“You start to choke at the Masters when you drive through the front gate.” The words of Hale Irwin, 20-time PGA Tour winner, which sum up just how Augusta National can get into the heads of even the very best golfers.
It doesn’t matter how many times some of the most seasoned professionals have played the par 72, 7,435-yard layout, nothing can be taken for granted. And punters have also found to their cost that no cash can be counted until the coveted Green Jacket has been safely slipped onto the shoulders of the winner. From Jordan Spieth’s incredible collapse last year, to Rory McIlroy’s meltdown in 2011 and Greg Norman’s self-destruction in 1996, this is a tournament like no other.
However, while the first Major of the year might install fear in many of those trying to win it, for bettors the event represents one of the best opportunities to make a profit. The field is just 95, around 40% less than an Open Championship, with as many as ten former champions and five amateur players easily ruled out. Some would argue the blue pencil should even strike through the names of all first-timers – 19 of them this week – as no debutant has won the Masters in 38 years. That, whittles it down even further, and some of those are so woefully out of form (Roberto Castro anyone? Four missed cuts in his last five starts) or have never been able to figure out Augusta (Martin Kaymer: five missed cuts and not a single top 30 finish) that it would take a leap of faith as big as a Bubba Watson drive to persuade me to invest in them. As always with golf betting, it’s about picking a player with the right combination of course nous, current confidence and statistical pedigree – not forgetting enough bottle to withstand the most pressurised back nine in the game.
DJ to Rock Augusta
DUSTIN JOHNSON is the 6/1 favourite with Grosvenor Sport in the outright market and, despite what appears to be an incredibly short price about someone who had underachieved at Augusta up until a few years ago, he must be backed. DJ has won the last three tournaments he’s entered, with his success in Mexico coming against a better field than he’ll come up against this week. Sixth at the Masters in 2015 and fourth 12 months ago, his game has gone to another level since his US Open win last June. Most impressive is his upgraded wedge play. Always huge off the tee, he’s now taking full advantage with his second shots, and that is crucial to success at Augusta. His greens-in-regulation play has improved from 66.75% in 2012 to 75.25% this season – which means he’s hitting an extra six greens in regulation per tournament than he was five years ago.
At 17/2, and with form figures of 2-1-2 in the Masters, Jordan Spieth will have his supporters, although a missed cut in Houston last week is a worry, while Rory McIlroy, 8-1 second favourite, has the length and the iron play to dominate the event. However, JUSTIN ROSE, at 25/1, is better value than both. Three top fours since the turn of the year and a stellar Augusta record (seven consecutive top 25s, including runner-up to Spieth two years ago) prove his pedigree.
Finally, MARC LEISHMAN might prove a terrific outside bet at 66/1. The Australian was fourth in the 2013 Masters but is a much better player now, having won the high-class Arnold Palmer Invitational just last month when he topped the greens in regulation stats category.
Hadwin to Halt Rahm Rollercoaster
The class of 2017 Masters debutants is probably the best we’ve ever seen. Unbelievably, there are three players – Alex Noren, John Rahm and Tyrell Hatton – in the world’s top 15 that are making their first start at Augusta. And while none are ranked as high (nine) as Webb Simpson was when he made his bow in 2012, I’d argue that the aforementioned trio are better equipped than the American was five years ago to make a run at being the first Augusta rookie to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
When it comes to betting on who will be the highest placed first-timer, Rahm, at 5/2, is the favourite. However, despite the Spaniard’s runner-up spots in both the last two WGC events, his aggressive putting might not be best suited to the slick and subtle greens of Augusta, while Hatton, at 5/1, has shown his immaturity (see his rules infringement in the recent WGC Matchplay) on the golf course once too often to be considered at such a short price. Noren, who trades at 9/1, has slipped out of form – no top ten strokeplay finishes in 2017 – and is also difficult to tip given his poor performances with the putter this year.
Step forward, then, ADAM HADWIN – who screams value at 8/1. The Canadian can boast a 59 on tour this season – in a tournament he didn’t even win! But he bounced back to claim a first PGA Tour title just six weeks later at the Valspar Championship, before finishing sixth at Bay Hill against many of the world’s best golfers. Hadwin has postponed his honeymoon to play in the Masters and has organised a practice round with compatriot and former Augusta winner Mike Weir, suggesting his focus and preparation could pay dividends.
Slick Stricker For Top Senior
Almost every year, it seems, there is a veteran who comes to the fore at Augusta. One that rolls back the years and reminds us that the Masters is all about experience. They might not win, but they indulge us in a bygone era and become every neutral’s favourite player. Betting on Top Senior has become seriously popular and, while former Masters champions Fred Couples (7/2) and Bernhard Langer (4/1) will attract some nostalgic money, the shrewd punters will be lumping on STEVE STRICKER at 6/4. He’s only just qualified for this market (turning 50 early last month) but earned his place in the line-up courtesy of a top four finish in the Open at Troon in 2016. Third and second in two Champions Tour events this season, Stricker has finished 31st or better in six of his last seven trips to Augusta. A similar position this week should see the player who holds the record for fewest bogeys (four) in a single Masters get the better of seven, mainly over-the-hill, rivals.