Will Rory McIlroy complete the Grand Slam? Can Tiger Woods finally claim his 15th major championship? Has Justin Rose got what it takes to finish first rather than twice second at Augusta National? Is this the year Dustin Johnson takes the stairway to golfing heaven rather than tumbles down the steps of his rental home?
As ever the focus of the golfing, and sporting, world is on Georgia this week and we are hungry for one of the superstars to emerge victorious, hopefully after a Sunday back nine which witnesses twist, turns and plenty of the famous Augusta roars.
For fans of Masters betting, however, there is a warning, but it is one which comes with a tantalizing carrot – in the last 12 years eight winners were priced 50/1 or bigger and only two of them were 20/1 or less. So, yes, some huge long shots win the Masters.
Augusta National beguiles golf fans and bewitches the Masters contenders. From the tee it favors big hitters and rarely punishes anything but the most errant of blows. Approach shots, on the other hand, need to be played with imagination and require full commitment.
Miss the greens and yet more imagination is required, while putting on the fast, contoured short grass requires nerves of steel and a delicate touch.
In the last 53 years only two men have defended their green jacket, since 1979 not one tournament debutant has claimed the win, and the last fortysomething to win was Mark O’Meara in 1998.
These are some of the best-known trends in golf, as are the reality that solid course form matters (winners tend to have broken 70 on the course in the past) and recent form is important too.
Here’s a less well-appreciated pattern however: In the 21st century 16 of the 19 Masters winners had a top-three finish in the majors or WGC events in the 15 months ahead of winning their green jacket. In other words, they weren’t just course and form prepared, but pressure-tested.
Rory McIlroy’s strength is his weakness: He’s not been outside the top-10 in the last five years and led by four with 18 holes to play in 2011, yet he’s still not got the win.McIlroy is the betting favorite.Dustin Johnson is another with good recent tournament form (three top-10s on the bounce) and is a winner this year, but he still a one-time major champion from 38 starts.
Tiger Woods will be backed, but it’s a fan’s bet not a smart move at the price (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005). Jon Rahm seems a great course fit and has proved it in two appearances, but his hot head is a concern.
Justin Thomas has improved every year he’s played the tournament, but still has just one sub-70 round in 12 attempts, Jordan Spieth’s current form woes have to be a concern, and Rickie Fowler is still chasing a first major.
The pick of the top crop is Justin Rose. He’s been to Augusta 13 times and only twice did he not finish top-25. He was second in 2015 and lost a playoff in 2017.
He’s the World No. 1 and they don’t have the greatest record at winning here, but he’s in the sort of frame of mind currently where that would motivate him rather than intimidate. He also understands the test.
“This is a very strategic golf course and you have to make good, smart decisions out there,” he said in 2017. “It tempts you at times. It can dangle the carrot. You need to be on top of your thinking.”
Bubba Watson loves this golf course. His self-taught game of slinging the ball one way or the other is such a neat fit that he’s claimed two green jackets and was fifth this time last year. It’s just over a year since the won the WGC Match Play title and this season he has been fourth in the Phoenix Open and Valspar Championship.
“The trees outline the fairway so it’s easy for me to envision the shot I want to hit,” he said in 2015. “If you add it up, Augusta sets up pretty nice for me.” You can back him at 35/1 with Karamba in the each way market.
Matt Kuchar went to college in Georgia, lives in Georgia and opened his major championship account there, finishing low amateur in the 1998 Masters.
In the last seven years he has finished top-10 here at Augusta National four times and this season he has won twice, finished second in the WGC Match Play and last week he was seventh in the Texas Open. Back him at 4/1 with Betfair to finish in the top 10.
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