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It’s that time of the year again. The Masters awaits, and you can almost smell the azaleas.
Located in the state of Georgia, Augusta National Golf Club was formally opened in 1933, with the first Masters tournament played a year later. The Masters is held every year at this course, unlike the other major championships, and is also an invitational event, resulting in a smaller field.
The course has been modified many times by different architects during its history, but in 2006 was lengthened to 7,445 yards, to cope with the different demands of new technology. In 2009 the first hole was shortened by 10 yards, resulting in the current length of 7,435 yards.
Also subject to change, the greens on the course were changed from Bermuda grass to bentgrass in time for the 1981 Masters. This has resulted in very fast putting surfaces, allied with severe contours.
The lengthening of the course has played into the long hitters of the game, but the fast, tricky greens means that a good scrambling game is required, along with a trusted putting stroke. Course knowledge is also seemingly essential, given the last rookie to win this title was Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979.
The historic course has a recognised bias for a right to left shot-shape on crucial holes, including tee shots on 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16 and approaches to 8, 11 and 15 . This may explain the strong performances of left handed players for whom that shape is allied to the cut spin needed to grip these glassy greens.
With all this in mind, how do today’s leading contenders shape up.
Dustin Johnson 7/1
World number one and favourite for this event, with just cause. DJ is in prime form, having won his last three events, including two WGC events. Long off the tee and with a much improved short game, Dustin should be in everyone’s Masters thinking. Tied for fourth last year, DJ could well be in the mix this year although the last favourite to win this was Tiger Woods in his pomp.
Jordan Speith 8/1
Very few of today’s crop of players have a Masters record that can come close to Speith’s. The 23-year-old finished joint second in 2014 on his debut, won in 2015, equalling Tiger Woods’s 72-hole record of 18 under par, before finishing joint second again in 2016 after leading by five strokes halfway through Sunday’s last round. Has he recovered from that mental scar? Speith climbed to world no. 1 after having a 2015 to remember, and will need to recapture the precise iron play and red hot putting that typified his play that year to challenge again.
Rory McIlroy 8/1
Talking of mental scars, who will forget Rory’s final round collapse in 2011, shooting a 80, after leading by four after the first three rounds. A winner of the other three majors, McIlroy is one of the most naturally gifted players in the field, very long off the tee but will need to regain his putting stroke. If Rory fires he can win this going away, but consistency has not been his strong suit of late.
Hideki Matsuyama 20/1
Winner four times on the PGA tour, this 25-year-old has come close before at Augusta. In 2015 he placed fifth and was tied seventh last year. Matsuyama has already won this year, at the Phoenix Open, after which he climbed to a career high of fourth in the world rankings. Matsuyama is renowned for his exceptional ball-striking, but will have to have a good week on Augusta’s glass-like greens. Still, he represents Japan’s best chance of its first Masters winner.
Jason Day 20/1
This Australian came very close to winning the Masters on his debut in 2011, finishing runner up and setting a Masters record of -12 for the lowest score by a first-time participant. He has also recorded top 10 finishes in 2013 and 2016. Day’s talent is not in question, but having pulled out of last month’s WGC Match Play due to his mother undergoing treatment for lung cancer will the world number three’s focus be on the tournament?
Rickie Fowler 25/1
Finishing joint third in the Houston Open Sunday, Fowler is clearly playing well. However, he has posted only one top five finish at the Masters since his debut in 2011, missing the cut last year. Possessing a fine touch on the greens, Fowler can occasionally throw in a wayward drive. Additionally, Rickie’s traditional orange Sunday clobber would surely clash violently with a green jacket!
Phil Mickelson 28/1
Lefty is a Masters legend, having won this tournament on three occasions – 2004, 2006 and 2010. Possessing a marvellous short game, Mickelson has often needed to show this given his driver can go awry. There wouldn’t be many dry eyes on the course if he could win again, but, at 46, he would become the oldest winner of a major, beating Jack Nicklaus who won here in 1986 by a few days.
John Rahm 28/1
Golf’s new young thing, Rahm hits the ball a mile and possesses the sort of wondrous short game the Spanish have seemingly trademarked. Rahm has been the number one ranked amateur and has already won on the PGA Tour, and surely has the class to win majors in the future. But asking him to win on his Augusta debut may be too much – after all, this feat has only been achieved once before.
Justin Rose 28/1
Still in his mid-30s, Rose has seemingly been around for ages having burst on the scene as a teenager. The current Olympic champion, this Englishman has posted four top 10 finishes in the Masters, including a second place in 2015 when he posted the tournament’s lowest non-winning score. He can win, but will need to putt at his best. And maybe that best is behind him.
Adam Scott 33/1
Adam is the first Australian to win the Masters, when he won his first, and so far only, major championship in 2013. He has posted three other top 10 finishes, including coming second in 2011. However, the most recent years have been less successful, not helped by the change in putting regulations. That said, Scott will be getting plenty of assistance from his bagman, having linked up again with Steve Williams. The Kiwi was Scott’s caddie when he won, and partnered Tiger Woods to most of his major triumphs.
Justin Thomas 40/1
The 23 year old Kentuckian has pocketed 3 PGA tour victories already this season on the way to a world ranking of number 7. His one Augusta appearance last year saw him finish 10 over par, with a closing 71 his pick of the week. Despite good season form, he has missed 3 of his last 6 cuts and may just be in a mini-lull. His long but wayward driving is ok here, but a weak sand save statistic will be severely challenged around Augusta. He may need more looks at this course before he can compete according to his ranking.
Bubba Watson 50/1
Bubba is twice a winner here in 2012 and 2014. His huge-hitting shot-making left handed game is clearly very well suited to this course. So often, the challenge with Bubba is what’s going on between the ears. His form this season has looked distracted, although there have been signs in recent weeks of some renaissance. A reunion with Augusta could go either way, but if it further sparks positive improvement (and in hope that the organisers will outlaw his use of a pink golf ball) then his proven game could make him a huge price.
Henrik Stenson 33/1
The Open Champion makes his 12th Masters appearance. He has shown consistency here – 5 times in the top 20, but never higher than 14th. He started this season well, but two missed cuts recently has dented confidence in his game. At 40, he is getting close to the end of his top level shelf-life, and it is a worry that an iron game and putting stroke that should contend here, hasn’t delivered during those prime years. His high profile, and world ranking of 5 probably have him under-priced relative to historic course form and recent appearances.
Paul Casey 40/1
The Englishman has always been well suited to the US having studied in the collegiate system in Arizona. His form has been a roller-coaster as a pro, but when he has been firing, this course has suited, with 4 top 10 finishes including the last 2 years. He clearly knows how to play this course, and his form this season has been solid albeit not spectacular. His liking of the course makes him a clear contender for top Englishman, but unlike last year, that may not be enough to contend for the Green Jacket.
Tyrell Hatton 50/1
The young Englishman has been a revelation in the last 12 months, building on a good Open Championship to record a top 10 at the US PGA, and a run of good results on the US tour that his lifted him to a ranking of number 15. He has a superb putting stroke which could be key here. This will be a first visit to Augusta and it can be hard to contend here without course knowledge. Hatton’s intense on-course demeanour can spill over into frustration, and this course can mercilessly exploit such weaknesses. He will do will to feature on this occasion.
Sergio Garcia 40/1
Surely one of the most frustrating golfers for backers, Garcia will be hoping that impending marriage off course will see him shed the always-a-bridesmaid tag on-course. He has looked on good terms with himself this year and arrives in decent form. His 18 previous appearances have seen 4 top 10 finishes, albeit only 1 in the last 12 years. Given his consistently high world ranking, this may reflect putting issues on a course where that attribute is essential. He could still have a Major in him, especially this year where everything in life is rosy, but more likely on a friendlier putting surface.
Louis Oosthuizen 50/1
There was a time between his Open win in 2010 and finishing runner-up to Bubba here in 2012 when it looked like Oosthuizen could be a top 5 player. His world ranking has slipped to 28, and even with 2 top 10s this season he is now very much back in the pack of contenders. He has been top 25 the last 3 years here, but hasn’t contended since that play-off defeat. He has a great long game, but his short game still lacks reliability and he would be a surprise winner.
Brandt Snedeker 50/1
Snedeker has one of the Tour’s finest putting strokes. He has 3 top 10 appearances here and is on decent form again this season. That putter will always bring him into contention on these greens and it will be hard to keep him out of the top 20. However, ranked 170th for driving distance and 181st for eagles, he will always be susceptible from a win perspective here to longer hitters who can dominate the par 5s with power, which Brandt will have to match with wedge and putter wizardry. A likely solid showing again, but an unlikely winner.
Brooks Koepka 66/1
This huge hitting Floridian ranks number 5 on tour for distance, and number 11 for eagles (199th for driving accuracy being less of an issue here). He is a solid putter so has many of the ingredients to become a real Major golf contender. He has had 2 sightings of Augusta with solid finishes, so should be ready now to focus on the top end of the leaderboard. The reservation is the scrambling game – with chipping and bunker play being an Achilles heel. He will be at the business end of a Major soon, but perhaps not this week.
Marc Leishman 66/1
The big Aussie has been in great form this season. He crowned a series of reliable performances by winning the Arnold Palmer 3 weeks ago, followed by a strong effort in the WGC Match Play. His 4 previous Augusta efforts include 3 missed cuts and a 4th place. He has form on his side this year, and with serious health issues in his domestic life seemingly improved, he can recapture the focus that saw him contend in 2013. A lively outsider for the Jacket (XXL).