The Masters may be the most prestigious tournament in American golf—perhaps in the entire world—but that doesn’t mean that all of its past champions have been dripping with prestige.
Some of them, in fact, have been downright obscure. Sure, Tiger and Phil and Jordan and Jack and Arnold have all worn the green jacket, but there are others who require more than just a first name to inspire recognition. You won’t find the likes of Trevor Immelman, Mike Weir, Charles Coody, and Tommy Aaron on the tip of most tongues…and if we show the champion’s list to our children in 20 years, perhaps Danny Willett will have joined the anonymous winners club.
And yet, because Augusta National rewards familiarity and consistency, it is perhaps the most reliable major of them all at producing famous winners. The Masters is a tournament where the rich get richer, and 2018 is looking very much like a quintessential “year of the favourites.”
In other words, it’s not the time to back a longshot, or even a medium-shot—if you’ve been tempted by someone like British amateur Harry Ellis, convinced he’s got the necessary magic to break the first-timers curse and become the first Masters rookie to win since 1979…well, my friend, take a step back from the ledge. You’re about to fall into a black hole of irrelevance from which there is no escape.
We are in the midst of a season where almost every big name you’d expect to contend at Augusta seems to be in excellent form, and at least one of them is going to strike it hot. Like it or not, there’s no room for the minnows.
Let’s start with Jordan Spieth, one of the few consistent Augusta juggernauts who actually looked a little rocky for the first part of the year. Then, last week in Houston, he shot -16 and took third place, guaranteeing that he’ll hit Augusta in excellent shape. Bubba Watson, two-time winner, has already won twice this season (including two weeks ago), and should be the odds-on favourite at a course that’s essentially tailor-made for him.
Jason Day, who has never broken through at Augusta despite several strong tournaments, won in California. Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill. Dustin Johnson won in Hawaii. Justin Thomas won at the Honda. Phil Mickelson won in Mexico. Jon Rahm won at La Quinta. And of course, towering over them all, Tiger is back from the dead.
You get the point—the alpha dogs are prowling, and that list of names doesn’t even include Justin Rose, an Augusta mainstay who has thrown together three top-fives on the PGA Tour this year, or Paul Casey (another PGA Tour winner), or a rejuvenated Sergio Garcia, or a red-hot Ian Poulter. Even Henrik Stenson has started to put up solid results in the last month. So tell me—how can any dark horse outrun that many thoroughbreds?
The answer is anticlimactic—they probably can’t. I just mentioned 14 names, and if one of those 14 doesn’t win the Masters this weekend, I’ll eat my hat. (Metaphorically—I haven’t worn a hat in years, and the ones in my closet are too old and dusty to consume safely.) But if you insist on spending your kopeks on an underdog, I’ll give you three:
- Alex Noren—I’m not sure he even counts as an underdog, but since he’s a little more obscure and hasn’t quite broken through in America, you can still get solid 45/1 odds. Along with Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson, he was one of the three best players at the WGC-Austin, and you have to look long and hard before you find a bad result from him.
- Tony Finau—Terrific game, huge hitter, great form, and seemingly always near the top of the leaderboard. The big red flag here is the lack of wins at big events—can Augusta really be the place where he breaks through?
- Rafa Cabrera Bello—Severely under-valued at 90/1. Paddy’s paying eight places, and Cabrera Bello finished third in a really strong field at Mexico this year, and is coming off a season where he put up a fourth-place finish at the Open Championship, and another fourth at the Players. He steps up at big events.
As for the favorites? It’s hard to choose between them, but these are my top five:
- Bubba Watson—It’s simply impossible to bet against him at the Masters when he’s having a great year. Bubba tops them all.
- Dustin Johnson—One major isn’t good enough for this guy. His time at Augusta is coming.
- Jordan Spieth—I’ve seen him bounce back way too many times to think he’ll deliver anything but greatness at Augusta.
- Justin Thomas—The form is just too good. It won’t be long before he’s the no. 1 golfer in the world.
- Justin Rose—will be shocked if the perpetual Augusta bridesmaid isn’t in the mix on Sunday
It’s going to be an excellent weekend for golf fans, and if you’re in the business of picking winners, obey what might be the most American of all maxims: Go big, or go home.