’d be confident in saying he’s a future major winner. It may well not be this week but it’d be no surprise to see him towards the top of the leaderboard come Sunday evening.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (125/1 Unibet)
One of the most likeable men in golf is next on the list, Kiradech Aphibarnrat who’s a lofty 125/1. He’s been playing almost every week since last summer to try and get his ranking up and he’s gone from 160th to 29th in that time.
The Thai has had nine top 10’s in that time ranging across the European Tour, Asian Tour and WG events. That’s not including a couple of wins on the Asian Development Tour either.
The hard work has paid off though as he’s been in form for that whole period and now arrives at the Masters with what I feel is a good chance to better his T15th finish here on his only appearance two years ago.
A quarter-finalist in the match play two weeks ago where he lost to eventual winner Bubba Watson was no bad result. T5th in Mexico is a standout performance from recent weeks and proves he can cut it amongst the best, something hopefully he can repeat this week.
Adam Hadwin (150/1 BetBright)
Lastly, I can’t believe Adam Hadwin is as big as 150/1 in a few places. His form in stroke play reads T6-T9-T12 which includes those two tournaments I keep referring to in the Genesis at Riviera and WGC Mexico. Valspar being the most recent.
The Canadian was T36th on debut last year and I’d be surprised if he didn’t beat that this year.
In theory he’s got almost the perfect game for Augusta. He’s very good around and approaching the green, ranking 7th and 22nd in shots gained on those two respectively on the PGA Tour this season.
The thing that lets him down is his putting down, in shots gained putting he’s a lowly 129th which doesn’t bode well for Augusta but again.
I’m willing to overlook that though as his best performances have matched up to when he’s putted well so the ability with the flat stick is there, it just needs to appear more.
Justin Thomas – 12/1 each-way – Bet365 (8 places)
Jordan Spieth – 12/1 each-way – William Hill (7 places)
Xander Schauffele – 90/1 each way – Paddy Power (8 places)
Kiradech Aphibarnrat – 125/1 each way – Unibet (6 places)
Adam Hadwin – 150/1 each way – BetBright (6 places)
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