Last week’s Houston Open was a bit of a washout but Howell did threaten to get involved on his front 9 on Sunday but in the end he confirmed that he really should never be a betting proposition until someone invents a market where you can back them to finish between 8th and 23rd!
It was a brilliant tournament though and Hossler’s birdie run combined with Poulter’s resolve created a truly fitting appetiser for Augusta and I’d question anyone’s credentials as a sports fan if they didn’t enjoy that. To think there are sports fans out there who don’t like watching golf will always baffle me. It has absolutely everything and provides a test of technique, skill and mental fortitude quite unlike anything else. But for those of us who do love it we have the tournament of all tournaments this week with the 2018 Masters threatening to go down in history even before a ball has been struck.
Total 2018 pts advised = 123pts
Total 2018 pts returned = 92.69pts
With a returning Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson having won again for the first time since 2013, this year’s Masters is poised like no other golf tournament I remember and the only hope is that it lives up to its billing. As well as the two esteemed veterans we have all of the new kids on the block looking to hang tough over four testing days in the most beautiful of surroundings. It is hard to even accuse people of hyperbole with regard to this year’s Masters such is the state of play but just incase everything goes to pot and the event is somehow a stinker, what better way to enjoy the final round than by having money on the surprise 6 shot winner! So lets proceed to trying to find an angle into this year’s glorious first major.
Sergio Garcia defends this year after finally breaking his major duck and he was a prime example of the old adage that you must have paid your dues around Augusta before you win. Experience is certainly vital and I would want to see strong evidence that anyone I was backing can play well at Augusta. The test isn’t for everyone and several players struggle year after year.
Off the tee things are never too testing with wide open landing areas awaiting those tee balls but as everyone testifies to every year, shaping the ball from right to left is a huge positive on several of the tee-shots. It can be the difference between having 180 yards or 230 yards left on the par 5 13th and there are other similar examples. But generally no matter where the drive ends up, Augusta is a course that allows the players to recover with skill and that is perhaps one of the reasons why we love it so much. From almost anywhere off the tee the players will have a chance to still find the green with a brilliant 2nd shot and that in itself will be a crucial factor this week, finding a way to keep hitting greens.
Putting is obviously important but with regards to a normal Masters with a winning score of -8, then lag putting from distance is perhaps more crucial than being able to hole birdie putts from 15-25ft. In recent times the two most important stats than can sometimes be overlooked are Par 4 Scoring and Bogey Avoidance. With four reachable par 5s, the par 5 scoring often overshadows the par 4s but that is all about the big-hitting side of the game that Sky Sports love to go on and on about. Of course they can play a huge part in any round with the risk/ reward nature but ultimately there are only four of them and there are 10 par 4 holes. Two years ago Danny Willett played the long holes in level par which was 54th best from the 57 who made the cut. He ranked 1st in par 4 scoring and comparing the last 10 winners makes for interesting reading. They averaged 11th for par 3 scoring, 4th for par 4 scoring and just 15th for par 5 scoring. While it is true that most winners rack up a good score on the par 5s, they are some of the easiest holes on the course so the majority of the field will be going low on them. There is a far bigger differential on the par 4s and therefore being able to score on the long difficult par 4s is of the utmost importance.
On most championship courses where greens are difficult to hold scrambling becomes even more important and that is especially the case at Augusta. If greens are missed on the wrong side then only the most silky of touches will be able to get up and down. But it’s usually even better to just not miss the greens in the first place and year after year hitting greens in regulation is probably the single most important aspect of the week, especially if the course plays firm and fast.
Trends wise there are lots of interesting angles and perhaps the two that seem most relevant to me are as follows;
- 37 of the last 38 winners had played the weekend the year before their win. There seems no real logic to suggest why this stands up but given the only exception is Tiger Woods in 1997 it is pretty rock solid!
- All of the last 8 winners had finished inside the Top 24 in the WGC Championship earlier that year. The exact finishing place maybe isn’t that important but this tells us that their game has been test driven already on a long, difficult championship course.
THE LEADING CONTENDERS
Dustin Johnson (Odds to win – 12/1) – Masters Record: 30-38-38-13-MC-6-4-WD, 2018 form: 1-2-16-7-59
Arguably the best player on the planet over the last two years and will be looking to make amends for missing this last year through a back injury sustained just days before. Not perfectly suited to the test for me and would need to be back somewhere near his best to win. With form having taken a slight dip that’s not a given.
Jordan Spieth (10/1) – Masters Record: 2-1-2-11, 2018 form: 9-18-MC-20-9-14-MC-17-3
Just 12 men have beaten him to date over his 4 Masters events. Absolutely loves the place. A lot of very premature talk of the demise of his putting was proven to be just that as his putter warmed up across the week in Houston. Hasn’t been at his best in 2018 but perfectly fair to think everything is coming together at the right time having finished 3rd in Houston ranking 1st in strokes gained: approach along the way.
Rory McIlroy (10/1) – Masters record: 20-MC-15-40-25-8-4-10, 2018 form: MC-2-59-MC-1-36
McIlroy pitches up to Augusta chasing the Career Grand Slam for a 4th time and he will be the most confident yet to do so. With the perfect tee-to-green game for the Masters it has always been his short game that has held him back from a green jacket. However his brilliant putting performance at Bay Hill is worrying for the rest of the field. If he maintains anything like that putting stroke he will be very hard to beat.
Justin Thomas (12/1) – Masters record: 39-22, 2018 form: 22-14-17-9-1-2-4
Arguably the best player in the world over the last year or so but doesn’t have the greatest of records yet at Augusta. That’s nothing to worry too much about long-term for a player who surely possesses all the tools required. Despite his current winning ratio though this might still be a year or two too early for Thomas at a course that generally takes a lot of learning.
Jason Day (18/1) – Masters record: 2-WD-3-20-28-10-22, 2017 form: 12-MC-5-64-23-WD
Despite his win at Torrey Pines in February the form of others means Day is sneaking in under the radar a little. If there was one player in the field that Augusta was almost custom-built for it is Jason Day. Put a difficult 2017 behind him with his first win in over 18 months but his approach play hasn’t been up to its usual standard. Leads the tour in strokes gained: putting however.
Justin Rose (12/1) – Masters record: 39-22-5-36-20-11-8-25-14-2-10-2, 2018 form: 8-37-5-3-52
Just like last year Mr Consistent has everything in his favour and looks the most likely of the all the market leaders to play his game and contend yet again. Has never failed to make the weekend at Augusta and confidence will be high returning to a venue where he has been runner-up twice in the last three years. But I’m usually unsure of players returning who contended right to the end the previous year. Often a slow starter at majors he will have to put all those negative memories behind him if he is to keep the pace early on.
Tiger Woods (14/1) – Masters record: 41 (Am) – MC-1-8-18-5-1-1-15-22-1-3-2-2 -6-4-4-40-4-17, 2018 form: 23-MC-12-2-5
The great one is back and the event is about 5 times better for it. His game has looked superb over the last 8 weeks and he will be absolutely buzzing for his return to the scene of his first major win 21 years ago. It is easy to forget though that has hasn’t donned the green jacket since 2005 and has played 9 Masters since. Seven of those returned top 6 finishes confirming how much he loves the course but also telling us that he is beatable. If you’re on at the fancy prices then he is a fantastic each way bet but even for Tiger 14/1 looks plenty short enough in this company.
Rickie Fowler (20/1) – Masters record: 38-27-38-5-12-MC-11, 2018 form: 4-MC-11-MC-37-14-43
Fowler’s odds and indeed narrative has changed perhaps more than any player barring Tiger or Phil in the weeks building up to Augusta. As recently as Friday he was sat on top of the leaderboard in Houston with his game purring. But another poor weekend leaves plenty of question marks about his mental toughness. However his major record is rock solid and while he didn’t look backable at 14/1 he will have plenty of takers now having drifted out as high as 22/1 in places.
Bubba Watson (16/1) – Masters record: 20-42-38-1-50-1-38-37-MC, 2018 form: MC-4-35-1-9-66-1
The enigma that is Bubba Watson came storming back to the top table of golf and to be honest I’m not sure his story has garnered enough column inches. (Perhaps testament to just how amazing 2018 has been so far!). He was a joy to watch at both the Genesis and WGC Match Play and his combination of power, imagination and touch can be devastating at Augusta as he proved in 2012 and 2014. A live contender but his price has possibly gone.
Phil Mickelson (18/1) – Masters record: 46 (Am)- 34-7-3-MC-12-6-7-3-3-3-1-10-1-24-5-5-1- 27-3-54-MC-2-MC-22
The enigma that is Phil Mickelson came storming back to the top table of golf
and to be honest I’m not sure his story garned enough column inches. Ok that would be a lie as Phil’s WGC win has never been far from the headlines ahead of the Masters and he has to have a great chance given his sheer will to win and where his game is at. Like Tiger though it is several years since he won here and while he is another with a great chance, I’d say he is also another who the bookies are onto at just 18/1.
Hideki Matsuyama (33/1) – Masters record: 27-54-MC-5-7-11 2018 form: 4-12-WD-49-36
Odds pushed out as high as 40/1 due to some indifferent form and a uncharacteristally wayward driver at times so far in 2018. But his often peerless iron game marks him down as a repeat top 10 offender here for the next 15 years. Hard to fancy on the greens on the back 9 on Sunday though but few would be too surprised if he deemed that irrelevant by having a 6 shot lead standing on the 10th tee having put on a ball-striking clinic for 63 holes.
Jon Rahm (25/1) – Masters record: 27 , 2018 form: 1-29-11-26-20-52
Perhaps an even more surprising storyline than Tiger, Phil, Casey or Ian Poulter is how Rahm has proven himself to be very human indeed. There were times in 2017 and early 2018 where his frightening level of golf threatened to have him as world no. 1 and the favourite for every major this year. How that has changed for the big Spaniard though and after an indifferent period of form his odds have rocketed as high as 25/1. Hard to write-off but perhaps equally hard to back.
The last few Masters have been built up even more than usual due to how many of the game’s best players were playing well heading in to the event and this year with Tiger and Phil thrown in the mix that has been accentuated even more. The 2018 Masters is threatening to be perhaps one of the greatest golf tournaments in history and you could make an equally compelling case for any of the leading 12 players or so in the market. For me this makes it one of the hardest Masters in recent times to get a confident handle on. Therefore I have decided to attempt to simplify things for my main bet and ignore as much of the hype as I can. Jordan Spieth has only been beaten by 12 players at Augusta in his 4 events. This of course means he has beaten the other 364 players teeing it up. Tiger Woods was beaten by 25 players in his first 4 professional Masters and those came at a slightly older age and at a time where he was beginning to dominate golf. I’m not suggesting Spieth will ever get close to Tiger Woods’ standing in the game but I do believe this particular comparison is relevant. Especially when we consider that Spieth’s odds this week are 10/1 and Tiger’s were probably somewhere in the region of 3/1 in 2001. (Obviously Tiger had won the previous 3 majors which will have had a massive effect on his price too!).
With very little to separate the market leaders I think his superb Masters record has to make him the bet. While his putting might not have been anywhere near its best so far in 2018 he has largely been putting on poa annua or bermuda greens. Spieth has always stated how he struggles on poa annua and we know he is at his best on slick bentgrass greens. Last week in Houston his putting improved across the week as the greens hardened and that is one of the reasons he does so well at Augusta. I’ve liked Spieth most of the winter for this to be honest but like many I was just waiting to see how he signed off in Houston. It couldn’t have gone much better as he ranked 1st in strokes gained: approaches while he holed a 30 footer on the 18th green to leave him with nothing but positive thoughts. Very much the man to beat and for my money looks the most sensible bet in an event that looks set to be dominated by the market principals. I’m going to advise a nice chunky each way bet and also a further win only bet on the exchange. The each way portion will be weighted to pay for the win bets.
In an event where the those leading 12 players or so are taking up so much of the market I want to have another one onside so I’m taking a slightly Jeremy Chapman approach this week (to be fair I’d happily settle for his sort of profit on the week!) and also backing Jason Day. The general 18/1 is just too tempting for someone who ticks so many of the right Augusta boxes. He has a top 5 already, he made the cut last year shooting 2 under par rounds along the way without contending. Day also has the all important calendar year win which unfortunately Spieth doesn’t have. But above all the course just sets up perfectly for Day who has both power and touch in abundance. While not all his stats are strong this year he does rank 1st in strokes gained: putting and 4th in par 4 scoring and I’m sure his whole 2018 campaign so far will have been geared to peaking this week.
He is going to win one eventually and having had a light schedule he comes in 100% fit and focussed and that hasn’t been the case with Day too often lately. If he can start well I think he will hang around all week and with generous place terms he looks worth an each way bet as back up to Spieth. I’ve tweaked my staking plan to get all the stakes back and still make a small profit should he win.
Matt Kuchar was 45/1 for this up to the weekend and I hope some readers saw me tweeting about how good a price that was with Skybet’s 10 places offer. Annoyingly he has been cut to 35/1 with Skybet after playing well in Houston. I considered leaving him out and to be honest if he had been cut any further I probably would but the 10 places for a top 10 machine still make this value in my eyes. Kuchar has finished inside the top 10 in 4 of the last 6 Masters and he really does come alive on hard and fast courses where his combination of approach accuracy and touch on and around the greens will always give him a chance. But away from the place part of the bet giving us value I also think we might see a more assured Kuchar this year after his Royal Birkdale exploits last summer. I think he will have learned a lot from that battle with Spieth and this is obviously his first appearance back at Augusta since. If the likeable Georgia resident is ever going to win a major it will surely be this one and having regained his form I think he is a very solid each way bet.
I ran a few basic stats models for this year’s Masters to perhaps help me find some outsiders and I was pleased with what I found. My main 4 stats were GIR, bogey avoidance, par 4 scoring and strokes gained: off the tee and then I added a few others; strokes gained: putting, approach proximity 125-150 yards, GIR 175-200, scrambling, approach putt performance, par 5 scoring and finally strokes gained: approaches. I then took an average for my main 4 stats, all of them together and then finally I weighted all the stats to give me three averages for every player, nothing too fancy at all. Zach Johnson was the absolute standout and he came 1st in two of them. To highlight some of his key stats he ranks 32nd in GIR, 2nd in 3-putt avoidance, 3rd in bogey avoidance, 15th in par 4 scoring, 13th in par 5 scoring and 9th in strokes gained: approaches. We can’t rely wholly on stats so if this was a player who had a poor record at Augusta, had never played there before or wasn’t a world-class talent then I may not have given it much credence. But this is the 2007 Masters Champion who was 9th just three years ago and also won The Open in 2015. So I had to have a little of the 240 on Betfair last week as it was just silly and I wouldn’t put anyone off jumping in north of 200.0 but it’s Skybet’s 100/1 ew with 10 places that I really like for Zach here. He mas missed his last two Masters cuts and he may well make that a hat-trick but the numbers don’t lie, or at least they can’t tell that big a whopper! His results have been fairly solid without being spectacular this year but he has made all his cuts and his figures read 14-20-57-16-26-36. He just needs his putter to revert back to the norm but where better to do that as he knows the greens better than everyone in the field bar Tiger and Phil. As long as the course stays relatively hard and fast through the week I think his game is in good enough shape to out play his odds.
With so many of the game’s elite in such strong form there aren’t a lot of outsiders who make appeal this year, even with Skybet’s 10 places offer. As ever there are a lot of good options in the place markets though but Brendan Steele stands out to me as one of the few real live outsiders and he also performed well in my model. His game is perfectly suited to championship golf and I can see him landing one of the U.S. based majors at some point as a classic left field U.S. major winner. Steele has a recent win to his name having successfully defended his Safeway Open title in October and he has been in fine form since. Last year he finished 27th but that was even more impressive as it was his first appearance since 2012. I’m expecting further improvement this year as he will have learned a lot from that and he closed with a 69 giving him the all-important round in the 60s. Steele also finished inside the top 20 in the WGC Mexico which is always a good pointer to where the long-game is at for a tilt at the Masters. That long game assurance is backed up by a very impressive stats profile as he ranks 7th in GIR, 19th in bogey avoidance, 10th in par 4 scoring, 7th in strokes gained: off the tee and 35th in strokes gained: approaches. We know the green jacket isn’t won with stats but this is a profile worthy of one of the best players on Tour and I’m going to continue to keep him onside in majors while he is priced alongside those who simply aren’t as suited to championship courses. Steele is a streaky putter who is usually better on consistently fast surfaces so if he putts well there is no reason he can’t contend. But one of my favourite bets of the week is for him to make the top 20 and hopefully if he can’t stay on the leaderboard that bet will pay for the more speculative win and each way bets.
I’m going to back Hideki Matsuyama for a Masters Top 10 every year until he stops playing the game I think. Despite us not having seen him at his best this year it has largely been his driving that has been poor and his iron game has been nearly as good as ever. The wide fairways will mean a lot of those wild tee-shots won’t be overly punished and he still ranks 20th in strokes gained: approaches and 18th in bogey avoidance. While I’m not sure he will ever win this I am sure he will rack up the top 10s with his towering, accurate approach play ideal for holding these fast greens. The stand-out 10/3 looks very tempting indeed for a player who hasn’t finished outside the top 11 the last three years.
1st Round Leader bets
I’m struggling to cut down my short list for 1st round leaders so given that it’s the first Major of the year I’m going to just back them all to a small 0.25pts stake each way and then at least I won’t be kicking myself if someone I leave out gets involved on day one. If the slightly gimmicky first round leader market isn’t for you then just ignore these but I always think it adds an extra level of excitement to the opening day and worth throwing 2pts at.
Bryson Dechambeau was the first name that jumped out at me looking at the draw. He has an early tee-time and is playing with Bernd Weisberger and Matt Fitzpatrick. That’s a nice low -key group where all three will be capable of shooting a good score with just 4 groups ahead of them. Bryson to me has exactly the sort of profile and story that I can see leading a Masters after Thursday. So call it a hunch pick more than anything but he is also playing very well with a couple of notable 1st round knocks lately. He shot an opening 66 in Phoenix and a 67 last time out at Bay Hill. Further to that opening 67 he went on to rank 1st in ball-striking so his game is in great shape for the Augusta test. He did ok on his debut with 3 rounds of 72 and I can see him starting strongly before possible fading away over the weekend as things heat up.
Chez Reavie has been scoring well in round one all year and he ranks 5th in round 1 scoring. Unfortunately he missed his last two stroke-play cuts and all three of his Masters cuts but he is a far better player now and he played some good golf over the first three days at the WGC Match Play. Again with Reavie he just seems like the type of player that could pop up on a day one leaderboard and his neat and tidy game should be suited to the test as he has proven he can handle long courses with a 2nd at Torrey Pines in February and he also has a strong record at Riviera where form always ties in nicely with Augusta.
Brian Harman is one of the outsiders fancied to go well given his exceptionally consistent 2018 form but I’d want to be on at the early three figure prices rather than his current price of around 80/1. Harman also sits in a lofty position of 13th in the season’s 1st round scoring but it was looking at his starts in the big events that impressed me. His last 5 WGC or Major first rounds read 68-68-69-70-67 so he is clearly a player who is starting to feel more and more comfortable playing with the very best. Personally I don’t see him scaring the leaderboard too much on Sunday but another low opening round looks to be on the cards.
Finally Thomas Pieters looks worth siding with in this market just because of his immense talent and how well he played last year to finish 4th on his debut. His form has been poor so it is hard to expect him to string 4 good rounds together but he made a habit of starting fast on the European Tour and 4 of his last 5 opening rounds have been in the 60s. It might just be the best way to play the Belgian powerhouse this week.
Summary of Bets
Jordan Spieth – 3pts ew @ 10/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfair SB) and 3pts win @ 12.0 on Betfair Exchange
Jason Day – 1.5pts ew @ 16/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Skybet)
Matt Kuchar – 1pt ew @ 35/1 (SkyBet) and 2pts Top 10 @ 5.0 on Betfair
Brendan Steele – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 (Skybet) and 3pts Top 20 @ 11/2
Zach Johnson – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1 (Skybet)
Hideki Matsuyama – 3pts Top 10 @ 10/3
1st Round Leader bets
Bryson Dechambeau – 0.25pts ew @ 66/1
Chez Reavie – 0.25pts ew @ 150/1
Brian Harman – 0.25 pts ew @ 55/1
Thomas Pieters – 0.25pts ew @ 50/1
Weekly pts advised = 26pts
Total 2018 pts advised = 149pts