It’s the Grand National of golf, the one tournament that the once-a-year golf bettor identifies with. Yes, it’s The Masters this weekend. But who will be in the running at Augusta National? Simon Milham has Georgia on his mind…
Steady, unglamourous golf often tends to win the day. Remember Nick Faldo famously winning the 1987 British Open after making par on every hole in the final round?
No. Nor us. We were sound asleep after nine holes. He could have been attending the birth of his next wife for all we knew.
In Sunday night’s final round we want to see golfing immortality. We want to be inspired. We want a ‘Tin Cup’ Roy McAvoy rather than a David Sims.
Fortunately, The Masters rarely disappoints. Gary Player summed up Augusta perfectly when he said: “Every shot is within a fraction of disaster – that’s what makes it so great.”
That’s why we remember the meltdowns of Rory McIlroy (2011) and Greg Norman (1986, 1996) perhaps more vividly than those who donned the green jacket.
Yet for all the flora, fauna and toe-curling failure, The Masters is actually the tournament that has the weakest field of all the majors.
This is to do with the qualification criteria and the fact that all past winners are invited automatically. The advantage of this weaker field is that a number of players can be effectively ruled out immediately when compiling a shortlist.
Some trends are useful in trying to find the outright winner. For instance, 19 of the last 20 Masters winners had posted a sub-70 round in a previous visit to Augusta, and with several right-to-left doglegs here, drawers (off the tee, at least) are often at an advantage. A strong short game is also essential on and around the undulating greens.
The outright market is headed by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. And BETDAQ will refund commission on the US Masters Outright market either win the 2012 Masters!
Tiger doesn’t always fare very well on the driveway but he’s driving well on the fairway.
One of the prerequisites at Augusta, which is playing over 7,400 yards, is being long off the tee (although Zach Johnson was an exception to the rule in 2007). While Tiger’s swing in the final round at Bay Hill was some way from resembling that of an octopus falling out of a tree, in the final round it still sometimes looked far from refined – and he wasn’t under any pressure by that stage.
Woods has been the favourite at Augusta every April since 1998. He has prevailed only three times in those 14 tournaments. Does he warrant favouritism, given that he has only won once here since 2002, when he was in his prime? Some will say he’s due to add to his tally of 14 majors, which he has failed to build upon since 2008.
That would be some feat (and that sounds like the cue for our usual musical interlude)…
Given Tiger’s recent history and in spite of warning that his game is back where he wants it to be, his price still looks a shade too skinny to back him on the outright market.
It seems feasible that he will finish in front of man-of-the-moment McIlroy, however.
The Irishman held the lead for 63 holes here last year but will that cringe-worthy final round play on his mind?
Imaginative, brave and with a wonderful touch, there is something of the Ballesteros mind-set about McIlroy. Compelling though he is to watch, if refusing to compromise his attacking style, he could end up with fewer major titles than his genius deserves.
McIlroy has never finished better than 15th in his three trips to Augusta and while we will probably all be willing him on, the memories of that implosion may still be too raw and he’s a short enough price to take him on in the Top 5 Finish market.
BETDAQ have odds on each opening round Three-Ball and while left-handed slugger Bubba Watson’s Augusta record of three cuts made in three appearances is none too spectacular (finishing no better than a tie for 20th place) he may be worth a small play in the trio that comprises an over-bet McIlroy and out-of-sorts Angel Cabrera.
Mickelson started off the 2012 season in poor form, but like Woods, his game has improved sharply, as evidenced by his fourth-placed tie at the Shell Houston Open. With four reachable par-5s, Augusta plays to the strengths of a big hitter such as three-time Masters winner Mickelson.
Donald is not as long off the tee, but if he takes the same approach that short-hitter Zach Johnson did in 2007 – laying up on every par-5 then playing them in 11 under par – then he may figure. He finished tied for fourth last year, but it is worth remembering that in the last dozen major championships he has missed the cut four times and been in the top 10 just three times. Much of the evidence points to opposing Donald and it is worth chancing him to finish outside the Top 10.
With European attention centred on McIlroy and Donald, both Lee Westwood and Paul Casey are relatively forgotten men who could contend.
Westwood is seeking his first major title, having threatened on many occasions. Two years ago, he was runner-up and he has also posted sub 70 rounds on two other occasions in the last four years (when tied for 11th in 2008 and 2011). He was third last year at the U.S. Open and also finished second at the 2010 British Open after his runner-up showing at the Masters.
Plus he’s started this season better than he has in the past, recording fourth-place finishes at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and at the Honda Classic. He is arguably better value than Donald to finish as the top English player.
Casey, who has recorded two top 10s and four top 20s in seven Masters starts, is worthy of consideration to gain another Top 10 finish. While he has dropped to No.32 in the world, he is still only 33 and there is growing optimism in his camp that he has put last season’s indifferent form (an injury-plagued campaign, accentuated by a much-publicised divorce) behind him.
Among BETDAQ‘s slew of markets, the Top Debutant is an interesting one. It is headed by Keegan Bradley who won the last major of 2011, the PGA Championship – his first Grand Slam start.
Bradley is coming off his third top-10 finish of the season following his tie for fourth at last week’s Shell Houston Open. He is the form horse, but Kyle Stanley, who made up an eight-shot deficit in the final round to win the Phoenix Open, could be a man to keep an eye on and looks over-priced in this particular market.
P Mickelson – Outright – Back
L Westwood – Outright – Back
T Woods to beat R McIlroy – Back
B Watson – Opening Round Three-Ball – Back
P Casey – Top 10 Finish – Back
K Stanley – Top Debutant – Back
L Westwood – Top English Player – Back
R McIlroy – Top 5 Finish – Lay
L Donald – Top 10 Finish – Lay
Follow Simon Milham on twitter @simonmilham
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