It was a frustrating end to a week that promised so much for us at The Valero Texas Open as firstly our 175/1 pick Kevin Chappell was in the final group heading out on Saturday and then our 125/1 pick Beau Hossler held a share of the lead heading in to Sunday and the outright lead as he made the turn.
Sadly though whether it be nerves or just one of those things Beau’s swing deserted him on the back nine and a double bogey seven on the easiest hole the par 5 14th left us grateful he hung on for the full place. A profitable week in the end then but still a tough pill to swallow.
The event in the end was won by JJ Spaun who in simple terms kept his head while those around him didn’t. It’s been a long road to a victory for Spaun and all credit to him for finally getting the job done.
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.
As always the course will be looking resplendent with the Azaleas in full spring 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 Bryson 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.
Jon Rahm heads up the betting market but can he finally return to winning ways for the first time since he landed the US Open last June?
Will it finally be time for Rory to put it all together and complete the Grand Slam?
Can newly crowned world number one Scottie Scheffler continue his hot streak and land his first Major or will one of the other young guns like Collin Morikawa or Viktor Hovland triumph?
Can Players Champion Cam Smith who loves it round here pick up straight where he left off at Sawgrass or will one of the more experienced players of golf’s elite like Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson have timed their build up perfectly?
Then of course we have Tiger…will he won’t he…at this stage we still don’t know!
The betting market at the time of writing is marginally headed up by Jon Rahm. The Spaniard is then followed by Justin Thomas and the inform Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith.
Augusta National is a Par 72 which this year after some tinkering will officially play to 7510with 30yds or so added.
The two holes that have seen the most significant changes are the 11th which has had 15 yards added and has had some trees removed on the right hand side of the fairway. The aim here was to stop players simply bailing out right off the tee while still having a decent look at their second shot in as now errant tee shots will be faced with additional faster running landing areas, which will potentially see players blocked out for their second shot behind the trees further down the right hand side.
The other main change has seen the par five 15th hole have 20yds added meaning players will have to put a bit more thought in to their second shots with regards to carrying the water.
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 the course has seen its fair share of rain over the recent weeks and when added to the potential for more rain on Tuesday we could see softer conditions for the first couple of days at least. Fingers crossed though we look hopefully to be set for a dry week from there on in, which, particularly allowing for the sub air system, should see the desired firm conditions in play over the weekend.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners.
2021 Hideki Matsuyama
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
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 last years winner Hideki Matsuyama was a 45/1 chance while 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 2019 and 2020 winners did somewhat buck this trend though as in 2019 Tiger Woods arrived here as a 16-1 shot while Dustin Johnson went off as a 9/1 November 2020 with Bryson Dechambeau marginally pipping him to favouritism.
Four of the last ten winners had already won an event that calendar year with Matsuyama, 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 with Fuzzy Zoeller way back in 1979 the most recent to manage that achievement.
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 nine of the last ten 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!
It is worth noting though that this doesn’t necessarily mean the winner will arrive here in peak form and last year’s champion Matsuyama who is the odd one out in this category just failing to scrape in, had posted finishes of 30 42 MC 18 in his March and April tour starts. He did though finish 15th at the WGC Concession in his previous start, which finished on the 28th Feb!
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.
Last year Matsuyama triumphed on a 10- under total and my suspicion is that we may see something similar or a digit or two lower this year.
Recent wet weather in the area looks to be followed by the potential for more storms on Tuesday and Wednesday heading in to the week meaning we will most likely see soft conditions greet the players on Thursday.
Fortunately though we look set for four dry tournament days.
Temperatures look set to start high but drop to the mid to high 60s as the week progresses.
With the cooler temperatures we may well also get some wind as gusts of 20mph are in the forecast over all four days with Sunday perhaps showing the lightest winds.
As I always so though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS – 14/1 – 2.5pts e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 9. - FINISHED 9th
I shall start this week with the same player I put up in this last year as my headline selection, Justin Thomas.
Thomas arrived here last year on the back of a recent win at the Players Championship and ultimately it was a disappointing week for him as he finished 21st.
Since then the 14 time tour winner has been unable to add to his trophy cabinet, something, which I am sure will be a cause of huge frustration, however there are signs that he is very close to adding number 15.
With regards to current form and while he was disappointing at the Matchplay, no doubt partly due to fatigue from a tough couple of weeks, prior to that he had finished third at the Valspar, sixth at the Genesis and eighth at Phoenix with a low key 33rd place on defence at the weather disrupted Players sandwiched in between.
The key to Thomas’ consistency of late has been his long game, which really is firing on all cylinders. He ranks 13th off the tee for the season, third from tee to green and fifth in approach play.
At the Copperhead meanwhile, where he finished one shot out of the play off, he ranked first from tee to green and second in approach play with only his often slightly temperamental putter holding him back.
Furthermore with Par four performance here also key Thomas currently sits first on Tour in that category and second in par four ‘Birdie’s or better’. He also sits third in the par five scoring averages, another big key to success here.
Since bagging his lone Major Championship to date in the PGA in 2017 JT’s performances in Majors have been it must be said largely underwhelming and having posted a fourth place in the November Masters in 2020 a best of 19th at the Torrey Pines in the four played in 2021 was again disappointing.
This year though he has an added ingredient of having Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay on the bag and with Bones of course having tasted six Major successes with Phil Mickelson including three at Augusta this has to be seen as a huge positive.
Prior to last year’s 21st place Thomas had really progressive form figures at Augusta of 39 22 17 12 4 and in my eyes he now has all the experience needed to win here and with his game trending perfectly and with Bones on the bag he is the man for me this week.
BROOKS KOEPKA – 20/1 – 2pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
Another player who appears to be timing his run well to produce the ‘big week’ when it matters the most is Brooks Koepka.
As a four time Major champion Koepka’s record in the big events and ability to peak at the right time cannot be disputed and time and again over the years he has got his preparation spot on and left behind some indifferent form coming in.
This week though Brooks arrives at Augusta on the back of a 2022 campaign, which has certainly had some strong moments in amongst some inconsistency but over recent weeks appears to have picked up momentum.
To expand some more and after a 16th place at the Honda was followed by a MC in the winds of Sawgrass Koepka has gone on to post a 12th place at the Valspar before succumbing at the quarter final stage at the Matchplay in a heavyweight encounter versus Dustin Johnson.
Looking a Koepka’s stats for the season as a whole there is not too much to get excited about as he sits just outside the top 100 in approach play and only just inside the top 100 from tee to green. At the Copperhead though we saw far more positive numbers as he ranked 17th in approach play and 19th from tee to green and with his scalps at the Matchplay including Jon Rahm he clearly arrives with momentum.
Looking at Brooks’ record at Augusta outside of last years MC when he was making his first start in six weeks and had been struggling with an injury and it is clear, without stating the obvious, that he has the game to compete here. A runner up finish in 2019 when he was the 36 hole leader and a seventh place in November 2020 are a testament to this.
Finally if we look at the 31yr old’s 2021 Major campaign and after that MC here in April he went on to finish second in the PGA [memorably to Phil Mickelson of course] fourth at the US Open and sixth at the Open Championship, showing us again that despite him not having added to his Major tally since 2019 he is always a force in the biggest events.
To sum up Brooks arrives here slightly under the radar with the focus on the likes of Scheffler and Rahm however I fully expect him to mount a big charge this week and with his repeated ability to peak and make the frame in the Majors he looks an auto each way bet if nothing else.
SHANE LOWRY – 45/1 – 1pt e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 3rd
Next up for me this week I will give another chance to a player who came close to rewarding us at The Players, Shane Lowry.
Lowry who had to battle on the wrong side of the draw at Sawgrass started the final round on Monday with a realistic chance to take the trophy, however a final round 72 saw him stall somewhat and finish in 13th place.
That result though was another strong finish in a year of really eye catching performances, which have seen him come close to a win at the Honda and finish 12th at the Valspar on the PGA Tour. In addition Shane started the year with three top 25 finishes on the DP World Tour meaning he has not finished outside of the top 25 in six stroke play events this season.
Looking at Lowry’s stats this season on the PGA Tour and it is clear that his long game is working well as he ranks 14th in Approach Play and 25th from tee to green. Meanwhile his putter is also co operating as he ranks 18th on the greens. The one area of concern on his season’s numbers as a whole would be around the greens in, which he ranks outside the top 100 however we know when on song he has ‘a great pair of hands’ and he really should be able to flourish around the Augusta surfaces if he finds trouble.
Looking at the Irishman’s record around here and it was certainly underwhelming in the early years however he has posted his best two finishes here in his last two visits, with a best of 21st last time out.
Not unsurprisingly Shane hit a bit of a wall at the Matchplay following on from the Valspar being eliminated at the group stage, however after a weeks rest I expect him to be ready and raring to go again and with confidence high I can see him making a bold showing at adding a Green Jacket to his Claret Jug.
TONY FINAU – 50/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 35th
Next cab off the rank is Tony Finau.
Backing Finau over recent years had become somewhat of a poisoned chalice as time and again he would contend, hence restrictive odds, but time and again fail to get the job done.
As we know though that all changed in last seasons Fedex Cup play offs when he finally landed that elusive second tour title.
At that point many expected the kind of ‘tear’ from Tony we have recently seen from Scottie Scheffler however the opposite has in fact happened and early 2022 has seen him go off the boil.
After an improved display with his long game at the Matchplay though Tony continued in San Antonio last week to trend nicely in the right direction as a 29th place finish saw him rank 13th in approach play with positive numbers every day. He also ranked 17th off the tee for the week and 27th in putting, saving his best day on the greens for Sunday. He also had his most accurate day off the tee on Sunday as well.
If we assume then that Finau’s game is coming around nicely that would once more make him a big player in an event that we know his game when on song is hugely suited to. This can clearly be seen by the fact that he has posted four top tens here in his four visits in April with a best of fifth in 2019.
This year though we have the combined incentive to back Tony as he has got the monkey off his back for the second win and will go off at odds slightly more attractive than over recent years due to his recent low key form.
To sum up it is clear that Finau’s game is suited to a Major test and particularly Augusta and I am happy to chance him at the odds this week.
SI WOO KIM – 66/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 39th
Finally I will wrap things up this week by chancing Si Woo Kim as I did here last year.
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 certainly enough in his form of late to think he can make a serious challenge for a Green Jacket.
While Kim hasn’t posted a victory this year as he had prior to his visit here last year he has been a model of consistency this season with only a WD when blown away on the wrong side of the draw at The Players blotting his copybook in 2022.
Most recently after narrowly missing out on qualification out of his group at the Matchplay Si Woo posted the ideal warm up in Texas last week finishing 13th.
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 four visits posting finishes of 12th last year 24 21 and 34 building up a solid bank of course experience along the way.
Lets not forget as well that Si Woo was right in the hunt last year through two rounds before frustration got the better of him and he broke his putter at the 15th hole. Despite that he still headed in to Sunday only three shots back and you would have to think he has learnt from that experience.
At his best Kim’s strength’s are undoubtedly from tee to green and when in the groove his iron play is incredibly strong.
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 Augusta.
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 last years efforts here again this week and doing just that.
UPDATED 6th APRIL
FIRST ROUND LEADER
SEPP STRAKA - 80/1 1-pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 8 & CAMERON YOUNG - 66/1 - 1pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED - NO RETURN
Two picks for me in the First Round Leader market both from the earlier tee times as the forecast predicts they will get the lightest winds.
I'll start with Sepp Straka. Austrian Straka went to college in Georgia and now makes his home there so he should be relishing his Masters debut in his adopted home state.
At his best from tee to green Straka is the sort of ball striker who has taken to Augusta over the years. I chanced Straka in this market at Sawgrass and he came up just shy, however his overall finish of ninth showed his game remains in great shape following his win at the Honda. I'm happy to risk him here to thrive on his debut on day one.
Another rookie Cameron Young has made a huge impact in his debut season on tour notably finishing runner up at Riviera, which links really well here.
His prodigous length off the tee should allow him to take advantage of the par fives and 11th in day one scoring on tour this season shows he likes a quick start. Like Straka I am happy to risk him to go well on his Augusta debut.