The Market Favourites
The most intriguing Masters' field I can remember tees off Thursday AM and we can make a strong case for anyone in the top 15 or so in the betting. It runs deeper than that though and it wouldn't surprise to see the much coveted Green Jacket go to someone from the 2nd or even the 3rd tier of the market. Dustin Johnson – 10.00 – is almost neck-a-neck with Rory at the head of proceedings, but for me, it's Rory McIlroy – 8.00 – and Justin Rose vying for favouritism. I'd give the edge to the latter, meaning there may be a little juice in Rose at 13.00 with seven places at Unibet.
Both players have games suited to the Augusta course with their length off the tee and high trajectory from approaches, along with established course form. Rory is number 1 in strokes gained off the tee in 2019 and has the perfect high draw with the big dog. The weak link for both is usually the flat stick but each have made significant improvements in that area, with Justin pacing the tour in putting average this season and Rory lying 12th in said stat.
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) April 8, 2019
Tiger Woods is one without too much appeal for me at a price of 15.00, and at 17.00 I'd also lean towards fading Justin Thomas who has yet to show that he has the right game to tackle Augusta. Thomas doesn't really have the advantageous draw shot in his armoury and his game is possibly a little aggressive for Augusta – two negatives for me here.
Betting angles, stats and trends
The first thing I do in Masters week is to find out as much info about how Augusta will be playing and the specific conditioning of the course. We generally see a fast, firm and bouncy Augusta with mild to moderate winds, but this is not always the case so it's key to find out exactly what we are dealing with. Judging by snippets from the course and through social media from the players and attendees – we are looking at slightly softer conditions for 2019, but rain and thunderstorms are expected to cease late Tuesday night before returning for the showdown on Sunday. With moderate winds averaging around 8-12mph blowing through Thursday and Friday, along with the sub air systems under the greens, it should play in or around the usual 13 feet on the stimpmeter, though a little spongier from tee to green – in short, more or less an ideal set up. This ultimately narrows down my best value bets for 2019, albeit if only bringing a small edge over the guys I leave off the shortlist.
To give you an example of scoring averages versus variable conditions, only 2 players broke 70 in the 2017 edition of the Masters on a very blustery day 1: coincidentally or not, Sergio Garcia, one of the best wind players in the game went on to win that year on a total of -9. Interestingly, the very much currently in form Charley Hoffman – off the back of a runner up finish in Texas last week – hit a 65 and was the round 1 leader by four strokes that year. Charley, admittedly, is a big fan of Augusta. 2015 was the cheese to that chalk and the softest I remember the conditions being while watching. Jordan Spieth – 23.00 – and Justin Rose ran away from the field that year before the latter tailed off. Spieth's winning aggregate of 270 tied the lowest 72 hole record winning score at the Masters. That year Spieth was the first round leader opening with a 64, and 11 players broke 70 in round 1.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 8, 2019
Back in 2014, Bill Haas opened with 68 for the first round lead, and Bubba Watson won the tournament with an aggregate of 280 for -8. Last year it was once again Jordan Spieth who led after round 1 with an opening 66, while Patrick Reed took the 72 hole spoils over Rickie Fowler in a pretty low scoring affair on a -15 total of 273. Jordan Spieth also took the first round leader gong in 2016 with another 66, and the winning total that year was 283 by Danny Willett, in some of the tougher conditions I've seen. Course specialist Jordan Spieth, unfortunately, capitulated down the stretch, but only 6 players broke par for the tournament, with Sunday proving difficult.
All this means we've seen an average of just under -6 leading after the first round over the last handful of years in varying conditions. Take Spieth out and that total reduces by a couple of strokes. We have seen as high a winning score disparity of 13 shots over a sample of just the last 5 years and again, this sums up the theory on course playability being directly proportional to the firmness of conditions, and the wind strength.
Spieth can be backed at 23.00 in the first round leader market or 2.38 to be in the top 20 after day 1.
The COURSE: features and premiums – Augusta National Golf Club, 7,475 yards, par 72
(par 4 fifth hole has been stretched by 40 yards)
Augusta is very much a horse for the course track, arguably more so than any other course we see on tour every year. Mostly though, it's a fair track and a great betting heat for predicting who might go well. Augusta is your stereotypical "second shot course" comprising uphill, downhill and side hill lies on the fairways. Approaches are into elevated, multi-tiered, undulating greens with massive runoffs, and elevation changes throughout make emphasis on approach and distance control huge.
Augusta will test most departments of your game. Length off the tee is a prerequisite into some of the most generous landing areas you'll find and there's little rough on the course. A right to left shot shape with the big stick is an advantage. Chipping from around the greens, and putts from the wrong tier or above the hole can get away, and because of this we see a lot of 5-15 feet hole outs needed – This stat for me is always a real key at the Masters. It's a treelined track but unless extremely errant, there's usually a chance to recover.
The par 5s are huge for putting a score together here and we will see plenty of birdies and eagles, especially if conditions are a little softer. Reed was -13 for the par 5s last year and led the field in par 5 scoring average. Even all the way back to 2007, winner Zach Johnson was -11 on the par 5s in a Masters edition that had wind gusts up to 30mph; this was a statistical anomaly as Johnson laid up on each of the 16 long holes he played over the 4 rounds and relied on his stellar wedge game.
"I think this golf course is a lot easier to play if you feel like you can just hit the center of the greens and move from there and wait for your chances" – Jordan Spieth
Course experience also plays a significant part around Augusta. Players such as Brandt Snedeker – 81.00 or 7.00 the top 10 – and Spieth talk about implementing a strategy, alluding to finding the right part of the greens on many holes – whether this means leaving it underneath the hole or just playing away from some pins, or even to the middle of the green. This is where the real course experience angle comes in, and it may be why certain aggressive players like Thomas and DJ haven't done the business here yet.
Snedeker – “That’s Augusta. You’re going to do that every once in awhile. It was a tough pin. I’m now equipped to handle that pin knowing how fast that putt was. I think in years past I’d always been underneath the hole and didn’t really know how fast that putt was. Last year I found out the hard way.”
"You come into it as your first real birdie opportunity. It’s maybe one of the easier drives for a lot of guys, you just aim it at the fairway bunker and try to hit a draw. It’s a tough second shot." @RickieFowler
— Ricky Fowler (@RickyeFowler) April 9, 2019
Best Each-Way Bets
Rickie Fowler – 17.00 or 5.50 – is the EW bet I like most this year. Everything clicks. Mentally he is in a strong place with a solid relationship ongoing, and confidence is high after a recent win in Phoenix where I absolutely loved his attitude and perspective following his winner's interview. More importantly, he ticks absolutely every box. He owns the perfect draw shape from the tee that gives an edge around Augusta and is also equipped with the towering approach shots needed here – further emphasised in Phoenix. Fowler owns 4 top 12 finishes here at Augusta including a top 5, and also a runner up last season. Perhaps most importantly he is one of the best short holer-putters on the tour and ranks 8th in strokes gained-putting this season. He's simmering just nicely after a warm up in Texas and if the wind is slightly up as expected he also has an edge in this department.
Bryson De Chambeau – 34.00 or 7.00 – ranks 11th in putting average, 8th in strokes gained off the tee, can own the draw and says the course suits. His small sample of form here is deceptively good and he tends to play well on specific courses. For example, it was as an amateur in 2016 he hit a top 20 in Dubai and he went back there to win on the Emirates course this season. That's just 1 of 5 wins for Bryson, mostly in elite company, in his last 25 or so events. His 2 appearances at Augusta have provided 21st and 38th place finishes but in 2016 (again as an amateur) he was paired with Spieth who led, and Bryson was just 1 shot back until a disastrous final hole on day 2. I've been loving the drift on "The Professor" over the last few weeks.
"I’m excited. I can’t wait, honestly. It’s a golf course that suits my game really well "
Tony Finau – 34.00 or 7.50 – has a stellar major record and actually managed to produce 3 top 10s in the first 3 majors of 2018. He also owns a previous top 10 in the PGA Championship. What's more, his top 10 at Augusta on his debut last season was with a sprained ankle he picked up in practice in the par 3. Like Bryson, the big man has been on the drift given a few iffy performances of late but last week at the Valero, I don't think TPC San Antonio really suited his game. Finau was 4th in driving distance on the PGA tour in 2018 and sits 13th so far this season. The big man ranks an eye-catching 21st in putting from 10-15 feet. He lost -2.639 strokes gained-putting at Valero so don't expect the flat stick to be so cold again this week.
"Length helps me everywhere I play, especially here at Augusta. But you have to have touch and you have to have good putting skills, and I feel like those are things that I’ve been able to sharpen throughout my career "
This is Augusta National.
Flowers are pruned every other day.
Curbs are hand-painted for miles.
Bunkers require a team.
Fairways ask for an armada.
This is the Masters Tournament. pic.twitter.com/7rKhpgTPIe
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 9, 2019
Jon Rahm – 15.00 or 5.00 – was always going to be added to my staking plan if the conditions were right this year. They are. Rahm has been talking about being aggressive in a recent interview during the Players Championship. He said he was "hitting it long and hitting it high from approaches" and mentioned he prefers it a little softer so he can take out the pins. The Spaniard is 2nd in strokes gained off the tee and 15th in putting from inside 10ft. He was 5th in strokes gained approach at the Players Championship, having led that stat and the tournament going into the final day. The Beefy steak eater is a streaky putter and although he plays predominantly with a fade, he can easily draw the ball and says: "So a place like this is perfect for someone like me. And then, anyway, it’s one of those places that as soon as you come here, just my eye, it suits my eye perfectly."
Under the radar
There are always some solid under the radar bets at Augusta and while previously the rookie / those lacking course experience angle was one to avoid, it's now very much one to attack, especially in the submarkets. Some other big priced guys with experience also fall into this category.
I've already mentioned Brandt Snedeker and I think he could be a dark horse in the outright at 80.00 or 7.00 the top 10 with Unibet, but the course specialist also appeals in the first round leader market (61.00). The 38-year-old is on record saying how much this tournament means to him and as previously mentioned, he knows how to navigate Augusta more than most. It's on and around these greens though where he has his biggest advantage, ranking 11th in strokes gained-putting, 6th in strokes gained around the green and 4th in putting from inside 10 feet. Sneds has also recently returned to his old swing coach which has seen his form improve.
Keegan Bradley and Haotong Li have been on my radar all season and I've been dabbling on them antepost for the Masters. Keegan is 66/1 ew in the first round leader market with Unibet but could even be a live dark horse to win the Green Jacket at 100.0. Bradley ranks 6th in total driving, 5th strokes-gained approach, and 17th in proximity to the hole. Putting lets him down but he's opened 68 or better in each of his last 8 stroke play events, including with a 65 at the Players. He also closed with a 65 in WGC Mexico. Keegan is one of the streakiest players in golf and can go deep on any given day – he just needs to put 4 rounds together. I've also noticed he is using a sling draw of late which really caught my attention for this Masters week.
Haotong Li – 126.00 to win, 5.00 for a top 20 or 81.00 ew for the first round lead has been on my radar all season and I feel he's a perfect match for the Augusta course and set up. Li opened with a 69 en route to a t32 finish in his Masters' debut last season. The Chinese prospect beat Rory head to head down the stretch in Dubai and has also won the Volvo China Open on the European Tour. Li was in the final group with Dustin Johnson in Saudi Arabia recently and he's already proven he is not phased by the big occasion. This is further backed up by a 3rd in the Open Championship. Haotong was 9th in Driving Distance at Valero and t14 in Greens in reg. He's 3rd in strokes gained off the tee and 3rd in putts per round on the European Tour. This boy is a streaky putter who gives it an almighty rip off the tee and flies it high into the pins – watch out this week.