Let me describe a sporting event for you. An iconic event that take place in early April, seen as one of, if not the sport’s crown jewel, and perhaps its most famous event. It’s been won by the sports greats, and has produced several very similar winners over the years. The same venue is use each year and the same attributed are required to become successful; Some names used to dominate but the quality has increased and it’s now more open than ever.
That’s not the Grand National I just described, it’s the Masters and this year’s looks to be the most competitive in recent memory. 50% of the Green Jackets given out between 2007 and 2010 were won by two people but since then we have had an explosion of talent and the first five in the betting for the honours have all won majors before in the last 5 years.
They also dominate the world rankings and for many it will be a surprise for many if one of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIilroy, Jordan Speith, and Bubba Watson don’t take the Green Jacket this week.
Jason Day has been incredible. His strike rate on the tour is nearly 50% at this time of speaking with six wins from his last 13 starts and took back to back wins at Bay Hill and then the WGC matchplay. Breaking his major duck in the USGPGS has given him a new lease of life and his Masters record – he’s arguably unlucky not to have taken one – stands upto the closet of scrutiny. Second on debut in 2011, he came ever so close to landing the 2013 edition when bogeys prevented him from making a playoff and he was second on debut to boot.
Concerns with him are physical in nature only. He was struck down with flu after the Match Day and he did arrive three days late and vertigo took its toll on him during the US Open when he collapsed, but he got through the WGC fine and has had time to recover, if not prepare for the test ahead and even at 13/2 there is no fault with his price. Jolly backers can get eight places each/way with Skybet for ¼ the odds, a sensational offer and one that would have copped each time he’s contended.
Jordan Speith, last year’s defending champion, took the course apart with his showing last year after a runner up finish the time before. Spieth set the lowest 36 and 54 hole scoring records and he equalled the 72 hole record. He made 28 birdies on the week – another record – and he became the first man in history to get to 19-under-par at Augusta. If he hadn’t bogeyed the last he’d have tied Tiger’s record at the end.
That came on a rain soaked Augusta and the rain is set to be coming again in spades which should have the young Texan raring to go. He is not in the same red hot form as he was last year, but outside of a missed cut his worst finish is 21st; More of an issue is just how he lost his putting touch in Texas when he traded as a short priced favourite last week, before making a negative comment about just how he’d struggled with that aspect of his game. He should contend again, though, assuming he slays the tee enough to make up for it.
Rory McIlroy famously had the 2011 edition at his mercy before a final round 80, but he has grown immensely in the years since and has form figures of 40-25-8-4 around here. His game suits perfectly – and rain is good news for him too – and he arrives fresh after a decent season looking here.
However rain means length and with the weather gods chucking it down the power players will have the course at their mercy and few people do it better than big Bubba Watson. His credentials need no explanation. Twice a winner of the Green Jacket, he slugged it out for a playoff win in sudden death, and then in 2014 he shot a final-round 69 to win by three after overhauling a two-shot deficit on his co-overnight leader Spieth when he won by three shots.
That year he took apart the course from a firm track, averaging 305.62 yards, and was always going well in a bid to jump into the lead late as he did on the final date. As the 17th player to win two Masters Titles, eight of whom have gone on to win three or more Green Jackets, he fits the trends like a glove and the omens are good too. He won at Riviera when he took his second Green Jacket and a repeat win this year bodes very well. He’d have been shorter too if it hadn’t been for a remarkable up and down by Adam Scott to beat him at Doral and his match-play result can just be disregarded as far as I am concerned.
Scott himself can also be backed in a top heavy portfolio. Back to back wins after finishing second to Watson at Rivers show that his new putting grip and relationship with Steve Williams is working and there’s nothing off-putting about his preparation or the course record of a past winner who was a serial contender beforehand.
Three short selections will be put up for ridicule but Rickie Fowler is going to win one of these sooner rather than later. He has five cuts made from five starts here (two best efforts over the past two years) and has won four times in the last 11 months, losing the Phoenix Open only in a playoff. Improvements in his long game – he is inside the top three for total driving and it is second in par-five scoring averages – whilst his bogey avoidance is also vastly improved to boot. A close relationship with Butch Harmon has bought him closer with Phil Mickleson – the man who happens to know every blade of grass here – and his course knowledge, high scoring stats, and good form set up perfectly for a bold bid.
A rain softened Augusta means a Dustin Johnson charge and it’s not hard to understand why. A first time contender last year when he made three eagles in round two, he has learned how to get in the driving seat for majors with ease by now. His draw time is very favourable considering the rain. He was third at Houston and he was 5th in the WGC. He was in the top 10 of three majors last year and should have won the US Open in style but for a late three put that gave victory to Jordan Speith. He can surely go well as an each/way bet but the best angle may be for the first round leader. Dustin has held the lead after day one in the last three major championships and the 22/1 that Ladbrokes offer for 5 places is a knocking each/way bet.
Last but not least – I promise – I can’t leave Lefty out. Mickleson hasn’t won anywhere since landing the Open in 2013 and struggled in general for form during that time but he still contended in the USPGA Last year and the Masters again, and changes have been made since. A change from Butch Harmon to Andre Getson, worked on his fitness and this year in eight events, he has had two top-three finishes, and has only missed the cut once. Tour stats first in scoring average, fifth in putting average, and ninth in tee-to-green shots. His shots on Houston were geared towards Augusta, so 13th there was a big effort and he has every right to contend again.
We have to look outside the main contenders at some point so let’s do that and zoom in on Ian Poulter. He’s had his ups and downs but nobody scored better than him over the weekend last year (-10) as he finished sixth at 90. He shot just four bogeys all week in Puerto Rico when finishing third, has been practising intently of late, and has been in the top 20 for five of the last seven years here too.
He beats off Branden Grace, Chris Kirk, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Rose (who is in better form than last year), Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama for shortlist contention.
2 pts each/way Jason Day (13/2 SkyBet)
2 pts each/way Bubba Watson (10/1 SkyBet)
1.5 pts each/way Rickie Fowler (20/1 SkyBet)
1.5 pts each/way Phil Mickleson (25/1 SkyBet)
1 pt each/way Ian Poulter (100/1 SkyBet)
1 pt each/way Dustin Johnson First Round Leader (25/1 SkyBet)