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The 2018 Masters Tournament has been eagerly awaited for many months now. Five of the world’s top 10 have already won in 2018, with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy picking up victories as recently as the Florida Swing. Augusta specialists Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day arrive with 2 World Golf Championships and a further 2 high-profile PGA Tour victories between them. Another course specialist Jordan Spieth came to life in Houston last week and from a UK perspective Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton have been playing some great stuff of late. And let’s not forget one Tiger Woods who’s been a revelation on his return to the PGA Tour. We’re in for a real treat!
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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 12 months ago 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.
Now Augusta National with its length, contours, nuances and extremely fast bentgrass greens makes shooting low numbers here very difficult in normal circumstances. With relatively low temperatures and prolonged rain looking very likely on Saturday, this again is likely to 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. 2017: 73.89 (+1.89), Rank 2 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. In 2017 Thomas Pieters again highlighted that talented rookies can contend. 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 possible over the weekend, this could be even more important in 2018. 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: 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).
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 Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brendan Steele, Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton, Sergio Garcia, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Jason Day.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Farmers Insurance Open / Dubai Desert Classic and includes both 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:
Winners & Prices: 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. Average: 42/1.
Weather Forecast: latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Augusta, Georgia is here. With a relatively dry build-up to Masters week and little in the way of rain in the forecast until Saturday, I’m expecting faster course conditions for the first 36 holes. Also expect cold temperatures for the early starters across both Thursday and Friday which will make the course play extremely long. A passing front deposits rain and is accompanied by strong breezes, most likely during play on Saturday. Sunday therefore should see a soft course and the best scoring conditions of the week.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 8 winners of the Masters since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let’s take a view from players as to how the course sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Sergio Garcia: “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: “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 8 Masters winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Naturally the Augusta National course always takes centre stage at The Masters, but weather over the course of tournament week could have a major impact on the result this time around. Across 2016 and 2017 renewals we’ve seen strong winds being a factor, with receptive conditions also a factor across 2015 (Spieth’s record low winning score) and for the opening round 12 months ago. 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 2018? Firstly variable but relatively light breezes will be a feature throughout. It’s worth remembering that Augusta National is famous for the fact that wind always calms towards the latter end of play. The wind will be enough to confuse, with the strongest gusts – 20+ mph – looking likely Saturday. From a turf condition, expect relatively fast conditions over the first 36 holes, but with the wind on Saturday comes rain, which will undoubtedly make the course play softer and longer. Expect the lowest scoring to occur on Sunday. What is really key across the whole week though are Northern European-type temperatures with nothing higher than 25 degrees Celsius Thursday/Friday, dropping to sub 20 degrees Celsius on the weekend.
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 (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 Dustin! 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 Sergio! Naturally only a fool would rule out both Dustin Johnson’s and Sergio Garcia’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 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. Previous Major contending performances are also a huge positive this week.
Jason Day 3pts EW 18/1 with bet365. *For the latest bet365 Opening Account Offer details see below.
When it comes to assessing the very top of the betting market, I’m including 3 players from the top 10. This is one the most top-heavy betting markets I can recall and naturally you can make cases for pretty much all at short prices. However I’m a little surprised to see Jason Day at such a price. He’s lightly raced, which for me is an advantage over plenty who might be feeling jaded already in April, and he’s got Augusta National pedigree which I think will give us a run for our money. A winner of the Farmers Insurance Open in January, a course that has seen Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson triumph in the past, Day captured his 11th PGA Tour title and first for 20 months. From there 2nd at Pebble Beach and a competitive 22nd at Bay Hill after a month’s inactivity highlight a player who’s playing some decent stuff under the radar. More importantly it highlights a player who, like Adam Scott in 2013 and Sergio Garcia last year, seems to be stalking his opportunities.
An impressive 2nd here in 2011 on debut backed up by 3rd in 2013 and 10th in 2016, Jason clearly thrives in this corner of Georgia. He’s hitting fairways and greens right now and with an average 312 yards per drive that’s the green light for me to include him this week. Day rates 2nd in my classical golf course ratings (behind only Dustin Johnson) and 11th for Scoring Average, 6th for Birdie or Better Conversion and 3rd for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion are also key stats I like this week. Has masses of correlating course form across the likes of Kapalua, Bay Hill, Houston, Quail Hollow, TPC Four Seasons, Congressional, Firestone, Bethpage Black, TPC Boston as well as East Lake and we also know that Day has the experience to handle changing conditions this week. Result: T20
Paul Casey 2.5pts EW 22/1 with bet365. *For the latest bet365 Opening Account Offer details see below.
I’m also into Paul Casey this week. I often overlook him on the basis that he doesn’t win nearly enough. It’s an easy mistake to make, as we all have different views on betting strategy and naturally plenty missed out on Sergio Garcia for the very same reason 12 months ago. But make no bones about it, Casey is playing some of the very best golf of his career right now and the set-up at Augusta is ideal for him. 2nd in Strokes Gained Tee to Green this season – sandwiched between Master champions Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth – Paul is 10th for Scoring Average, 17th for Bogey Avoidance and 18th for Birdie or Better Conversion this season, but most importantly he’s confident. A winner of the Valspar Championship last month where he performed final round heroics to beat Justin Rose, Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods, Paul must fancy his chances at Augusta this week on a course where he’s finished 6th (2015), 4th (2016) and 6th (2017) across his last 3 visits to Georgia. I think this week signifies his best chance of winning a Major and, if he doesn’t, a top-8 finish is by no means out of the question. Result: T15
Phil Mickelson 2pts Win 20/1 with Betfred
Call me sentimental but I also can’t leave out Phil Mickelson at his favourite course. With the bookmakers being particularly stringent with their odds in 2018, I can’t realistically cover Day, Casey and Mickelson each-way, so will include the 3-time winner as a win-only bet. A top-8 place across Day or Casey brings home profit and we have Phil on side as well if he grabs the victory. Naturally you can treble your odds with 888Sport’s exclusive new customer offer as per the details at the top of the page if you prefer.
Phil winning his 4th Green Jacket is not such a flight of fantasy either, with Mickelson playing at his buccaneering best right now and this potentially ‘mix and match’ tournament may play into his hands. Faster conditions on Thursday and Friday won’t gall the 5-time Major winner in any way, shape or form and if conditions get wet and gnarly on Saturday that’s fine as well. A soft course on Sunday would also play into the hands of Lefty, who last came to the party here in 2015 – the year Spieth destroyed the opposition on an Augusta National course which was as soft as we’ve seen. A winner of the WGC-Mexico Championship last month, Lefty showed a cool head to capture his 43rd PGA Tour title from the final group on Sunday. It was his first win in over 5 years and the way he saw off both Tyrrell Hatton in regulation and then 2018 form-horse Justin Thomas in a playoff was very, very impressive. Mickelson ticks every single statistical box I’m looking for this week, he’s hitting the ball long and is hitting enough fairways to be competitive. 4th in Strokes Gained Approach tells a story and he’s 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting. If he finds the same level of greens that he has since Pebble Beach this year the he’ll be a factor. Result: T36
My view of the longer-priced players in the field has now been published here.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:45BST 2.4.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.