US Masters Betting Tips & Preview
Our UK golf expert Niall Lyons has picked his best outright bets for the first major of the year.
Our UK golf expert previews The Masters before it tees off on Friday morning.
'Oh Augusta your dogwoods and pines, They play on my mind like a song, Oh Augusta it's you that I love, It's you that I miss when I'm gone'. Dave Loggins wrote these magical words for a song named 'Augusta' in 1981 having visited the course and the chimes ring true to this very day. Make no mistake about it, Augusta is the most beautiful place in the world. A sublime myriad of picture perfect movie scenes in which lead characters' reflections glide atop the crystal waters and oscar winning performances on the greenest turf are smiled and gasped upon by the watching theatre. The magic of this event can only be matched by the grey slate of the sky when the Open Championship comes along in the Summer, but as far as scenes go, it doesn't get much better than this.
The first major is upon us and with the world of golf in such a spectacular place right now there has been a lot to ponder when it comes to investing in the right players. Plenty look to trends to find a winner here and although plenty of those stats are important, ruling players out on the basis of other golfers past accomplishments would be foolish. We will keep an open mind. Augusta, as ever remains a place where your short game needs to be on point. Rose and Garcia fought out last years title, two of the most inconsistent sorts with the putter you could ever come across. So you don't need to be a good putter here, you just need to have a good putting week. Approach shots are a key component also. The greens are that severe that playing to the right parts are crucial. Once there, pace of putts is important. Let's get to the players and the prices.
In the most open Masters market we've seen for many years McIlroy and Spieth are battling for favouritism and I think the Irish man will just shade it. I'll get onto analysing him later but let's start with Spieth. He has had his struggles lately with many parts of his game, not just his putting. Last week saw plenty of positives though finishing 3rd in Houston and topping Strokes gained stats from tee to green. When putts start to drop it is very ominous and the most special golfer in the field must be fully respected. Personally I think Spieth could reach double figures in the major tally in his career and he will probably win a few more Green jackets, but something tells me this years renewal won't be one of them. Spieth has been forensically examining his game for the past 6 weeks and there has been a lot of attention on him. I think this may take its toll and we might not see the best of him. His exemplary Masters record is what makes him favourite here but lets face it, the rest of the golfing world have been pulling up trees en route to Augusta whilst Spieth has been watering his daily with little growth. My love affair with the man will continue but this week I feel I have to play away form home.
It could be argued Justin Thomas should be jolly. He has achieved remarkable things in the last 12 months and if he was called Spieth, or had the frame of Dustin Johnson he would probably be half the price he is now. He could still be underestimated by the bookmakers these days as on paper he has blitzed the rest. In two performances here he has finished 22nd and 39th and I'd be looking to some better results at the venue before getting involved. His tendancy to hit some wild shots confuses me also as it seems totally out of character when he's in full flow. Personally I find him hard to measure and on what courses it is best to play him. His attacking golf must give him a chance this week but could naivety around these greens cost him? Dustin Johnson has been scrambling around in the dark lately looking for some better form also and he doesn't come here in anywhere good as nick as last year before his ill fated tumble. He has the game ready to obliterate this field and course and is very tempting around the $13* mark. I would not put anyone off backing him but his lack of competing on Sundays in a while is a slight worry. Bubba Watson comes here in mighty form and given he has won twice here must hold every chance. He is hard to rely upon though and given he has only one other top 20 in 7 appearances outside his two victories I'm prepared to swerve him.
This leads to me to my top selection in Jason Day ($19*). Torrey Pines and Riviera have long been considered places where form translates to Augusta and Day's two wins at Torrey Pines bode well for this week. His win this year was the performance of the season to date for me. He held off a very resilient Alex Noren in a proper dog fight. What was telling in that victory was the way he putted akin to his stroke when he won the PGA at Whistling Straits. He holed everything early on in round four and holed an impressive 8 footer on the 71st for par to stay right in it. Putts were holed on 18 and a few of the play off holes to manage to keep pace with Noren. They were all pressure putts and every single one went right in the middle. It was savage putting under the heat. Augusta has seen him finish a never nearer second in 2011 and then a disappointing 3rd in 2013 when he blew a lead on the 70th hole by over shooting the par 3 16th. A close call there and in the Open Championship taught Day lessons and he has learned from them. He went on to win the PGA but since then has battled a few issues. Injuries and most recently his Mother's Cancer journey has somewhat set him back but you can always count on Day for having an exceptional attitude. His mother has been treated and is hopefully on her way to full health and Day has a lot clearer mindset. He has been criticized for slow play in the past and it was good to see him address that most recently at the Match Play by speeding things up in between shots. Day for me holds the key to unlock Augusta and I'm surprised to see him at such a price. Maybe the fact he hasn't played as much as the others contributes to that, but if he can putt like he did on that final day at Torrey Pines I think we could be looking at another Aussie in the green jacket.
Day has been in my mind for a long while now but I've always planned to add another string to my punting bow from the top ten in the market. Mickelson, Thomas and Rory have been the most impressive of the top ten recently and it is the latter that I'll be backing as my second best bet. Rory McIlroy ($12*) elevated himself to the top once again by a typically genius performance on the final day of the Arnold Palmer. It has been a long while since we have seen that 'unbeatable' McIlroy but he turned up that Sunday. Holing putts from all ranges and chipping in from off the greens is what the Irishman has been missing and the magic looked back. He started the year in Europe with a 3rd in Abu Dhabi and a runner up in Dubai. If you are one for trends the last two winners of that event in Dubai (Willett and Garcia) went onto win the Masters that year, so maybe Rory's second bodes well. He should have won both those events truth be told and it left me thinking whether Rory's 'A' game that seen him win four majors would ever return. He can not be accused of not learning from career setbacks though and despite so many ups and downs in his game to date he always comes back and delivers. I won't bleat on about how Augusta suits him like so many 'experts' do because I don't think that is entirely true. His aggressive putting style and general eagerness to make a score here hasn't helped him down the years. I do think he has struggled with depth perception here also with the changes in elevation resulting in distance issues in approach shots. Nevertheless he showed just what he could do here when he romped to a healthy 54 hole lead in 2011 and he has the ability to do something like that again. My angle at backing him at the Arnold Palmer was that the easy par 5s will play into his hands to make a score and put less pressure on the struggling parts of his game. Par 5s around Augusta are once again an advantage but he will need to have all aspects of his game firing if he is to win here. 7-10-4-8 over the past four years here despite playing some poor golf in periods throughout all those four renewals. Of the top 5 in the market, he is the most likely winner for me.
I have steered well, well clear of Paul Casey ($23*) in majors and for that matter lesser events, but I think this is his best chance of a major win in his career to date. He can not be relied upon to get over the line in these events but everything points towards a big showing for the Englishman. He got into the clubhouse a few holes ahead of his challengers at the Valspar and that was no doubt advantageous in that win as Casey can struggle at times under extreme pressure. However you can not fault it holding off Tiger Woods and beating some of the worlds best golfers only a couple of weeks ago. Anyone who 'labels' him as a bottler are foolish as he has 16 career victories to date and plenty of those being prestigious events. Having played in the States mostly in the last number of years he hasn't found it easy to win but there have plenty of solid performances. His major record last year read 6-26-11-13 so he is clearly building a game that can compete at these events he just needs to put four rounds together. His last three tries at the Masters read 6-4-6 so his love affair with Augusta is in full bloom. I can't see him out of the shake up and with generous place terms out there he looks a solid each-way bet.
Finally I will add a couple of outsiders as it'd be silly not to with the bookies cutting each others throats to gain business with the place terms. As ever plenty will mention that first timers don't hold an awful good chance here. I was tempted by Finau but I do think he may need a year or two here first. Thomas Pieters ($67) went well here on debut last year finishing a very impressive 4th and I think he could learn a thing or two from last years effort. He was naive on the greens and struggled with the pace of some putts but regardless scored very well in periods. If he can limit mistakes he may just prove to be one of the most dangerous Europeans from further down the market. He hasn't been setting the world alight the last 6 months but better signs appeared when he finished 5th in Abu Dhabi where he joint lead on 17 under heading into day four. A top 15 at the Honda was another solid effort, especially around a place where danger lurks around every corner. I think Pieters will enjoy Augusta throughout his career and on Ryder Cup year I expect him to kick onto better things than what he's done the last six months. A very talented sort who may be underestimated.
Finally it seems like a perfect time for Ryan Moore ($101*) to start contending in Major Championships and given the way he has played at times lately I think he is lively outsider. 5th last time out at the Arnold Palmer was an impressive result despite not really firing on day four. A top 10 at Riviera also is a good sign as Bubba, Weir, Scott, Mickelson and Mattiace have all won there. Shedding some weight and making swing changes means Moore has re-dedicated himself to the game and I believe a win will follow this season at some point. He has a very neat and tidy game and although he lacks the length you'd really like around Augusta he has an approach game that will rival most. Whether he can go through with a victory is another matter but I believe he can contend and has a solid chance of nicking a place at the very least.
Enjoy the lead up to Thursday and I'll be back in the next few days with a piece on the best bets from the side markets.