Overview and betting market
The most eagerly anticipated golfing week of the year is here, not just for the players themselves but for the fans, the bettors, and the gamers. It's been a crazy Masters antepost market so far and suggests it's seen a high percentage of turnover already. The market looks the most competitive I can ever remember with the seven or eight elite players at the top all seemingly reaching the peak of their powers just at the right time, and there isn't a lot of difference in quality between them when at their best. We've seen big market moves on certain individuals over the last two months and on paper it looks almost inevitable that one of the market leaders will don the Green Jacket.
Just one month ago there were question marks about the form of a few of the world's best but Adam Scott has returned to the winners enclosure with two brilliant back-to-back wins (using the short putter) at the Honda Classic and then Doral. Fellow Aussie Jason Day seemed to have his mind on other things but then exploded back to form, emulating Scott, winning the WGC Dell Matchplay and following up with a victory the next week at Bay Hill. Day - 7.50 - has now taken over at the top of the betting in many places. "Preparation is huge on this golf course and I try to do as much of it as I can," is a quote from the Aussie pre the 2015 renewal.
Masters specialist Bubba Watson - 13.00 - has been hanging around Augusta in preparation for The Masters and he held the trophy high at Riviera a few weeks back, while Rory McIlroy - 10.00, Rickie Fowler - 21.00 - and defending champion, and Unibet favourite Jordan Spieth - 7.00 - have all been simmering in recent weeks without providing the finishing touches. Rory last year sought the advice around the greens of course member and then record holder Jeff Knox following 2014 where Jeff marked his card: "I don't think I've ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does. He was really impressive" said Rory, and this may finally be the year that sees McIlroy master Augusta.
Dustin Johnson - 21.00 - and Henrik Stenson - 31.00 - have also put themselves strongly on the radar with four top fives between them from their combined last five stroke play events. Phil Mickelson - 21.00 - seems to have been honing his game for this very week at Augusta and the fans favourite can't be discounted either after admittedly using the Shell Houston as a primer for the main event.
The Course: Augusta National - Par 72, 7,435 yards
Course features and premiums
A right to left shot shape, length off the tee and a high trajectory from approaches to quadrants on the surfaces would seem to be a prerequisite for success at the Masters but the likes of Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson - 67.00 - have shown there are many ways to get it done. One thing is for sure and that is par 5 performance is huge at Augusta, while there will be a premium on holing out from the 5-10 ft range for par throughout the week on a track where scrambling is also key. Sub air systemed greens are multi-tiered, usually firm, equipped with run offs and prepped to run 13+ on the stimpmeter. Rough is not a factor at Augusta. It's a tree-lined track but leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre from the tips.
Stats and trends
There was a record 47 eagles recorded at Augusta in 2015 according to Aaron Oberholser. The par 5 13th and 15th holes offer up great scoring opportunities at the end of and after Amen Corner. Jordan Spieth was a combined -12 for the par 5s for his victory at Augusta in 2015 and birdied #13 and #15 a combined seven from eight times. He had 28 birdies in all on what was a slower and softer Augusta than the norm. Phil Mickelson was a monumental -15 on the par 5s in 2015 while Bubba was -8 for the par 5s en route to his win in 2014 in much faster and firmer conditions.
Bombers are a big theme at Augusta and tend to dominate leaderboards. Positions 2-5 from the 2016 Masters were filled by guys averaging over 300.5 yards from the tees throughout the 2015 PGA Tour season. Bubba Watson was first in driving distance on tour in both 2012 and 2014 when he picked up his green jackets, while 2013 winner Scott averages circa 10th in driving distance over the last five years.
In the three renewals prior to Jordan Spieth's winning -18 total in softer conditions, the winning score at Augusta didn't eclipse -10, averaging out at -9. There has been rainfall in the area recently in 2016 and a lot will depend on this when predicting the winning total. Look for players holing out continuously for par from the 4-10 feet range to rise to the top of the leaderboard.
Top Masters Betting Tips
The aforementioned Adam Scott and Bubba Watson - both at 13.00 or 3.50 - are probably the best value of the cream this year at The Masters, and if you back both to win and place at level stakes you are essentially free rolling should one place. I've outlined the credentials of the two already in terms of driving distance, wins this year and wins at Augusta itself. In 2016, Scott ranks 11th in DD, 7th in GIR and 1st in strokes gained. Importantly he's climbed to 42nd in strokes gained putting. Bubba is currently 4th in driving distance and leads the greens in reg stat.
I mentioned it's hard to see anyone infiltrating the marquee names at Augusta but if anyone is to do it, there are two US players on my radar at decent value.
The first is Patrick Reed - 51.00 or 10.00 - who spent some of his college years at Augusta State. He's already made his intentions clear when putting up a picture on social media of his apparel for Augusta which included a Green Jacket for day four!
Reed was 22nd at Augusta in 2015 and he has the required go-to draw shot from the tee. His iron play has been in great shape and he's been receiving a lot of praise for his pitching of late, touted as one of the best by the likes of Rob Lee.
At the Shell Houston Open the Texan managed to record a top 10 without ever getting near first gear. He said in an interview he had 23 putts from around 15' he felt he should make and made none. Reed also found a lot of the sand and trouble spots off the tee in Texas but there is more room at Augusta - a point backed up by Phil Mickelson in his own interview. Reed talked about the confidence watching some putts drop in a final round 67 and he could be about to peak at the right time and at a good price. He will not fold if in contention.
Matt Kuchar - 67.00 or 13.00 - is another one sneaking into some form after a temporary hiatus. Completely off the radar, "Kuch" is one you may not think has the ideal game for Augusta but form of T24-T27-T3-T8-T5-T46 would tell you otherwise; Matt has experienced being bang in contention at Augusta on final day Sunday. Kuchar has posted recent sneaky T8 and T11 finishes at the Northern Trust Open and the Valspar Championship and went 2-0-1 in the Dell Matchplay before losing narrowly to Brooks Koepka in the knockouts. Key to Matt's success here at The Masters is his scrambling and short putting ability. Kuch could be a dark horse this week and maybe a better play in the top US market.