Monday, 3 April 2017

The Masters 2017

Augusta National Golf Club - the only course to host the same Major each year awaits the world's best for the first Major of the year where the World Number One, Dustin Johnson arrives looking to win four in a row and in doing so, capture his 2nd Major. He vies for favouritism with Jordan Spieth ahead of Rory McIlroy in the betting market. It's been a huge twelve months for DJ since he went off a best price 22/1 for The Masters last time, winning the US Open at Oakmont in June and winning another six times in sixteen starts since. He arrives hot, hoping to improve on his 4th place finish here in 2016 and 6th in 2015. He will face competition from Jordan Spieth who infamously "lost" the green jacket at the "Golden Bell",12th hole, when finishing runner up for the second time in three years to Danny Willett. Spieth sandwiched those two runner-up placings with victory in 2015. He will make his fourth appearance. Rory again goes in search of the missing Major to complete his slam and for me is the man to watch out for this year. Has Rory played enough competitive golf since returning from rib injury? Does he need to have is my question? He's not a bet for me here but I think we and Rory McIlroy are in for history making week.

Whilst last years installment was met with great excitement and anticipation, it doesn't quite feel the same this week with some of the market leaders arriving with questions to answer. Sadly, we may not see Jason Day in action due to his mother's illness and should he tee it up, it's hard to see him putting in an effort to wear that jacket that he's come so close to wearing in recent years.You could argue though, that now that the weight and recent worry over his Mum's health is out in the public domain, and the the recent operation is completed, he may be in better frame of mind and go on to excel in his first week back playing! Phil Mickelson usually thrives at Augusta but his recent form suggests he needs to find more if he's to win his fourth jacket  and he'll warm up in Houston looking to time his game to perfection. He can take heart that year on year we see the "veterans" continually threaten to challenge at Augusta but he hasn't won since the 2013 Open at Muirfield. He'll arrive with extra questions to answer over his gambling debts too! With the young guns now seeing to business on all tours, I would be surprised to see Messrs Langer and Couples perform well enough for a TOP20.

Just over a month ago, pundits believed Hideki Matsuyama had to "just show up" at Augusta, but his form has gone recently and with confidence dented, it's hard to see how his putting game can carry him to victory here - even more difficult to see at best price 21.00! There are a lot of question marks about, some more questionable than others such as the form of former winners Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and the defending champion, Danny Willett.  I've backed Justin Rose just as I did last year but you could question his recent form too. Debutants don't win at Augusta, Fuzzy Zoeller the last do so in 1979 but punters seem to think Jon Rahm can ! He's good, he's very good and the leading players may be vulnerable this year but history as shown the experience is required to outlast the field. He's ridiculously short in the market @ 22.00 Debutants can win of course and in time(over the next 10 years) I think we'll see a new Augusta trend develop. Far too many top class golfers about these days to right them off.

Sergio Garcia stated here in the past that he wasn't good enough to win a Major. Augusta may not provide him with his maiden Major but he has some form here to suggest he could. He's much happier in himself these days having found happiness and announcing his engagement to Angela Akins. But he's not for me here this week although is a strong candidate for the other 3 Majors later on. Henrik Stenson has decent form without ever really threatening to win at Augusta and following loss of form in recent weeks he can't be backed either.

Jordan Spieth will rally for this and he is remarkably strong minded and mature for his years to be able to cope with the demons of the 12th hole of twelve months ago. He'll be aware of course that some of the greats have suffered there in the past before returning to prevail.

It all points to a real opportunity for Rory and with bad weather forecasted, it may just be the chance he grabs to join the famous 5 and become only the 6th player in history to win all 4 Majors.He's just announced a new 10 year lucrative deal with Nike and will be in high spirits.

Dustin Johnson goes in search of his 4th straight win having captured the Genesis Open and two WGCs in recent weeks. Its the win at Riviera that brings extra confidence as Riviera form relates well with Masters performance. His Augusta form is progressive too and he arrives in the best form of his life. He deservedly shades favouritism ahead of Jordan & Rory.

Augusta Form and forming a betting Shortlist

The English team and Debutantes

Last year in my previews I went about culling players from the list to conclude a final shortlist. In my first preview "The Masters 2016 - Making the Shortlist, Part 1", I chopped Emiliano Grillo and Andy Sullivan from the off amongst others; I wouldn't be so hasty to chop these two this time round, particularly the former.Based on debutantes in the field, Part 2 saw Benny An, Soren Kjeldsen and Matty Fitzpatrick axed ! Whilst Bjeung Hun An missed the cut, Kjeldsen finished in a tie for 7th along with Matt Fitzpatrick. Grillo was 17th. It was in Part 4, where I spoke about the chances of Danny Willett. Willett went onto win on just his second visit on the back of becoming a father for the first time just days earlier. In that preview I opted to keep a quartet of Englishman onside and they didn't disappoint as Casey, Westwood and Rose all finished in the TOP10. It was some week for the English with the winner and 4 others in the T10 ! Can they repeat ? If Augusta form is vital then yes they can and their representation is bolstered by debutants Tyrell Hatton and  Tommy Fleetwood as well as returning Chris Wood, Ross Fisher and Andy Sullivan. Hatton & Fleetwood in the debutant market are of interest where Jon Rahm heads the market @ 3.50. The two Englishmen can be backed @ 8.00 & 9.00 where each way terms pays out on first 3. Thomas Pieters and Alex Noren @  8.50 & 11.00 respectively are also worth noting in this market and Noren's 4.00 to beat Henrik Stenson & Soren Kjeldsen in TOP Scandinavian market also appeals. I wouldn't ignore the 19.00 on Hudson Swafford in the first-timers category too lightly either

The Veterans vs the Young Guns

Jack Nicklaus is the oldest winner of The Masters at 46 years of age having won in 1986 by seeing off Seve & Greg Norman down the stretch. Mark O' Meara is the last 40 years plus player to win here in 1999. Can Phil Mickelson win his 4th jacket this week and eclipse Jack as the oldest ever ? He hasn't won in 4 years but has shown decent form of late but when he drives up Magnolia Lane this week everything becomes possible. The history of this age group in reality doesn't give much hope for Lee Westwood to break through despite his course form and same can be applied to Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker, Pat Perez, Charley Hoffman and former winner Zach Johnson. Paul Casey will turn 40 in July for the 2nd round of The Open at Royal Birkdale. He could celebrate that as a Major winner already as Augusta is a course that he has produced solid efforts on over the years (10-11-20-mc-38-66-6-4) 51.00 to contend again this year represents some value and with 6 places available for the price. Justin Rose though at 34.00 is my bet for the second successive year. I agree with him that he is about to click at the right time having played so solidly all season to date. At 36 years of age, Rose can add to his solitary Major here if he can raise his putting game. Tee to green he is a perfect match for Augusta, has the temperament for the big ones and will go close again.Brandt Snedeker is another of this age group that brings the course experience into play and he has a chance. But he's had them before. Its the group of 25 - 30 year old that I am interested in looking at here this year.

The Value Pool

Augusta and The Masters usually follows a trend and those that have proven form here tend to be on the leaderboard each year. Danny Willett broke through last year at a time when world golf is being dominated by 20 somethings but he did so on the back of strong early season results and of course the "nappy factor". 21 players between the ages of 25 and 30 tee it up this week which includes the Sheffield man, the only player in the group to have captured the green jacket before. Rory looks to join him. So too does Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka to name a few. Its Rory and Fowler I like most from this group and I expect a good showing from last week's winner and therefore final invitee, Russell Henley having backed him in 2015.

I backed Rickie last week and despite some mistakes he finished the tournament with another solid TOP5. His form this season cannot be ignored nor his Augusta form where he finished 5th in 2014 and 12th in 2015.(he missed the cut last year but I'm happy to ignore that one given he'd lost a playoff to Matsuyama just prior to this when he really should have won and it hurt him!)  At 25/1 he's proper value and cannot be left out of the staking plan. Apart from Dustin Johnson, he probably arrives as the next best form player.

Others to consider for side markets such as TOP10/20 are the already aforementioned Matty Fitzpatrick, Tyrell Hatton,Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren, whilst the likes of Matt Kuchar, Marc Leishman and Jimmy Walker are sure to hover on this part of the leaderboard.

Could we have a shock winner? If we are to, then Daniel Berger, Hudson Swafford, and Adam Hadwin could be the ones to monitor with Berger having produced a TOP10 on debut last year the more likely of the three.

Staking Plan 

1.00 pts win J.Rose @ 34.00
1.50 pts e/w R.Fowler @ 23.00 (8 places)
1.00 pts e/w P.Casey @ 51.00 (6 places)

1.50 pts e/w T. Fleetwood TOP Debutant @ 9.00 (3 places)
2.00 pts win A. Noren TOP Scandinavian @ 4.00

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