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Steve Bamford's The Masters Tips 2019

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US Masters Tips 2019

The 2019 Masters Tournament has been eagerly awaited for many months now as a rejuvenated Rory McIlroy goes for a career Grand Slam of Major victories. World Number 1 Justin Rose arrives with a recent PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines in his back pocket; Dustin Johnson has 2019 wins in Saudi Arabia and at the WGC Mexico Championship to his name and drives down Magnolia Lane boosted by 4 straight top-9 stroke play finishes; Augusta specialist Phil Mickelson defied the doubters in February by winning at Pebble Beach and another Augusta guru Jordan Spieth came to life in San Antonio last week; Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter from a European angle have been playing some great stuff of late; and let’s not forget one Tiger Woods whose Quarter Final spot at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play a fortnight ago highlights that the 14-time Major champion is peaking nicely. We’re in for a real treat!

Before we talk The Masters, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System this week will be considerable. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here. Masters lovers will also enjoy our preview podcast, recorded last week Masters Preview Podcast.

Paul Williams has also previewed the First Round Leader and side markets – you can read his thoughts 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 recent winning scores: Jordan Spieth destroyed the field in 2015 on a softened golf course with a winning total of -18/270. In 2016 Danny Willett shocked the sporting world by capturing the Green Jacket following Spieth’s Amen Corner implosion with a winning total of -5/283 in a renewal dominated by high winds. Sergio Garcia’s win in 2017 at 45/1 saw strong winds again across the opening 36 holes with the Spaniard capturing his first Major with a -9/279 winning score. And with little wind allied to soft Saturday conditions last year, Patrick Reed won with a mid-score -15/273 total.

Now Augusta National with its length, contours, nuances and extremely fast Bentgrass greens, makes shooting low numbers here very difficult in normal circumstances. With more wind in the forecast for 2019 and 40 yards added to the par-4 5th hole, we should again be in for a cracker this week.

Augusta National GC, Augusta, Georgia: Designer: Alister Mackenzie 1933 with Tom Fazio re-design 2001; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,475 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. 2017: 73.89 (+1.89), Rank 2 of 50 courses. 2018: 72.93 (+0.93), Rank 7 of 51 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. 2017 also saw Thomas Pieters feature, so talented rookies can contend, but don’t tend to win.

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.

2019 sees Augusta lengthened again with the par-4, 5th hole Magnolia lengthened by 40 yards to 495 yards, prompting WGC Match Play champion Kevin Kisner to comment, “I played it a few weeks ago and they changed number 5 to 495, so that adds another bogey for me.”  And don’t be fooled as the course maybe quoted as a 7,475 yard, Par 72 as all fairways are traditionally mown against the hole direction to minimise driving distance, effectively meaning it plays closer to 7,750 yards – pure yardage is way more important than creating the right angle into the flag.

With a soft golf course possible from the outset, this could be even more important in 2019. 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: 2018: Patrick Reed (-15); 2017: Sergio Garcia (-9); 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 this week’s event 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 | Combined Stats | Recent Major Performance Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Charles Howell III.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Genesis Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Paul Casey; 2) Kevin Kisner / Tiger Woods; 4) Keegan Bradley; 5) Emiliano Grillo; 6) Matt Kuchar; 7) Henrik Stenson; 8) Ian Poulter; 9) Kyle Stanley; 10) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 11) Bryson DeChambeau; 12) Andrew Landry; 13) Rory McIlroy; 14) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 15) Kiradech Aphibarnrat / Thorbjorn Olesen; 17) Brandt Snedeker; 18) Hideki Matsuyama / Adam Long; 20) Webb Simpson.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Tiger Woods; 3) Xander Schauffele; 4) Matt Kuchar; 5) Keegan Bradley / Dustin Johnson; 7) Kevin Kisner / Henrik Stenson; 9) Hideki Matsuyama; 10) Jason Day; 11) Rickie Fowler; 12) Charles Howell III; 13) Paul Casey / Matt Fitzpatrick; 15) Sergio Garcia; 16) Francesco Molinari / Matt Wallace; 18) Patrick Cantlay; 19) Tommy Fleetwood / Charley Hoffman / Bubba Watson.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Justin Thomas; 2) Rory McIlroy; 3) Eddie Pepperell; 4) Bryson DeChambeau; 5) Jon Rahm; 6) Tony Finau; 7) Jason Day; 8) Jordan Spieth; 9) Rickie Fowler; 10) Charley Hoffman; 11) Patrick Reed; 12) Francesco Molinari; 13) Brandt Snedeker; 14) Dustin Johnson / Si Woo Kim / Ian Poulter / Justin Rose; 18) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 19) Cameron Smith; 20) Tommy Fleetwood.

Winners & Prices: 2018: Reed 55/1; 2017: Garcia 45/1; 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. Past 5 Renewals Average: 41/1; Overall Average: 40/1.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast weather forecast for Augusta, Georgia is here. 36 mm of rain has fallen on Augusta National since Tuesday last week, with the weekend seeing 21 mm of that. With a 90% chance of rain across tournament Monday and Tuesday, I think that we can guarantee that conditions will be soft and receptive for the start of the tournament. Naturally Augusta has the best Sub-Air green complex on the planet, but with no further rain I’d personally be surprised to see the fast Augusta green speeds we expect until the weekend at least and there is the threat of rain across Friday and Sunday.

Scoring though will be blunted by wind conditions. 10-15 mph breeze on Thursday shouldn’t present too many issues, but that increases up to gusting 20 mph on Friday. A tranquil Saturday will be ‘Moving Day’, but Sunday looks tricky as a front passes through. A 60% chance of thunderstorms and wind gusting up to 30 mph,will potentially present problems for players and organisers.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:

  • 2018, Patrick Reed (-15). 299 yards (6th), 73.2% fairways (13th), 66.7% greens in regulation (21st) 62.5 % scrambling (16th), 1.56 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2017, Sergio Garcia (-9). 292 yards (6th), 80.4% fairways (2nd), 75.0% greens in regulation (2nd), 66.7 % scrambling (6th), 1.78 putts per GIR (12th).
  • 2016, Danny Willett (-5). 279 yards (32nd), 67.9% fairways (26th), 66.7% greens in regulation (6th), 70.8 % scrambling (1st), 1.81 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2015, Jordan Spieth (-18). 285 yards (52nd), 69.6% fairways (21st), 75.0% greens in regulation (2nd), 66.7 % scrambling (10th), 1.59 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2014, Bubba Watson (-8). 305 yards (1st), 71.4% fairways (14th), 69.4% greens in regulation (6th), 63.6 % scrambling (5th), 1.78 putts per GIR (12th).
  • 2013, Adam Scott (-9). 294 yards (18th), 57.1% fairways (49th), 76.4% greens in regulation (1st), 70.6% scrambling (3rd), 1.80 putts per GIR (28th).
  • 2012, Bubba Watson (-10). 290 yards (4th), 66.1% fairways (48th), 73.6% greens in regulation (4th), 52.6% scrambling (15th), 1.64 putts per GIR (11th).
  • 2011, Charl Schwartzel (-14). 283 yards (40th), 66.1% fairways (31st), 68.1% greens in regulation (19th), 69.6% scrambling (1st), 1.61 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2010, Phil Mickelson (-16). 297 yards (2nd), 60.7% fairways (45th), 75.0% greens in regulation (3rd), 77.8% scrambling (3rd), 1.76 putts per GIR (10th).

Tournament Skill Average:

  • Driving Distance: 18th, Driving Accuracy: 26th, Greens in Regulation: 7th, Scrambling: 7th, Putting Average 11th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how Augusta National sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Patrick Reed (2018): “I just think it was a long time coming. I felt like throughout the past I’ve hit a lot of really good golf shots here, played really solid, but I always seem to leave myself just above every hole. With doing that you have to putt so defensive around here and going into today and real throughout the round I really felt like I managed that really well. I left myself below the hole on a lot of the holes or at worst pin high. But the only one I felt like I didn’t really learn from was on 16, because you know from that middle left flag you can’t go past it. And what do I do, I hit it 30 feet past the flag. I was luckily able to 2putt that by making a long come back putt, but all in all it was just kind of one of those steady days, just go out, just played normal golf, let the birdies come to you, because around this place pars are good. Even though you might have a pitching wedge or 9iron in your hand, depending where the flag is, depending on what kind of lie you have, what fairway, etcetera, pars are good with short clubs. And I was able just to kind of plot myself around and when I had opportunities, capitalize on it.

A lot of the other places we play, if you hit it to six feet or eight feet, whether it’s above the hole or below the hole, it’s not that big of a deal. But here you hit it, even if you hit it six feet above the hole, a lot of those, if you don’t see such a high line and just tap it, it misses the hole, you have eight feet coming back. And we don’t have that at other places we play. So it truly is a course knowledge golf course. You need to know where to put the ball on certain pins and if you miss you need to miss it in certain spots because there’s some areas around here that it’s literally impossible, unless you make a 15, 18footer.

Sergio Garcia (2017): “I mean, my relationship with Augusta has definitely improved. There’s no doubt about that. Nothing wrong with Augusta. I think that the main thing that has improved is the way I’m looking at it the last, probably, two or three years, and obviously this year. But, yeah, I mean, I think it’s the kind of place that if you are trying to fight against it, it’s going to beat you down. So you’ve just got to roll with it and realize that sometimes you’re going to get good breaks, like has happened to me a few times this week and sometimes you’re going to get not‑so‑good breaks. But at the end of the day, that’s part of the game.

Danny Willett (2016): “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 9 Masters winners:

  • 2018 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2017 – Sergio Garcia: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2016 – Danny Willett: Round 1: 9th, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 5th.
  • 2015 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2014 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2013 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 10th, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2012 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2011 – Charl Schwartzel: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 12th, Round 3: 2nd
  • 2010 – Phil Mickelson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2 3rd, Round 3: 2nd.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 Masters winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2018 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3: 3 ahead.
  • 2017 – Sergio Garcia: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: level.
  • 2016 – Danny Willett: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2015 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 3 ahead, Round 2: 5 ahead, Round 3: 4 ahead.
  • 2014 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 3 ahead, Round 3: level.
  • 2013 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2012 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2011 – Charl Schwartzel: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2010 – Phil Mickelson: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 back.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Patrick Reed: 9th WMP/7th Bay Hill/2nd Copperhead/37th WGC-Mexico.
  • Sergio Garcia: 30th WMP/12th WGC-Mexico/14th PGA National/49th Riviera/1st Dubai.
  • Danny Willett: 28th WMP/22nd Copperhead/3rd Doral/45th Malaysia/1st Dubai.
  • Jordan Spieth: 2nd Houston/2nd San Antonio/1st Copperhead/17th Doral/4th Riviera.
  • Bubba Watson: WD Bay Hill/2nd Doral/1st Riviera/2nd TPC Scottsdale/23rd Torrey.
  • Adam Scott: 30th Copperhead/3rd Doral/10th Riviera.
  • Bubba Watson: 4th Bay Hill/2nd Doral/13th Riviera/5th TPC Scottsdale/13th Torrey.
  • Charl Schwartzel: 30th Houston/47th Bay Hill/24th Doral/14th PGA National/8th Abu Dhabi.
  • Phil Mickelson: 35th Houston/30th Bay Hill/14th Doral/24th TPC Scottsdale

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2018 – Spieth – Group 28 13:49 -6/66 18/1
  • 2017 – Hoffman – Group 27 13:08 -7/65 80/1
  • 2016 – Spieth – Group 9 09:48 -6/66.
  • 2015 – Spieth – Group 29 13:15 -8/64.
  • 2014 – Haas – Group 14 10:08 -4/68.
  • 2013 – Garcia / Leishman – Group 26/9 12:57/09:28 -6/66.
  • 2012 – Westwood – Group 27 12:58 -5/67.
  • 2011 – McIlroy / Quiros – Group 11/32 09:24/13:59 -7/65.
  • 2010 – Couples – Group 28 11:58 -6/66.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Bentgrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 7 – Justin Rose.
  • 6 – Rory McIlroy.
  • 5 – Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth.
  • 4 – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods.
  • 3 – Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Martin Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Francesco Molinari, Adam Scott.
  • 2 – Keegan Bradley, Angel Cabrera, Stewart Cink, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas.
  • 1 – Patrick Cantlay, Charley Hoffman, Billy Horschel, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kim, Kevin Kisner, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Kyle Stanley, Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett.

Naturally the Augusta National course always takes centre stage at The Masters, but weather over the course of tournament week always has a major impact on the result. Across 2016 and 2017 renewals strong winds were a factor, with receptive conditions also a factor across 2015 (Spieth’s record low winning score) and for the opening round in 2017. 12 months ago we saw chilly conditions and some breeze keep a lid on scoring until Friday night rain saw Fleetwood, Fowler, McIlroy, Rahm and most tellingly Reed fire some darts on Saturday. 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.

So what weather and course conditions can we expect for 2019? It looks a mixed bag, although temperatures will be pleasant enough reaching 25 -28 degrees Celsius across the tournament. That is significantly higher than in 2016, 2017 and 2018. 10-15 mph and gusting 20mph south-westerly wind looks a feature across Thursday and Friday and will keep a lid on scoring. Saturday will see the lowest scoring with benign conditions and Sunday looks like players and organisers could be presented with challenges as thunderstorms and winds reach around 30 mph.

Augusta trends are plentiful, but here are the ones that have had bearing over recent Masters history: 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 (WGC CA & Cadillac Championship 2007 through 2016), GC of Houston, Quail Hollow and Bethpage Black.

You can also throw into the mix the fact that no world number 1 since Tiger Woods in 2002 has won here. Sorry Justin! 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. Sorry Patrick! Naturally only a fool would rule out both Justin Rose’s and Patrick Reed’s chances based upon these trends alone, but let’s face it, the omens aren’t good.

So this week I’m looking for long hitters who can also handle weather-affected conditions and who can hit lots of greens in regulation to keep out 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. Soft course conditions look likely over the opening day at the very least and potentially throughout, so players who thrive with soft, receptive conditions should be favoured. Check out this week’s predictor model for a clear indicator of players to look for.  Previous Major contending performances are also a huge positive this week.

My final tips for the 2019 Masters are as follows:

Rory McIlroy 4pts Enhanced Win Only 15/2 with Betfred

The chances of Rory McIlroy don’t take too much explaining this week and for me to back him at 15/2 win-only they have to be virtually bullet-proof, which undoubtedly they are. I can find negatives in quite a few at the top of the market: Dustin Johnson looked a little out of sorts across both the Valspar Championship and the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play. We’re splitting hairs here, but at these prices we need to. Justin Rose seems out of sorts with his ‘bread and butter’ long game and I can see Tiger Woods placing but not winning. Can I see Jon Rahm dealing with far from ideal conditions to win? Reluctantly I said no, and close friends Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth seem to be sharing some significant issues with their driving and approach play right now.

So my default has to be to back the favourite this week who, for me, has played the most consistent golf across 2019 to date. A focus on the PGA Tour has undoubtedly paid dividends with 4th at Kapalua, 5th at Torrey Pines, 4th at Riviera, 2nd in the WGC at Chapultepec, 6th at Bay Hill and 1st at TPC Sawgrass being the results, driving McIlroy’s OWGR position from 8th to 3rd. These results have also been forged  by Rory getting back to what he does best, driving the ball high, long and beautifully plus hitting a substantial amounts of greens – the perfect recipe for Augusta National.

I won’t bore you with too many statistics, but so far this season on the PGA Tour he ranks 6th for Driving Distance, 1st for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 10th for Greens in Regulation, 12th for Strokes Gained on Approach, 1st for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 6th for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion and is converting his birdie chances with the putter as he sits 12th for Putting Average.

So what are the negatives? Well the pressure of his personal Major Grand Slam has to be taken seriously, but he’s had the same pressures arriving in Georgia since 2015 and has finished 4th (2015), 10th (2016), 7th (2017) and 5th (2018). Another thing on his side this week though will be soft turf conditions and the fact that he arrives here after winning his last strokeplay tournament, where he was 3rd for Greens in Regulation and 18th for Total Driving. A look at McIlroy’s 4 Major successes make interesting reading: 2011 U.S. Open – arrived after 5th at Muirfield Village (20th for GIR and 3rd for Total Driving. 2012 PGA Championship – arrived after 5th at Firestone South (2nd GIR and 18th for Total Driving). 2014 Open Championship – arrived after 14th at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club (5th GIR and 10th Total Driving). 2014 PGA Championship – arrived after 1st at Firestone South (1st for GIR and 1st for Total Driving). Boosted by his Players Championship win, I think this is Rory’s best chance to capture that coveted Green Jacket by some distance. RESULT: T21

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Rickie Fowler 2pts EW 18/1 (8 EW, 1/5 odds) with bet365

With wind and sub-optimal conditions likely this week, I can’t resist Rickie Fowler who we know has an excellent temperament and is a top-notch wind player (he ranks as the 3rd best player in the field over the past 5 years in the wind in our Predictor Model here).

Rickie’s chances need little explanation, but 5th (2014), 11th (2017) and 2nd (2018) here at Augusta National across his past 4 appearances highlights a player who’s now up to speed with the details of the assignment. Within the top 11 of my Greens in Regulation and top 9 of my Putting Average 8-week trackers, Fowler’s game is close to its best and he must arrive here confident after winning his 4th PGA Tour title at his beloved TPC Scottsdale in February and going very close at PGA National in March where he finished runner-up to Keith Mitchell. A quiet outing (17th) in San Antonio last week saw Fowler see what was under the bonnet over the first 2 days, where he was tied for 2nd place after 36 holes. Winning the Valero Texas Open was never his intention, but a Green Jacket and his first Major Championship this week must be the target. 8th for Birdie or Better, 3rd for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion and 12th for Scoring Average on the PGA Tour this season, Rickie has the length, aggressive nature and high ball-flight to succeed here, and after 8 Major Championship top 5 finishes, there would be no more popular winner both with patrons and viewers on Sunday night. RESULT: T9

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Tommy Fleetwood 2pts EW 30/1 (7EW, 1/5 odds) with Ladbrokes

Prices of 28/1 and above have won the Masters title across 7 of the past 9 renewals, so it’s clearly not a bad space to be in when it comes to backing players this week. I have a 66/1 chance below and in the mid-range Matt Kuchar has to have a huge opportunity to contend this week. I was surprised by his price which has rightfully been nibbled already in the betting. However ultimately going back to 2008, a short-hitter hasn’t won the Green Jacket and with an additional 40 yards added to the course and likely soft conditions for the opening 36 holes, I don’t see that changing in 2019. Research what recent winners all had going into this over recent seasons and they all shared a strong Strokes Gained Tee to Green game in their stroke play outings prior to driving down Magnolia Lane. From Scott (2013) through Watson, Spieth, Willett, Garcia and Reed, they all frequented the top reaches of the Tee to Green categories across assignments in Florida or Texas.

So despite letting me down ever so slightly at The Players where he led after 36 holes and was 2nd going into Sunday, Tommy Fleetwood makes my Masters 2019 team. 17th here 12 months ago on only his second appearance, the Southport man fired in a -6/66 on Saturday to go into the Sunday in 6th spot. His transition to the PGA Tour and American golf in general has been very smooth and with 10th at Bay Hill (2017), 4th at PGA National (2018), 7th at TPC Sawgrass (2018), 8th at Aronimink (2018), 3rd at Bay Hill (2019) and 5th at TPC Sawgrass (2019), he’s tackled many of America’s tough tracks and contended.

With bad weather and wind likely to subdue scoring across much of the tournament this year, plodders could well prosper in 2019, very much like Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia did across 2016/17. So Fleetwood’s love of the ultimate golfing test the U.S. Open where he has finished 4th (Erin Hills) and 2nd (Shinnecock Hills) across the past 2 renewals has to be seen as a huge plus point this week. He also finished 2nd in 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship, so he’s accustomed to top-level, high-pressure golf. Very few players played better golf across the Florida Swing where he ranked 2nd (Bay Hill) and 5th (TPC Sawgrass) for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and drove the ball beautifully and at 13th in the Going for the Green category and 49th for Distance to Apex, he has the raw materials to get to 3 of the par-5s in 2 shots. This could be a very big week for Tommy. RESULT: T36

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Patrick Cantlay 1pt EW 66/1 (8EW, 1/5 Odds) with bet365

Patrick Cantlay is yet to make a real impact at Major Championship level, but undoubtedly the World Number 21 has class in abundance. Season 2018/19 has seen the North Palm Beach, Florida resident play some hugely consistent golf with 4 top-10 finishes and 2 more top-17 finishes from 8 stroke play appearances. He’s also gravitating from a progression perspective, with 6th at the Bridgestone Invitational, 7th at the HSBC Champions and 6th at the Mexico Championship highlighting a player who has paid out each-way (if you used bookmakers who offer additional each-way spots) at the last 3 consecutive World Golf Championship strokeplay events. If you can contend at the second highest level of professional golf, like Cantlay, you can handle big tournaments in my opinion.

He’s also played very well at some of the most tough and famous classical courses in the United States: 2nd at Copperhead in a breakout 2017, was followed by 4th at Riviera, 4th at Muirfield Village, 6th at Firestone South and 8th at Ridgewood last year. And, from a Majors perspective, despite only appearing in 5 of them, Patrick was 33rd at Quail Hollow (2017), 12th at Carnoustie (2018) and 27th at Bellerive in his last Major where he was 12th after 36 holes.

6th for Driving Distance, 17th for Greens in Regulation, 10th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 7th for Scoring Average, 7th for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion, 19th for Going for the Green and 18th for Distance to Apex are 2018/19 PGA Tour Statistics which are pretty unblemished for the Augusta test ahead this week. Coming off a reasonable performance at the WGC Dell Matchplay where he was beaten by Tiger Woods on Friday and a Missed Cut at the Players Championship, I think Patrick will arrive with low expectations and no pressure on his shoulders. His high-level power ball striking and hugely improved scrambling game make him a huge threat this week at a super price. RESULT: T9

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 15:30BST 8.4.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.