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 3 in the betting, there's still value to be found if you dig deep enough into the betting market at Augusta this week.
Defending Champion Danny Willett was a 66/1 shot with most bookies before last year's event, however the last few years have generally produced some tasty 3-figure each-way places or better:
Recent results on the PGA Tour further cement the argument that we should be searching for some value this week. Sunghoon Kang threatened to take the Shell Houston Open title at a massive 300/1 before finally succumbing to Russell Henley last week, however prior to that we had three consecutive triple-figure winners in the shape of Adam Hadwin (100/1), Marc Leishman (100/1) and DA Points (175/1) in the regular strokeplay events. Likewise on the European Tour, Graeme Storm (150/1) and Fabrizio Zanotti (225/1) have both gained silverware since the start of 2017 - long-priced winners happen more often than you might think in this game!
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 slightly 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 should be the favoured route.
Here's my pick of the bunch at longer prices:
Can Soren Kjeldsen go the whole hog and win The Masters? If I'm being honest, that does feel like a bit of a stretch even to an eternal optimist like me, however the name of the game here is to find someone capable of snaring a top-8 finish given the terms on offer and, in that respect, the Dane isn't without a chance. A tie for 7th place here last year may have surprised a few - indeed the bookies were offering up to 500/1 about the 41 year-old winning outright 12 months ago - however the 4-time European Tour winner is a very capable player and last year's breezy conditions, which we'll see again for the first two days here this year, clearly levelled the playing field sufficiently to allow him to achieve such a lofty finish.
Soren's four European titles generally point to a player who's adept on challenging layouts or in challenging conditions: a 9-under total was sufficient for him to gain his first piece of silverware at Gleneagles back in 2003 and a shot less was required at the notoriously difficult Valderrama track in 2008 when he doubled his European Tour trophy haul. A slightly more straightforward success followed in Seville a year later at 14-under, however Kjeldsen was back to his grinding best at a windy Royal County Down in 2015 where he held off Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger in a 3-way play-off. It took all of the Dane's guile and determination to eventually claim that Irish Open title and with another breezy forecast I'd expect patient plotters like him to be the more likely players to navigate safely to the weekend.
Before winning at Royal County Down, Kjeldsen had already declared the venue as one of his favourite courses in the world and he makes no secret of the fact that The Masters is his favourite event. Mentally he's clearly far more relaxed around these parts nowadays, "I'm really happy. And I think the main thing is sort of mentally I've been really relaxed. I really enjoyed it. I think no matter what happens tomorrow I've learned a lot today. Because I play a lot of weeks where I think I put way too much pressure on me," he said before his final round last year, "and this week I've just been so calm, I've really enjoyed it. And I think my level has definitely improved."
Anyone who watched Kjeldsen's opening match against Rory McIlroy at the WGC Match Play a couple of weeks ago would have been seriously impressed with the way that he closed out victory: standing on the 14th tee and a hole down to the pre-tournament favourite, Soren rattled off approaches to 8'6", 4'2", 2'4" and 3'1" to effectively end McIlroy's title challenge at the first hurdle. Jon Rahm was a step too far in the Quarter Finals, however by then he'd already done enough to suggest that his game was in pretty decent shape and he's more than capable of another strong effort here this week. RESULT: T36
Whereas I'd question whether Soren Kjeldsen has the game to actually convert a contending performance here into victory, we can't say the same about Angel Cabrera as the 47 year-old already has one Green Jacket in his wardrobe and very nearly had a matching pair when he lost out to Adam Scott in a play-off in 2013. I'd featured the Argentine in this column that year and although it was ultimately a disappointing result, Cabrera once again proved that he shouldn't be ignored in Major Championship golf, regardless of current form or his advancing years.
As well as his 2009 victory here at Augusta when he held off Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell in a play-off, El Pato also has the 2007 US Open trophy in his cabinet and is clearly not a one-hit-wonder in Major Championship terms. In fact you can add 8 further top-10 Major finishes into the pot if you're looking for someone with the necessary credentials, 5 of which have come here at golf's first Major of the year. The only surprise really is that Angel hasn't won more domestic PGA Tour titles over the years, however one thing is clear and that's the fact that he can and does peak for the biggest events in world golf.
Incoming form of 13/33/32/MC/MC when he won here in 2009 suggests he doesn't exactly need to be firing on all cylinders to be considered - indeed a not dissimilar form line of 30/63/MC/50/16 preceded his aforementioned play-off defeat in 2013. MC/54/MC/MC/34 coming into this event doesn't look entirely out of place then as he visits Augusta National for the 18th consecutive year and that experience will set him in good stead with tough conditions forecast for the first couple of days - he's seen it all over the years here and a bit of wind holds little fear for him.
Despite an unconvincing form line coming into this event, the 200/1 on offer is worth taking in my view, particularly after a promising pair of 69s to open his account in Houston last week and this ace on his final hole of the event to put him in great spirits ahead of this year's Masters. RESULT: MC
First Round Leader Market
The First Round Leader (FRL) market is fascinating given there are many ways to review the data to hand. How does the weather forecast impact conditions? Will it be softer earlier, firmer later, windier for some, warmer for others? What tee times have the recent FRL winners had? Have the recent FRL winners started well here in the past? Have the recent FRL winners started well in their recent events, have the even been playing well in recent events? Lots of questions and the odd red herring along the way I'm sure, however I think there are a few factors to consider which might help point us in the right direction.
First up, some recent history of FRL winners here:
Going back further still, in 2011 Rory McIlroy (9.24am) and Alvaro Quiros (1.59pm) tied for the lead with rounds of 65; Fred Couples shot a 66 from a 12.58 tee time in 2010 to lead on his own; Chad Campbell's 12.35 tee time produced an opening 65 in 2009; Trevor Immelman and Justin Rose shared the lead in 2008 with rounds of 68 from 11.40am and 10.56 tee times respectively.
Leishman aside, you could make a fair case for most of the players above on recent(ish) form alone, however their tee times are varied to say the least. What does stand out to me though is that if we go back to 2007, the final group of the day has produced a top-5 finisher on 6 of the 10 occasions; extend that to the last 2 groups and 8 of the last 10 renewals have produced a top-5 finisher in the first round leader market. Is there some logic in there? The breeze often does lay down a little towards the end of the day and perhaps the euphoria and pressure begins to dissipate a little as the day progresses. Players will also usually enjoy the best temperatures in the afternoon and on this lengthy layout every extra yard helps, particularly with the scoreable holes on the back 9.
The latest weather forecast for Augusta National is here. At the time of writing Thursday looks to be a cool, partly cloudy day with the wind strengthening to around 25mph by noon and staying at that level for a few hours before very slowly dropping away towards the end of the day. Very early starters may get slightly lighter winds to begin their rounds, however it will certainly feel chilly with temperatures struggling to break 60 Fahrenheit until the afternoon and it won't be long at all before the wind picks up for those out early. With the potential for gusts approaching 40 mph according to some reports, how Thursday will pan out is anyone's guess at this stage, however rounds are likely to be slow and scoring high and that may just swing the pendulum in the favour of the very early and potentially the very late starters. Given that as well as the history discussed above, I've gone for the following two players:
Soren Kjeldsen, who I made a case for above, has a nice early 8.44am round 1 tee time and could well make a fast start. Jimmy Walker, on the other hand, is out in the final group at 2.03pm and the reigning PGA Champion is quite capable of a fast start as he proved at the WGC Mexico Championship where he co-led after the first round a month ago. In three starts apiece, both players have finished in the top-5 after day 1 once each and a repeat performance from either (or both) would return a healthy profit in this market. A full list of tee times can be found here.
Top 20 Finish
Backing both of these players at level stakes for a top 20 finish will produce a healthy profit should either of them oblige and there are plenty of reasons to suspect that one of them will:
Bill Haas has an incredibly consistent if unspectacular record here at Augusta National reading 26/42/37/20/20/12/24 - that's right, no missed cuts to his name from 7 consecutive efforts and three top-20 finishes from his last 4 attempts here. Sure to be popular in the fantasy golf world this week, the 34 year-old is well capable of producing the goods for us here in the top-20 market having achieved the same feat on 6 of his last 8 strokeplay starts globally and he's now starting to get more competitive at the Majors having finally recorded a top-10 finish at the Open Championship last July at Royal Troon. The 6-time PGA Tour winner impressed further on his last start at the WGC Match Play, eventually finishing 3rd, and although a top-20 finish is the bet here I can also see him getting a little closer than that to the lead come Sunday night.
The second half of this bet is the riskier of the two if you believe the bookies, however for me Jason Dufner is just as likely to grab a top-20 finish here as his compatriot Bill Haas, despite his longer odds. An impressive enough debut effort of 30th here back in 2010 was followed up 2 years later by a 24th-place finish which promised so much more after opening rounds of 69 and 70. A solitary top-20 finish has followed since that time, however 3 US Open top-10 finishes and a US PGA title in the intervening period rubber-stamps the 40 year-old's Major pedigree and with this year set to play on the challenging side, at least for the first two days, I can see a personal best coming from the Alabama man. One of the better wind players on the PGA Tour, Dufner's stoic nature is an asset when the going gets tough and with three top-20 finishes in his last 5 starts - plus an increasingly compliant putter - don't be surprised to see a fair bit of Dufner on your TV screens over the weekend.
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. With the greens firming up as the tournament progresses towards its conclusion, I can see some real excitement on Sunday if we haven't nailed this bet before that point already.