Saturday, 5 April 2014

US Masters 2014 - Augusta National

The first Major of 2014 is almost here! Whether its the first on the rota each year or its the fact that its the only one played on the same course every year, the US Masters is often regarded as the biggest Major of them all. No matter if it is the biggest or not, there's no denying that it produces some amazing excitement and some cliffhangers, this is one major that truly lives up to the  "tournament starts back 9 Sunday" tagline, as year on year we are sitting on the edge of our seats as the leaderboard changes constantly.  Twelve months ago, fans all over the world were treated to an amazing climax as Adam Scott edged out former Masters champ, Angel Cabrera in a play-off. It was the 19th play-off in tournament history and the 3rd within the last 5 years. (Cabrera winning his green jacket in 2009 in a playoff over Kenny Perry & Chad Campbell). Do not be surprised if we are treated to extra time again this year.

The cream usually prevail at Augusta, those that have course knowledge and  excellent form coming into the event. Course knowledge is an essential tool to have if having any ideas on winning, and its telling sign that previous winners have had a lot of experience before winning. Not just any old experience...but having produced real good results from Augusta in the past. Last year, Scott won his maiden Major. Previously at Augusta he had recorded two TOP10s the previous two years as well as 5 TOP30s in the 6 years before that. (only 1 missed Cut in last 9 years).

Other winners the past 20 years show a very similar trend -

Bubba Watson - 3 TOP40s previously
Charl Scwhartzel  - TOP30 in his start previously
Phil Mickelson - 3 WINS, 6 TOP5s and 3 TOP10s
Tiger - 4 WINS, 1 TOP5, 1 TOP10, 2 TOP20s.
Angel Cabrera - 3 TOP10s and 2 TOP25s plus the playoff defeat last year
Trevor Immelman - 1 TOP 5
Zach Johnson - 32nd the year previously
Mike Weir - 3 TOP30s in the 3 years leading up to his win
Joe Maria Olazabal - 3 TOP 10 s before first win in 94 & 3 TOP15s in between that and his 2nd win
Mark O'Meara - 7 TOP 30s in the 7 years before his win (incl a 4th)
Vijay Singh - 3 TOP 30s in the 7 years before his win
Nick Faldo - 3 WINS, usually always within TOP30
Bernard Langer - 2 WINS , 3 TOP10s and 4 TOP30s between that and his 2nd win
Fred Couples - 8 TOP35s in the 8 years before his win in '92 (incl 2 TOP5s and 2 TOP10s)
Ben Crensaw - 4 TOP5s, 2 TOP15s in the 8 years leading up to his win in '95

That's 16 players I've listed above. Nearly all of them served their Augusta Apprenticeship before donning that jacket. But its clear, that the winner needs to know the course and its clear that those that have produced multiple TOP10s here are serious contenders. We are privileged as golf fans at the moment to have so many young players exploding on the scene right now.

With Tiger Woods out though this year, who is the leading fancy? Phil Mickelson probably has the stand out Augusta form and, as I post this, "Lefty" is making steady progress up the leaderboard at Houston Open, suggesting that his game is coming nicely together for next week. So, what about Phil? He simply loves the place and is focussing on Majors now more than anything. 14s is just about a fair price.

 Rory ? he should have a jacket already - but he hasn't,and he's learned from that experience....he's playing very well at present but hasn't been closing out the deal...get off to a good start this time though, he may be hard to reel in. 3 TOP30s in the last 4 years and for me is the rightful favourite @ best price 9/1.

Of those not mentioned above, we have to consider Jason Day, but he too has an injury(thumb) and we're not sure how bad, it was deemed bad enough to pull out of Bay Hill, but it may have been precautionary. ( abit like Phils pulled oblique muscle??) Day should have won last year, he really should have, and he looked like the winner until the closing holes. He obviously loves the place too with a 2nd and 3rd in his last 3 starts here.

The US Open Champion, Justin Rose is a real contender this year. He too meets a lot of the criteria that matches the trend of Masters winners in that he has produced 4 TOP25s in the past 5 years. (includes 8th behind Bubba and 11th behind Schwartzel). Currently 28/1 - great value.

Sergio Garcia ? - Playing very well the past 6 months and has great form here too. As I post he leads in Houston...Is he peaking too soon ? 8th last year and 12th the year before - Has he the bottle to win a Major? He could have had a couple already. 35/1

 Also tied 8th last year was Matt Kuchar who also finished 3rd in 2012. Two TOP30s the previous two years indicates Kuchar will be comfortable this time round too given the consistency of his game recently. Again he too is in fine form in Houston and that Houston form counts for alot as the course is somewhat similar in setup, and in greens speed. It will be very interesting to see if he can cope with "back 9 Sunday" here as he has been very suspect in regular PGA events to date. At 25/1 he's worth backing this year

Jim Furyk has produced two TOP10s in the past 4 years as well as two TOP25s and he's going to tempt punters @ 90/1. He's a value bet for sure.

  As I go through my files, there are a few more that have shown consistency at Augusta. Snedeker, Mahan, KJ Choi, Westwood,  even Ian Poulter with 2 TOP10s and 2 TOP25s in the last 5 years, despite MC 12 months ago. But its the trio of Dustin Johnson, Bill Haas and Trevor Immelman that catch my eye for 2014! DJ was 13th last year when early doors looked like he was going to walk away with it. 3 TOP30s in the previous visits,to go along with his strong 2014 form means Dustin is my headline fancy. I've personally backed him at 33/1 but best price now is 22/1(on the back of recent form).(edit- as DJ had a disastrous opening round in Houston and eventually WD, his odds have slipped out to 25/1) In 2014 season, DJ has recorded 4 TOP6 finishes in 5 starts. He's matured alot and that elusive first major is coming soon. It just might be at Augusta

I tweeted recently that I was backing Lee Westwood @ 50/1. I did but he can still be backed  @ 66/1. Hasn't had the best of season up to now but is showing some signs of getting it going in Houston and next week is a different story. Westwood has the apprenticeship well completed in Augusta and if he sticks to his game plan and can take advantage of the par-5s which he didn't 12 months ago, he can contend.

Ian Poulter has the weekend off in Houston but I'm willing to have a punt here. He says he played nicely but made silly mistakes so if not doubting his form, he's certainly the type to shrug off the poor result and set about the task here. He has the added incentive these days with good buddies Rose & Stenson doing so well, it can only spur him on. 55/1 is decent price for me.

I'm tempted to back Justin Rose but feel he's not warmed up yet this season so instead I've opted to back former champions here in South African duo Charl Schwartzel & Trevor Immelman.

Schwartzel is in form without winning but he may relish coming up Magnolia Lane next week anticipating that next victory. He won here in 2011 and followed that up with a place of 50th in 2012 before another TOP25 last year. Hes in better form now than 12 monbths ago. Gets the putter going and he'll be in the mix. 40/1 is a decent price in my opinion.
Immelman is a big price and thats fair, due to a real lack of form the past couple of years. He did however make the cut here the past 2 years finishing down in 50th & 60th but previously in 2011 and 2010 was TOP15. In 2009 he followed up his win with a TOP20. So thats a win and 3 TOP20s in the past 6 years. I've backed him @ 200/1 on the grounds that he is comfortable playing Augusta and that in his 2014 season so far he has posted 3 TOP20s, and recently finished T26th at Bay Hill and T31st in Texas. He is currently in action in Houston too so will arrive well prepared. He's not without a shout again.

Bill Haas completes my staking plan. He got off to a great start in Houston and is one of the more consistent on the PGA Tour this season. From 11 starts, Bills worse result was T43rd at the Farmers ! He has 8 TOP25s of which 2 are TOP10s. At Augusta,his previous 4 visits yielded 20-37-42-26 and he too, like Schwartzel ,comes into this years edition in much better form than before. I've backed him @110/1 but he's down to 90/1 now.

So, with no Tiger and me being an Irishman, am I backing the right players? One strange stat to consider is, that of the 4 majors that Tiger did not play in since turning pro, all 4 of them were won by an Irishman ! Harrington (x2), McIlroy & McDowell. I do think Rory will go close this time but he's just too short @ 8/1...if he had closed out the deal when he should have last month then perhaps I'd be a bit braver.

A special mention to those who like to enter competitions to win free bets. the guys over at Golf Betting System run a fantastic weekly competition but they also some great cash prizes on offer for their Majors competition where before the first ball is struck at Augusta next Thursday, you simply enter the comp by selecting a player for each of the 4 Majors in 2014.Its free to play, its a bit of craic and the scoring is done on a points basis. Not in and you can't win ! The guys are so accommodating they'll even accept entries via Twitter, E-mail or Facebook !

For the record my entry is

US Masters : Dustin Johnson
US Open: Rory McIlroy
The Open : Dustin Johnson
PGA : Webb Simpson

Enter your selections here -
GOLF Betting System Majors Competition 2014


Masters Staking Plan (10 pts/units)

1 pt  WIN Dustin Johnson @ 25/1
1 pt WIN  Matt Kuchar @ 25/1
1 pt  WIN Charl Schwartzel @ 40/1
0.25 pt WIN Trevor Immelman @ 200/1
1 pt  e/w Lee Westwood @ 50/1
0.5 pt e/w Bill Haas @ 90/1
0.75 pts e/w  Ian Poulter @ 55/1


TOP10
1 pt T.Immelman
1.25 pts B.Haas