Well it was quite a Sunday in Houston. Beau Hossler played tremendously all week for us and on Sunday he looked calm and composed all the way through the round and put his foot on the gas down the stretch at just the right time.
It really did look like we’d secured a great 150-1 winner but it was cruelly snatched away from us by Poults when he holed from 20ft on the 18th.
After that the inevitable unfolded in the play off and I’m sure those of you who had joined me in backing Beau were left shaking there heads as I was.
Still all was not lost, far from it. We got a great place return and I suspect plenty of you joined me in laying Beau a bit on the exchanges over the last couple of holes.
Anyway, enough of Houston, it’s time to move on as the first Major of the season is upon us.
Yup, we’re into one of the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the year in the golfing calendar. It’s Masters week…
As I say the Masters is always one of the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the year, however this year even more so.
The cast of characters assembled who are headlining the field is a who’s who of the world of golf and without sounding OTT we may never get another Masters field quite like it.
After all consider the facts. We have the new superstars of the game in the form of Thomas and Rahm. We have the mainstay over recent years of the new young breed in DJ, Spieth, Day and of course Rory, we have rejuvenated Augusta specialists in the form of the 47yr old Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, we have Rose in the form of his life and then of course to cap it all we Lazarus himself, Tiger Woods, back from the golfing graveyard, less than a year since he was unable to swing a club and was undergoing rehab for a subscription painkiller addiction.
Turn the clock back 12 months and there was no Tiger, Phil was struggling and Bubba was nowhere. In the end there was also no DJ [although we were yet to know that this time last year!].
Roll forward another 12 months and who knows where we will be, but allowing for past health and increasing age there are certainly no guarantees we will have a fit, healthy Tiger and a full guns blazing Mickelson, never mind the rest of the cast raring to go.
So, from a viewing point of view we’ve established we have a potential Masters spectacle like no other over the recent years.
However, from a betting point of view there is no denying that we have a headache of a puzzle to solve that the late Stephen Hawking would have struggled to get his head around!
More of that in a minute…
Augusta National is a Par 72 which officially plays to 7435 yards.
The greens are Bentgrass and tend to run at 13+ on the stimpmeter.
The key to success at Augusta is twofold. Firstly, you have to take advantage of the four Par 5’s, 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 green and it can be almost impossible to get down in two and make par.
The greens are lightning quick and who ever wins this week will have made there fare share of knee knocking 6ft par putts.
So lets take a look at the recent winners.
2017 Sergio Garcia
2016 Danny Willett
2015 Jordan Spieth
2014 Bubba Watson
2013 Adam Scott
2012 Bubba Watson
2011 Charl Schwartzel
2010 Phil Mickelson
2009 Angel Cabrera
2008 Trevor Immelman
So what does this tell us? Well interestingly and perhaps unexpectedly favourites have a poor record here over recent years, with the winner tending to come from that ‘just below the leading pack’ section. For example last year Sergio was a 40-1+ shot, whilst the previous year Danny Willett was a 66-1 shot.
Five of the last ten winners had already won an event that calendar year, including all of the last four winners, with Adam Scott being the most recent not to have done so.
The lead up to the event and in to the week has been warm and dry, however as I write there is a 40% chance of a storm on Wednesday.
If this does materialize the course will player softer on Thursday and this will help to create the normal lower scores we tend to see on day one.
Due to the hitec drying systems they have at Augusta, within reason the level of rain that falls doesn’t effect the greens as they would at other events, as basically the powers that be can control the greens speed as they wish, to set their level of difficulty.
It is a different story on the fairways though naturally and a wet Masters inevitably helps the bombers.
After the potential storm on Wednesday there is no rain/storms forecast again until possibly on Sunday. This currently shows as a 35% chance. Fingers crossed this will stay away!
As for the wind the first three days are currently forecast to be fairly light, at around 10MPH, however Sunday is showing at present at 20mph +.
If the storms do stay away on Sunday but the wind materializes this could lead to a very challenging final day for the players.
In summary if the storm doesn’t materialize on Wednesday we are looking at a fairly ‘firm & fast’ Masters. If it does come in though this will certainly soften things up for the first day at least.
So back to the conundrum of trying to solve the puzzle of finding this year’s Masters winner.
As I noted above you can make a pretty strong case for every one in the top 10 of the betting market. The problem though is with most, if not all of them, there is at least one key point potentially against them.
Let’s take a look at some of the market leaders as an example starting with the player who heads up the betting [just] as I type, Rory McIlroy.
Up until Bay Hill Rory had been struggling with the putter for a year plus and basically looked lost on the greens.
This all changed though in one week after a putting lesson/tip from Brad Faxon lead to Rory holing everything he looked at at Bay Hill.
The following week though he was lack lustre again at the Match Play. So are we to take what happened at Bay Hill as a one off, or a sign of a great week/year ahead for Rory ahead?
Then we have Justin Thomas the winner of 6 PGA tour events since the start of 2017 including the most recent Major the US PGA. Surely this should make him the man to beat and perhaps it does, however compared to those around him near the top end of the market his record at Augusta does not yet stand up to close inspection.
And so we go on…Does Jordan Spieth's good round in Houston last night mean he has discovered his putting touch? Can Phil win another Green Jacket at his age? Is Jason Day under golfed? Can Rose get over last year’s disappointment etc, etc.
Then of course we come to perhaps the biggest headache of all. How do we view Tiger Woods.
The question with Tiger is thus..If you removed Tiger’s name and recent history from the equation and simply looked at his course form and recent form, he would be a must bet.
After all he’s a course specialist trending in the right direction, which is what we look for week in week out is it not?
Unfortunately though you can’t remove from the equation the fact that it is Tiger and his recent history that comes with this.
So the question is does he still have what it takes in contention, as he was undoubtedly a bit jittery coming down the stretch both at the Valspar and at the API.
With all that he’s been through and all it would mean to him would he really be able to close it out if he’s right in the thick of it on Sunday?
My own personal view is that I would like to see Tiger win a regular event first, before trusting him in a major at the sort of price he is this week and for that reason he is not for me.
So these are the puzzles we face and the decision we need to make is do we try and pick out the right man from the minefield that is the top of the market, or do we shy away from the market leaders completely and instead search for the bigger e/w value, something that makes more appeal these days allowing for the fact that some bookies are paying on up to 10 places e/w.
I am not ashamed to admit that I have been mulling this over for a good couple of weeks now and perhaps ultimately and not unsurprisingly I have settled on a combination of the two.
So here we go then with our selections for the 2018 Masters.
PAUL CASEY – 20-1 - 3pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 Finished 15th
I’ve got to be honest the thought of backing Paul Casey to win anything at 20-1 was something I would not have dreamed of until recently and I suspect I will take some flak for now doing so, however the more I have looked at things over the past week the more he ticks all the boxes for me. So let’s take a look at the case for him.
Firstly it has been well documented that Casey has been a serial runner up in the US since his win in Houston in 2009 but of course this all changed with his recent win at the Valspar.
It is still too early to say how much of a boost to his confidence this will give him, but you have to imagine that it is a huge monkey of his back and that he’ll be able to push on from it.
When talking about his long drought in the US I do also think it is important to put this in to context, after all it is not like we are talking about a guy who doesn’t know how to close out a golf tournament. We are talking about someone who has won thirteen times on the European Tour.
So we’ve established Casey is buoyant and in great form but does he have the game to win at Augusta? Well the obvious answer to this is yes.
His course form speaks for itself. He has been 6th, 4th and 6th over the past three years and this of course makes the place part of the bet very attractive.
Then we look at the key attributes required to win at Augusta and the two that come up over and again are Strokes Gained Tee To Green and Strokes Gained Approach To The Green.
In relation to SGTTG the last six winners have all entered Masters week ranked inside the top 7 in this stat on the season. Casey currently sits second on the season. He also ranks eighth in SGATG.
This time last year there were huge question marks over whether Sergio had what it takes to win a major and he was able to get the job done and I am sure Casey will take some inspiration from this and I really do feel this week could be the week he gets a Green Jacket.
RORY MCILROY – 11-1 – 3pts Win. Finished 5th
I am going to include in my staking plan this week what I guess could be seen as a ‘saver’ on Rory.
I really do feel that like Casey, Rory will have gained huge confidence from his recent win and that he will be very dangerous this week.
I am not going to go in to a big blurb about Rory and his credentials as to be honest this bet is more down to personal hunches and if my views were different I could equally make a case for Spieth, JT or DJ at similar prices.
In essence I feel Rory has shown more than enough over the years to prove he has the game to win at Augusta and I believe he will complete the ‘grand slam’ over the next 3-4yrs.
Will it be this week? I can’t be certain of course but he has a great track record of winning almost immediately again after a previous win and I would be kicking myself if I wasn’t on.
ADAM SCOTT – 60-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 Finished 32nd
Adam Scott is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating golfers of recent times, however he is also one of the most talented and his ability to win big golf tournaments including Majors is not in doubt.
He languishes in the betting market at around the 60-1 mark due to his lack of activity in general and certainly around the top of leader boards of late.
Scratch below the surface though and we see that his form has been quietly ticking over nicely through the Florida Swing and it may well be that he has timed his run in to form to perfection.
Revisiting one of the key stats for Augusta SGTTG we see that Scott currently ranks 7th in this category. He also ranks 15th in SGATG.
The problem of course is his old nemesis the putter. However the same question marks hung over Sergio last year, and it has been shown over the years that whilst of course you need to putt well to win at Augusta you don’t have to be a great putter.
The criticism labelled at Scott in relation to his putting is that he is lost without the now banned anchored broom handle. This however is not strictly true. After all two years ago, long after the anchored putter ban came in he had a stellar 2016, which included back to back wins in Florida.
We only need to look at Rory at Bay Hill to know that one tweak, adjustment, putting tip etc can transform someone on the greens and I am sure that the Aussie will have been working hard on his putting over the past two weeks.
There is no doubt in my mind that if he can have even an average week on the greens with his long game he can get in to the hunt and at 60-1 for a top 7 place I am winning to take a gamble this happens.
RYAN MOORE – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 Finished 28th
I’ll be finishing my Masters staking plan with three 3 figure priced players and I’ll start these with Ryan Moore.
Moore frustrated me just a few weeks when having eulogised over him in my preview for the Valspar he promptly missed the cut, before duly popping up with a top 5 next time out at Bay Hill.
As I said in my Valspar preview though I do believe Moore has what it takes to deliver at the higher levels of golf and I am encouraged by the way he has rededicated himself to achieve his ultimate goals over the next 5yrs of his career.
The results to his change of coach and new fitness regime have been fairly immediate with two top tens in his last four starts and he now returns to a venue he clearly loves and which he firmly believes he can win at.
Moore’s record at Augusta stems back to a 13th place finish as an amateur and he has subsequently delivered three further top 15 finishes including a best finish of 9th last year.
As a shorter hitter If the conditions do end up as being firm and fast this will no doubt help Ryan, however last years event started off after a deluge on the Wednesday and this didn’t prevent him from having a great week.
With enough experience at Augusta under his belt now, Ryan knows the track pretty much as well as anyone in the field and I believe the time has now come for him to move his game on to another level.
RUSSELL HENLEY – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 Finished 15th
As we have seen from Henley in his years on the tour he is not someone who wins two or three times a year but, when his game is on and he is in the hunt he is not afraid to mix it with the best and beat them.
The Georgia native showed this in literally his first start on the PGA Tour as a fully fledged member when he spread eagled the field at the Sony Open to win with a score of -24.
Fifteen months later he was at it again when he closed out the Honda Classic. To do this he had to take down Rory McIlroy in a four man play off. No mean achievement!
Henley’s third tour victory came last year at the Houston Open when, with the final place in the Augusta field on the line, he shot 65 on Sunday to overturn a four stroke deficit to cruise to victory.
Henley’s form this year has been a little patchy however he seemed to click at just the right time when he closed with a 65 yesterday in Houston to finish in 8th place.
So we’ve established Henley is running in to form at the right time however what makes him really jump of the page this week is his progressive form figures at Augusta.
In four starts in The Masters Russell has gone MC, 31, 21, 11.
Now besides the obvious numerical sequence leading us to a 1 next, the fact that Russell has improved steadily every year at Augusta gives us great signs for encouragement.
The main strength of his game has always been his putting but this has actually been letting him down a bit this season, with his approach play proving to be the strongest part of his game.
Last week however in Houston he ranked 18th in SGP and the flat stick particularly clicked for him in his Sunday round of 65.
When Henley won the Honda Classic he shot 78 66 in his previous event to miss the cut, however the sign was there from the 66 on the Friday that something had fallen in to place.
It would appear therefore that he is the sort of player who takes a momentum on to the next week and if he can do that here, when returning to a venue he has improved at every year, he could well surprise at a big price.
ZACH JOHNSON – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 Finished 36th
The final place in this years team goes to another former Masters Champion in the form of Zach Johnson.
Zach is winless since his memorable victory at St Andrews in 2015, however there have been signs since the end of last year that he is getting back on track.
In nine starts on the PGA Tour this season Zach is yet to miss a cut and he has notched up five top 20 finishes
Zach’s ball striking has been particularly impressive this season and he currently sits 10th in SGTTG.
There is a school of thought that Zach doesn’t have the length of the tee to compete in the modern age at Augusta but I don’t buy in to that.
In fact what is interesting is that Zach stats seem to show he has found an extra 10yds or so off the tee in the last 12 months and this is something I’ve heard him talk about enthusiastically in interviews of late.
Ten yards obviously may not seem like much but this could make all the difference when it comes to decision time this week as to whether to have a pop at 13 or 15 in two.
It also shouldn’t be forgotten that whilst Zach’s win at Augusta came over ten years ago now he has finished 9th here as recently as two years ago and a repeat of this would give us a nice e/w return.
Once again as seems to be the pattern with most of our team this week, surprisingly for Zach, the flat stick has been the problem this season.
However as I’ve said a few times in this preview already the slightest of adjustments could change this dramatically and if this were to happen and Zach got right in the hunt there is no doubting his ability to get the job done.
UPDATED 3rd APRIL
MASTERS TRADER - JIMMY WALKER Finished 20th
As has been well document Walker has been struggling over the past twelve months plus after being diagnosed with the debilitating illness Lyme Disease. [coincidentally he was diagnosed on the eve of the 2017 Masters].
The good news is that the 39 yr old seems to be getting back to full health now and is once again able to practice and work on his fitness fully.
Prior to the illness Walker was one of the top names in the game and notched up a hugely impressive 6 PGA Tour victories in less than 3yrs including a major championship at the US PGA at Baltusrol.
In addition to his wins Walker has also notched up a mightily impressive CV at Augusta having finished 8th, 38th, 29th & 18th in four visits, with the 18th place coming last year when he was already in poor health.
Now that he is returning to full health there are signs from Jimmy this year that his golf game is returning to where it was as well.
As recently as at Bay Hill three weeks ago Walker opened with a 67 to hold the first round lead before fading over the next few days.
In addition to this he had made two of his previous three cuts, which included a top 10 finish at Pebble Beach.
I am sure Walker will now be raring to get back to what must be one of his favourite stops of the year and I can see him performing well this week.
In addition from a trading point of view he is the ideal type of player to be on, as with the pedigree he has if he does start well his price will crash dramatically.
CURRENTLY TRADING AT 300