Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Masters Tips 2020

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The 2020 Masters Tournament has been eagerly awaited for many, many months. A November slot in the schedule throws up variances in agronomy, course conditions, no patrons and grandstands, plus varying weather, but one thing’s for sure: all 7,475 yards of Augusta National will be in pristine condition for the very best professional golfers in the world.

With the anticipation comes an amazing volume of sub-plots. Will favourite Bryson DeChambeau blitz his way to his second consecutive Major title? World Number 1 Dustin Johnson won the recent Northern Trust, Tour Championship and the 2020 FedEx Cup, before finishing runner-up in Houston last week. Rory McIlroy goes for a career Grand Slam of Major victories, whilst Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele will be looking to win their first ever Major titles.

Tyrell Hatton, Mathew Fitzpatrick and Ian Poulter from a European angle have been playing some great stuff of late. And let’s not forget one Tiger Woods who will be defending the Green Jacket for the fifth time this week. 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 in-depth preview podcast, recorded last week Masters Preview Podcast.

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. Patrick Reed’s 2018 title came with a -15/273 total with little wind allied to soft Saturday conditions. And last year, a soft course and warm temperatures saw Francesco Molinari lead at -13/203 after 54 holes, before 20-25 mph winds on Sunday saw Tiger manage his way around to the victory at -13/275.

Now Augusta National with its length, contours, nuances and extremely fast Bentgrass greens makes shooting low numbers here difficult in normal circumstances. But with soft fairway conditions, patchy Ryegrass overseed mixed with Bermudagrass and the likelihood of rain this week, it will be fascinating to see how scoring will go at this first ever Masters played in November.

US Masters Tips

Augusta National GC, Augusta, Georgia: Designer: Dr Alister MacKenzie & Bobby Jones 1933 with re-design 2008; Course Type: Mid-Score, Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,475 yards; Holes with Water In-Play: 5; Fairways: Overseeded Perennial Ryegrass with Bermudagrass- base; First Cut: Overseeded Perennial Ryegrass, with Bermudagrass-base 1.375″; Greens: 6,486 sq.ft average featuring A1 Penn Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 13-14ft; Course Scoring Average 2013: 73.41 (+1.41), Difficulty Rank 4 of 43 PGA Tour courses. 2014: 73.95 (+1.95), Rank 2 of 48 courses. 2015: 72.54 (+0.54), Difficulty Rank 14 of 52 courses. 2016: 74.42 (+2.42), Difficulty Rank 3 of 50 courses. 2017: 73.89 (+1.89), Difficulty Rank 2 of 50. 2018: 72.93 (+0.93), Difficulty Rank of 7 of 51 courses. 2019: 71.87 (-0.13), Difficulty Rank 16 of 49 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, and land a full each-way payout at 80/1, so talented course 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.

2020 saw 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 – 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 7,750 yards.

Pure yardage is way more important than creating the right angle into the flag. With a soft golf course possible from the outset and overseeded Perennial Ryegrass fairways due to the November timing of the tournament, this could be even more important in 2020. 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: 2019: Tiger Woods (-13); 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 | Combined 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 Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the U.S. Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Brendon Todd; 2) Matt Kuchar; 3) Chez Reavie; 4) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 5) Tyler Duncan; 6) Corey Conners / Tyrrell Hatton; 8) Abraham Ancer / Kevin Kisner / Dustin Johnson; 11) Andrew Landry / Jason Kokrak; 13) Jon Rahm / Scottie Scheffler / Webb Simpson / Henrik Stenson; 17) Collin Morikawa; 18) Shane Lowry; 19) Paul Casey; 20) Sungjae Im / Rory McIlroy; 22) Rickie Fowler; 23) Nick Taylor / Justin Thomas / Bubba Watson.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Bubba Watson; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Dustin Johnson; 4) Zach Johnson; 5) Erik van Rooyen; 6) Victor Perez; 7) Shane Lowry / Matt Wallace; 9) Bryson DeChambeau / Sungjae Im / Collin Morikawa / Xander Schauffele; 13) Tony Finau; 14) Tyrrell Hatton; 15) Corey Conners / Jason Kokrak; 17) Brooks Koepka; 18) Lanto Griffin; 19) Bernd Wiesberger; 20) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Rory McIlroy; 22) Patrick Cantlay / Marc Leishman; 24) Abraham Ancer / Jazz Janewattananond / Matt Kuchar / Patrick Reed / Lee Westwood.
  • Scrambling: 1) Patrick Cantlay / Ian Poulter; 3) Louis Oosthuizen; 4) Henrik Stenson; 5) Webb Simpson / Justin Thomas; 7) Charles Howell III; 8) Byeong Hun An / Hideki Matsuyama; 10) Patrick Reed; 11) Jon Rahm; 12) Jason Day / Xander Schauffele / Charl Schwartzel; 15) Brooks Koepka / Bubba Watson; 17) Tyler Duncan / Brooks Koepka; 19) Nate Lashley / Cameron Smith; 21) Andrew Landry / Matt Wallace; 23) Paul Casey / Si Woo Kim / Matthew Wolff.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Adam Scott; 2) Patrick Reed; 3) Brooks Koepka; 4) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Xander Schauffele / Matthew Wolff; 7) Justin Thomas / Erik van Rooyen; 9) Tyrrell Hatton / Justin Rose; 11) Rory McIlroy; 12) Cameron Smith; 13) Tony Finau / Gary Woodland; 15) Tommy Fleetwood / Dustin Johnson / Brandt Snedeker; 18) Jason Kokrak / Tiger Woods; 20) Hideki Matsuyama / Louis Oosthuizen / Scottie Scheffler; 23) Rickie Fowler; 24) Bryson DeChambeau; 25) Si Woo Kim.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the U.S. Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Rory McIlroy; 4) Bubba Watson; 5) Dustin Johnson; 6) Scottie Scheffler; 7) Tyrrell Hatton; 8) Cameron Champ / Victor Perez; 10) Corey Conners / Tony Finau; 12) Rickie Fowler; 13) Jason Day / Webb Simpson; 15) Sungjae Im / Jason Kokrak; 17) Lee Westwood; 18) Paul Casey; 19) Brooks Koepka / Hideki Matsuyama / Matt Wallace; 22) Tommy Fleetwood / Shane Lowry; 24) Dylan Frittelli / Billy Horschel.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Bubba Watson; 2) Dustin Johnson; 3) Bryson DeChambeau; 4) Matthew Wolff; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Justin Thomas; 7) Jon Rahm; 8) Tony Finau; 9) Xander Schauffele; 10) Erik van Rooyen; 11) J.T. Poston; 12) Lanto Griffin; 13) Lee Westwood; 14) Byeong Hun An / Zach Johnson / Hideki Matsuyama; 17) Collin Morikawa / Louis Oosthuizen; 19) Corey Conners / Shane Lowry; 21) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Tyrrell Hatton / Sungjae Im / Cameron Smith; 25) Kevin Kisner / Chez Reavie.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Patrick Cantlay / Justin Thomas; 3) Xander Schauffele; 4) Webb Simpson; 5) Brooks Koepka; 6) Ian Poulter; 7) Byeong Hun An / Adam Hadwin; 9) Charles Howell III / Louis Oosthuizen; 11) Francesco Molinari; 12) Tony Finau / Bubba Watson; 14) Dustin Johnson; 15) Bryson DeChambeau; 16) Hideki Matsuyama / Collin Morikawa; 18) Andrew Landry / Nate Lashley / Matthew Fitzpatrick; 21) Cameron Champ; 22) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Tommy Fleetwood; 24) Si Woo Kim / Patrick Reed.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Dustin Johnson / Bubba Watson; 3) Bryson DeChambeau; 4) Jon Rahm; 5) Xander Schauffele; 6) Justin Thomas; 7) Patrick Cantlay / Tony Finau; 9) Webb Simpson; 10) Brooks Koepka; 11) Rory McIlroy / Patrick Reed; 13) Collin Morikawa / Erik van Rooyen; 15) Francesco Molinari; 16) Byeong Hun An / Louis Oosthuizen / Lee Westwood; 19) Cameron Champ / Hideki Matsuyama; 21) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Bernd Wiesberger; 23) Shane Lowry; 24) Corey Conners / Tommy Fleetwood / Matthew Wolff.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Charles Howell III; 2) Patrick Reed; 3) Brendon Todd; 4) Cameron smith; 5) Jason Kokrak / Xander Schauffele; 7) Justin Thomas; 8) Brooks Koepka; 9) Louis Oosthuizen; 10) Tyrrell Hatton; 11) Matthew Wolff; 12) Rory McIlroy; 13) J.T. Poston / Adam Scott / Webb Simpson; 16) Zach Johnson; 17) Ian Poulter; 18) Erik van Rooyen; 19) Rafa Cabrera Bello / Brandt Snedeker; 21) Billy Horschel / Dustin Johnson; 23) Gary Woodland; 24) Bryson DeChambeau  / Matthew Fitzpatrick; 25) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Matt Wallace.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Dustin Johnson; 3) Xander Schauffele; / Justin Thomas; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Webb Simpson; 7) Tony Finau / Jon Rahm / Bubba Watson; 10) Rory McIlroy; 11) Erik van Rooyen; 12) Cameron Smith; 13) Jason Kokrak; 14) Patrick Cantlay; 15) Louis Oosthuizen; 16) Zach Johnson; 17) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 18) Brooks Koepka; 19) Matt Wallace / Lee Westwood; 21) Corey Conners / Charles Howell III / Ian Poulter / Matthew Wolff; 25) Sungjae Im.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Woods 16/1; 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. Average: 38/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2019: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 84. Wind SE at 10-15 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy, with scattered showers and a high of 84. Wind SSE at 5-10 mph. Play was suspended at 5:05 p.m. due to dangerous weather and resumed at 5:34 p.m., a delay of 29 minutes. Saturday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 85. Wind SE at 5-10 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with occasional showers. High of 80. Wind SSE at 15-20 mph, gusting to 25 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Sunny and cool with a high of 69. ENE wind at 6-12 mph. Friday: Sunny and cool in the morning. Partly cloudy in the afternoon with a high of 79. SSW wind at 10-15 mph. Saturday: Scattered showers and overcast with a high of 65. SW wind at 10-15 mph. Sunday: Cloudy and cool in the morning. Sunny in the afternoon with a high of 65. NE wind at 5-10 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Augusta, Georgia, is here.

Conjecture over recent months has been all about the weather in November at Augusta National. Well I can report little change in terms of ambient temperatures with 25-27 degrees Celsius, approaching 29 degrees on Thursday, expected. So the ball will fly miles for everyone.

In terms of wind, Thursday and Friday appears tranquil with the weekend seeing 10-15 mph on Saturday and less on Sunday. The only potential black spot is rain. Tuesday evening and Wednesday could see prolonged rain and if that’s the case then expect soft and receptive for the start of the tournament.

Thursday could also see rain during the day, but naturally Augusta National has the best Sub-Air system on the planet and, with no further rain in the forecast, I would personally think that we’ll start to see Augusta green speeds we’ve come to expect later in the weekend. Undoubtedly though, if this rain hits then Augusta National will play relatively long, with soft overseeded Ryegrass fairways minimising roll.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 10 winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:

  • 2019, Tiger Woods (-13). 294 yards (44th), 62.5% fairways (47th), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st) 42.9 % scrambling (47th), 1.62 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 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: 21st, Driving Accuracy: 30th, Greens in Regulation: 7th, Scrambling: 11th, Putting Average 11th.

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

Phil Mickelson (ZOZO Championship): ” I have played it in November it’s when I play it, usually the fairways are a lot longer because they just overseeded and they’re letting the grass grow in, getting ready for April. I think that the weather and the temperature could make a difference. I think the golf course will probably be a little bit more damp and play a little bit longer and require more carry. I think that the guys like what Bryson is doing, McIlroy, Dustin, the guys that can get it up there, it will have a big advantage with that kind of distance, but if you get wind and you get a lot of cold, we could also have a Masters like 2007 where Zach Johnson won in some rough weather. I just think the weather’s a little bit more unpredictable at that time.”

Tiger Woods (2019): “Yeah, you know, especially with it as warm as it is, the ball’s going a long way so that we can get down there where we’re going to have irons into these par‑5s, excluding 8. Yeah, it helps having the wind down on 13 for me. I don’t quite carry it as far as some of these other guys who hit it 320 in the air. So that’s, that helps me a little bit. But it’s interesting that, how they moved the tee markers over so that we can’t hit that gap up the left. They do a lot of little things that make this golf course a little tricky.

No, you know, after looking at the pin locations and watching some of the early morning telecast, the greens were soft, obviously it rained this morning, so it’s going to be soft and the guys were taking advantage of it. It’s not the normal Augusta National where the balls repel, they’re holding. We were able to stop 6‑irons and 5‑irons, that’s something that you don’t normally see here and with it being so hot, the ball’s flying forever. So it’s nice to, we’re hitting short irons into a lot of the holes because of it, if it got cooler from the same distance it would be a totally different deal but it with it being so warm the ball’s flying forever.”

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 2‑putt 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 9‑iron 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‑, 18‑footer.

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 10 Masters winners:

  • 2019 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 11th, Round 2: 6th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 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 10 Masters winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2019 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 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:

  • Tiger Woods: QF WMP/30th Players/10th WGC-Mexico/15th Riviera.
  • 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.

  • 2019 – DeChambeau/Koepka – Group 27/29 13:38/14:00 -6/66 Both 33/1
  • 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 – Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose.
  • 6 – Tiger Woods.
  • 5 – Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth.
  • 4 – Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson.
  • 3 – Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari, Adam Scott.
  • 2 – Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler, Lucas Glover, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson.
  • 1 – Daniel Berger, Dylan Frittelli, Billy Horschel, Trevor Immelman, Kevin Kisner, Jason Kokrak, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, Chez Reavie, Charl Schwartzel, Brendon Todd, Danny Willett, Matthew Wolff.

So what weather and course conditions can we expect for 2020? We haven’t seen too much rainfall in the immediate build-up to the tournament and pictures of Augusta National show a golf course in its usual pristine condition. But with rain 80% likely on Wednesday, I think we’re going to see soft, receptive conditions in play on Thursday, where we could also see rain during play. From that point the course will start to dry, especially with 25-27 degree Celsius temperatures throughout, and with little wind in the forecast, I foresee your typical mid-teens winning total. Personally I don’t expect a high-scoring affair as we saw in 2016 (Willett) and 2017 (Garcia), where colder temperatures and strong, swirling wind was the order of the day.

Augusta trends are plentiful, but here are the ones that have had any 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. Since 2010, Jordan Spieth has the shortest Driving Distance Average arriving at Augusta National at 291 yards. 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 when defending. Naturally only a fool would rule out both Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods 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 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, potentially throughout, so players who thrive in 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 selections are as follows:

Xander Schauffele 2.5pts EW 14/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Many have this as Bryson DeChambeau’s to lose and I can see the logic. You won’t find a hole in his game from a statistics perspective and a soft course would seemingly play right into his new wheelhouse of total power with reasonable accuracy from the tee.

Attacking Augusta National’s greens from 30 yards closer than anyone else has to be a huge advantage and I, like you, will watch the ‘experiment’ with baited breath. But instead I’m going with the concept that single-digit prices haven’t won the Masters for a long, long time. That also rules out World Number 1 Dustin Johnson who is striping it right now, but as we all know has only captured a single Major Championship. You would have gone bankrupt a while ago backing DJ win-only in Majors.

Instead I’ll stick with Xander Schauffele who I genuinely think (as do the bookmakers) is very close to his first Major victory. 5th at the U.S. Open last month, Schauffele has been playing outstanding golf for a while, and that’s abundantly clear with his 14/1 price point, which isn’t getting bigger anytime soon!

Xander has always been the sort to peak for the big tournaments. Run of the mill PGA Tour events aren’t his thing. 2nd at the 2018 Open Championship, 2nd here at the 2019 Masters and 4 top-6 finishes at the U.S. Open, Xander is undoubtedly a player who peaks for the Major Championships. And it’s not as if Schauffele doesn’t win some of the biggest prizes in golf. Remember this is a player who won the coveted 30-man 2017 Tour Championship in his rookie season. WGC success followed in 2018 with the HSBC Champions, beating Tony Finau in a play-off, and 2019 started with a victory in the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions. How he hasn’t added to his tally since then is truly amazing.

The story of near-misses continued 4 weeks ago at the CJ Cup, when Xander was beaten by a single shot by Jason Kokrak in a WGC-strength, no cut event in Las Vegas. But this is the point. When he has a big target in mind, Xander comes to the party. Ranking 9th in this field for Greens in Regulation across my 8-week tracker, Xander also ranks 12th for Scrambling and 4th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR). From a Strokes Gained perspective, he ranks 9th for Approach, 3rd for Around the Green, 5th for Tee to Green, 5th for Putting and 3rd for SG Total, behind Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson! Closing rounds of 67/65 was tied-2nd best in field last time out at Sherwood Country Club, and I think the now familiar confines of Augusta National will undoubtedly play to Xander’s strengths this week. RESULT: T17

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Bubba Watson 1.5pts EW 30/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

History can repeat itself and we know that Bubba Watson is a 2-time winner at Augusta National, a course where he’s also finished 5th and 12th over the past 2 renewals.

Bubba’s wins here came in 2012 and 2014, and the build-up to those victories, are worth looking at. In 2012 Bubba finished 5th at Scottsdale, 13th at Riviera, 2nd at Doral (WGC) and 4th at Bay Hill, ranking 2nd, 8th, 4th and 1st for Strokes Gained Tee to Green. From a Greens in Regulation perspective he ranked 4th, 14th, 10th and 5th for GIR and 1st, 1st, 14th and 7th for Ball Striking.

In 2014 he finished 2nd in Scottsdale, 1st at Riviera and 2nd at Doral (WGC) before a WD the outing before at Bay Hill (that scuppered many a bet), ranking 5th, 1st and 7th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green. 25th, 3rd and 38th for Greens in Regulation, the Floridian also ranked 2nd, 2nd and 41st for Ball Striking.

So when we fast-forward to 2020, it’s fascinating to see very, very similar patterns. Watson has ranked in the top 10 for Greens in Regulation on 5 of his last 6 outings. He’s also ranked in the top 11 for Ball Striking across his last 5. Strokes Gained Tee to Green, he’s ranked 14th (Northern Trust), 10th (BMW), 6th (U.S. Open), 1st (CJ Cup) and 5th (ZOZO). And results-wise we have a form line of 18-16-31-7-4, with the last 2 results coming at short-field, no-cut events, which in many ways played to a WGC level.

In 11 Augusta National appearances, Bubba has finished 4 times in the top 20 for Putting Average (Putts per GIR) or 5 in the top 30, take your pick. So undoubtedly Watson can get putts to drop on these unique A1 Penn Bentgrass green complexes. It’s also abundantly clear that the World Number 44 is a true horse for the course. 8 of his career 12 wins have come either here, at Riviera Country Club or at TPC River Highlands – all venues with Bentgrass as the main green grass. I think the 42 year-old is a great each-way punt this week. RESULT: 57th

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Tony Finau 1.5pts EW 30/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

Next up is Tony Finau who’s always a viable each-way punt at a Major Championship.

10th at the 2018 Masters, 5th at the 2018 U.S. Open, 9th at the 2018 Open Championship, 5th at the 2019 Masters, 3rd at the 2019 Open Championship, 4th at the 2020 PGA Championship and 8th at the 2020 U.S. Open, I make that 4 top-5 or 7 top-10s in his last 10 Major appearances. Big boy golf courses are when the 31 year-old comes to the party and it’s worth recognising that across his 8 competitive rounds played here at Augusta National he has the best scoring average in this field.

That fact’s easy to get you head around when you look at how he plays the game. 17th for Birdie or Better Conversion, 19th for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion, 23rd for Going for the Green and 21st for Distance to Apex last season, he also carried the ball over 300 yards – a rare 300+ club that includes Augusta National winners Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia, plus the current mammoth hitters of the game in DeChambeau, Johnson, McIlroy, Rahm, Wolff and Champ.

And it was interesting to read Tony’s synopsis last year of his strategy to succeed at Augusta National, “Just driving the ball well. Hitting it with length and hitting it in the fairway, they are very reachable for me. I’m hitting mid‑ to long‑irons into all of them, and so I’ve been able to hit the fairway, I think for the most part. I think I’ve only missed two fairways on the par 5s this week, and that was yesterday on 13 and 15. You have to drive it in the fairway. I told myself the beginning of this week, I talked to my coach, my caddie, our biggest game plan for the week was to take care of the par 5s. History always tells us the guys that play the par 5s well are the ones that go on to win the tournament and that go on to be in contention. Par 5s, that’s where my advantage is, anyway, but in emphasis here at Augusta National, you have to play the par 5s well to win.”

More of the same this week Tony, more of the same! RESULT: T38

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Cameron Smith 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Australians have always had a great record around Augusta National. Adam Scott finally got their first ever victory here in 2013, but before him Jim Ferrier, Bruce Crampton, Jack Newton and of course Greg Norman all came extremely close since 1950. And from 2010 onwards you can add to that list Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, all of whom have top 5 finishes on the Bentgrass greens of Augusta National. Smith is the least known of these, but 2018 saw him finish T5 with Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson. More of the same in 2020, would be perfect.

And this isn’t too far-fetched. The year started well with Cameron picking up his 2nd PGA Tour title at the Sony Open, and as per normal with the 27 year-old, the ‘Fall’ part of the season is delivering for him. 5th (CIMB Classic), 3rd (CJ Cup), 4th (Australian Open) and 1st (Australian PGA Championship) in 2017, 2018 saw him finish 7th (CJ Cup), 10th (Australian Open) and 1st (Australian PGA Championship) late in the season. 2019 was no different with 13th (Shriners Open) and 3rd (CJ Cup) and already in the autumn this time around Cameron, after qualifying for the Tour Championship, has finished 24th at the Shriners Open, 11th at the CJ Cup and 4th last time out at the ZOZO Championship.

A fantastic putter, when he hits greens he’s undoubtedly one to follow. 7th for Greens in Regulation last time out at Sherwood Country Club, Smith sits in this field 19th for Scrambling, 12th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), 21st for SG on Approach, 4th for SG Putting and 12th for SG Total – effectively Strokes Gained current form. And this guy, when on form, has no qualms mixing it with the very best in the business. 4th at the 2015 U.S. Open, 3rd back-to-back at the 2018 Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Cameron also finished 6th at the 2019 WGC-Mexico Championship. So I think the timing of the November Masters, in tandem with his tee-to-green game flourishing, could see him being a factor this week at a juicy price. RESULT: T2

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 14:55GMT 9.11.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.