It wasn’t our week at The Valero Texas Open as unfortunately after a slow start on Thursday no one from our team was ever able to get in to the mix. After day one it had looked at though we might be heading to most if not all of our picks missing the cut however.
In the end four made it through to the weekend and played reasonably solidly from there on in, however as we know 25 to 45th place gets you nowhere so we ended up drawing a blank.
The event itself will be remembered for marking Jordan Spieth’s return to the winners enclosure, something, which he had certainly been indicating would happen of late.
It was fantastic to see the Texan get the comeback win in his home state and his battle with Charley Hoffman on Sunday made for great viewing.
A special mention should go to Hoffman as well as after playing his first 14 holes in five over par on Thursday he shot the best rounds of the day on both Friday and Saturday to get in the hunt.
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, Masters week.
Last year of course due to the Covid-19 pandemic the 84th Masters was played in November meaning the winner Dustin Johnson has barely had five months since he donned the Green Jacket to planning the menu for his Champions Dinner.
This year though I am delighted to say that many of the changes that had to be made for the tournament to go ahead in November are gone. The two tee start needed for daylight reasons is not in place and the Patrons are back, all be it in limited numbers.
As always the course will be looking resplendent with the Azaleas in full spring bloom and the greens perfectly manicured.
Basically and with no disrespect to Augusta who did a fantastic job in getting the tournament on at all last year, it will be the Masters as we know it complete with 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 betting market at the time of writing is marginally headed up by defending champion Dustin Johnson. He is then followed by Bryson Dechambeau, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth who all sit around the 11/1 mark. My suspicion though is that by the time we tee off on Thursday the resurgent Spieth will be all the rage and my well be pushing Johnson for favouritism.
Augusta National is a Par 72 which officially plays to 7475 yards.
The course was designed by Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones and was opened for play in 1933 before undergoing a redesign in 2008.
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 minimise your mistakes on the par 4’s. Strong iron play is imperative 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.
This year due to a combination of a reasonably early spring and I suspect a desire from the Augusta National committee to make up for last November’s untraditional softer conditions the early reports are of a firm, fast running course and win no more rain forecast before the start of the tournament I expect this to be the case when the players tee off on Thursday morning.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners.
2020 Dustin Johnson [played in November conditions].
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
So what does this tell us? Well interestingly and perhaps unexpectedly players right at the top of the market have a poor record here over recent years with regards to winning with the champion 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.
The last two years though this trend has been somewhat bucked as 2019 winner Tiger Woods arrived here as a 16-1 shot while Dustin Johnson went off as a 9/1 last November with Bryson Dechambeau marginally pipping him to favouritism.
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.
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. In fact all of the last ten winners here had posted a previous top forty finish in the event.
As for recent form coming in to the event this historically can also be seen as quite key with the last nine winners of April Masters having posted a top fifteen finish on Tour in March or April, while Dustin Johnson tee’d it up in November on the back of a run of 2 1 2 1 6 2!
Dustin Johnson also broke the hoodoo last November, which had seen none of the previous ten editions won by the player who had started the week as the number one ranked golfer in the world.
Looking at the winning score over the past ten years and if we put to one side Johnson’s 20- under total in softer November conditions, a week, which also saw Cameron Smith become the first player in Masters History to shoot all four rounds in the 60s, and the lowest winning total since 2010 was posted by Jordan Spieth in 2015 on 18- under, while the highest was from Danny Willett on 5- under in 2016.
As you can see this spans quite a range with somewhere around 9- under to 14- under tending to be the mark.
This year though as long as the weather continues to co-operate I suspect that while the total may not be quite as high as Willett’s we may see something more akin to that mark as 2016 was the last year the course played truly firm and fast.
It has been a reasonably dry start to the year by all accounts in Augusta with reports coming from the course of firm, fast conditions.
The forecast leading in to the week is also more of the same with dry, sunny weather, with temperatures in the 80s, showing for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Looking at the four tournament days though and as I write all four days do unfortunately show the possibility of storms meaning we could be in for some interruptions. At the moment Friday is the day that shows the greatest possibility of this happening.
Do remember though that 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 the level of difficulty they choose.
Temperatures look set to remain in the high 70s to low 80s all week.
Wind at this stage doesn’t look to be a huge issue with most days currently showing around 10-12mph.
As I always so though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS – 12-1 – 2.5pts e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 9. - FINISHED 21st
Normally when you find yourself previewing one of the marquee events it is more often than not a marginal case of, which one of the games top elite players to plump for over another, however this year if we are going to have one on board from the very top of the betting then the name that leaps out to me is that of Justin Thomas.
Before I run through Thomas’ obvious credentials lets briefly sidestep to the other market leaders.
Johnson the favourite appears to have gone off the boil of late and after deciding at the last minute to tee it up in Texas last week for ‘more reps’ he then withdraw at the 11th hour while if Dechambeau is to land a second major so soon after the first he will need to take a far different approach to the one he did here in November.
Of the others at the head of the market Jordan Spieth is an obvious candidate of course as he arrives at a venue he loves on the back of his win in Texas and I certainly wouldn’t rule out him going back to back. For him to do so though is a huge ask after what will have been no doubt a draining week and with the juice having long gone from his price I am happy to let him go unbacked.
Rahm on another week could well have been the selection however with his wife having just given birth to their first child I will take the view that his focus and preparation may understandably not be 100% on the course.
Returning to Thomas though and if we look through his credentials it is hard to find any negatives.
Firstly with regards to current form and he arrives here on the back of doing us a big favour when triumphing recently at TPC Sawgrass.
That week JT had landed in Jacksonville with the backdrop of a difficult first part of 2021 off the course still very much a talking point and with the sad recent passing of his Grandfather still no doubt weighing on his mind.
At The Players though Thomas reminded us once more what a winning machine he is and with fourteen PGA Titles to his name his focus will undoubtedly now be turning to adding more Major’s to his trophy cabinet to sit alongside his lone success to date in the PGA Championship.
The signs on that front have certainly been more encouraging for Justin of late as so far in the ‘super season’ which features six Majors he has posted top ten finishes in the first two of the campaign, an eighth at Shinnecock Hills and fourth here in November.
The key to Thomas’ success at Sawgrass was his long game and in particular as per normal his iron play. He ranked first from tee to green for the week and fifth in approach play.
Just how good his approach play was on Sunday at The Players can be seen by the fact that he lost two strokes with the putter on the final day whilst shooting 68 to win and there is no doubt that had the flat stick remotely co operated on the final day his margin of victory would have been much greater.
Of course it is all well and good looking back at Thomas’ play in a previous win but the key here is that his iron play is top notch week in week out, something backed up by the fact that he currently sits third on tour in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green.
Furthermore with Par four performance here also key Thomas currently sits first on Tour in Par four ‘Birdie’s or better’ having ranked seventh in this category last season, and second in ‘Par Four scoring’ this season, so again this gives us huge signs of encouragement.
Thomas arrived at Sawgrass with five previous starts, no missed cuts and two top eleven finishes to his name in the event before, so his form at the course and ability to handle it was there for all to see.
This week he arrives at Augusta with progressive form figures of 39 22 17 12 4. Granted the fourth was in the November conditions, however the previous history tells us that he was getting more comfortable on each visit and this has to be a huge positive.
All in all in a week where I expect the greens to be firm I can see Justin’s Iron play being key and as long as his putter can cooperate averagely I believe he has a great opportunity of lifting his first green Jacket this week.
RORY McILROY – 18-1 – 2pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
Next up I will chance Rory McIlroy.
We had great success recently when siding with Justin Thomas at Sawgrass largely due to the fact that I just couldn’t leave him unbacked at 20/1 and with McIlroy having reached 18/1 this week I feel we are in that territory again from an each way point of view if nothing else.
Whether you feel McIlroy is worth chancing at these odds largely depends on whether you believe his current malaise and swing problems are as bad as being made out and personally I don’t.
McIlroy himself has stated that the problems stemmed from trying to chase some extra distance late last year as he got tangled up in the Bryson Dechambeau mantra and in an effort to fix this he has turned to renowned swing coach Pete Cowan.
If we look at Rory’s results of late though and granted he missed the cut at The Players and failed to get out of his group at The Matchplay, however prior to that he had posted back to back top tens at the WGC @ Concession and at Bay Hill, both events, which course wise are a far better guide to this weeks challenges than the two Pete Dye layouts he subsequently struggled on.
I am firmly of the view that the Northern Irishman will be victorious at Augusta one day to complete the grand slam and his record over the years here clearly shows how the course suits his game. Six top ten’s in his last seven visits here tells the story and based on the that we are taking the slightly bigger odds for nine each way places here the each way part of this bet would have landed on five of the last seven years.
What also interests me as well is that the year McIlroy has played the worst here of late is the year he arrived with the biggest expectation, 2019, when on the back of six consecutive top six stroke play finishes including his win at The Players he stuttered to 21st place.
This year Rory arrives under the radar compared to Johnson, Spieth, Dechambeau and Thomas and my suspicion is this will suit him perfectly.
To sum up McIlroy is arguably the most naturally talented player of his generation and it may well be that a few sessions with Pete Cowan have been enough to sort out the gliches, speculation of course but at the odds on offer I am happy to take my chances.
ADAM SCOTT – 50-1 – 1.5pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 54th
Next up for me this week is Adam Scott.
I have to be honest as long term followers will know Scott is not a player who tends to feature too often in my teams predominantly due to the fact that his propensity to miss from close range with the putter would be enough to have me in shreds if he was regularly carrying my money.
This week however in a week where my suspicion is that, as a whole experience will be of value in anticipated tougher, scoring conditions I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Looking at Adam’s record over the recent years and it is clear he is most likely to be in the hunt in events where steady scoring is required rather than birdie barrages. His best finish this season of tenth came with a 7- under total at The Farmers while his win last season was at Riviera, a venue, which fits well here, on an 11- under number.
Go back further to 2019 and his two top tens in Majors came with totals of +1 and 6- under while perhaps more significantly his last top ten at Augusta came in a tougher scoring year in 2017 where he finished ninth on 2- under.
Looking at Adam’s form this year in more detail and while his putting numbers, despite the odd horror short miss, actually read reasonably respectably at 58th in SGP for the season, his main problem to date has been in his normally reliable long game.
Last time out however at The Honda on his way to 13th Scott improved vastly in this department and he ranked fourth for the week from tee to green and fourth in approach play, while he was also 22nd in good old fashioned Driving Accuracy and fourth in GIR.
Hugely positive signs then and if we tie this to the fact that historically the Aussie has made an art form of turning up under raced and peaking at the right time there is every chance he could repeat the trick this year.
I alluded earlier to tougher tests suiting Scott these days and if we do get the firm, fast and conditions forecast then surely this will be right up his street with all the experience he has in similar conditions back home in Australia.
This looks a perfect test for Scott this week and I expect him to build on his Honda performance and be right in the thick of things come Sunday.
BILLY HORSCHEL – 66-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 50th
Next cab off the rank is recent Matchplay champion Billy Horschel.
There is no doubt Billy had become a frustrating player to follow over the last couple of years as nervy weekend performances continued to blight his chances of adding to his four previous individual tour titles.
At the Matchplay however while undoubtedly riding his luck at times Billy was able to time his run right and on a tough windy Sunday he showed his metal in those conditions and got the job done.
With his confidence no doubt through the roof Horschel should arrive after a week’s rest raring to go and as we know from his infamous run to the Fedex Cup in 2014 a confident Horschel is a big threat.
Aside from Billy’s win 2021 has so far been a year of feast or famine for the Florida Gator however significantly for me his other best performance to date came at the Workday WGC held at the Concession Club, a venue, which undoubtedly held some similarities to Augusta with its hugely contoured greens and where Billy finished second.
That week Horschel ranked sixth of the tee, eighth from tee to green and 21st in approach play with his long game, numbers, which were all harmed by a nervy Sunday. In addition he also ranked third for the week in putting.
From a negative point of view Horschel is yet to break 70 round Augusta in his previous six starts and I appreciate this might be enough to put some people off, however his best performance here came in 2016 when he was 17th in the year we last got conditions close to what I expect this year and lets also not forgot that Patrick Reed won here in 2018 on the back of a similarly uninspiring previous course record.
There is no doubt that current form is a key driver in this event and Billy obviously ticks all the boxes on that front and with his ability to grind it out in tough conditions and with his confidence high I am happy to chance him this week.
CHRISTIAAN BEZUIDENHOUT – 100 -1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 40th
In a week where my hunch is that firmer, tougher conditions could favour some international players the next man to make my team is Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Bezuidenhout as has been well documented has overcome the hurdles of a terrible accident when he was a small child which saw him drink rat poison, and he now battles a speech impediment as a result.
On the course though the 26yr old is making huge strides forward and in no short time he has reached 36th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Already a three time winner on the European Tour Christiaan showed when winning the Andalucia Masters by six shots at Valderrama in 2019 that his solid all round game is at home on tough courses.
Bezuidenhout made his debut at Augusta last November and while he didn’t pull up any trees a solid 38th place finish, of which the highlight was an opening day 69, showed plenty of promise that he will take to the course long term.
Christiaan finished off 2020 by winning on home soil in back to back weeks to take his European Tour victory tally to three and having started off 2021 solidly in the Middle East he has picked up where he left off in Florida posting a best of seventh place at the tough Bay Hill, which is always a good pointer to here.
On paper the fact that the South African has only made one appearance at Augusta is of slight concern particularly as that appearance came in the different November conditions, however I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt on that as three winners in the past ten years Willett, Spieth and Schwartzel all won here on their second appearances, with Willett and Schwartzel finishing 38th and 30th respectively on debut the year before [Spieth of course was memorably second on debut], thus posting very comparable debut finishes.
There is no doubt in my mind that Bezuidenhout has the all round game to win a major one day and with his flat stick one of his great strengths along with his approach play it may well be that time tells us that Augusta is his best shot.
My hunch is that the sort of odds we are getting this week on Christiaan won’t be around for much longer in the big events and I am happy to take a chance that he can follow in Willett and his countryman Schwartzel’s footsteps this week and become another more unheralded Masters Champion.
SI WOO KIM – 100 -1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 12th
My final roll of the dice this week goes to Si Woo Kim.
As we know the former Player Champion is not afraid to pop up in the biggest of events, something we saw clearly at TPC Sawgrass in 2017, and there is enough in his form over the last nine months or so to think he can make a serious challenge for a Green Jacket.
The South Koreans game as we know slumped dramatically in 2019 and the early part of 2020, however after turning to Claude Harmon III things started to improve considerably after the tour resumed last year.
Six top twenty finishes in the second half of 2020 including a near miss at The Wyndham Championship were a prelude of what was to come and Si Woo duly landed his third PGA Tour title at the American Express at the end of January this year.
As is often the way when a player wins a mini slump then followed however a top ten at Sawgrass and a solid performance in Texas last week where he finished 23rd are clear signs he is now getting back on track.
So what of Si Woo’s history at Augusta? Well after missing the cut on his debut the 25yr old has played solidly here on his last three visits posting finishes of 24 21 and 34 building up a solid bank of course experience along the way.
At his best Kim’s strength’s are undoubtedly from tee to green and when in the groove his iron play is incredibly strong, something, which he showed when gaining just under eight shots on the field in approach play on the Sunday of his win at the Amex.
In addition, while Si Woo is known for being shaky with the putter he has an excellent scrambling touch around the greens and this could well be significant at a firm Augusta.
Si Woo warmed up quietly at TPC San Antonio at the weekend with his 23rd place finish however it was noticeable he was bogey free on Sunday showing he was in a good groove with his game.
With his game clearly trending long term in the right direction the next step for Kim is to start to seriously challenge in the majors and I can see him improving on his previous solid efforts here this week and doing just that.
UPDATED 6th APRIL
FIRST ROUNDER LEADER - JORDAN SPIETH 1pt e/w 18/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 7 & XANDER SCHAUFFELE 1pt e/w 28/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - NO RETURN
A couple of fairly obvious selections for me in this market. Starting with Spieth and while I was happy to pass at the best price 12/1 on Monday in the outright market if he is going to win this week a fast start on the back of Sunday's success is more than likely.
From that point of view the 18/1 here makes far more appeal to me, particularly as he has lead after day one on three of his six previous visits!
as for Schauffele and while he arrives here slightly under the radar based on a couple of more low key efforts of late he has shown in his career to date he knows exactly how to peak for Majors.
His last three day one Major efforts have been 66, 67 & 68 with the 67 coming here in November and I'll chance him to start quickly again.
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - DANNY WILLETT - DK VALUE - $6600. - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 23.5
I'll avoid the obvious Conners/Palmer picks, here, which I am sure everyone will be looking at already and instead will go firstly with Danny Willett.
Willett has quitly produced a sloid start to 2021 and after unfortunately having to miss the Players recently due to a positive covid test he bounced back with a strong performance to finish eighth at the Corales.
With conditions expected to be the firmest since the Englishman's win in 2016 he should be right in his element and I expect a strong performance this week.
ROBERT MACINTYRE - DK VALUE - $6500 - FINISHED 12th - DK POINTS 79
I have been waiting for Macintyre to make his Masters debut with great interest as my suspicion is that his flamboyant, agressive style will be a perfect fit for the course, particularly as left handers have such a great record here.
The Scot showed recently at the WGC Matchplay that he loves the big stage and having made the cut on all three of his Major Championship appearances to date I expect him to go well here.
Expect a few mistakes for sure but if he can make the cut, which I think he will, there will be plenty of birdies to boost his DK points tally.