A good week last week as Lydia Ko made history by becoming the youngest golfer to win two modern-day majors. Very impressive stuff and she will surely go on to win many more.
On the PGA Tour it was another frustrating Sunday as Lovemark collapsed to fall from co-leader to 18th place but Daniel Berger managed to sneak us a place with a good finishing round. That returned 32 pts for the week and gives the overall returns a nice boost ahead of the biggest week of the year. They now stand at;
Total pts advised 510
Total pts returned – 655.37
ROI – 28.5%
This week we just have the one tournament again but it’s kind of a big deal…..
Magnolia Lane, Amen Corner, Rae’s Creek, Butler Cabin, even just hearing some of these terms can get most sports fans excited, never mind the golf obsessed punters that might be reading this. (Or that wrote this)
For many, The Masters is the sporting show of the year and Augusta National the finest theatre in the world. Be it the history they share, the perfectly manicured golf course, the guaranteed brilliant tournament year after year, the wonderful array of colours sprayed throughout or simply the traditions upheld, there is something truly magical about this place. Throughout 2016 so far, Georgia has firmly been on my mind.
Augusta National stands at an ever-increasing 7,435 yards with many measures taken to try to “Tiger-proof” the course in the early 2000s. Subsequently the general opinion is that short hitters cannot win and that any potential winner needs to average around 290 yards off the tee. The layout was opened in 1933 and was designed by local amateur golfer Bobby Jones and esteemed Scottish golf course designer, Alister Mackenzie. The first Masters was held the year after and it has remained there ever since.
As most readers will be aware it is heavily tree-lined right through the course but with that the fairways are still relatively wide and while the rough is penal, there are many situations where you can fly the rough and find a decent lie in the mulch under the trees. Over the years we have seen several famous recovery shots from such lies and consequently driving accuracy has never been overly important at Augusta, highlighted by the success that Woods and Mickelson have had there. Both of which were partial to missing a fairway or nine during a round even in their pomp.
A lot will be said of the importance in moving the ball from right to left off the tee this week and while it’s not essential it is certainly advantageous. There are many dog leg holes to the left and those that can shape the ball around the corner can gain a lot of yardage on those that can’t. So while the majority of the field are right handers and will need to draw the ball to achieve this, the left handers will have to fade the ball. This is thought to be one reason that left handers have had so much success recently at The Masters. It is easier to consistently control distance on hard fairways with a fade than it is a draw as the ball has less run-out on landing. Both Mickelson and Watson have used this to their advantage but being power hitters too there are some holes in which they not only shape it right to left but also cut the corner by driving it high over the trees. The yardage difference between approach shots from Bubba Watson and a short hitter incapable of drawing the ball is quite startling. Bubba could be going in with a 9 iron while his playing partner has a 4 iron and you can begin to see why power can be so crucial.
The biggest test however at Augusta is surely the fast, undulating bent grass greens and there are many players that would surely have green jackets by now if it weren’t for succumbing to the perfectly maintained green carpets (In 2012 Westwood had 128 putts for the week compared to Mickelson’s 107 and both tied 3rd). As mentioned above, length off the tee is crucial here to allow the players to attack the greens with as much loft as possible. All the game’s best will expect to regularly put their wedge to within 15ft but it’s the setting up of a wedge rather than a 7 iron that can be crucial in holding these greens and getting close to the flags.
If they miss the greens then they are in trouble as there are no easy up and downs on the course. More often than not they will find their ball lying in lush green rough and unless they are blessed with the touch of Phil Mickelson, getting any real control is hard enough before any consideration is given to the chances of being short sided and above the flag. If there has been a winner at Augusta that couldn’t chip then I definitely don’t remember them.
It doesn’t get any easier when on the greens as they tend to run at around 12.5-13.0 on the stimp meter so they are around the fastest they face all year. With so many undulations, lag putting is extremely crucial at Augusta and is one of the most important attributes. Two key stats that highlight good lag putters are 3-putt avoidance from 25 yards+ and approach putt performance. Holing out is also tough so putting from inside 6ft can be a handy indicator. Jordan Spieth also showed last year that you have to hole plenty of putts so additionally I’d want someone who sits towards the upper reaches of the 15ft-25ft category too.
From a stats perspective all this is backed up if we look at the last 10 champions. The average rankings are as follows; 19th driving distance, 29th driving accuracy, 6th in GIR, 9th in scrambling, 13th in ball-striking, 10th in total putting and 5th in the all-round ranking. The winner will have to do pretty much everything well apart from hit every fairway. Further to these main stats, Par 5 scoring is always crucial as that’s where the winner usually does the bulk of their scoring.
Augusta National lies just minutes away from Georgia’s boundary with South Carolina and some 80 miles to the east of its capital, Atlanta. Every single Masters has been held there since the first in 1934 and across these 79 previous editions it is the age-old traditions that give the tournament so much of its wonderful charm.
The defending champion picks the dinner menu on Wednesday, the caddies still wear all white onesies, family and friends join together for the Par 3 competition, the previous year’s champion places the green jacket on the back of his successor. All these little quirks contribute to the unique charm of the Masters. It is also the only Major that is played on the same course every year so above all that is perhaps the golf punter’s favourite tradition.
One of the key factors in gathering statistical information is quantity of data. If an event happens once then obviously we can analyse what has happened but in order to place any great significance on how and why things have happened, it is better to have as much data as possible. So naturally in Golf terms, the more tournaments held on the same course, the more reliable the stats and trends.
However sometimes in sport we hear stats banded around year upon year, at no event more so than The Masters, that have no great logic to them. For example “nobody has won the Masters after winning the Par 3 contest on the Wednesday.” While this is true it is as much down to chance as anything and there is very little preventing the man who plays best on the Wednesday continuing to do so and donning the green jacket in Butler’s Cabin on Sunday night. If anything the fact they are playing so well should boost their chances.
Conversely, the one stat that stands out most to me is that of the defending champion. In the entire history of the Masters only three men have managed to win back to back at Augusta and those just happen to be the two must successful golfers ever and one of the best golfing minds we have seen; Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo. That speaks volumes for just how difficult a task Jordan Spieth faces this week.
Arriving as the Champion brings so much media attention and extra work off the course that they must be physically and emotionally shattered even before they tee-off on Thursday. This puts them at a huge disadvantage compared to someone who is in form, has a solid record at Augusta and can fly in under the radar to a certain extent.
But the task looks even harder when we consider the on-course side of Augusta. Winning a tournament in golf is hard anyway so defending any tournament is already very tough. Forget the fact that they have to shoot a lower score than every single man in the field for a moment. Turning up to a venue where they won the year before they are not only expected to play well by everyone else, but they expect to play well themselves and probably win. This for me is the main reason why only three of the steeliest, most driven golfers ever to play the game have managed to successfully defend their green jacket.
Luckily for Spieth he has mental strength well beyond his years and experience. It wouldn’t surprise anyone should he laugh off the challenge and win by 4 again. But I simply can’t back him to win again this year at a similar price when he has all that to deal with in addition to his game not being where it was last year. There is just too much against him, history included.
Rory Mcilroy doesn’t have the best of records at Augusta and last year’s 4th place finish was his first Top 5. Despite the media constantly telling us how well suited he is to the course, I don’t think he putts or chips well enough on fast greens to win at Augusta. While I’m sure he will manage to sort this out over time and bag himself a green jacket, it won’t ever be with my money down at single figures.
This takes me to third of the market leaders and the winner of the last major in August, Jason Day. The Aussie has long been thought of as a future Masters Champion and his game could not be more suited to the venue, backed up by his two near misses when he just lost out in 2011 and 2013 finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. In fact such is his recent form, he is now the slight favourite this week.
Day has the perfect combination of power, high ball flight and excellent touch on and around the greens that is required around Augusta and after a couple of years of carrying an injury in April, he did look like he was going to arrive in absolutely perfect condition having won just three starts ago. But he seemed to tweak his back last week at the Match Play and while that was a concern for me initially, it didn’t prevent him from winning the tournament so I’m not fully convinced by the seriousness of it. Day can sometimes have the appearance of a bit of a drama queen and I’m confident his week off will have sorted any minor problem that he might have had.
To my mind the only thing that stopped him winning in 2013 was the fact that he hadn’t yet developed the knack of closing out big tournaments. After chasing his US PGA win with another in the Fed-Ex Series that is no longer the case. I started backing Day for this straight away and while I was a little concerned with his form at the beginning of the season he came back with a bang to win The Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks ago before going back to back at the WGC Match Play. The likeable Aussie can drive the ball with the best of them and this season he ranks 44th in total driving despite a poor start to the season. While en route to his USPGA win he ranked 1st for total driving and he looked to be almost back to his best off the tee at times over the last two weeks. His irons have also been improving as the year has gone on and at the Match Play some of his approaches were simply brilliant.
During 2015 there was a lot written about Spieth’s excellent putting but Jason Day wasn’t far behind and appeared to hole a similar number of long-range putts from June through to September. Throughout the season he actually ranked 6th for Strokes:Gained Putting and this year he sits in 4th. Last week in Texas his scrambling and putting was about as good as we have seen since Tiger at his best and if he stays that sharp around the greens then he could lap the field this week.
The average ranking of the last 10 winners the year prior to their win is 26th so while Spieth was runner-up in 2013, generally the winner was not in contention the year before. They do usually give a hint though by shooting at least one under par round, often in the 60s. In the last 10 years, the lowest rounds shot by the winner the year before read; 70-70-66-67-69-67-72-74-70-69. This gives an average low round of 69. Last year Day finished in 28th place and shot an opening 67 which looks like exactly the sort of non-contending performance required to keep his own level of expectations down (although his success since last April might have the opposite effect!)
The Masters winner has often played well at the WGC Cadillac Championship and with that being the highest profile tournament of the year prior to Augusta then this makes sense. Both are elite fields, long layouts and firm and fast greens. The average finishing position for the winners is 14th and while Day only finished 23rd that is close enough for me as it obviously isn’t an exact science.
You have to go back to 2008 and Trevor Immelman to find a winner that wasn’t properly top class and with the strength of the top-level of players at the moment I would certainly expect this year’s winner to come from the head of the market. With that in mind I don’t see any need to look beyond Jason Day this week. It may be a little obvious but that is generally how majors go when the overall quality is so high. Spieth and Day won three of last year’s four between them and Zach Johnson really shouldn’t have been a surprise at St Andrews. Day arrives in brilliant form, his game is suited to the course, he has course form and he looks by far the most likely winner for me.
There is an argument to be made that perhaps Day and Mcilroy’s odds are too short when compared with Spieth and Bubba Watson given the first two named have never won here yet. But the argument for Watson’s odds being too high is one I’d give more credence to. This is a man who has won 2 of the last 4 Masters and whose game is almost custom designed for Augusta. Bubba is, and has been for some time, one of the most under rated golfers in the US and this dismissive attitude must be taken advantage of by the punter. I’m not sure what more he can do to highlight his chances of winning his 3rd jacket. He arrives in very good form having won already this season which is more than can be said for Mcilroy who trades at nearly half his price.Bubba also ranks 1st in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-green.
So far Bubba has followed up his wins here with a poorer showing as defending champion and that explains his 38th last year. But interestingly he finished 38th the year before his first Masters win, so while that is of no real significance it does mean that he will arrive with less pressure. In 2012 and 2014 when he won, he also finished runner-up at the WGC Cadillac Championship, again this year he came 2nd to Adam Scott at Doral.
I make Bubba the 2nd most likely winner this week so I’m going to have him as my saver outright bet as well as two decent each way options.
Brandt Snedeker has threatened to win around Augusta on more than one occasion with the most recent of these coming in 2013 when he led after 54 holes before going on to finish 6th to save the bookies a small fortune as he had been severely backed from around 66/1 into 25/1 in the weeks prior to the tournament. This wasn’t the first time that he was in contention as he was 2nd after 3 rounds before firing a 77 to finish in 3rd on just his 2nd appearance in 2008.
While he is a decent ball-striker when playing well it is his consistently brilliant short game that is his main weapon at Augusta. Over the last 8 years on Tour there have been few better on and around the greens and this is a course that allows him to show his skills off. In the Masters cuts that he has made he has gone onto rank 4-12-6-22-1-29 for putting average and you can count on him to fare well on the greens again this week. But it is his tee to green game that will make or break his Masters week and so far in 2016 we have seen a big improvement from the American after an out of sorts 2015. Snedeker is already off the mark for the year with a win at his beloved Torrey Pines resort. His stats are also good as he ranks 14th in GIR for the last 3 months, 45th in ball-striking and 5th in Strokes Gained: Putting. But perhaps the most pertinent difference is the extra yardage that he has gained this year after some hard work through the off-season. He is averaging a further 5 yards off the tee and that could well be the crucial factor in helping him over the line this year. Previously he fell just short of the supposed magic number of 290 yards with 288.4 averaged for 2015. So far in the 2016 season he is averaging 293.5 yards and this will help him to attack more flags, potentially allowing him more looks at makeable putts.
He looks to have a great chance of playing well again at one of his favourite courses and with his all-round game in good shape he looks a huge each way price at 55/1.
While it was no doubt more about selective camera work, Chris Kirk appeared to hole everything he looked at inside 20ft at the WGC Matchplay. On his day there are few better putters than Kirk and he is a player I have long thought of as suited to Augusta. I backed him here last year and he had a decent week finishing 33rd on what was just his 2nd masters appearance after finishing 20th the year before. He is still just learning the course but that is some pretty solid form for his first two efforts. Kirk was raised in Georgia, he studied in Georgia and he is now one of the many professionals that reside at Sea Island on the Georgia coast. One of his 4 PGA Tour wins came there in 2013 and he obviously feels at home in these conditions. His natural shot shape is a draw and while he isn’t always the best ball-striker, he can hold his own when playing well as his 4 wins suggest. Two of those wins have come on bentgrass greens as well so he has a liking for the consistent surface. Prior to his 5th in the Match Play he had brushed off two missed cuts with a 42nd at The Valspar and then a 12th at Bay Hill. At 200/1 he looks well worth a small play in the outright market in the hope that his hot putter can keep his results moving in the same direction.
Hideki Matsuyama is making a habit of playing well in the Majors with 6 Top 25s already in just 13 attempts. He has also turned three of those into Top 10s including one here last year when finishing 5th behind the elite company of Spieth, Mcilroy, Mickelson and Rose. His superb approach play helps him to hit more of these fast greens than most and while he may not be the best putter on fast greens, we have seen many superb iron players gather Top 10 after Top 10 at Augusta even if their short stick limitations prevent them from winning.
He is in great form having won this season already in Phoenix and he ranks 13th in GIR and 4th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Matsuyama is expected to go onto be a multiple major winner in the future and while there are no arguments from me on that front I’m not sure he will win a green jacket. However I think he has the game to rack up a lot of Top 10s and hopefully at the very generous price of 10/3. He has finished in the Top 10 here on 50% of his efforts (albeit just 1 out of 2). That is obviously simplifying things somewhat but to look deeper at his Major record he is 3/11 for professional top 10s. That should really suggest that a fair maximum price is 11/3 but perhaps closer to 3/1 when we consider he is improving all the time. This makes 10/3 look very tasty and I’m happy to make it a strong bet with 2.5pts.
Matt Kuchar loves Augusta and when he was at his peak 3/4 years ago he looked like a Masters winner in waiting. It wasn’t to be though as there was always something holding him back from winning but he did have 3 consecutive Top 10 finishes from 2012-2014. He was down the field last year but recently he has shown glimpses of the same ultra consistent player that seemed permanently fixed to the leaderboard from 2010-2014. With his short game looking sharp at the WGC Matchplay I think the chances of him making a Top 10 are slightly under rated at 5/1 so he looks worth a bet on a course where his short game thrives.
Chris Kirk looks worthy of a Top 20 bet in addition to the each way. If he doesn’t go quite as well as expected then there is still money to be made from another solid showing.
Nobody played the weekend at Augusta better than Ian Poulter last year as he closed with two 67s for a share of 6th place. Poulter finished 2nd two weeks in Puerto Rico and then took a week off to prepare for the Masters. His game was in fine fettle south of the border as he ranked 4th in total driving, 3rd in GIR and 2nd in scrambling . As Poulter announced on Twitter last week, this is the only 2016 Major that he has qualified for thus far. Nobody will be more annoyed by that than him and he will be determined to change all that as quickly as possible. In his last 9 efforts at Augusta he has finished inside the Top 20 on six occasions so while his overall form appears to be on the decline, he is actually performing better in the US. With him arriving in form the odds of 4/1 simply look too big.
Benny An as any regular readers will know is a big favourite of mine. He was amazingly consistent alst year and won the blog a lot of each way money. I missed out on his first win at Wentworth last May when he won in impressive fashion on the normally tough tree-lined course. There are many players that have gone well at both Wentworth and Augusta due to the championship layout and fast greens. Palmer, Langer, Faldo, Woosnam, Seve, Olazabal and Angel Cabrera have all won around both and there are several others to have played well on both. He missed the cut in 2010 as an amateur but he has improved a great deal since then. With 9 Top 20s in his last 12 starts I think odds of 10/3 are a little dismissive of the Korean’s talent and he should be backed accordingly.
1st Round Leader.
Dustin Johnson tends to fly out of the blocks on a Major Thursday and while I can’t really see him winning a green jacket, he is definitely improving around Augusta National and made the Top 10 for the first time last year when he finished 6th. He has actually only missed the cut once here and has a couple of 67s, a 68 and a 69 already at Augusta. He led every major apart from the Masters after Thursday last year and I don’t see any reason to stop backing him to do so this year (70-65-65-66 for those 4 Thurday rounds) . It definitely makes for a less stressful experience than backing him to win and his odds are even higher due to the more random nature of 1 round.
I like to have at least two 1st round leader bets at the Majors, one fancied player and one outsider. The outsiders have been kind to me over the years having been on both Michael Thompson at the 2013 US Open and Carl Pettersson at 2012 USPGA. Both those high odds wins were through course links but unfortunately everything at Augusta is laid out in front of us. So I’ve gone with a player who has previously played very well there but is flying in very much under the radar this year and looks a big price given how fast he started last year. Ernie Els shot a 67 to tie for 2nd after Thursday and his form was nothing exceptional coming in. That is the same this year but Els is one of his generation’s greats and didn’t finish out of the Top 6 at Augusta when at his peak from 2000-2004. His Open win in 2012 and his decent showing at Augusta last year (finished 22nd) are proof that he still has the long game to go well on tracks he likes and I can’t resist a small bet on his 200/1 price.
I’m also going to have a little interest in the forecasts as they are big prices even for the favourites and I don’t expect too many surprises at the top end of the leaderboard come Sunday. All six combinations involving Day, Spieth and Watson.
Summary of Bets
Jason Day – 6pts win @ 7.8 and 4pts Top 5 @ 2.7 (both Betfair)
Bubba Watson – 2pts ew @ 12/1 (6 places – general)
Brandt Snedeker – 1pt ew @55/1 (Sky Bet 8 places)
Chris Kirk – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 (Sky Bet 8 places)
Hideki Matsuyama – 2.5pts Top 10 @ 10/3
Matt Kuchar – 2pt Top 10 @ 5/1
Ian Poulter – 1pt Top 20 @ 4/1
Chris Kirk – 2pt Top 20 @ 4/1
Benny An – 1pt Top 20 @ 10/3
Dustin Johnson – 1pt ew 1st round leader @ 22/1
Ernie Els – 0.5pt ew 1st round leader @200/1
All 6 forecast possibilities (1st and 2nd) with Day, Spieth and Bubba – 0.25pts on each = 1.5pts
Weekly outlay – 30pts
Total outlay – 540