A week where Sunday morning carried a potential double across the two Tours ended fairly poorly as Jordan and Valimaki both left their best golf behind them earlier in the week. Then Jason Day seemed to forget how to drive the ball after performing brilliantly for the first 3 rounds. He rallied to nab a tiny share of the place money but he missed an 8ft putt on 18 for a full place and Day missing a straight-forward 8ft putt with no pressure on just about summed up the day. It really looked like there was going to be some sort of healthy returns for a Masters war chest but it wasn’t to be. No time to sulk though with the golfing highlight of the year just three days away!
2020 pts advised = 388.50
2020 pts returned = 314.21
It’s been a long time coming for the 2020 Masters with Covid-19 doing for the Augusta spectacle back in its April slot. But here we are 7 months later and while anticipation has only built, the schedule change will bring with it a few more questions than normal given the November timing. For years the Masters has, on paper anyway, been the easiest major to bet on. Firstly you have the slightly reduced field but it’s also the only major held on the same course every year and that rewards those with experience of the course which in turn should reward those with experience of betting on it. Things haven’t quite worked out that way for me in recent years and there’s no question that the switch muddies the waters further so lets stick to what we know.
Augusta can and will be overpowered however it plays, if there is fairway run-out the bombers will take advantage as it’s not a penal driving course, particularly if you are comfortable moving the ball right to left to take advantage of some of the huge landing areas and dog-legs, especially on the par 5s. If it’s soft then the course will play very long for anyone not comfortably carrying the ball 275+ in the air. Approach shots will be difficult but I think they might be the one main difference if the forecast rain and November slot does have an effect. The sub air system will be able to keep the green speeds fast but I’m still expecting them to be a little more receptive to approaches, even if they run at 14 on the stimp meter. This might not make a huge difference as it will remain a 2nd shot golf course where a high ball flight will be hugely advantageous for finding the right areas of the greens, but I think we will see a higher GIR clip than normal for the field.
Scrambling is notoriously hard around Augusta with a good mix of tightly mown run-offs and thick lush grass forcing the players to use every pitch and chip they have in their locker. Even if the greens are a little softer getting up and down when short sided will be no picnic. As I repeat every year, you are unlikely to see someone wearing a green jacket who isn’t capable of magic around the greens. The winner has usually won that year already with 8 of the previous 10 winners having won somewhere within the last 12 months. Most of those even more recently than that so those having won since the return should really be favoured as potential green jacket wearers. They have also usually shown something at Augusta previously be it a top 10 finish or a round in the mid 60s although Reed and Willett have ruined that trend a little in recent times. Ultimately though we should be looking for a powerful player with towering irons who has magic hands around the greens but can also hold their own with the putter when it matters, particularly with their lag putting and holing out. If they are already proven at Augusta with a top 10 then all the better.
All this points me firmly to Jon Rahm. I was very keen on him for this earlier this year and while my enthusiasm waned a little earlier in the summer, I make him firmly the man to beat again after a very solid couple of months. I would say that I’ve only really been properly confident about 3 major winners and they were Bubba’s first Masters, Spieth’s Masters and Day’s US PGA. It would be quite foolish to suggest I was as confident ahead of such a competitive event but I do have an inkling that this is Rahm’s time and I’ll be shocked if we see him out of the places. Despite only having played at Augusta three times to date his form has been impressive. On his debut he was 27th before contending in 2018 and finishing 4th while there was another top 10 last year. Rahm’s game is almost perfect for Augusta with his powerful driving reducing many of these par 5s to an 8 iron while his lag putting and scrambling skills are exactly what is needed around the slick Augusta bentgrass greens. Rahm’s tournament could well be decided by how dialled in his irons are. It sounds silly to say it but his approach play with his mid irons is the only part of his game that can let him down compared to the rest of the top 5 or 6 in the world. When his iron game is on he takes a lot of beating and there aren’t too many that can live with him on a course like Augusta if that is the case, arguably only a peak DJ, McIlroy, Bryson, Koepka or Thomas but each of them bring slight weaknesses that can be accentuated at Augusta. DJ’s short game for all that it has improved still isn’t as consistent as it could be across 72 holes while McIlroy’s wedges and short game can always cause him bother when things firm up here. JT’s erratic driving can find problems even at Augusta across 4 rounds while despite Bryson probably over powering the course I can’t see his short game holding up to Augusta over the weekend provided that they get the greens reasonably quick. Koepka showed signs of his best over the weekend but I wouldn’t want to be a backer given his form and fitness throughout 2020.
With Rahm’s ever improving major mindset I’m putting my faith in him bringing that ZOZO approach play which was somewhere close to his best. If he does then I think he comes out on top and a further reason for this is the November unknown factor. Rahm is as adaptable as any player in the game and he can play as well on a hard and fast layout as he can when it’s rain softened target golf. If it does play long and soft then it will suit McIlroy down to the ground but Rahm will also be very comfortable. Rahm is the best driver of the ball in the world for me despite Bryson now being the most effective driver and prior to that most people claiming McIlroy to be the best driver. It’s interesting looking at Rahm and McIlroy’s numbers over the last 3 Masters. McIlroy has hit 97/168 of his fairways while Rahm has hit 117/168. That’s nearly two more approaches from the short stuff per round and while we know the rough isn’t overly penal at Augusta that’s still quite a telling stat for me. Rahm sits 3rd behind Bryson and McIlroy in strokes gained off the tee this year but he was 2nd in 2020 for total driving while Bryson was only 32nd and McIlroy 52nd. We know finding fairways isn’t imperative but it feels like a big difference between two of the best players in the world and one Rahm can put to good use.
Not only does Rahm have the all important recent win but he has actually won twice since the return of golf with his last MC coming on his first start back where rust can be blamed. On his last start he was just pipped to 2nd at the ZOZO where he ranked 6th for approaches and 2nd tee to green along the way. I’m really struggling to see him out of the places so I’m advising a chunky outright bet at 12.0s on the exchange but also an each way bet at 10/1 which will see all the stakes returned for him if he is anywhere in the top 10.
Rory McIlroy will surely never have a better chance of completing the grand slam than he will playing in a November Masters. I still think his short game will do for him but he is bound to contend and will love the more receptive greens that he will probably find. That’s not to say they won’t play as fast but there will surely be less bite when landing approaches on them. Therefore I’m having a small saver bet on him just for peace of mind if nothing else to soften the blow should he become just the 6th golfer to win all 4 modern majors.
There are a host of players in the 20/1-50/1 category that I could make a case for but most of them just look a little short for me. The bookmakers have a lot more top class recent form to go on this year with the late event and for me it looks like they have got an extremely tight market.
I will have one more proper bet because I can see him contending and I think he is a future green jacket winner even if his odds are towards skinny here. Patrick Cantlay wobbled a little as golf returned but he emphatically threw his hat back in the Masters ring when holding off an elite chasing pack to win the ZOZO Championship 2 weeks ago. Every part of his game was in fine working order as he was 3rd tee to green and 10th on the greens. Cantlay should perhaps have won this last year getting briefly in to the lead before bogeying 16 and 17. What was amazing about that performance was that it was largely all about his normally poor putter as he he somehow only ranked 54th for GIR and 39th for total driving. If he had performed tee to green then it could have been an entirely different story. If his whole game remains close to that which we saw 2 weeks ago then he surely has to contend given the layout is perfect for his long game. Not only is he superb on long championship courses but he is also one of the best scramblers on the PGA Tour. This might still be a little early on just his 3rd Augusta start but he possesses a far more mature game than others in his age bracket and I expect him to be a top 10 staple here over the next 15 years. I’ll take the poorer 8 places with Betfred in order to get the juicier 25/1 as 20/1 feels borderline.
Looking further down the market the likes of Bubba Watson and Tyrrell Hatton’s chances are obvious but not ones that the bookmakers have missed. I’d love to give Jason Day another go but he’s been frustrating to follow over the last few months and his price looks a little restrictive now at 33/1. I was so close to including Jordan Spieth at 50/1 as it’s almost a mad price for Augusta given the small flashes he has shown recently and that most of his troubles are with the driver. I’ll definitely be watching him closely in play. So beyond the two main bets I’ve just gone for 4 outsiders all making their debut (I know!) who I’m not sure I can see winning this but the extra place terms give us a nice each way bet where if they play their best they could do enough to finish inside the top 11. I’ll also have top 20 bets on the 4 of them.
Erik Van Rooyen makes his Masters debut but his assured and powerful tee to green game is made for a test like this. His short game might be found wanting but his lag putting is strong despite being iffy from inside 10ft and a relatively poor chipper. Van Rooyen finished 8th at the 2019 US PGA on his US major debut and he has 3 top 20s from 6 majors, making the cut in all six. He was also 3rd at the top class WGC Mexico in February which is usually a good pointer for an April Masters. It might be a stretch for him to get inside the top 11 but for me his top 20 chance is a little better than the 18% that his 9/2 quotes imply.
Matt Wallace is one of my least favourite golfers given his horribly arrogant attitude on the course but I can’t let that stop me backing him at what seems a huge 125/1. For a while on the European Tour he was going off silly prices for someone that hasn’t won since 2018 but he seems to have gone the opposite way here as he is 150/1 in places. The extra room off the tee combined with his putting touch could see him take to Augusta so I’ll have an interest just in case. It’s likely he isn’t playing well enough but you never know.
Sebastian Munoz is in brilliant form having made his last 9 cuts with 7 of those being top 30s and that includes a play off run of 18-8-7 to finish his 2020 season. His last two starts have been 9th and 14th while he was a winner on Tour at the Sanderson Farms in 2019. Its risky given he has missed 3 of his 4 major cuts and he makes his Masters debut but his main weakness is often spraying it off the tee so that shouldn’t be too big an issue with the massive landing areas and limited rough. From there though his game is a lot stronger in particular on his last start where he was 2nd for approaches and 8th for GIR in the trickier 175-200 yard range while we know how tidy a short game he has on faster greens. A lot of potential to outplay his odds if he takes to Augusta as his game suggests he should.
Christian Bezuidenhout enjoys a difficult short game test and for that reason alone I think he could be a big price on his Masters debut. The young South African has spent most of the last few months in the US as he teed it up 10 times on the PGA Tour. He turned 5 of those in to top 30 finishes including both the elite field WGC events. He returned to Europe with a MC in Scotland before a 40th at Wentworth ahead of a few weeks off to get ready for this. Bez’s maiden European Tour win came at Valderrama which was hugely impressive. It’s very speculative but of the 26 events held at Valderrama 10 of those have been won by Masters winners and plenty of the other winners had strong Augusta records too. Worth a go at 200/1.
1st round leader bets added
Brandt Snedeker shot 65 to be the first round leader last week in Houston and I got a little excited as he was an outright selection at 90/1. But he went backwards from there and finished well down the field. I think that fast start together with an opening 67 in his previous start make him interesting here at Augusta where he has an excellent record. The forecast rain will not be ideal for Snedeker at all but from an early tee-time (7:11) he might manage to post something before the course starts getting properly wet and we might even see delays if it rains all day.
I’ll make up the first round trio with two big hitters that will thrive on the soft conditions and that’s Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler. Finau has an excellent record from his two Masters appearances finishing 5th last year and 10th on his debut. He has also proven he can go low at Augusta with a 64 last year and a 66 in 2018. He will enjoy putting on the softer greens and if he can hole a few putts from another early tee time (7:22) he should manage a solid opening round. Scheffler is making his debut but his powerful tee to green game has been extremely impressive in his short time on Tour and that has helped him to six top 5 finishes since September last year. His putter has probably been the only thing holding back from winning so far but he gained 3.238 strokes on the greens last week and he too will enjoy the slower surfaces. His last two opening rounds have been 67s whereas 18 of his last 30 events have started with a round in the 60s. He also opened with a 66 at the recent US PGA. Again from an early tee time (7:22), if he takes to Augusta as his game should then he could well put a low one together.
Summary of bets
Jon Rahm – 3pts win @ 11.5 on Betfair Exchange and 3pts ew @ 10/1 (1/5 odds 10 places)
Rory McIlroy – 1pt win @ 15.0 on Betfair Exchange
Patrick Cantlay 2.5pts ew @ 25/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfred)
Erik Van Rooyen – 0.5pts ew @ 125/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 9/2 general
Matt Wallace – 0.5pts ew @ 125/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 5/1 general
Sebastian Munoz – 0.5pts ew @ 150/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 9/2 general
Christian Bezuidenhout – 0.5pts ew @ 200/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 13/2 general (all 1/5 odds 11 places Skybet)
1st round leader bets
Tony Finau – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Boylesports)
Brandt Snedeker – 0.5pts ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfair)
Scottie Scheffler – 0.5pts ew @ 45/1 (Betfair)
Weekly points advised = 27pts