GOLF — 09 April 2013
US Masters Preview and Tips

Just as the Grand National or the FA Cup is the focal point for the casual horseracing and football enthusiast, golf’s focal point for the one-a-year bettor is The Masters.

As with Aintree’s marathon chasing handicap and the Wembley showpiece, there is no real reason why the Masters is seen as more important than the US Open or the PGA Championship. It just is.

The margins are so small at Augusta that even if you are a little bit off your game, it will swallow you. You don’t have to do much wrong to be packing your bags on Friday night.

Playing smart and choosing your moments to be aggressive is what the course is all about. And it is important to get on the right side of every flag.

The wind is a much underrated player at Augusta and it swirls a lot, as the course is situated deep in a swale (a low hollow), and it doesn’t do to have doubt in your mind when you play a shot, because you have to be so accurate and confident of that accuracy. The bunkers have got more severe on the par 3s and experience is everything at this 7,435-yard par 72 course.

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.

There’s always drama – and that’s perhaps why the punters love it so much, azaleas be damned.

There are many great storylines to watch out for this year at Augusta National. Here are a few:

guanHow will 14-year-old Guan Tian-Lang cope?
This is fantasyland stuff. But how will China’s young sensation Guan Tian-Lang (right) cope with the pressure under an ultra-hot spotlight.

He turned 14 in November, when he won Asia’s Pacific Amateur Championships. His reward was a place at golf’s top table at Augusta National.

To put this into perspective, Guan Tian-Lang, whose hero is Tiger Woods, was not even born when Tiger was winning his first Green Jacket in 1997. Tian-Lang is priced at the maximum 1000 to win with BETDAQ.

Will it be another left-handed player who triumphs again?
Bubba Watson, who defeated Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff last April, was the fifth lefty in the last 10 years to win the Green Jacket (after Mike Weir 2003, Phil Mickelson 2004, 2006 and 2010). There is no obvious reason for this. A left-handed player’s fade is ideally suited to Augusta’s left-to-right doglegs, but before Weir’s triumph, the only lefty to win a Major was Bob Charles in 1963.

Can Rory McIlroy win his first Green Jacket?
It will always be one of the low points of his career. In 2011, McIlroy was almost in tears on the 13th fairway and had to cover his face with his sleeve. He’d taken a seven, four-putting at the 12th, then hooked his drive into flowers to the left of Rae’s Creek. It was a harrowing sight.

But last year McIlroy was in a strong position after two rounds, only to score 77 and 76 on the final two days. The two-time Major winner has yet to have a Top-10 finish at Augusta.

Like Sandy Lyle in years gone by, McIlroy has had problems at the first tee. There is a lot of pressure, it’s early in the day and nerves make it doubly difficult to get the ball on to the green. Even after a good drive, you have to work hard on your second shot, because it is a hole that can play very long. The cool air for the early starters means the ball does not always travel as far, so it is not uncommon to have 200 yards to the middle of the green. McIlroy was +5 on the first hole in all four rounds last year – not the best way to give his confidence a boost.

The guess is, this is not going to be McIlroy’s year. He still needs a bit more experience of Augusta and he has not yet found his form consistently over four rounds this season, although to be fair, he seemed to be getting his game together with a solid performance in the Valero Texas Open last weekend. If you are going to take on one player this week it is McIlroy, whose odds are too short at around the 13.5 mark with BETDAQ.

Will the European drought continue?
Jose Maria Olazabal was the last European to win the Green Jacket, way back in 1999. Since then, only Lee Westwood has come close, finishing second in 2010. With eight of the top 20 hailing from this side of the pond, there really is every chance that we should expect victory in the first Major of the season. Look at the talent-base: McIlroy, Westwood, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter are among the favourites – rightly so given Europe’s recent Ryder Cup dominance.

Trends to consider:

  • The average age of the winner is 32.
  • The average attempts at Augusta before a first win is six.
  • The par-four first hole was the hardest last year.
  • The past five winners were averaging over 290 yards during the season.
  • In The Masters’ 75-year history, only 16 Europeans have triumphed.
  • 20 of the last 21 Masters winners had posted a sub-70 round in a previous visit to Augusta.
  • With several right-to-left doglegs, drawers (off the tee) are often at an advantage.

WHO WILL WIN?

woods250Tiger Woods @ 5.4
It is incredibly eight years since Tiger won the last of his four Green Jackets but he has rarely approached Augusta with such confidence. His third win of the season at Bay Hill three weeks ago means he deservedly warrants favouritism, no matter how short a price.

Like Jack Nicklaus, who won here six times, Tiger owns this course. Even in his barren years – from 2006 to 2011 – his worst finish was sixth place. Last season’s 40th place was an aberration. The World No.1 was still getting his head together after his divorce. He’s now happy, relaxed and confident. He’s seeing his shots and his short game has rarely been better.

Despite the lightening-fast greens, it is better to be long off the tee than accurate. There is a relative lack of penalty for errant driving and it rewards accurate chipping and putting. It is a scrambler’s track. And there are few players who scramble better than Woods.

Layers are running scared of a fifth Green Jacket for arguably the game’s greatest ever player. The only surprise is he is not a shorter price. But if you are backing him, it is worth noting that his overall average first-round score in the 19 Masters he’s played is 72.1 and his average first round score in top five finishes is 71.5.

He is traditionally best in the second and third rounds, with an overall Friday average of 69.9 and an overall Saturday average of 69.9. He has shot 66 or better eight times at the Masters in 70 rounds and six of those have come on the Friday or Saturday in wins. Furthermore, he’s failed to record par or under in the final round only three times.

He is back to near his intimidating best.

There is a betting market Without Tiger Woods, which means you bet as though he is not in the field. McIlroy is the BETDAQ favourite in this market, with Mickelson, Rose, Schwartzel and Westwood close behind.

Adam Scott @ 31.0
While the Australian has let two Majors slip through his grasp, Scott is contending. It took Phil Mickelson 12 years to win a Major and then, at the age of 33, the floodgates opened for him. Scott is still Major-less at 32, although his form and confidence level suggests he is, like Mickelson, a late bloomer. He has finished in the top 20 in nine straight stroke-play events dating back to last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship, where he was T7. That streak includes a T5 showing at the Barclays Singapore Open, a win at the Talisker Masters and a T3 finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. His short game has improved markedly and according to official figures, he’s got every chance of winning, being ranked No.7 on the Official World Golf Ranking. He has an impressive record on the biggest stage, with eight top-10s in 47 major-championship starts, including three each at Augusta and the PGA Championship. He’s made nine of 11 cuts at Augusta, finishing T33 or better all nine times. Scott finished T2 at the 2011 Masters, leading late in the final round before Charl Schwartzel birdied his final four holes to win by two. And then there was last July’s meltdown at Royal Lytham, where he bogeyed his final four holes to lose by a shot to Ernie Els. He has the game, but does he have the mental toughness to win a Major? It doesn’t matter – he’s still value to contend.

Dustin Johnson @ 37.0
It’s been boom or bust when siding with Johnson this year. He won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to start the season but his form dipped after that. He withdrew from the Sony Open, missed the cut twice after that. But there were signs of improvement at the Shell Houston Open, including a final round seven-under-par 65. Johnson did not play at Augusta last year because of a back injury. He finished T38 there in 2011 and 2010, and was T30 in 2009. But his all-round game, especially his short game, has improved a lot since then and he is a fair price to make a run at the Green Jacket.

garrigusRobert Garrigus @ 325
The big key for long-off-the-tee Garrigus (right) is the first hole. The 445-yard par-4, known as the Tea Olive, forced 18 pars, 12 bogeys, one double bogey and one triple bogey in the first round last year. And Garrigus was the not-so-proud owner of the triple bogey seven. But when he is in a swinging mood, there’s nobody who hits the driver better.

He took home more than $3.2 million in earnings last season and has made seven cuts from eight starts this season, with two top-10 finishes and five top-25 finishes. Fourth in driving distance and hitting a decent 69.02% of Greens in Regulation, Garrigus should be half the odds or less than he currently is, despite missing the cut on his only attempt at Augusta last year.

OTHER BETDAQ MASTERS MARKETS

First Round Leader
BETDAQ offer all manner of markets on The Masters. As previously said, Tiger Woods is traditionally more of a force on the Friday and Saturday at Augusta, so if you are going to bet against him, this is perhaps the market you would trade. He has only once shot a first round score in the 60s (2010). In previous years, first round leaders have been Justin Rose and Brett Wettrich (2007), Trevor Immelman and Rose (2008), Chad Campbell (2009), Fred Couples (2010), McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros (2011), and Westwood (2012).

The consistent fast-starters are Rose, Westwood (also T2 in 2010 and T3 in 2008) and Immelman (T7 in 2011).

That Trio’s current odds are Westwood at 66.0, Rose at 14.5 and Immelman at 68.0. They look fair value in a volatile market.

Top UK & Irish Player
McIlroy naturally heads this market and although he has played well in flashes at Augusta, Rose and Westwood have greater experience.

Westwood, in particular, at 6.4 makes plenty of appeal. Padraig Harrington played very well at the Texas Valero Open, but his form this season has been in and out, so you would perhaps want better than his current 9.6 to back him.

Top US Player
The USPGA has been dominated by American winners this season. Scotland’s Martin Laird came from nowhere on Sunday to win in San Antonio and break a streak of 15 American winners on Tour.

If there is to be a winner from outside the States, Woods would seem the logical choice to be the Top US Player, but Mickelson, despite indifferent form, always blooms at Augusta and he remains reasonable value at 4.6 as a saver. Dustin Johnson won’t be long in winning again and he’s a fair shout at 10.5 in this market.

Top Irish Player
For the brave among you, McIlroy is available to take on (or lay) at 2.12 with BETDAQ. But the paucity of runners in this market means that you have to believe that either Graeme McDowell or Harrington will be the ones to finish in front of McIlroy, as Alan Dunbar doesn’t appear to have the game for Augusta. Take McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, who is either boom or bust at Augusta, with his last four appearances yielding T17-Cut-Cut-T12 finishes.

Top English Player
Luke Donald is seemingly struggling and isn’t long off the tee, which is invariably a factor at Augusta. While one of the best short games in golf will balance this deficiency, it is hard to see Donald contending on recent form.

So we have to plump for Justin Rose, Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter, each of whom have consistent form at Augusta: Rose’s recent record is T5-T36-T20-T11-T8, Westwood’s is T11-43-2-T11-T3, Poulter’s is T13-T25-T20-T10-T27-7. With Rose and Westwood trading at 2.54 and 2.74, the value appears to lie with Poulter at 4.2.

Top Australian Player
It is very hard to get away from Adam Scott, even at odds of 1.77, although Jason Day is the alternative at 2.03. Scott’s Augusta record reads: T27-T25-Cut-T18-T2-T8, while Day’s record is T2-WD. The 2010 Byron Nelson Championship winner, Day also finished second in the 2011 US Open so he has the game for the big occasion. He can’t be ruled out of winning The Masters, let alone beating his compatriots. Still, Scott is our pick.

Top South African Player
South African golf is in rude health. Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters winner), Louis Oosterhuizen, Ernie Els, George Coetzee, Trevor Immelman (2008 Masters winner), Branden Grace, Tim Clark and Rihcard Sterne are all in the field. It would not be any surprise to see Immelman have another good week at Augusta, where his record is T55-1-T20-T14-T15-60 and he’s as big as 9.8 at BETDAQ to beat this strong field. Oosthuizen was runner-up here last year, but his record at Augusta before that reach Cut-Cut-Cut, so at 2.48 you have to hope that last year’s run was not just a flash in the pan.


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