To all golf fans, Happy Christmas. The Masters is here and there’s still just enough time to get some bets on indeed – much like the Grand National, I’m sure many of you have the buzz already.
The off time is soon and this late in the day you’ve already probably read a good number of previews and course guides, but here’s the link to Ben Coley’s excellent player-by-player guide to the field and also the Sporting Life podcast, both of which are fine efforts.
I won’t get into the details of the course too much etc but we all know how Augusta plays now – a bomber’s course with lightning fast greens – and we know the type of player that thrives and contends here regularly.
I’ll be looking for different variants of someone who can shoot long and straight, ace the par-fives, and who has an excellent short game too.
- Hideki Matsuyama
The typical first time winner of the Masters is below 40, has had at least one go around here that ended up in the top 10, is ranked in the world’s top 30 but not the World Number 1, and has a recent top 15 finish in a stroke play event of a high standard.
Hideki Matsuyama fits all of those, and is in very good form this season. The Japanese star has had seven appearances at Augusta, with a worst final finish of 27th, that coming when he played as an amateur in 2011. Some injury issues have prevented him from showing his best, including wrist problems, but when healthy he’s finished in the top 15 three times and he’s now close to his peak years at 27.
He’s gone 20 starts without missing a cut, and his last finish was his eighth in the Players, generally known as the fifth major, which is a nice improvement on a disappointing finish to the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Matsuyama has been inside the top 10 for strokes gained on approach in every single US Tour season and in 2019 no player had made up more ground approaching the greens, an extremely valuable attribute in The Masters – nine of the last 12 winners were sixth or better for GIR through the four days.
- Jon Rahm
If there is one thing that Augusta National is not, it’s a place for catching up. Only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won despite being outside the top 10 on Day 1 in the last 20 years, so I guess it makes sense that John Rahm nearly did so last year. Rahm came from fifty-fifth after round one with superb efforts of 68, 65 and 69, making it finishes of 27th and fourth. Had he not double-bogeyed the 16th on Thursday last year he would likely have been in the thick of the title fight on Sunday, when he found the water on the 15th by a matter of inches, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Rahm is a beastly player on the par fives. He has made eagles on three of the four par fives in just two appearances and chasing another one on the 15th ended his title challenge last year, although it was understandable he went for broke. That he finished fourth is a testament to his latent talent.
His form is clearly approaching a recent peak. He was 12th at The Players but had he not found water at the 11th or the 17th then he would have been a lot closer and since then he warmed up with a fine sixth at the Valspar Championship at Copperhead. Recently we have seen a couple of players win Masters without a huge amount of experience, defying the usual number of attempts it takes to don a Green Jacket, and Rahm is out of that top drawer.
- Brooks Koepka
How many players have a Major record as impressive as Brooks Kopeka? Since the beginning of 2018 his major form reads T11-1-T6-T13-1-T39-1, an astonishing run. The winner of the US Open and USPGA last year, he missed the Masters due to injury but his record around Augusta is improving, and fast – he’s T33-T21-T11 in just three goes and since his 11th he’s now gotten over the line in majors three times since then.
His recent form isn’t what it could be, but look through his record since 2014 and one will see that Koepka only really cares about four tournaments of the year and one of them is at Augusta National. He does have two recent non major titles, one being the CJ Cup in December, and he was second in the Honda Classic in March, so I’m happy to gamble that he can get his irons and putter working.
- Adam Scott
Past Champions and course specialists have always thrived at Augusta, and Adam Scott, a 2011 winner and 2013 runner up, has thrived since new rules allowed players to leave in the flagstick. Scott, who uses a broomstick putter, has been flying up the putting rankings this season – he’s now 14th in the strokes gained stats – and he warmed up for this with a 12th place finish at Sawgrass. He would have been much closer but for a last round meltdown in the Genesis Open, and if he is able to keep his mid-range putting hot, then he’s got the knowledge and cool to take all the beating and also a key advantage over other players too
- Bubba Watson
No course on the planet is more suited towards Watson’s legendary heavy bombing than Augusta, and the straight-talking 40-year-old might just defy age. Watson is already a two time Masters champion and had a terrific season in 2018, winning three titles and finishing fifth at Augusta, and now he’s finding form once again, finishing fourth in the Valspar Championship.
That was a great set up and his 17th at the Arnold Palmer wasn’t too bad an effort either in what has been a strong spring.
- Rickie Fowler
This is a shameful attack on the top of the leaderboard, but I can’t leave Fowler untouched. It is a matter of time until he cracks the major code. The Floridan has been one of the most consistent major performers on the tour – he has a top three finish in each major – and has quickly Mastered Augusta, with recent form figures of 5-12-MC-11-2.
Last year Patrick Reed’s stone cold finish denied him but he was also a victim of high standards – his finishing total of -14 would have been enough to win most (or 75) of the previous editions of the Championship. His last start at the Texas Open was a good warm-up and he’s crucially also won this year, taking victory in February’s Phoenix Open.
If he plays as he normally does, he can be in the mix down the back nine on Sunday.
- Charley Hoffman
The Masters does often see a big priced player make the frame, so having one onside is worth your while, and it can often pay to pick a fast starter too.
I said earlier that this is not a catch up course, and the lowest place anyone managed to finish in the Top 10 from after round one was 55th last year, that being the exceptional Jon Rahm. Apart from that only Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson managed to make real ground, and both are massive bombers off the tee who can make an advantage at the par fives.
Charley Hoffman has consistently nailed the opening round here – he is a combined -16 since 2015 if you only take his first round scores – and he is worth backing small stakes to be the first round leader and then the overall too.
2.5 pts each/way Hideki Matsuyama (28/1 general, 25/1 Betfair*)
2.5 pts each/way Jon Rahm (18/1 Hills, Bet Victor, 16/1)
1.5 pts each/way Brooks Koepka (25/1 general, 28/1 Hills)
1.5 pts Rickie Fowler (18/1 Ladbrokes, Hills, 16/1 general)
1 pt each/way Adam Scott (45/1 Hills, Bet Victor, 40/1 general)
1 pt each/way Bubba Watson (33/1 general, 35/1 Hills)
1 pt each/way Charley Hoffmann (90/1 Bet365, 80/1 general)
1.5 pts each/way Charley Hoffmann First-Round-Leader (40/1 general)