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So we've finally made it to Augusta National Golf Club for the 2016 US Masters. For new visitors, Golf Betting System is into its 8th season and we provide free statistics, predictor models and previews across every Major Championship, PGA and European Tour event. We also have a thriving 3,000 member golf betting community with constant betting chat and insight from golf punters 7 days a week on our Facebook Group. Welcome and don't hesitate to get involved!
As well as my US Masters tips and preview which you'll find below, Paul Williams looks at some longshots and first round leader options for this week's Masters - you can read his thoughts on those markets here.
The 2016 Masters Tournament has been eagerly awaited for many months. Rarely before have we seen so many of the top players in the world playing so well with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Jason Day all grabbing big victories since the turn of the year and World Number 3 Rory McIlroy (who goes for a Career Grand Slam this week) going close on a number of occasions.
Course Guide: Augusta National is always a true test of every professional golfer's mettle. Yes, the course is the most beautiful and manicured piece of golfing property in the world, but Alister Mackenzie's creation is a very specialised test which stretches players to their maximum. Jordan Spieth destroyed the course and the field last year with a record-equalling winning total of -18/270 whilst Rose, Mickelson, McIlroy and Matsuyama were all in red double digits.
Now Augusta National with its length, contours, nuances and extremely fast bentgrass greens makes shooting low numbers here very difficult in normal circumstances, but soft conditions as we saw 12 months ago give aggressive ball-striking types who have the ability to shape the ball from right to left the green light to shoot birdies. 2016 will see a very interesting scenario of tough, windy conditions across the opening 36 holes of the tournament. Wind at Augusta tempers scores considerably - indeed winning totals of -8/280 (2014), -9 (2013) and -10 (2012) all included periods of swirling wind prior to the weekend.
Augusta National GC, Augusta, Georgia: Designer: Alister Mackenzie 1933 with Tom Fazio re-design 2001; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,435 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Ryegrass; Rough: Ryegrass 1.38"; Greens: 6,486 sq.ft average Bentgrass; Tournament Stimp: 11.0 ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 73.5 (+1.5), Difficulty Rank 8 of 49 courses. 2013: 73.4 (+1.4), Difficulty Rank 4 of 43 courses. 2014: 73.9 (+1.9), Rank 2 of 48 courses. 2015: 72.54 (+0.54), Rank 14 of 52 courses.
Course Overview: The nuances of Augusta National are varied and unique. The whole Masters experience both on and off course is different from any other tournament in professional golf. Indeed a course rookie hasn't won here since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 but Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman and Jason Day have gone very close in recent renewals. Course-wise, sure you'll have heard about the infamous bentgrass greens that run at 14+ on the stimp (if the organisers get their way with the weather) which are the fastest of any golfing season. Their sheer size and contours make good birdie chances only viable from the smallest of target areas. Mown run-off areas mean that errant shots don’t stop and even great approach shots can lead to bogey or worse.
Since Augusta was re-modelled for the 2008 renewal it's been quoted as a 7,435 yard, par 72 - but don't believe that as all fairways are traditionally mown against the hole direction to minimise driving distance, effectively meaning it plays closer to 7,700 yards. To succeed you must be aggressive on the four par 5s and minimise bogeys across the rest of the property. Eagles on the par 5s and Birdies on the par 4s are worth their weight in gold around here.
Winners: 2015: Jordan Spieth (-18); 2014: Bubba Watson (-8); 2013: Adam Scott (-9); 2012: Bubba Watson (-10); 2011: Charl Schwartzel (-14); 2010: Phil Mickelson (-16).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for the Masters that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes | Recent Majors Form
Published Predictor Model: Our published Masters predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are (Predictor Number 1) Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Farmers Insurance Open / Qatar Masters and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Spieth 11/1; 2014: Watson 28/1; 2013: Scott 28/1; 2012: Watson 55/1; 2011: Schwartzel 90/1; 2010: Mickelson 10/1; Average: 37/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Augusta National is here. The 2016 Masters story actually started last Friday when 71mm of rain deluged Augusta National Golf Club. That level of rain will undoubtedly make the fairways softer and will make the course play extremely long across the tournament. Rain prior to tee-off time also looks likely so greens are likely to be slightly more receptive than Course Superintendent Brad Owen wants. The 2016 Masters renewal will also see wind play a major factor with westerly gusts of up to 40km/h forecast across Thursday and Friday's play.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of The Masters since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Augusta sets up and what skill-sets it requires:
Jason Day: "I feel like my game plan from tee‑to‑green is pretty good, but around the greens, you definitely have to have that touch. I always say you have to hit it hard enough but soft enough around here. If people get that, if you get that, then you understand what it means to chip around Augusta. And that's kind of what I've been trying to work on is just really having the touch around here because you definitely need the touch and to get the lines right. You could be hitting a chip shot and you might hit the same chip shot, one with less spin and one with more spin, and they could be 20, 30 feet apart, but you could hit it on the same line, you know what I mean. So it's got to be precise here."
Martin Kaymer: "In the past, it was a very, very tough golf course for me. Because, you know, I played the golf course different. You know, I never hit an 8‑iron or 7‑iron into 10. I always hit a 4‑iron or 3‑iron because I couldn't get it down on the bottom. On 13, there was no chance for me to get the second shot on the green. So, I mean, on a golf course that's tough enough, how do you want to keep the ball on the green with a 3‑iron on 10? I didn't know. So now I can hit a draw, it's a little bit against the natural, but I can make it work. At least I have an option. I know how to hit the shot. If I don't have to, then of course, you don't. If you take a natural player or a player who draws the ball naturally, obviously he takes his natural shot as much as possible, and that's what I'm trying to do, as well. But on certain holes, you don't have an option here. And I hit the draw and it worked out very well the last couple years."
Jordan Spieth: "Another part of me says, you know, let's not overthink this place, keep it simple and make it like a regular event because that's how I've had success in the last few tournaments is just trying to hit as many greens as possible, get into a rhythm with the putter. Once that happens, you know, see a couple go in, the hole gets bigger. You just really have to have an imagination on these greens, because putts that typically you play a ball out, even downhill putts, and you're still going to take it easy; you have to play three, four times the amount of break on a lot of the putts out here, not only with the influence of Rae's Creek, but also just the speed of these greens."
Phil Mickelson: "Yes, it's playing very long and it's playing soft. So I think that distance is going to be a huge element this week. And we've talk about it in the past, but the reason I think this week, especially, is that the greens are very soft and receptive, and so the longer hitters are going to be able to reach the par5s and get the ball stopped on the greens. When we have bad weather like we had in 2007, you might be able to get to the greens, but you can't keep it on the green. That really didn't help the longer hitters, and I think guys like "Dustin and J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, the usual suspects who really hit the ball long and far, have a distinct advantage coming into these greens. I think distance is going to be a factor and I'm going to be trying to swing as hard as I can. I won't be able to keep up with them, but hopefully I'll be able to keep it in the same zip code and have short irons into greens so I can have opportunities at lots of birdies."
Bubba Watson: "The condition of the course is better than any course we play all year. So you're going to have great fairways, great greens, so you have the chance to score. You have the chance to play at a high level. Most of the holes, I got lucky with 11 the last two years with the ice storms, some of the tops of the trees are missing. So that shot is a little bit easier for me now off the tee, if there is such a thing on a 500‑yard par 4. But it's a little bit easier. So now, it's 7, 1 and 18 are the holes that I look at that are difficult for me off the tee. When you think about all of the other holes look good to my eye, set up well for me, the trees outline the fairway pretty good, so it's easy for me to envision the shot I want to hit. If you add it up, yes, Augusta sets up pretty nicely for me. And like I said, if I never win again, it's a good place to win twice."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010 as below:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Naturally the Augusta National course always takes centre stage at The Masters, but weather over the course of tournament week could have a major impact on the result this time around. Take 12 months ago where light winds on Friday lunchtime onwards caused havoc for many. In 2014 fairly light winds from Friday lunchtime onwards led to morning starter Bubba Watson taking advantage and establishing a 4-shot lead over the field. Fact is that a fast start at Augusta is imperative and contenders need to be right up with the pace from early on. It's incredibly hard to play catch-up on a course where aggression leads to inevitable bogeys. Patience is key.
25mph wind across Thursday and Friday will test the mettle of the world's very best players as the contours of Augusta create swirling wind conditions and scoring levels increase considerably even if a 15mph breeze is in play. Those who struggle in windy conditions will undoubtedly be found out and course experience will be invaluable. But Mother Nature has also had a say in the build-up to the tournament as 71mm of rain fell on the course last Friday. So expect inhibited fairway roll and even though Course Superintendent Brad Owen has sub-air systems at his disposal, greens again will be likely be receptive again as per 2015.
Augusta trends are plentiful, but here are the ones that have had bearing over recent Masters history. All winners here going back to 2005 had previously won a main Tour event on pure Bentgrass greens. Since the course was last significantly changed in 2008, all winners have averaged over 290 yards from the tee in the season they won the Green Jacket. However a high ball flight is just, if not, even more important around Augusta with all winners going back to Trevor Immelman in 2008 ranking in the top-70 on the PGA Tour Distance to Apex statistic in the season they placed a Green Jacket on their shoulders. As already mentioned, course experience is key and there are undoubted form links to Riviera, Doral, GC of Houston and Quail Hollow.
You can also throw into the mix that no world number 1 since Tiger Woods in 2002 has won here. No defending champion since that Woods win in 2002 has captured the Green Jacket and more tellingly for punters, only Tiger himself in 2003 and 2006 has finished in the each-way places. Naturally only a fool would rule out Day's and Spieth's chances based upon these trends alone, but with ball-striking being absolutely critical at Augusta (something both have been struggling with in recent appearances) their 7/1 and 10/1 prices need to be placed in context.
So this week I'm looking for long hitters who can also handle wind-affected conditions and who can hit lots of greens in regulation. We also need players who are long enough, aggressive enough and subtle enough (scrambling wise) to take advantage of the par 5s, especially when the winds subside from Saturday onwards. Previous Major contending performances are also a huge positive this week.
My selections are as follows:
A technical test for 36 holes shouts Adam Scott to me and even though he's not as fashionable as the big 3, in terms of OWGR and FedEx Cup points in 2016 nobody including favourite Jason Day has banked as many (173.22) than the 2013 Masters champion. So 13/1 in the current odds climate seems fair for a course specialist who finished 9th on debut back in 2002 and who from 2010 through 2014 never finished outside of the top 18 around Augusta National. 38th last year was the result of his well-documented short putter change which took all of 2015 to truly bed in, but his putting in 2016 has been a real positive point and strong enough to deliver high profile wins at PGA National and Doral.
Statistically Scott sits atop my rolling 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker, 6th in the Putting Average tracker and his PGA Tour stats across Scoring Average (2nd), Bogey Avoidance (10th), Birdie or Better (1st) and Going for the Green (4th) are perfect for this week. Naturally his towering hitting and shot-shape is a great recipe for Augusta National, but Adam also has the ability and skill-set to be patient in the forecast blustery conditions. With tactician Steve Williams back on caddying duties I'm expecting Scott to be very much in the heat of the battle this week.
Rickie Fowler has all of the makings of a Major Champion and his progression under the tutelage of Butch Harmon is clear for all to see. Consistent ball-striking has been the hallmark of the World Number 5 throughout 2016 - indeed Rickie sits 2nd in the PGA Tour Greens in Regulation skill category and 3rd in my rolling 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker. So on a course where bombers with a short game have a massive advantage I simply can't ignore the Jupiter, Florida resident who finished 5th here in 2014 (we were on board at 66/1) and 12th last year when his consistency from tee-to-green was light years behind where we find it today.
Going back to 2014, Fowler went on a Major tare after his performance here, delivering 2nd at Pinehurst, 2nd at Royal Liverpool and 3rd at Valhalla, so I don't have a question about his Major temperament. Instead I see a player who in 2015 won The Players Championship (as close to a Major as possible), Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank Championship in fine style and backed that up in January with a methodical victory over a field containing McIlroy, Spieth and Stenson in Abu Dhabi. Yes, he slipped up in Phoenix - but it still took Hideki Matsuyama 4 play off holes to dispatch him. Make no bones about it, Fowler is tough enough to win a Major. Stats-wise 3rd in Scoring Average, 1st in Bogey Avoidance, 6th in Birdie or Better, 7th in Going for the Green and top-30 in Distance to Apex make Fowler a must-pick for Augusta National and his career CV has top-6 finishes at virtually all of the correlating classical courses you would ever want. It's time to shine Rickie.
Regulars will know that I have a liking for World number 14 Hideki Matsuyama and I was more than pleased to be on board earlier this year when he went head-to-head with Rickie Fowler and delivered at 28/1. So since then I've been waiting for the Florida swing to pass hoping that he would be at a backable each-way price for The Masters. 40/1 is fair for a 23 year-old who simply loves a ball-striking test which features Bentgrass putting surfaces. You see Hideki really struggles to putt on anything with grain, so looking at his non-Bermudagrass performances his form reads 11(Riviera)-1(TPC Scottsdale)-2(Dunlop Phoenix)-WD(Sheshan)-5(Kuala Lumpur)-17(Silverado)-7(Conway Farms)-25(TPC Boston). Typically consistent, typically Hideki. 5th here 12 months ago with a closing 67 on Sunday, Matsuyama broke his PGA Tour maiden at the classical Muirfield Village at Jack's tournament back in 2014 and his CV also includes a noteworthy 4th at Riviera in 2015. 7th in Scoring Average, 35th in Bogey Avoidance and 4th in Birdie or Better statistic categories are excellent and Hideki hits the ball far enough and high enough to be a factor this week.
In this year of Southern hemisphere golfing domination, I think Australian Marc Leishman is a cracking each-way punt. The 32 year old, World Number 31 is a difficult man to call as he doesn't tend to peak for domestic PGA Tour events. However 2016 has seen Leishman sign up and play well with new Callaway equipment and the year has included a contending 5th at Riviera and 18th last time out in stroke play competition at Bay Hill. The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that both of these courses are classical set-ups and Leishman is on board this week on the basis that he thrives on bentgrass greens (his 2 main Tour wins have come at TPC River Highlands in 2012 and Gary Player CC in 2015), plays well in the wind and saves his very best performances for tougher, classical tests such as Augusta. His results CV correlates well with Augusta success and he was 4th here in 2013 after he led a wind-affected first round and went into the final round partnered with eventual winner Adam Scott. Since then Marc has been very comfortable at WGC and Major level with 5th at Royal Liverpool (2014), 3rd at Firestone South (2014) and 2nd at St Andrews (2015) where he played in the 3-man play off with Zach Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen. A 300 yard hitter, Leishman ticks all of the right stat boxes for me this week, especially as he sits in the top 10 for Bogey Avoidance, top 20 for birdie or better conversion and the top 10 in my 10-week rolling greens in regulation tracker.
Watch these US Masters tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel