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Picking out some of the best outsider and alternative market bets for The Masters is one of my favourite pieces to write all year. Fact is, with all the focus on the top 5 in the betting there's still value to be found if you dig deep enough into the market at Augusta this week.
Last year's each-way places didn't produce many shocks with Hideki Matsuyama finishing 5th at 70/1 for the biggest return from a place. That's the exception to the rule though with the previous few years generally producing some tasty 3-figure places or better:
Recent results on the PGA and European Tour further cement the argument that we should be searching for some value this week. Just last weekend Jim Herman, who was 400/1 with some firms pre-event, held off the likes of Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson to bag his first PGA Tour victory at the Shell Houston Open. Vaughn Taylor was 300/1 when he earned his ticket to Augusta by winning at Pebble Beach earlier this year and Fabian Gomez started at 100/1 when winning in Hawaii in January. Likewise on the European Tour, Haydn Porteous (150/1) and Marcus Fraser (175/1) have both gained silverware since the start of 2016 - long-priced winners happen more often than you might expect! For more background on winners' prices over the years visit our stats section.
Now the each-way terms available from some bookmakers this week make for an interesting dilemma - do you stick rigidly to 5 places each way and grab a top price on an outsider, or do you accept a reduced price in exchange for more favourable each-way terms? Value is in the eye of the beholder in my view and it's possible to argue both sides here, however my view is that with an extremely strong group of players at the head of the betting, taking the extra places in this instance is my favoured route.
Here's my pick of the bunch at longer prices:
It hasn't really happened for Bill Haas on the biggest of stages so far in his career, however if there's one Major that's more likely to see the 33 year-old's first top-10 finish or better then it's the Masters in my view. Six attempts at Augusta have produced six cuts made and progressive form of 26/42/37/20/20/12 suggests that Bill is becoming more and more comfortable in this event and on a course which suits his predominant draw shot-shape down to the ground.
Looking back to 2014 when the wind was a factor and from a similar direction to this year, the short games of all players were called into question and ultimately the top-7 finishing positions produced five of the best eight scrambling performances on show. Augusta is predominantly about hitting greens I'll agree, however a breezy opening couple of days does allow some daylight for a longer-priced player who's in great form around the greens to feature and Haas has that in abundance of late: 6th for scrambling at the Hyundai, 9th at the Careerbuilder, 6th at Pebble Beach and 3rd at the Valspar Championship this year signal a player who's in decent touch around the putting surfaces; couple that with recent GIR performances of 6th at Pebble, 7th at Doral and 8th at the Valspar and we have a potent combination in my view. Bill Haas is also available at 125/1 with Coral at the time of writing if you'd prefer the better price at 6 places each way.
There are many golfers who promise to be something spectacular as an amateur and fail to deliver as a professional and although it's perhaps a little unfair to tar 4-time PGA Tour winner Ryan Moore with that brush, I suspect a little more was expected of him a decade ago. 13th here in 2005 and the accolade of leading amateur had many commentators marking Moore's card as a potential Augusta champion of the future and with his accurate draw helping him find fairways on this track I subscribe to that thought process, even if he doesn't pack the punch off the tee of some of his peers. A breezy forecast helps negate that length issue to a degree - Blixt, Jimenez and Kuchar finished in the each-way positions at decent enough prices in 2014 in breezy conditions and they're hardly Finau-like off the tee - and instead a combination of accurate approach play and a solid performance around the greens could well be the formula that sees a player in this price range make the paying places.
All aspects of Moore's game have produced ticks in the notebook of late - 2nd for both driving accuracy and GIR at the Valspar Championship on his way to a 3rd place finish was encouraging, 8th for scrambling in the same event as well as 7th on the same count in Phoenix are also positive, 6th for putting in Phoenix and 2nd at the CIMB Classic before Christmas are also noteworthy efforts. Bowing out in the quarterfinals of the Match Play on his last start was no disaster and he's one of the more capable dark horses for this tournament in my view. Ryan Moore is also available at 125/1 with Coral at the time of writing if you'd prefer the better price at 6 places each way.
Of the players with local links, Chris Kirk interests me most this week at a long price. The 30 year-old was born in Knoxville, Tennessee but soon moved to Woodstock in Georgia as a child and progressed to play his college golf at the University of Georgia which puts him in the elite band of Bulldogs to have played in the Masters at Augusta. The 4-time PGA Tour winner has finishes of 20/33 to his name here from 2 starts and although similarly restricted as Ryan Moore in terms of his punch off the tee, his natural draw and ability to play in the wind may well be enough to counteract that with trickier conditions forecast for the opening two rounds at least.
Two of Kirk's victories have come on pure bentgrass putting surfaces and incoming form of 12th at Bay Hill and a quarter-final defeat to Rory McIlroy at the WGC Match Play suggests to me that he's playing well enough to put himself in with a chance of producing a personal best at The Masters and potentially pushing towards a top-7 finish or better. Kirk puts his recent improvement in form down to a return to his more natural shot-shape, "I've kind of gone back to try and draw the ball more. I've always drawn the ball, I used to hit a big swing hook when I was younger. The better my swing has gotten and the more I've played, everything has gotten fundamentally better. Once I started hitting it really straight it was harder to play. I didn't know exactly which way it was going to curve every time. So now I feel like I'm a bowler, throw it up the right side and bring it back, and hopefully I can keep swinging the way I have been, hitting a little tumbling draw, it's going a little further than I'm used to."
Kirk has ranked inside the top-10 for driving accuracy on both of his visits to Augusta National which suggests to me that the course suits his eye very nicely from off the tee. He produced a 10-under performance on the par 5s at Bay Hill and a similar tally will be required if he's going to feature here this week, so he'll be buoyed by the fact that he led par 5 scoring here in 2014 (-12) helped I'm sure by his ability to find fairways on the scoring holes due largely to his shot shape.
First Round Leader
There are a few players in the world of professional golf who pop up on a Thursday more often than others and two of my first round leader 'go to' list are playing this week and demand to be backed for different reasons in what seems like a fairly level draw for first round leader bets.
Firstly Rafael Cabrera-Bello who's been backed off the boards in the outright market following two huge performances over the past fortnight in the context of his career. Anyone who follows European Tour golf will know that the Spaniard is a hugely talented player who has flattered to deceive on a Sunday for some time now. Performances have often followed a familiar pattern with a strong start, solid middle and disappearing without trace at the business end of proceedings, however winning the consolation match against Rory McIlroy at the WGC Dell Match Play - his overall performance that week saw him make the OWGR top 50 and therefore the field here at Augusta - and finishing 4th last week in Houston with a final round 65 can only help with his confidence in the longer term and on the larger stage. Now I'm not proposing that Rafa wins here this week, however while his confidence is high and his strong GIR game is firing, a fast start here isn't out of the equation in my view.
Secondly Charley Hoffman, another perennial fast starter who's more than capable of getting off to a flyer here this week. A best-of-the-day 64 was the 39 year-old's opening effort last week in Houston and he's the kind of streaky player who, alongside the likes of Camilo Villegas, are always capable of producing an early low round at what generally tends to be a decent price. The 3-time PGA Tour Champion has saved his best Major performances for Augusta with 27th in 2011 and 9th last year and an opening round of 67 here 12 months ago was enough for a full each-way payout in this first round leader market. To be fair to the Californian, he didn't drop away until the Sunday last year and even then a top-10 finish at Augusta isn't to be sniffed at - that experience will have no doubt boosted his confidence and he has nothing to fear this year, at least at the start of the tournament anyway.
Hole In One
With 10 aces at The Masters since 2004 this bet is a great bit of fun that can keep you interested right until late on Sunday. The 4th, 6th, 12th and 16th are the par-3 chances for a hole-in-one as always, however it's the 16th where the action really tends to take place - particularly on Sunday when the pin position is traditionally put in its friendliest position at the bottom of the green. Rory McIlroy bagged an ace on this hole on Monday in practice (read the full story here) and I'm happy to take the 7/4 that there'll be at least another one at that hole during the course of the week.