The pre Masters warm up, The Vivint Houston Open proved to be a cracking event and there is no doubt that the Tom Doak redesign of Memorial Park is a welcome addition to the PGA Tour.
From our point of view it wasn’t quite our week as Aaron Wise who had been on the fringes of contention throughout for us stalled on the back nine on Sunday to slip one shot out of the places.
To rub salt in to the wound the event was won by Carlos Ortiz who was one of our sub $7K DK selections...unfortunately though the Mexican did not carry a bean of our money.
It should be said though that regardless of the tinge of frustration from our end of things it was a fantastic performance from Ortiz who looked really composed down the stretch in seeing off Dustin Johnson on the way to his first tour title.
In addition as I noted on twitter on Sunday evening the victory for the Texan based Ortiz was another big win for those who focus on areas like course suitability and comfortability in the region over course form, following on from the wins of desert specialist Laird and the King of short coastal tracks Brian Gay.
Anyway we move on and what a week it promises to be as we head in to one of the most eagerly anticipated weeks of the year in the golfing calendar…. It’s Masters week…In November….
Like everything else about 2020 the idea of the Masters taking place in November is of course a bizarre one to say the least. Credit though must go to all involved in getting the show to go on and by this time next week the 84th Masters Champion will be starting there five month reign, giving them barely time to plan a Champions Dinner menu before they have to contemplate fitting someone else with a Green Jacket.
So the question is on a practical level how different will this year in Augusta feel to any other? Well, firstly of course there will be no Patrons on site, which will compared to normal undoubtedly give the atmosphere an eerie feel with the famous Sunday roars lacking.
Secondly, in a break from the norm we will see a two tee start over the first two days to allow for more limited daylight at this time of year. The aim is then to have a traditional one tee start on Saturday, albeit with a 5pm local time finish to tie in with a subsequent College Football broadcast, before reverting to a two tee start on Sunday.
The reason for Sundays two tee start is that the final round is set to conclude by 3pm Eastern time to accommodate TV scheduling for the NFL games taking place later that day….Bobby Jones would be turning in his grave…
Finally due to the absence of fans and the overall Covid-19 climate, the traditional Wednesday Par 3 contest has been cancelled.
So a very different feel then but ultimately it is the same golf course and I am sure that once the players get down to business on Thursday the bulk of this will be forgotten and the focus will purely be on the battle to bag the Green Jacket.
The betting market at the time of writing is headed up by Brryson Dechambeau who of course landed his first Major at Winged Foot in September and with all the talk of how he will crush Augusta with his new 48-inch driver he is the only player quoted at single figure odds.
Behind Bryson we then have the ‘big four’ of world number one Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas and the market is finding it hard to separate this quartet.
Augusta National is a Par 72 which officially plays to 7475 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 be ‘on’ with your iron play to find the 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.
So lets take a look at the recent winners.
2019 Tiger Woods
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
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 the 2018 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. It should be said though that last years winner Tiger Woods arrived here as a 16-1 shot.
Five of the last ten winners had already won an event that calendar year with Woods, Reed and Adam Scott being the most recent not to have done so. This year of course though this is much more likely to be the case with the event being played in November not April.
As we know some experience of the course here is vital with no rookie having won 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 finishing 2nd the year before.
As for recent form coming in to the event this historically can also be seen as quite key with all of the last ten winners having posted a top fifteen finish on Tour in March or April. This year again though of course with the scheduling change leading to players tweaking their schedules to start the new season it is possible we could see a winner who has had a quitter build up over September and October.
Finally, and not good news for Dustin Johnson backers, no players ranked world number one going in to the week have won here over the past ten years.
As I write the forecast looks fairly unsettled throughout the week with the threat of rain and storms in the air for every day. Unfortunately therefore we may well be looking at some interruptions.
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.
Temperatures look set to peak in the mid to high 70s although I would expect it to be cooler in the mornings. Wind does not look to be too much of an issue with nothing more than ten mph forecast over the first three days although Sunday does show the possibility of gusts up to 15 mph.
As I always so though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
RORY MCILROY – 14-1 - 3pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 5th
In all honesty like any event where all of the games big names tee it up these days I have found this a very tricky one to call.
I could sit here and make a very strong case for anyone of Rahm, Johnson and Thomas based on their recent form and their historical form at Augusta and no one could argue with me. Anyone of them could win and no one including me would be surprised if one of them did.
Ultimately then in this situation you have to go with your gut feeling and it is that, which has firstly made it easiest for me to dismiss Dechambeau out of the market leaders.
Don’t get me wrong his achievements of late have been nothing short of sensational and if I was clutching a fancy priced e/w ticket from earlier in the year I would of course be pleased, however my gut feeling is [back to that again!] that he may well struggle this week with all the hype and expectation on him and the pressure he will be putting on himself to follow up his Winged Foot victory.
Bryson is a special talent and it is quite possible that come Sunday he will have made these comments look stupid but I’m more than happy to pass at single figure odds.
Conversely the man who comes in under the radar for me and I am happy to start off our team with is Rory McIlroy.
As is well documented Rory needs a Green Jacket to complete the Grand Slam and there is no doubt the added pressure of this has affected his performances over recent years here, particularly in 2018 when he teed off in the final group on Sunday.
This year however with everything that has transpired my hunch is that a switch to a November Masters could end up suiting the Northern Irishman.
There are undoubtedly two ways of looking at this. Had the world continued as normal unless something really amiss had happened in the latter part of March Rory would have driven up Magnolia Lane as the in-form player as at the time of the tours suspension at Sawgrass he had not failed to finish in the top five in his first six starts of the 19/20 campaign on the PGA Tour. All eyes would have been on him and allowing for the form he was in he may have delivered. Equally though the pressure and scrutiny could have been his undoing again.
This of course we will never know the answer to but the situation we have instead is that Rory drives up Magnolia Lane having struggled through the bulk of the PGA Tour since it’s restart since June, with motivation due to a lack of fans being an issue by his own admission.
Of late though there have been some really positive signs and this is the main reason I am happy to hang my hat on Rory this week.
Firstly he started the 20/21 campaign with an eighth place finish at Winged Foot, which was his best result since the Tour’s resumption. Then and perhaps most significantly after a 21st-place finish at the CJ Cup after opening with a 73 at the Zozo Championship he progressed really strongly through the remainder of the event gaining nearly eight shots on the field from tee to green and four and a half in approach play over the weekend. Exactly what we want to see for this week.
Moving on and with anticipated softer conditions in the forecast you would have to think that a longer and wetter Augusta from tee to green will suit Rory.
McIlroy as we know has become afFather for the first time lately and there is no doubt that once this became public knowledge shortly before the birth his distraction/lack of motivation at times on the course through the Summer made a lot more sense, as it was totally understandable why his thoughts were wandering elsewhere.
Now however as we know is often the case it may well be that having become a father he will have a slightly different perspective on things as he arrives once again in Augusta in search of the Grand Slam and I see this as a positive. In addition as noted earlier although he will naturally get plenty of media scrutiny with all eyes on Bryson, DJ, Rahm etc he should feel a little less in the spotlight than normal.
All in all as I started off by saying allowing for the quality at the top of the market we are splitting hairs here and it comes down to gut feeling and my feeling is that this could well be the week that Rory adds the coveted Green Jacket to his closet.
BROOKS KOEPKA – 16-1 – 2pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 7th
Following on with my theme of siding with players who may just have timed their run to perfection my next cab off the rank this week is Brooks Koepka.
Koepka as no readers will need me to tell them has made his career over recent years in mastering the art of peaking for the biggest events, specifically the Majors.
A back to back US Open Champion and a back to back PGA Champion time and again Brooks has looked fairly ordinary in the build up to ‘the big one’s’ before producing a strong effort the week before and then posting a victory when it matters.
The last twelve months or so as we know have been slightly different for the four time Major Champion as he has struggled for form whilst battling with a knee injury.
The fact remains though that even in the midst of his struggles Koepka managed to find a way to get competitive leading in to the PGA Championship at Harding Park and only an uncharacteristically poor Sunday saw him blot his recent Major copy book as he stumbled out of contention.
As we know though Brooks was still in the midst of his knee problem at that time and shortly after that week he took the decision to ‘shut it down’ for two months in an effort to rehab the problem.
As a result Koepka missed winged foot and resurfaced with a solid 28th place at the CJ Cup.
It was last week however in Houston that the signs were really there for us all to see as Brooks posted back to back 65s over the weekend at the tough Memorial Park to vault up the leader board to a fifth place finish.
There is no doubt that to win this week Brooks will need to make further progress mainly in his iron play which was still up and down on Sunday. However the putter looked in great shape as did the driver over the weekend, which significantly was his original long term driver, which he put back in the bag for the weekend after trying a new one over the first couple of days, something which Brooks said afterwards he felt cost him the tournament.
Looking at Koepka’s record at Augusta and it is eye-catchingly progressive, improving every year up to his second place last time here. From that point of view we know that he has what it takes to win at Augusta.
All in all at a few points bigger than the others I am more than happy to have the master of Major’s with four to his name on my side.
JUSTIN ROSE – 55-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 23rd
Heading further down the betting and my third pick this week is Justin Rose.
Last year Rose arrived at Augusta as one of the top couple of players in the world rankings and as one of the market leaders, and with his exemplary Masters record there were many who felt 2019 would be the year he would finally bag a Green Jacket.
Golf being the game it is though Justin was packing his bags on Friday evening as he missed the cut at Augusta for the first time in his career.
Eighteen months down the line and things have not particularly gone to plan for Justin in the ensuing time and last season’s 91st place finish in the Fedex Cup standings represented his worst return in many a campaign.
Despite all this though Rose has still turned in some decent performances through the summer and we only need to go back two Majors to see him at ninth place in the final standings at the PGA Championship.
More recently and after missing the cut in his first start of the new season at Winged Foot and posting a 37th place finish back on English soil at Wentworth Justin struggled at Shadow Creek before playing solidly at the Zozo Championship finishing in 17th place with three rounds of 67 to his name.
Looking at Justin’s stats at Sherwood CC and he had a great day with the putter on Thursday gaining over three shots on the field while his best day in the long game department was Sunday when he gained just under three shots from tee to green and just over two shots in approach play. In essence then the week was symptomatic of his year as a whole where he has played some good stuff in patches but as a whole has struggled to put four rounds together.
All of this of course is reflected in Rose’s odds for the week and it is this along with his record at Augusta, which entices me to get involved at the quotes on offer.
Until last years missed cut Justin had been a model of consistency here and while there is no doubt he has performed well here when arriving in good form he has also performed well here when arriving in a slump notably in 2015 when he finished second here after missing three of his five cuts on US soil that year and producing nothing better than 37th.
There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a struggle for Rose on the golf course and it has certainly been a year of transition for him as he has made equipment changes, ended his long term permanent partnership with Sean Foley and is in the process of moving his family back to England where his son is attending school.
Rose talked positively though at the beginning of his two week stretch in Vegas about how he was enjoying the challenge of the battle to get back on track and how he was looking to use that fortnight to trend in the right direction to Augusta. From that point of view he will have been happy with the progress he made at Sherwood CC and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance that he can build on that this week.
CAMERON SMITH – 70 -1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 2nd
For my final pick this week I am going to side with young Aussie Cameron Smith.
Smith seems to have built a pattern over recent seasons of playing well in the early part of the calendar year, going AWOL in the summer and then coming back to life with a bang towards the end of the year, and once again he is producing a similar run towards the end of 2020.
Cameron finished the 19/20 campaign playing six straight weekends and he has opened up 20/21 in similar fashion going 38 24 11 & 4th most recently at the ZOZO Championship.
What’s been particularly impressive about Smith of late is that his normally slightly suspect long game has been in particularly good order and he has regularly been gaining strokes from tee to green and approach play. Meanwhile his trademark putter continues to perform well and he showed this again ranking sixth for the week with the flat stick at Sherwood CC.
In addition to Smith’s solid recent play we also have his strong record at Augusta that he has put together in his short career to date as he has made the cut on all three visits with a best placed finish of fifth to his name in 2018.
As we know Aussie’s have a really solid record at Augusta over recent years as in addition to Scott’s victory we have seen some very solid performances from Day and Leishman and Cameron appears to have taken to the hallowed venue in the same way.
Smith is the sort of player you would not be too surprised to see win a Major one day and with this being his ‘time of year’ coupled with his strong form coming in I am happy to chance that this could be his year to spring a shock.
UPDATED 10th NOVEMBER
FIRST ROUND LEADER
PHIL MICKELSON 50/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - 1/2 point e/w & ZACH JOHNSON 80/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 8 1/2 point e/w.
Two for me in the FRL market the first of which is Phil Mickelson. Phil has obviously been struggling of late on the PGA Tour however as a winner only three weeks ago on the Champions Tour he obviously has some good stuff in him.
If he is going to find his game in the big league a visit to Augusta is high up on the list of places he can do it. My hunch is with the comfortability of returning here that he could well have a decent week and I fancy him to get out of the gates quickly.
Zach meanwhile is quietly regaining his form and he should be relishing a trip back to Augusta.
Fourth in round one scoring average on tour last season he has been making a habit of starting well and having finished eighth at the US Open recently there is every reason to think he can produce a strong opening day performance this week.
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - ERIK VAN ROOYEN - DK VALUE $6900 - WD AFTER RND 1 - DK POINTS TOTAL 10.5
Those who read my contribution to a piece for Sporting Life earlier will know I fancy EVR to go well on debut this week as I have backed him for Top Debutant.
Strong from tee to green Van Rooyen arrives here in really solid form and he could well be another in the line of South African's to take to Augusta and I am happy to have him in my team this week.
PICK 2 - JT POSTON - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 25.5
Another debutant this week is JT Poston. Poston plots his way around a golf course in a completely different manner to Van Rooyen however my hunch is that this strong putter will also enjoy Augusta.
Twentieth last week in Houston and third only three starts prior to that at The Sandersons Poston should arrive here in great spirits and he looks a good play right down at the bottom end at $6300 to fill out line ups.