The first major of the year gets underway from Augusta this week and the big news surrounding the event is the participation of Tiger Woods - 41.00. Woods has been practicing hard around Augusta National the last couple of weeks and he feels is game is in good shape. " I've worked a lot on my game and I'm looking forward to competing" Woods said, as he played Friday with Jeff Knox who holds the member's record at Augusta.
Sub plots aplenty with the return to form of Phil Mickelson at the right time - 26.00. Phil was front running for some time in Houston last week and he looks to be peaking for a course where he thrives. Maybe Rory McIlroy - 7.00 - will have more barriers to overcome if he's to be the first to clock up the four majors and grand slam by the age of 25.
Rory has also been seeking the advice of Knox: "I don't think I've ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does. He was really impressive" were the words of the world no. 1 on Knox after he marked Rory's card last year and the Northern Irishman has been picking the brains of Jeff as he looks to garner any extra edge he can.
Jordan Spieth - 11.00 - 2nd in The Masters in 2014 - is the real form man in world golf right now and he's eyeing up Rory's no. 1 spot in the rankings.
The Course - Augusta National
A track most avid golf fans are familiar with, playing 7,435 yards in length to a par of 72, and featuring tree-lined fairways with super-fast and generally firm greens, Augusta National is always in immaculate and pristine condition. Sub-air systems under the surfaces of the greens help in this respect and they may well be important this week as the weather forecast (taken with a pinch of salt) is not very good in advance of the 2015 renewal. A theme of dog legs right to left always crop up around this time and right handed drawers of the ball supposedly have the advantage. I tend to ignore this for the most part and the real keys around Augusta are length off the tee to leave a shorter iron and a higher trajectory from approaches. This is due to large multi tiered greens where proximity to the hole is vital. It's impossible to hit too large a % of surfaces so scrambling is always a premium around Augusta, with 5-10 feet putts for par on the snooker table greens vital to scoring. Taking advantage of the par 5s is an absolute must.
I have a really strong fancy for Aussie Jason Day - 17.00 or 4.50 - this year and I think if anyone finishes ahead of him, they will be wearing the green jacket come Sunday night. "Preparation is huge on this golf course and I try to do as much of it as I can," Day said. "All I'm trying to do is tune up a few things and tune them up while it is still early". Jason has been settling in down at Augusta and there arguably couldn't be a course that fits better for Day. Already a runner up here, Day added an impressive victory to his resume at Torrey Pines earlier this year and I feel he's been priming himself for Augusta ever since. To put some numbers on the confident Aussie's prospects, he ranks 9th in driving distance, 3rd in GIR%, 7th in scrambling and 1st in the all round. Jason Day is well and truly my man to beat this week
Jimmy Walker - 26.00 - pretty much ticks every box when profiling a potential winner for Augusta is what I said in 2014. Jimmy has in his armoury the aforementioned (arguably) required power draw from the tee and he can launch it extremely high with his short iron approaches, controlling the spin in the process. Jimmy went down to the course following win no. 5 in just 18 or so months at the Valero Texas Open and said in a recent interview that he feels really confident, and comfortable on the Augusta track. Walker can crush the long holes, ranking 4th in par five performance and he sits 1st in birdies. Walker also ranks 2nd in putting average and is lethal from 15 feet and in.
Patrick Reed - 41.00 or 8.00 - got a taster of Augusta in 2014 and he'll be raring to go this time around. Reed just missed out at the Valspar in a playoff to Jordan Spieth where he was dialed in with the irons. Like Jordan, he also gave a masterclass in scrambling - a stat he ranks 3rd in this year. A new stat added this year is approach putt performance and he tops that which can't hurt around the track in Question. The Augusta State alum is one of the most confident players on tour and also comes equipped with the right to left shot shape. Reed warmed up with a top 20 in Houston last week
Brandt Snedeker - 41.00 or 8.00 - is somewhat of an Augusta course specialist and had this to say after coming close in the past here: "Any time have you a chance to win the Masters and you don't come through, my life long dream, you're going to be upset, you're going to cry, you know, but I'll get through it." "I know this golf course so well" are words direct from Snedeker and after returning to the winners circle at Pebble he's been simmering with top 20s at Bay Hill and Doral. What I like about the American is the fact he's used a middle of the green strategy when in contention at Augusta in the past and there may be juice in his price relative to the market leaders. "I'm very disappointed that I didn't win, but I realize that I'm not that far off from winning this thing. I'm going to do it soon" are strong words from Sneds.