The pre Masters warm up, The Valero Texas Open delivered a fascinating final round with our man Ryan Moore getting right in the thick of things.
In the end Canadian Corey Conners became the first Monday Qualifier to win on the PGA tour since Arjan Atwal landed the Wyndham Championship in 2010.
It was a magnificent effort from Conners who recovered from making four straight bogeys to finish his front nine, to shoot 29 on the back nine to hold off Charley Hoffman and Moore.
Whilst naturally disappointed that Moore couldn’t quite get it done you cant help but feel pleased for Conners who earnt himself a two year exemption and a trip to Augusta, along of course with a huge bundle of money!
Moore’s sterling Sunday effort at least gained us a full place return, so no real damage was done and it is now time to turn our attention to the week ahead….
And what a week it promises to be as we move into one of the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the year in the golfing calendar. It’s Masters week…
As always the course will be looking resplendent with the Azaleas in full bloom and the greens perfectly manicured.
Regular PGA Tour golf watchers will also be able to relax and enjoy the golf knowing that no ‘patron’ will dare shout “Mashed Potato” or “Bababooey” as Bubba launches one off the 13th tee [as if they do they will be very quickly evicted from the premises and never allowed to return].
In addition seasoned golf watchers can enjoy our annual game of ‘golf commentator cliché bingo’. Yes you know the ones, “No winner of the Par 3 competition has ever gone on to win the Masters”, “It’s like putting down a marble staircase” and of course the classic “The Masters doesn’t start till the back nine on Sunday”, [which needless to say is complete and utter nonsense!]
The spectacle and history we will be presented with this week are of course matched by the cast and storylines we have coming in.
Rory heads up the betting market and is a worthy favourite as he attempts to complete the Grand slam.
Then we have newly re-crowned World No 1 Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson, who are both attempting to win a long overdue second Major.
We have Tiger looking to get one closer to Jack Nicklaus’ target of eighteen majors, whilst at the other end of the spectrum Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm look to pick up their first.
Then of course we have the enigma that is Jordan Spieth who, as we saw yet again in Texas over the weekend, seems to veer at the moment from looking like a fourteen handicapper to a top ten player from hole to hole and to be honest I would be no more surprised if he either missed the cut by six or won by six this week.
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 right spots on the greens.
Find yourself on the wrong level on 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.
2018 Patrick Reed
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
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’s winner Patrick Reed was a 50-1 shot, 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 Reed and Adam Scott being the most recent not to have done so.
As we know some experience of the course here is vital with no rookie having when here for many, many years [Fuzzy Zoeller I believe, however feel free to correct me if that is wrong!].
There is recent precedent of winning here after just one start though with Willett, Spieth and Schwartzel all doing it over recent years.
It is important to note though that all of these three had finished inside the top 40 on their Masters debut the previous year, with Spieth of course finishing 2nd the year before.
As for recent form coming in to the event this can also be seen as quite key with [thank you to @DaveTindallGolf for his excellent ‘Ten Year Trends’ piece.] nine of the last ten winners having posted a top fifteen finish on Tour in March or April. [Not unsurprisingly Angel Cabrera is the odd one out if anyone is interested!]
As I write [on Sunday] the forecast shows for rain/storms at some point today and on Monday and Tuesday.
Assuming this materializes even with Wednesday forecast to be dry 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 rain and storms, which are predicted for earlier in the week fingers crossed we look set for a dry Masters with the only other rain showing at present in the forecast being the possibility of a shower on Sunday.
If this comes to fruition by the weekend we should see a dryer, firmer course.
As I always so though this could all change!
So back to the conundrum of trying to solve the puzzle of finding this year’s winner and, before we move on to my selections a few words on some players who I have decided not to back.
You can obviously make incredibly strong cases first and foremost for Rory, DJ and Rose.
Rory is a worthy favourite and the most likely winner, however I am still bothered by his Sunday fallibility and with so much on the line I am loathed to back him at the prices on offer.
Similarly with DJ I am just struggling in a field of this quality to pull the trigger at 10-1.
As for Rose after all the near misses he has had here my hunch is he will just want this too much and now that he has returned to World No 1 he also has the hoodoo of no World No 1 having won here for over ten years.
We are of course splitting hairs here and anyone of the above three could make a mockery of these comments.
Rightly or wrongly I have found it easier in my mind to dismiss a recently out of sorts Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka, along with Tiger, who to me hasn’t seemed 100% fit since withdrawing from the API.
On top of trying to narrow the field down and decide who we are going to side with the other 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 can make more appeal these days allowing for the fact that some bookies are paying on up to 10 places e/w.
Having mulled this over not unsurprisingly I have settled on a combination of the two.
So here we go then with our selections for the 2019 Masters.
JON RAHM – 18-1 - 3pts Win - FINISHED T9th
First up for me this week is Spaniard Jon Rahm.
As we all know the Spanish have an excellent record at Augusta over the years and to me it is only a matter of time until Rahm adds his name to that list.
So the question is why do I think that this will be the week that he does so?
Well, firstly his form this season outside of Rory has been as consistent as anyone with the only thing missing so far being a win.
He currently ranks second in Strokes Gained Of The Tee for the season and 20th in Strokes Gained Tee To Green, both hugely key statistics this week.
He also ranks highly in Par 5 performance this season, another key statistic for the week.
The main criticism of course with Rahm is that he lacks the temperament for the big occasion and this was last brought in to question when he was seen ludicrously attempting to go for the green in two on the 11th at Sawgrass a few weeks ago from out of the bunker. A shot, which lead to a watery grave and put paid to his chances in that event.
Whilst this shot was rightly chastised I can’t help but feel the 24yr old will actually have learnt a lot from that incident and if he does find himself in a similar situation this week he will surely listen more to his caddie.
Following on from that disappointment at TPC Rahm bounced back to finish 6th at the Valspar the following week on a course that required a grind so his game clearly remains in good shape and I am more than happy to pass over his lacklustre effort at the Matchplay the following week.
Last year Rhambo started slowly with an opening round 75 at Augusta, however his final three rounds of 68, 65 & 69 were as good as anyone in the field and I am as confident as I can be in a field of this strength that he will build on that Augusta form and produce a huge week for us this week.
RICKIE FOWLER – 18-1 – 2pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED T9th
Alongside Rahm the other player I feel could have a ‘coming of age’ this week and grab his first major win is Rickie Fowler.
There has been a lot of nonsense written over the years about Rickie being over rated and there is no doubt that he doesn’t win as many regular tour events as he should do, however he is not ranked eighth in the world by accident and he has seven titles to his name across the PGA Tour and European Tour including a Players Championship.
In relation to his performances at Major Championships the question that follows Rickie around is whether he has ‘the bottle’ to finish the job off, however I believe he answered that question with his second place finish here last year when he hit some great shots down the stretch.
Fowler notched a win on the PGA Tour earlier this season when he showed great determination at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after he received a penalty in the final round when his ball rolled back in to the water after he placed it following a drop.
Since then his form dipped slightly when he finished 40th & 47th at the API and TPC however it transpired Rickie was unwell through that fortnight.
After skipping the Matchplay no doubt to ensure his Masters preparation was exactly as he wanted it he had the near perfect warm up week at the Valero to finish 17th.
Rickie has no doubt served his Major apprenticeship particularly when finishing in the top five in all four Majors back in 2014.
Now 30yrs old I believe his time has come, [lets not forget Phil Mickelson didn’t win his first Major until he was 33] and I believe he has an excellent chance of making the breakthrough this week.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 33-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 32nd
Another player who I cannot leave out this week is Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama.
Like our first two selections Hideki is another major winner waiting to happen who I believe has a great chance to make the big breakthrough this week.
Currently ranked 35th in this seasons Fedex Cup race the 27yr old has not missed a cut on tour since last season’s Open Championship and this season he has been posting top twenty finishes week in week out for fun.
Currently ranked second in Strokes Gained Tee To Green on the season the club that has been holding Hideki back is the putter, in essence he is one good putting week away from destroying a field.
Whilst ‘destroying a field’ is unlikely to happen at Augusta if he can find something/anything with the flat stick to improve this week on his current ranking of 183rd for the season he will be right there when it matters.
Encouragingly Matsuyama has finished inside the top 20 in each of his last four visits to Augusta. Furthermore his worst finish in these four top 20s was last year’s 19th place when he arrived here hopelessly out of form, having just come back from injury.
To me that tells us all we need to know, that Hideki has this place figured out, knows how to putt on these greens, and that when coupled with the form he is in at the moment he is impossible to leave out this week.
MATTHEW FITZPATRICK – 90 -1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 21st
Next up for me is Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick.
Call it a hunch if you would but I just have a feeling the Yorkshireman is set for a big performance this week.
This will be a fourth Masters appearance for the 24yr old and after missing the cut on debut he has finished 38 32 & 7 in the past three years.
Last year Matt arrived here struggling for his form however this year things are very different as he posted a second place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational just over a month ago.
During that week at Bay Hill Matt ranked 19th in SGATTG and 2nd in Strokes Gained Total. In addition Matt currently ranks highly in Iron play on the European Tour.
As well as Fitzpatrick’s recent play the other thing I like most about him this week is that he now has veteran caddie Billy Foster on his bag.
Foster’s experience with Westwood amongst others around this track will be invaluable to Matt, particularly if he does get himself in the hunt.
There is no doubt this former world amateur No 1 will be challenging for majors in years to come and with one top 10 finish to his name at Augusta already I think he rates as a cracking e/w bet this week.
AARON WISE – 250-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 17th
For my final selection this week I have chosen to go with another star in the making, Aaron Wise.
Like a lot of the early ‘twenty somethings’ on tour Wise is still very ‘hit & miss’ and in all honesty 2019 so far for him has been more of the latter than the former.
Since the back end of February though there have been a few signs of life from the 22yr old starting with his 19th place at the WGC Mexico, there was also a lot to like in his last competitive round, which was a 6 & 4 demolition of Brandt Snedeker at the Matchplay who had taken down Tiger the previous day.
We also saw with Wise last season when he came 2nd at the Wells Fargo and 6th at the WGC Bridgestone that he can find his game when seemingly not in the best of nick.
Wise is long off the tee and solid with his irons with his problems so far this season coming with his accuracy off the tee and with the putter.
With regards to the first problem, as we know Augusta is a venue that gives you a bit of leeway off the tee and I just feel that Aaron has the creative flare which long term will be well suited to here.
The putter is obviously a concern however his problems in that department are surely temporary and allowing for the way he handled the large, undulating greens on his way to victory last year at the Byron Nelson I just have a feeling he will take to these.
As we know Masters Debutants simply don’t win here, however more often than not one pops up in the top 10 and I just think that this hugely talented player will have a game perfect for this venue and can reward us at 250-1 in the e/w top 10 market.
UPDATED 10th APRIL
FIRST ROUND LEADER - CHARLES HOWELL III 66-1 1/2pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 & KEITH MITCHELL 80-1 1/2pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. - NO RETURN
With any value long gone from default selection in this market Charley Hoffman I am turning my attention here elsewhere and have settled on Augusta native Chucky 3 Sticks and recent 'man of the moment' Keith Mitchell in this market.
My initial thoughts were to side with Dustin Johnson here, however with the weather forecast predicting winds to be 12-15mph in the afternoon compared to a calm 6mph in the morning, I am reluctantly swerving him based on his late tee time.
My two selections though do have nice AM tee times with CH3 going off at 9.47 and Keith Mitchell at 8.41.
Charle,s as has been well documented over the years, is an Augusta native and you have to think he'll be on cloud nine this week having finally earnt a return to the Masters after a six year gap.
Since his win last fall he has been a model of consistency and he currently ranks 15th in Round one Scoring Averages on Tour and I can see him getting off to a fast start this week.
As for Mitchell, he is of course an Augusta debutant and therefore there is a certain amount of speculation as to how he will perform.
My hunch though is that Augusta will suit his agressive game down to a tee and I can see him making a strong debut.
Keith went to college in and lives in Georgia so he should feel right at home here and have plenty of support and I am happy to take a chance that he can continue his recent momentum with a strong start this week.
TRADER - AARON WISE - FINISHED 17th - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 150
Whilst it is of course dangerous to put plenty of eggs in one basket I cant resist this week putting one of our main team up as our trader in Aaron Wise.
Like our two FRL picks Wise has an early tee time, which is always beneficially from a trader pick point of view and a few early birdies would see his price drop quickly.
I have already made my case for Wise as a whole above so I wont go in to it again here, suffice to say though at the current mark of 600 or so on the exchange I see plenty of scope for trading if he can, as my suspicion is he will, take to Augusta on his debut.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 600