So here it is, it’s the Masters, everybody’s having fun.
So said Noddy Holder, and that without realising this is the most fascinating of the recent Masters. Yeah, including that one when Tiger did the ‘impossible.’ Again.
There are pages and pages written about Augusta National, and readers will find the information in a myriad of places, including the official Masters course index.
18+ | BeGambleAware.org
The course has its infamous nuances – the dog-legs with reverse slopes and the ultra-fast greens, but to combat the lengthier players Augusta made significant changes over the last couple of years.
In 2022, the organisers extended the par-4 11th hole -‘Dogwood’ – by 35 yards, whilst also adding 20 yards to the par-5 15th, giving players a little more to think about when judging an aggressive second shot over Rae’s Creek.
This year they’ve made a hugely significant change to ‘Azelea’, the famous par-5 13th hole, adding 35 yards but also making the hole far more claustrophobic from the tee.
For reference this was the tee shot last year 😳 https://t.co/si8qjpT3Zc pic.twitter.com/l55tC53wcr
— Joe I (@TourPicks) April 1, 2023
It’s enough that we now have changes that might just stop the regular eagles, but the current weather forecast suggests the week goes from bad to worse in terms of wind and rain, though for viewers it could make this the most open of Masters. For us sadists, this is great news!
And then there is LIV.
No fewer than 18 golf ‘rebels’ tee it up against their former PGA Tour colleagues this year and they could not have timed it better.
Four-time major champ Brooks Koepka was victorious in Orlando last weekend, with Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson close behind. Although looking to carry an injury, Cam Smith, winner of The Players and The Open Championship last year, was in contention until midway through the final round. It’s certainly hotting up.
Since 2010, only Bubba Watson has won the green jacket more than once, so Masters maidens are very welcome to this year’s feast, though throughout the event’s history they will need to be almost extraordinary to counter the lack of course experience.
Best Bet - Xander Schauffele25/1
The top of the market looks extremely strong, though I’d favour Scottie Scheffler over Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy given a stunning run of play that includes two wins in seven 2023 starts. He looks almost bombproof but for a missed five-footer at Bay Hill and a lack of concentration when tired at the Match Play, could easily be going for a fourth consecutive win.
He can’t make a mistake at around 7/1 though, and with the weather expected to be extremely influential, that is short enough.We have to look at solid each-way payouts and that seems to limit us to just a handful. Of those, 29-year-old Xander strongly fits the bill.
The Nevada resident ranks in the top-10 of the OWGR, and will arrive at Augusta after a progressive run of form that started after his withdrawals from the opening Tournament of Champions with back pain.
Since then, Xander has gone seven from seven, with top-10s at the American Express and Pheonix, and fast-closing efforts when 13th at Torrey Pines and 19th at Sawgrass.
Last time out at the Match Play in Austin, the selection won all his group matches, beating Cam Davis 4&3, Aaron Wise 2&1 and Tom Hoge 1-up after birdie at the last hole. In the quarters, he led or tied with the in-form Rory McIlroy for 17 of the 18 holes, succumbing only to a 12-foot birdie putt by his opponent in a match that produced a better-ball 59.
Make of it what you will, but Masters winners Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and defending champ Scheffler have all won the WGC Match Play, so anything resembling a quality performance can only be a bonus.
Certainly his form this year has a better ‘feel’ than when missing the Masters cut a year ago, his first missed weekend in five starts and spoiling an Augusta record of second, 17th and third from 2019 to 2021. That said, it’s doubtful Xander will again leave himself a 50-foot putt and walk off for a rain break, as he did last season, something that seemed to put him off his game for too long.
We should remember, too, that those two medal finishes were a one-shot runner-up to Tiger Woods after a final round 68, and a three shot defeat behind Hideki Matsuyama when just one hole (par-3 16th) cost him a treble bogey six and the end of any charge.
Winner of seven PGA Tour events that could have been eight bar an ironic play-off loss to Rory McIlroy when defending his WGC HSBC Champions crown in 2019, he notably has a tremendous record at nearby East Lake, home of the Tour Championship where he has figures of 6/3/1/2/7/1.
Xander is a major machine, landing nine top-10s and three further top-15 finishes in 22 starts, and whilst it was a toss-up between here and the U.S Open, he’s been a fancy for the green jacket for quite a while. He’s won each year since 2017 bar Covid year, so there is one coming, and it may as well be at Augusta. I’ve been on each of the last three years and there seems no reason to desert him yet.
Danger - Jordan Spieth16/1
Danger - Sungjae Im35/1
Danger - Corey Conners40/1
Given the expected weather, it’s very hard to leave out Jordan Spieth, who has never been shy about his love of golf in difficult conditions.
In eight starts, the Texan has won once (in soft conditions), and finished second and third on four other occasions, including when dropping six shots in three holes to hand surprise winner Danny Willett the green jacket.
His positive stats have allied concerns surrounding the loss of form with the putter, showing well enough at Bay Hill, Sawgrass and Copperhead, but it’s the intelligent way he plots himself around the course that makes him the main danger this week.
A mere glance at Spieth’s best form shows a player very much at home in the wind, with the current world number 16 very much at his best at the likes of Pebble Beach, Deere Run and, of course, The Open, where in 2017 he overcame poor weather to win by three shots.
Since his win at the RBC Heritage last May, Spieth has racked up six top-10 and a further five top-20 finishes, including when having chances at the Pheonix, Arnold Palmer and Valspar.
Winner of three events in April throughout his career, the Masters has always looked to be ‘his’ tournament. He can prove that this week.
Sungjae Im is very simple to write about.
The 25-year-old Korean is put in around the same price as Will Zalatoris (price based on older majors form) and Viktor Hovland (just okay form here and a short game that is regressing from the very average) and that cannot be right.
Runner-up here in Covid year, he proved that to be nothing like a fluke when leading after the first round last year, although keeping on at just one pace to finish eighth.
Those two top-10 finishes from three starts back up an overall Georgia record that has him second, 12th and 15th at East Lake, whilst he has rarely ventured off the path of excellent tee-to-green, finding strong strokes against the field for his ball-striking in his last seven events.
Tour-tips three month tracker has the former rookie in the top-30 for ball-striking (18th) greens-in-regulation (24th) and scrambling (30th) whilst he ranks in the top five in par-5 performance, possibly the only chance of making a score this week.
In nine full-field events since the turn of the year, Sungjae missed the cut at the Sony Open, a venue he doesn’t get on well with, but has made eight cuts, including a fourth place at Torrey Pines, Scottsdale and Sawgrass.
If it becomes a grind, Sungjae is huge each-way value.
Corey Conners did nobody bar himself a favour when winning last week.
Almost certainly on the list for a good top-20 bet, his one -shot victory in Texas killed his win price by several points, yet only last year’s champ Scottie Scheffler has won the week previous to Augusta.
Still, I’d rather a player with good incoming form, as well as figures on the course, and the Canadian has those aplenty.
Form this season has been trending with just one missed-cut in eight outings spoiling a run towards that win last week.
In eighth place at halfway, the 31-year-old finished 18th at the opening Tournament of Champions, 12th at the Sony and, 21st at Bay Hill (third at halfway), before winning two of his three group games at the Match Play, losing only at the final hole to eventual runner-up Cameron Young.
Given the way Conners repeats form, it was no surprise to see him creep closer each round before eventually holding on last week, and put up yet another sterling performance for tee-to-green fans.
As at Waialae, Conners led the greens-in-regulation stats, and at both he racked up double-figures for his tee-to-green superiority, a huge factor around Augusta, where his relatively weak putting can be disguised.
Whilst he has been trending towards the victory, Conners also has progressive form here, with figures of 6/8/10/46. Should that continue, he’ll finish in fourth place, something more than possible given he is the typical horses-for-courses kind of guy.
This will go to one of the more fancied players, but I’ll be back tomorrow for the side bets.