Betting on this year's Grand National? Click here for the latest 6 places each-way offers and other key bookmaker promotions!
The mystique and anticipation of the US Masters is like no other golf tournament. 8 months of 'no Major' frustration since the PGA Championship comes to an end at Augusta National Golf Club, which just so happens to be the most pristine and manicured golf property on the planet. It's where nothing's left to chance, where golfing history is made each year, where a player's mettle is tested to its maximum.
The 82nd edition of The Masters takes place from Thursday 5th until Sunday 8th April 2018. Now into our 9th season, Golf Betting System will as ever be hunting for profit with our US Masters tips from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2018 coverage with outright market, long-shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free course and player statistics, plus of course our famous statistical Predictor Model. You can also listen to our weekly Golf Betting System podcast which is also available on iTunes as well as subscribe to our YouTube channel.
The US Masters, as the first Major of the season, always captures the imagination of the golfing world and the betting public alike. Plenty of questions will be answered at what will be the 82nd edition of the Masters. Can World Number 1 Dustin Johnson make it onto the course and become the first top-ranked player to win The Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002? How will Jordan Spieth respond to his recent mental traumas at Augusta? Can Sergio Garcia become the first player since (you guessed it) Tiger Woods in 2002 to defend the Green Jacket? Can Rory McIlroy complete his personal Grand Slam with the Masters title he craves so badly? Can Hideki Matsuyama become Japan's first ever Major winner and can Jon Rahm contend in his first ever Major? And what of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson who have 7 Green Jackets between them?
Golf betting at the Major Championships, and especially The Masters, is a complex subject. Mistakes can be costly; however select the right player or player portfolio and the rewards can be excellent. Golf Betting System's goal is to provide you with informed Masters tips, free tournament research guides and insight and information that will help you make educated decisions about what players to back at the 2018 Masters.
So what do you need to know about Augusta National? The Augusta National course (you can visit the official Masters website here) has detailed nuances which certain types of player thrive upon, whereas others struggle with factors such as uneven fairway lies, swirling winds and crazily fast and undulating bentgrass greens. Naturally water comes into play much more on the back nine with 3 key holes around Amen Corner, plus the critical par-5 15th and the par-3 16th both offering scoring opportunities. Since Augusta was re-modelled for the 2008 renewal, the course is always 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 7,800 yards. Pure yardage is way more important than creating the right angle into the flag.
Other challenges include huge and contoured Bentgrass putting surfaces which can bamboozle the inexperienced and poor putters. Rating at anything up to 14 on the Stimpmeter if Mother Nature allows, these sub-air fuelled beauties are like little else the world's best golfer face across the rest of the season. Birdie chances are restricted to the smallest of target areas, many of which are only accessible by using the natural contours of the green. Difficulty is also ratcheted up by Augusta's infamous run-off areas which surround all green complexes. The lack of rough creates indecision when missing greens with scrambling percentages suffering as a result. Too many options can confuse players, so course experience and a patient outlook pays.
Augusta is definitely a game of two halves. Attack all of the 4 par-5s and a number of shorter par-4s such as the 3rd, 9th, and the 14th. Tiger Woods' "have you seen anything like that" par-3 16th hole - named Redbud - yields holes-in-one and birdies. But the rest of the course needs to be played with maturity and patience. Chasing scores tends to yield bogeys rather than birdies on these holes, so 'par golf' across the majority of holes is more than acceptable. To win a Green Jacket a player must be aggressive on the 4 par-5s and minimise bogeys across the rest of the property via a mix of metronomic greens in regulation, top-level scrambling and rock-solid short-to-medium distance putting.
So what are the key factors to watch out for, what trends need to be taken into account and what skillsets does a Masters Champion have to have in his locker?
Can Sergio Garcia repeat his 2017 Masters triumph?
Will the World Number 1 break the Augusta jinx?
World Number 1 Dustin Johnson (at the time of writing) goes into the 2018 Masters typically as one of the short-priced favourites. The 2016 US Open Champion has finished in the each-way places in each of his last two attempts at taming Augusta National, but if DJ is to go one better in 2018 then he'll go against the trend which no player since Tiger Woods has yet to overcome: no World Number 1 since 2002 has successfully captured the Green Jacket.
Sergio to win consecutive Green Jackets?
Sergio Garcia winning The Masters in 2017 was a shock to both the golfing and betting worlds. Lightly backed pre-event at 45/1, the Real Madrid supporting Spaniard proved the doubters wrong by overhauling Justin Rose's lead on the back nine and then beating the well-supported Olympic Champion in a play-off. It was Garcia's first Major victory in his 74th major appearance. But if Garcia is to repeat in 2018 it will be a performance which only the golfing elite have managed previously.
Look through past results and since 1960 only Jack Nicklaus (1965/66), Nick Faldo (1989/90) and of course Tiger Woods (2001/02) have defended their Masters title. A pretty select group I'm sure you'll agree! Even from an each-way punting perspective, since Tiger defended successfully in 2002 only Woods himself and Jordan Spieth last year have finished in the top 5 when returning as Masters champion. That puts Spieth's performance into real context who was 10/1 to repeat.
|Defending Champion||Position||Defending Champion||Position|
Augusta Favours Hot Form
Time was that any player with course experience driving down Magnolia Lane had a real chance of capturing the Masters title. Indeed 2007 through 2010 saw Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson capture Green Jackets with a combined two season-to-date top-10 finishes between them. Astonishing but true.
Since 2011 though, in-form players have dominated with Adam Scott in 2013 being the only player to feature with as little as a single top 10 as part of a deliberate pre-Augusta schedule that contained just 3 strokeplay tournaments. He was 3rd though at the WGC at Doral so was clearly peaking for his target event. Winning prices from 2011 through 2017 of 45/1 (Garcia), 66/1 Willett, 12/1 (Spieth), 28/1 (Watson), 28/1 (Scott) and 55/1 (Watson) tells its own story.
Winning Prices since 2011: Garcia 45/1, Willett 66/1, Spieth 12/1, Watson 28/1, Scott 28/1, Watson 55/1.
Trouble in Texas
I always warn punters who are interested in backing the winner of the tournament immediately prior to a Major Championship, however there are a couple of notable exceptions: the mercurial Phil Mickelson always throws the form book out of the window and clinched the Scottish Open/Open Championship double in 2013 and of course Rory McIlroy who won the Bridgestone Invitational/PGA Championship double in 2014.
However at The Masters there's a definite trend and that's not to back the winner of the Masters warm-up event which, since 2007, has always been in Texas. Last year Russell Henley won at the Golf Club of Houston but ultimately joined a list that includes Adam Scott, Paul Casey, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Martin Laird, Matt Jones, J.B. Holmes and Jim Herman, all of whom peaked a week too early and couldn't go back-to-back and claim the Green Jacket. Only Kim rewarded his backers with an each-way return. The last player to win the week before winning at Augusta was of course Phil Mickelson (who else could it be) who, in 2006, won the Bell South Classic the week before capturing his 2nd Masters title.
|Warm Up Winner||Augusta Finish|
Bogeys over Birdies
A key statistic which winners of the Masters share is excellent bogey avoidance in seasonal outings prior to arriving in Georgia. As described above, Augusta National is relentless with only the 4 par-5s playing under par in a typical renewal. It's a course for the patient, where hitting fairways and greens is 100% critical to success. Continually chasing birdies leads to bogeys on a course where scrambling and lag putting are so difficult. Therefore looking for players who have shown both the mental aptitude and the physical skills to be able to play clean golf makes logical sense.
Garcia's win here in 2017 followed a familiar pattern, although it pushed the statistical significance envelope just a little, when it comes to the PGA Tour Bogey Avoidance skill set rank when arriving at The Masters. Look for those who are most frugal when it comes to handing shots back to the field.
|Masters Winner||Bogey Avoidance|
|2017||Garcia||24th (pre event)|
|2016||Willett||14th (pre event)|
|2015||Spieth||15th (pre event)|
|2014||Watson||2nd (pre event)|
Powerful Driving Is The Key
Every year there's a debate as to whether a short hitter can win around Augusta. Some believe that players of the ilk of Brandt Snedeker, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Matt Kuchar can still triumph despite their obvious lack of big hitting ability. Naturally Zach Johnson won here in 2007 by going for every par-5 in 3 shots, so what is the reality statistically? Since the course was last re-modelled prior to the 2008 Masters, shorter hitters such as the aforementioned Kuchar and Jonas Blixt have featured, but every winner since 2008 has been in the top 35% in terms of power hitting on Tour - the best measure to use is Distance to Apex (Distance in yards from the Tee to the Apex on measured Par 4 and Par 5 tee shots) in my opinion.
The challenge of Augusta, which effectively plays around 7,800 yards in course length, is like no other. The course is quoted as a 7,435 yard Par 72, but don't believe that as all fairways are mown against the hole direction to minimise fairway run, effectively meaning it plays far closer to a 7,800 yard Par 72 format. Those who are long and have a high ball flight flourish.
|Masters Winner||Distance to Apex Rank||Going for the Green|
|2017||Garcia||4th (pre-event)||7th (pre-event)|
|2016||Willett||62nd (pre-event)||56th (pre-event)|
Making the real difference at Augusta is the ability to reach as many of the par-5s as possible in two shots. The 2nd, 13th and 15th holes are reachable for players who are long enough from the tee and have the in-built aggression to go for it with their approach, rather than laying-up. Spieth and Willett may be more tactical with their approaches across a season, but when they needed to go for it at Augusta they have both the firepower off the tee and from the fairway to do so. Garcia ranked 29th for Driving Distance, 4th for Distance to Apex and 7th for Going for the Green, prior to arriving at Augusta.
Steve's US Masters tips 2018 preview will be published on this page on the Tuesday before the event. In the meantime here's last year's preview where Steve came within a play-off of grabbing the winner at 25/1.
The Masters Tips 2017 - Steve Bamford's full preview:
So we've finally made it to Augusta National Golf Club for the 2017 Masters. For new visitors, Golf Betting System is now into its 9th season and we provide free statistics, predictor models and previews across every Major Championship, PGA and European Tour event. We also have a thriving 3,500+ 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! New visitors might want to check out our golf betting forum, best golf betting sites and best bookmakers for golf articles which will help point you in the right direction.
The 2017 Masters Tournament has been eagerly awaited for many months now. World Number 1 Dustin Johnson arrives in Georgia after 3 straight wins gained at Riviera plus a couple of World Golf Championships. Rory McIlroy was hit by a rib injury playing the South African Open in January, but arrives at Augusta with 2017 stroke play form of 4-7-2. Jordan Spieth won at Pebble Beach in February and is looking to put himself in position again to win his second Green Jacket. He also sounds bullish, stating on Friday, "I think we know, and the other players that are playing next week know, that we strike fear in others next week."
Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas plus debutants Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters, Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood make Augusta this week a tasty treat.
If you fancy a punt on an outsider or a first round leader bet then Paul Williams has written his longshots and alternative markets preview here.
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. But despite the governing board of Augusta National having total control over the golf course and the tournament, they still cannot control the elements and that can be seen across the winning scores of the past 2 renewals here. Jordan Spieth destroyed the field in 2015 on a softened golf course, with a winning total of -18/270. 12 months ago Danny Willett shocked the sporting world by capturing the Green Jacket following Spieth's Amen Corner implosion with a winning total of -5/283. Last year featured high winds across the opening 54 holes and Augusta's famous lightning-fast greens when the wind finally disappeared on Sunday.
Now Augusta National with its length, contours, nuances and extremely fast bentgrass greens makes shooting low numbers here very difficult in normal circumstances. 2017 though looks even more difficult to call as a soft course (rain will be a factor pre-event) allied to 2016-equalling strength wind across the opening 36 holes is likely to again make this a technical challenge. However the weekend will see warmer and more tranquil conditions, just as the greens reach faster stimpmeter speeds. This should be a cracker!
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: 12.5ft; 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. 2016: 74.42 (+2.42), Rank 3 of 50 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 and Jason Day have gone very close in recent years. 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. The lack of rough around the green complexes creates indecision both with approach shots and recovery chips. Too many options can confuse players, so course experience and a patient outlook pays. Knowing that 9 of the holes are birdie opportunities and that the other 9 are holes where you can only realistically make par due to pin positions is something that over-aggressive players struggle to deal with. Put simply, and we see this year after year, you can't chase a score at Augusta National.
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. Pure yardage is way more important than creating the right angle into the flag. With a soft golf course, this could be even more important in 2017. To succeed you must be aggressive on the 4 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. But eventually the contest comes down to top-class game management, scrambling and the ability to hole plenty of short to medium putts on Augusta National's famously difficult pure Bentgrass putting surfaces.
Winners: 2016: Danny Willett (-5); 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 2017 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 Jordan Spieth (No.1), Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose.
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 PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Willett 66/1; 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: 41/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Augusta, Georgia is here. Severe rain and thunderstorms across Monday and Wednesday are likely to limit both practice time and soften the golf course considerably for Thursday. But low scoring isn't going to be a reality across either Thursday or Friday with winds gusting up to 30 mph across both days. Survival will be the key. Saturday and Sunday will be more Augusta-like with a light breeze but ever quickening green speeds.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of the Masters since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Danny Willett: "You look at the conditions, it's not really American conditions, you know. You need the ball flight control. And the greens, a lot of them are obviously raised up, which is very tricky to putt. Holing out on 4, 5, 6 holes, they've already got a ball rolling off a break on greens that are probably at 12 or 13, and you tuck a bit of wind in there, and it's just one of them that you hope you're hitting it the right time and you don't get a gust that can knock it off line, that's how windy it can get on a few of them. The golf course is only going to get firmer and faster. But this golf course, even if you're hitting it really well, you still got to make putts on these greens. Obviously crosswinds and fast greens, it's never easy. So, the golf course has firmed up day by day so, hopefully, tomorrow if the wind does die, we can still keep the control of the ball flight and hopefully roll a few in."
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 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here. Data below includes Group Number and local time.
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. 2016 saw the early starters on Thursday get a break from lighter winds - to his credit Willett went out in the afternoon. 2015 saw stronger winds from Friday lunchtime onwards cause 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 or doubles. Patience is key.
25-30mph 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 thunderstorms in tournament week have presented Augusta officials with a soft golf course. So expect inhibited fairway roll and even though Course Superintendent Brad Owen has sub-air systems at his disposal, greens might just be a tad more receptive than 2016. By Saturday and especially Sunday though, they are sure to be close to their fastest.
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 288 yards from the tee in the season they won the Green Jacket. However a high ball flight is just as, 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 the fact 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 Dustin Johnson's chances based upon these trends alone, but Willett would have to perform a miracle turnaround in form and history to even place this week. 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 to keep put of trouble on the par-3s and par-4s. 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:
Jordan Spieth 3pts EW 8/1
For me Jordan Spieth is the modern day Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus, in the opening stages of his career from 1960 through 1966 here at Augusta National, finished 13th (low amateur), 7th, 15th, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 1st. He went on to win here a further 3 times (1972, 1975 and 1986) with an additional 8 each-way payout finishes. The Golden Bear understood how to putt at Augusta, where to miss, where to attack and how to peak for this event. I think Spieth is very much cut from the same cloth, despite his collapse at the par-3 12th last year. Since the close of 2016, his medium-term goal has been to peak for The Masters. So he's re-built confidence with wins at the Australian Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. In terms of his game, the Texan has undoubtedly focussed on being more consistent with his ball-striking, hitting more greens and being more aggressive on driveable par-4s and par-5s. Stats-wise he sits 30th in Ball Striking compared to 114th last season, 3rd in Greens in Regulation compared to 145th last season and 23rd in Going for the Green compared to 41st last season. He also sits 1st in Strokes Gained on Approach, 3rd in Scoring Average, 3rd in Bogey Avoidance, 2nd in Birdie or Better conversion and 7th in par-4 Birdie or Better conversion 2016/17 skill categories. Enough of the stats!
A mixed weather picture can only aid Spieth who thrives in the wind and has won 3 of his 9 PGA Tour titles with winning scores of -10 or higher, including the 2015 U.S. Open (-5/275). His runner-up finishes here have come at tournaments where -8/280 (Watson) and -5/283 (Willett) have been the winning scores. For me -8/280 to -9/279 will be right in the mix come Sunday, so that will only strengthen Spieth's hand this week. Lightly raced, in Augusta prepping since Sunday and determined to prove the doubters wrong, the Texan will take all the beating this week. RESULT: T11
Justin Rose 1.5pt EW 25/1
Typically unspectacular, Justin Rose will drive down Magnolia Lane this week with no huge expectations weighing him down. But I like him this week over say Rickie Fowler or Jon Rahm, purely on the basis that the Englishman is a well known quantity at Augusta National. Year-after-year he hits plenty of greens and can manage the course well enough to be a factor, no matter the conditions. That will be a huge advantage this week as the wind across the opening 36 holes will make Augusta a brutal test, especially with little roll on the fairways. Rose is a classical course and Bentgrass green specialist (5 of his 7 PGA Tour titles) who has 2 top-5 and a further 3 top-11 finishes in his last 9 appearances here. Vitally though, he also likes a fast start at The Masters (often his Achilles Heel) - he's been First Round Leader here 3 times and in the each way money another couple of times - and Rose sits an encouraging 6th in Round 1 Scoring for season 2016/17.
I've liked Rose for this all 2017. He's focussed 100% on the PGA Tour delivering some excellent results at Waialae (2nd), Torrey Pines (4th) and Riviera (4th), which until this point has always been a Nemesis track with its Poa Annua mix putting surfaces. Rose doesn't handle altitude well so he crashed at the WGC-Mexico Championship, but since then 13th at Bay Hill and 15th last week have been very much work-in-progress with Justin's putter definitely warming. Rose sits in excellent spots stats-wise across Birdie or Better conversion (10th), par-4 Birdie or Better conversion (5th) and Scoring Average (12th) and with Sky Bet going 8 places each way he's a great punt this week. RESULT: 2nd, Lost Play-off
Marc Leishman 1pt EW 60/1
I was stung by Marc Leishman in this 12 months ago, but the Australian is definitely one of those sorts who has a sneaky Major Championship win in him. 12 months on, I'm on board again at pretty much the same price, with the difference being that Leishman won a high-grade affair at Bay Hill 3 weeks ago holding off a charging Rory McIlroy in the process and he also reached the knock-out stages of the WGC-Dell World Match Play, eventually being knocked out by Phil Mickelson. The World Number 27 is up 29 spots in the world rankings in 2017 and he certainly has the game to be able to compete at Augusta National. He's also the sort who, when confident, can string top-level performances together. Leishman is on the team this week on the basis that he thrives on Bentgrass greens (2 of his 3 main Tour wins have come at TPC River Highlands in 2012 and Gary Player CC in 2015), he 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: A couple of runner-up finishes at Torrey Pines (2010 & 2014), 5th at Riviera (2016), 5th at Muirfield Village (2015) and 2nd at Cog Hill (2009) work nicely. 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 5th in Scoring Average, 8th in Bogey Avoidance, 18th in Birdie or Better conversion and 16th for Going for the Green 2016/17 season long skill categories. Long enough and with a high ball-flight to be effective here when the wind subsides, I'm hoping it's second time lucky for Leishman. RESULT: T43
Daniel Berger 1pt EW 80/1
I will finish with Daniel Berger who might surprise a few this week. I've always been impressed with the 23 year-old Floridian, ever since he played fantastically well at PGA National back in the 2015 Honda Classic. Back then Jack Nicklaus was raving about the local boy who took Padraig Harrington to a play-off in some of the windiest tournament conditions witnessed on the PGA Tour in recent times. That same year Berger continued to play well finishing 12th at TPC Boston and 2nd behind Jason Day at Conway Farms in the BMW Championship. Big tournaments with big names came naturally to Daniel and he finished a competent 12th at the Tour Championship. Last year was a landmark year for Daniel as he finished 5th at the GC of Houston and then showed his immediate liking for Augusta National landing himself in 8th after Round 2 and holding on for a fantastic 10th place finish. As we know the 2016 renewal was particularly difficult and Berger showed class and resolve to finish so well, especially as he was paired with Dustin Johnson in Round 3 and Rory McIlroy in Round 4. This kid has bottle. From Augusta Daniel went on to finish 9th at TPC Sawgrass, win his first PGA Tour title at TPC Southwind (a brutal, technical test), qualify for his second consecutive season ending Tour Championship with a gutsy 10th at Crooked Stick and finish 2nd to Hideki Matsuyama at the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan.
A multi-million dollar move to Callaway equipment including golf balls in 2017 has taken time to settle down. Berger has been in phenomenal form on and around the greens, but poor with his trademark ball-striking. But that changed last week at the GC of Houston where a 5th place finish was powered by top-class approach play and powerful, but straight driving. 27th in Scoring Average, an improving 41st in Bogey Avoidance, 16th in Scrambling, 12th in Going for the Green, 10th in Birdie or Better conversion and 3rd in par-4 Birdie or Better conversion 2016/17 skill categories are a great mix for Augusta. Plus Berger can hit a nice long and high draw. RESULT: T27