US Masters: Rose to bloom among the azaleas…

The first major of the year, the US Masters, tees off this week at the famed Augusta National.

The Masters is unique. It’s the only major which is played the same course every year. As such, knowledge of the course tends to carry more weight than at other major tournaments. It’s also a long course and thus length off the tee is important, while successful scrambling is also key.

Defending champion is Patrick Reed, who held off challenges from fellow Americans Rickie Fowler and Jordan Speith to win his first major. Only three players have successfully defended their Masters title – Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods. Reed is not in that class.

Favourite this year is Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irish star has had an ideal preparation leading up to this event. He won the Players title and has hardly been out of the top 10 all season. He drives the ball superbly and his putting has come on leaps and bounds. It’s all there for him, but we’ve said this all before and he’s imploded within sight of the finish line! He is the most likely winner, but we can’t take the short price on offer.

Instead we’re going to side with Justin Rose. The Englishman becomes the world no. 1 at the tournament and his whole year looks geared to peak this week. He knows the course well, nearly winning two years ago, drives the bell sneaky long and knows where to put his approach shots to give him the best chance on tricky greens. We think this is his time.

Of course there are others that need to be considered. We were very keen on Dustin Johnson two years ago when he fell down the stairs at his rented house the day before teeing off, ending his chances and our hopes. Now he’s still got an outstanding chance as he drives the ball a mile, but the rest of his game just seems a little off at the moment.

Jordan Speith has a fantastic record around Augusta. The winner in 2015, Speith’s average round is 70.05, the lowest in history of those players with 20 rounds or more. However, Speith’s game has been in a slump, not winning since the Open in 2017. There have been signs of progress, and he did come third last year, but we still can’t back him just yet.

Rickie Fowler played well in coming second last year, but we think his price is too low given the infrequency of his PGA victories. Brooks Koepka has been off form and is off our list despite winning two majors last year. And we can’t forget Tiger Woods. He is likely to be there or there abouts, but we don’t trust his putting over the four rounds, not at 14/1 anyway.

So Rose is our win bet, but we’ll also try to take advantage of the generous each way terms the bookies are offering this week, including 10 places.

We mentioned earlier that rookies tend to struggle at the Masters as course knowledge is so important. However, we’re going to take a punt on Aaron Wise. The young American was the rookie of the year on the PGA last year, having won the Bryson Nelson tournament. He’s unlikely to win, hence his 250/1 odds, but he hits the ball far off the tee and stands a better chance than these odds suggest.

Our second each way selection is Rafa Cabrera Bello. The Spaniard has played three times at Augusta, missing the cut once but finishing tied 17th and tied 38th the other occasions. Not sparkling, but he has been paired for the first two days with European colleagues that he must know well. That’s a nice way to ease into the tournament. It’s a punt, but there is a treble figure price attached.

These are our headline picks, but look out for some specialty bets tomorrow.

Recommendations:

Rose to win, 1 pt, at 14/1, William Hill

Wise 0.5 pts each way at 250/1, 1/5 the odds for the first 10 places, Paddy Power

Cabrera Bello 0.5 pts each way at 100/1, 1/5 the odds for the first 10 places, Paddy Power

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