The US Masters tees off today. As always, finding the winner - or at least a golfer who will finish in a placed position (top five or six, depending on the bookmaker) – is a daunting proposition. But if we bear in mind certain key factors, we can improve our chances of beating the bookies.
Form: Unlike the three other Majors, the US Masters is always played on the same course, the Augusta National in Georgia, so previous form counts.
Last year’s winner, Bubba Watson, also won it in 2012. The 2013 winner, Adam Scott, had finished second two years earlier. The runner-up in 2013, Angel Cabrera, was a previous winner, while the man who came third, Phil Mickelson, was recording his ninth top five finish at Augusta since 2000. In short, this is a hard tournament to win for a Masters rookie: you’ve got to go back to 1979 to find the last time a debutant won.
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Style: The Augusta course favours big-hitters: four of the last six winners were in the top 20 rankings for driving distance. Prowess on the greens is not as important as being able to hit the ball long distances. Augusta also favours left-handers: six of the last 12 winners have been ‘lefties’ and that's striking when you consider that no left-handed golfer has ever won the US Open.
Nationality: Americans have by far and away the best record- with 58 wins in 78 years. It’s now 16 years since the last European success and only one Australian - Adam Scott in 2013 - has ever won.
Repeat winners: They are a feature of the Masters. Nick Faldo won it three times between 1989 and 1996, Jose-Marie Olazabal won it in 1994 and 1999, Tiger Woods won it four times between 1997 and 2005, Phil Mickelson won in 2004, 2006 and 2010, and Bubba Watson in 2012 and 2014.
So… Bearing in mind the above, it would make good sense to include in your portfolio at least one American golfer and one left-hander - and to pay particularly close attention to golfers who are long drivers and who already have a top 30 - or better - finish in the event to their name.
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the likelier contenders…
RORY McILROY Best odds: 6-1.
Can the Northern Irishman win his third Major in a row? If he’s in anywhere near the same form as he was in the British Open and the USPGA he’ll obviously take some beating. But it’s worth noting that no golfer has landed three Majors in a row since Tiger Woods in 2000, and on top of that McIlroy’s record in the Masters isn’t stellar - his eighth placed finish last year was his best in six attempts.
JORDAN SPIETH Best odds: 11-1.
The 21-year-old made a brilliant debut last year when he finished second and he’s been in excellent form so far on the US tour this year, indicating that another bold show is on the cards. Whether his current odds represent good value is debatable.
BUBBA WATSON Best odds: 12-1.
The winner in 2012 and again last year, the big-hitting left-hander is clearly at his best at Augusta; however, the pressure which comes with being the reigning champion makes back-to-back wins hard to pull off. In his last defence of the title in 2013, Watson could only finish 50th.
JASON DAY Best odds: 14-1.
The Aussie has recorded two top three finishes at Augusta in the last four years, and in 2013 actually led the field by two shots late on in the final round. If we add the fact that he’s in the top ten driving rankings on the PGA tour, he looks a strong contender.
DUSTIN JOHNSON Best odds: 16-1.
A 13th place in 2013 is his best effort in this event in five attempts, but the longest driver on the US tour has been in cracking form since returning to golf after a six-month break and has to be short-listed.
ADAM SCOTT Best odds: 22-1.
The 2013 winner also finished second in 2011 and eighth in 2012, and given that consistency at Augusta he has to be worth an each-way bet at current odds. Last year he found the pressures of being defending champion too much, but still finished a respectable 14th. It’s reasonable to expect better this time round, especially as he‘s back using the long ‘broomstick’ putter which he used in 2013.
HENRIK STENSON Best odds: 22-1.
The Swede had a great 2013 but hasn’t been as good since then and his record at Augusta, while respectable, isn’t spectacular. He could go well if he's recovered from a recent bout of flu. But others make more appeal at current odds.
JIMMY WALKER Best odds: 22-1.
After an excellent tied-eighth place on his Masters debut last year, the late-blooming 36-year-old comes into this in great form as the only golfer to have won two tournaments so far this year. The big-hitter looks likely to give backers a good run for their money.
PHIL MICKELSON Best odds: 28-1.
'Lefty' missed the cut last year and could only finish 54th in 2013; however his record of three previous wins and six other top five finishes since 2000 means it's hard to leave him off your shortlist.
TIGER WOODS Best odds: 33-1.
You could say these odds are good value given that he's a four-times Masters champion who's still in his 30s. But he hit a career-worst 11-over par 82 in late January and given his current form (no top ten finishes since 2013), it’s hard to be enthusiastic.
PATRICK REED Best odds: 40-1.
The 24-year-old Texan has been in good form of late, but he did miss the cut last year and that reduces enthusiasm for his chances: the last 15winners had all made the cut the year before they won.
RICKIE FOWLER Best odds: 40-1.
He made the top five in all four Majors last year but the concern is that he hasn’t been in anywhere near as good form so far this year. While a revival can’t be ruled out, others make more appeal at current odds.
MATT KUCHAR Best odds: 40-1.
At the age of 36, the American is still waiting to win his first Major, but his record in this is good- he’s finished fifth, eighth and third in the last five years and has made the top thirty for five years running. Could represent some decent each-way value.
JUSTIN ROSE Best odds 45-1.
The Englishman’s record in this is good without being spectacular-he’s posted four top fifteen finishes, but he doesn’t come into this in great form and it’s now sixteen years since the last European winner.
BRANDT SNEDEKER Best odds: 45-1.
He has twice been in contention in the final round at Augusta, before buckling under the pressure. If he can keep it together better at the business end, he’d be an each-way possible, especially as he comes into this in good form.
JB HOLMES Best odds: 50-1.
The winner of last weekend’s Houston Open couldn’t come to this in better form and while this is obviously a much tougher assignment, this big-hitter does look likely to improve on his 25th position in 2008 - the one and only time he competed in this event.
LEE WESTWOOD Best odds: 50-1.
Will Westy ever win a Major? At the age of 41, time is running out. But if he were to win one, this would be the likeliest venue - he’s finished in the top 11 in six of the last seven years at Augusta.
LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN Best odds: 55-1.
The 2010 British Open winner came close to Masters success in 2012, when he was runner-up to Bubba Watson. On the other hand, he has missed the cut four times at Augusta in the last six years. At current odds, it’s tempting to have a small each-way bet.
PAUL CASEY Best odds: 66-1.
The Englishman has missed the last three Masters but he does have three top 11 finishes in the tournament to his name and comes to this in good form having finished ninth in the Houston Open last week. An unlikely winner, but it would be no surprise to see him have a decent tournament.
HIDEKI MATSUYUMA Best odds: 70-1.
The 23-year-old Japanese has finished in the top 40 in six of the last seven Majors - but the one where he didn’t fare so well was last year’s Masters when he missed the cut for the second year running. Still, he did post a top 30 finish in the event as an amateur and has been in good form on the US tour this year.
KEEGAN BRADLEY Best odds: 80-1.
His record in this is nothing special, but he does have a top 30 finish to his name - an essential for recent winners - and he comes into this in fair nick having tied for fourth in the Houston Open last weekend. He’s also in the top 20 driver distance rankings.
RYAN PALMER Best odds: 80-1.
The number six in the driving distances chart, the Texan finished tenth at Augusta in 2011 and finished tied for fifth in the last Major to be contested, the 2014 USPGA. A ‘dark horse’ who may perform better than his long odds suggest.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL Best odds: 100-1.
The South African has to be mentioned as a previous winner of the tournament (in 2011) but that’s about the only reason to consider backing him as he’s not been in great form and last year he missed the cut.
ANGEL CABRERA Best odds: 125-1.
The veteran Argentine is at his best at Augusta: he won in 2009 and lost in a play-off in 2013 and has six top ten finishes in the event overall. Definitely worth an each-way flutter given the odds.
BILL HAAS Best odds: 125-1.
The American has made the cut on each of the five occasions he’s played in this tournament and he has three top 30 finishes to his name. He shot a first round 68 last year to lead on the opening day, but then faded; even so his consistent record here makes him an each-way possible.
JONAS BLIXT Best odds: 175-1.
The Swede has to be given a mention after his performance in last year’s event, when he belied his odds of 300-1 to tie for second. He hasn’t been in anywhere near as good form since then however, which explains his current odds.
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