Whether you’re a hardened golf watcher or someone who glances at the Majors four times a year – there’s nothing quite like the US Masters.
We’ll hear all about ‘Magnolia Lane’, ‘Green Jackets’, ‘Amen Corner’, ‘Azaleas’ and ‘Patrons’ at Augusta National GC but for me and all other golf fans around the world – the action can’t start soon enough.
The key to success here is two-fold. You must take advantage of the four par fives – particularly the 13th and 15th and secondly you have to play to the right spots on the greens.
Find yourself on the wrong level on the lightning-quick putting surfaces and it is nearly impossible to get down in two. Whoever wins this week will have undoubtedly made their fair share of knee-knocking six foot par putts on a course where the greens are controlled by a sub-air system and cut to an eighth of an inch.
As is always the case with the year’s first Major, we have some compelling story lines – none bigger than whether Rory McIlroy can finally win at Augusta and complete his Majors’ grand slam.
So, let’s take a look at some of the leading contenders and their chances:
The Northern Irishman has not finished outside of the top six in a stroke play event all year. That’s impressive and so is the fact he has not finished outside the top 10 in his last five trips to Augusta.
Make no mistake, he is the most likely winner and a worthy favourite.
However, under the pressure of completing the grand slam, my suspicion is that there will be someone who will find a way to beat him – like Patrick Reed did last year – so he is not for me at the prices.
Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose will undoubtedly be in the mix, however the trends are against Rose who will return to the top of the World Golf rankings this Monday. No World No. 1 has won at Augusta in the last 10 years and with the competition so fierce, I am loath to back DJ at his price also.
As for Tiger Woods he hasn’t looked 100 per cent fit to me since he withdrew from the API with a neck problem. As dangerous as it may be – I am happy to overlook him. So who wins?
I’ll start my team with Jon Rahm. Augusta has been a special place for the Spanish over the years and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Rahm is destined for a Green Jacket one day. He has the aggressive game required here, scores well on the par fives and has an exquisite touch around the greens.
His form this year has been incredibly strong – all that is lacking is a win.
He’s finished 27th and fourth in his two visits to Augusta and looks primed for a huge week at around 16/1.
Justin Thomas has been off the boil of late and Jordan Spieth just cannot be trusted to put four good rounds together at the moment so my preference is for Rickie Fowler to lead the American challenge.
He showed when finishing second here last year that he has what it takes to produce the shots when they matter most in a Major. He’s won already this season and his confidence is high. A first Major is not too far away for the hugely-likeable Californian and I am happy to have him alongside Rahm as our second pick from the top of the market.
The Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama. has been trending hugely in the right direction of late. His tee-to-green stats are off the wall this season and that is exactly what is required this week. His last four starts at Augusta have resulted in top 20 finishes.
And it wouldn’t be the Masters without a big priced each-way play. Augusta rookie’s have a notoriously poor winners record here, the last first timer to win it was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. However, one normally pops up in the top 10.
I have a hunch that the hugely-talented Aaron Wise could be a play at 200/1.
Wise has length of the tee for Augusta’s 7,435 yards par 72 and an excellent short game. At the prices he is is too good to overlook with Paddy paying 10 places.
*Prices correct at time of publication