Like everything else this year the world of professional golf has been turned upside down. All main tours were suspended for at least three months, the Ryder Cup was postponed and Major Championships were rescheduled.
As a result we have this week a first.… The Masters in November. Augusta is of course Augusta regardless of the time of year and once the action starts the course will be familiar to us all, even though there will be no Patrons meaning no Augusta roars.
A par 72 measuring 7475 yards, the key to success here is two-fold. Firstly, you must take advantage of the four Par fives 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 as we have seen many times over the years it is nigh on impossible to get down in two.
So, let’s take a look at some of the leading contenders.
The headline act
Heading up the betting is recent US Open winner Bryson Dechambeau. All eyes will be on ‘The Scientist’ as he arrives at Augusta amid promises to hit the ball further than before with his new 48-inch driver. My suspicion though is he may struggle to live up to the expectation this week on the back of his Winged Foot success and I am more than happy to leave him alone at the single figure odds.
The other leading contenders
Just behind Dechambeau in the market we have the quartet of Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy and in all honesty it is hard to split them. Johnson has been on fire of late and after an enforced Covid-19 layoff he was back to business with a second-place finish in Houston last weekend.
Rahm also arrives here on the back of a second-place last time out and back-to-back top tens at Augusta, while Thomas, who tied Rahm for second last time out, produced his best Augusta finish last year of 12th. All three are a massive threat and no one would be surprised to see any of them donning the Green Jacket come Sunday.
The top tip
Sometimes however you have to follow your hunches and mine is that this is the week Rory McIlroy will complete the Grand Slam.
While there is always pressure on McIlroy whenever he takes to the tee, this week he arrives somewhat under the radar due to his recent form compared to that of the other market leaders, and the focus on Dechambeau. Last time out however at the Zozo Championship the Northern Irishman clicked with his long game, gaining over eight shots from tee to green on the field over the weekend, and it may just be he has timed his run to perfection.
McIlroy has struggled with his focus since the ‘fan free’ PGA Tour resumed in June and in addition he has of course had the distraction of becoming a father for the first time.
There is no doubt though that he has a game tailor-made for Augusta and with the suspicion the course will play longer and wetter than normal due to the forecast this will surely play to his strengths and with that in mind I am happy to lead our team with him.
The next best punt
Looking at those just behind the market leaders and the one who catches my eye is four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka. It has been a tough 18 months for Koepka as he has been plagued by a knee injury, however refreshed after a two-month lay-off he looked really good at the weekend in Houston on his way to fifth place. Second on his last visit to Augusta he looks primed for another big major run.
The each-way fancies
To complete our staking plan I will add two more in the shape of Justin Rose and Cameron Smith.
Rose, something of an Augusta specialist over the years, came closest to landing the Green Jacket in 2017 when losing out to Sergio Garcia in a playoff. This week he arrives on the back of a solid 17th place last time out and I am happy to roll the dice on him at generous each-way odds.
Smith meanwhile has been producing some great stuff of late finishing fourth in his most recent start and with a fifth-place finish at Augusta on his CV already the talented young Aussie looks good each-way value to me.
Martin’s US Masters picks
Top tip: Rory McIlroy
Next best: Brooks Koepka
More on the Masters
- 5 factors that will decide the Masters winner this week
- Paddy’s complete guide to an unusual week at Augusta