The excitement and anticipation is tangible as Thursday comes ever closer and the out dated, archaic tradition of the old timers teeing off to start the years first major begins. Personally, I feel The Masters is the toughest major to crack of the four. At the Open championships and PGA we usually have a tight course or very challenging hard conditions so we can whittle down the potential winners quite easily. Augusta is totally different. It is wide open and birdies are there for the taking. If the course plays firm and fast then it will make the task a lot more difficult. If thunderstorms and rain make the course a bit softer over Thursday and Friday then expect plenty of birdies over the weekend. That is always hard to judge though and information on that so far has been thin on the ground.

What is evident this year is that golf has never been better shape. It is the most competitive sport at the top right now without a doubt. Day, Scott, Bubba, Fowler have all been lighting it up in recent months. Spieth, Rory and Dustin are others who have shown flashes of brilliance but also shown the odd frailty. Old timer Phil Mickelson is another who is in fine form despite not managing a win of late. On paper this is the strongest Masters in living memory. Hopefully it lives up to its billing.

As ever we are in search of a winner and it is hard to see it coming from outside the lads I have mentioned above. The talent and form of these golfers mean somebody will need to have the week of their lives to beat them as at least two or three of these boys will be on the leaderboard come Sunday evening. Primarily I will be looking for golfers whose long games are in good nick. Plenty of people will talk about short game and putting around these Augusta greens but if you can manage to hit the greens and thus limit the amount of times you'll need to up and down from the tricky shaved areas around the greens then you will have a huge advantage on the rest. The key will be not putting too much pressure on the short game.

I'll start by analysing the chances of a few of the market leaders before revealing who will be on our dockets this week. Rory McIlroy will be well backed by the masses and comes here in decent form. He finished 4th in the Match Play and 3rd in the Cadillac in his last three starts. He is yet to get into the winners enclosure this calendar year and some of his form whilst in contention has been a shade worrying. His putting woes have continued and any positive vibes about the change to the left hand below right grip seemed to go south last week as he seemed to go back to his bad habit of 'blocking' putts.

I welcomed the change and think it could bear fruit with putts inside 10 feet. However, outside of that distance rarely held any problems for Rory and with all of his major wins coming with the right hand below left grip I do think the sooner he reverts back to that the better. Either way, single figure quotes of 8/1 are of little reward for the Holywood lad considering the question marks surrounding the greater part of his game.

Jordan Spieth is another who has shown himself to be human after all his success last year. In 2015 Augusta was quite soft and scoring was very easy. Record scores were posted and Spieth rode his luck on his way to a comfortable victory. This year has been a different story. After his win at the Hyundai TOC in Hawaii in January we thought normal service was resumed and we awaited a 2016 dominated once again by the Texas native. However, his most lethal weapon, the putter, has been somewhat cold ever since. His long game is nowhere near as consistent or as impressive as the likes of Jason Day, but he has absolutely trounced everybody on the greens in the last year. This season hasn't been the same though and although he played well in the Houston Open over the weekend I can't see him repeating last years win. He is a ruthless golfer who is more than capable but I'll be siding with others when it comes to the crunch of a bet this week.

It is hard to get past the obvious chances of Jason Day. He has won six of last thirteen starts and that form is totally unrivaled. What is important to note is that all aspects of his game are firing. Driving, irons, and short game are all in sparkling nick and if he turns up at Augusta on Thursday the same golfer he has been over the last number of months then the rest are competing for second place. In 2011 he was a young inexperienced buck who finished a nostril off getting in a playoff. In 2013 he stood on the 16th tee on day four with the lead only to overshoot the green and lose the chance of slipping on the green jacket. I knew then that he wasn't ready and as I wrote in my PGA write up of 2015 he was finally ready to win one, and he duly obliged.

Right now everything has fallen into place for Jason and he is the golfer most likely to be slipping on that green jacket on Sunday evening. He started well last year before faltering. He brought some odd game plan to play irons off the 13th tee and I felt he wasn't 100% in the frame of mind. This year he should be well equipped to attack the course and be right there in contention come Sunday evening. Last weekend he went head to head with Rory and won, in last year's final major he went head to head with Spieth and won, he is by a fair avenue the world's best golfer. I fully expect him to continue this trend and he is without doubt the one who has no weakness in his game. Given that evidence, the 7/1 available or slightly less with plenty of places on offer is worth a chunky wager.
Jason Day - 4pts e/w @ 7/1Lost -8pts
I've been weighing up for a number of days now whether to have my other chunky bet on Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson, and given the each-way terms on offer this week, I have no reason that I shouldn't bet the both of them. As Lloyd Grossman used to say, let's look at the evidence. Both have similar Augusta records with a number of made cut appearances and a 5th and 6th placed finish between them both. I have been impressed by Fowler's all round game in the last twelve months and he is certainly building towards a major victory. Whether Augusta is the venue where he'll nail a major is another question, but with 18/1 out there I'm more than prepared to take that chance. He has landed four wins in the last 11 months and next to Jason Day is the form player heading to Augusta. A win at Sawgrass was backed up by a win at the Deustche Bank, one of the playoff events that sees off the season. His other two wins though have been even more impressive.

To travel to Scotland and take on some horrendous weather on day four to come out on top was very impressive and a testament to the golfer he has become under the tuition of Butch Harmon. A win in Abu Dhabi in January was another sign that Fowler has reached a different level. Considering the form of McIlroy and Spieth, they don't come close to Fowler right now so the 18/1 on offer is decent value. His long game is in excellent shape and he can't be faulted in and around the greens either. Everything points towards a strong showing.
Rickie Fowler - 2pts e/w @ 18/1Lost -4pts
Dustin Johnson came quite close to victory last night in Houston and given his credentials I can't help but support him despite quite a few negatives. He gets plenty of criticism for not closing out a major before now, but people tend to forget just how difficult that is. Phil Mickelson had plenty of heartbreaks before breaking through and Dustin is similar. Both are aggressive golfers who abandon course management from time to time.

Granted, some of Dustin's misdemeanours on final days of major championships have been a bit more dramatic than Phil's close calls. Anyhow, Augusta is probably the venue most suited to the big hitting yank. He has threatened to tear the course apart on occasions but has always found trouble. His all round stats were exceptional last week, from driving to putting so he will come to Augusta brimming with confidence. He also has the wily old fox Butch Harmon in his corner and he has a knack of producing major champions.

Bubba has blown Augusta to pieces twice in recent years and their two games couldn't be any more similar. Dustin would not look odd on the winner's rota behind Scott and Bubba lately and if it proves to be a bombers week then I expect Dustin to be towards the top of the leaderboard on Sunday evening.
Dustin Johnson - 2pts e/w @ 20/1Placed 4pts
As ever, there will always be the odd contender at bigger odds so given the competitive nature of the event with the bookies I feel we are being invited to invest more heavily with the terms on offer. I can't get away from the lively chance of Brandt Snedeker this week. With a win and 7 other top 10s in the last 10 months Brandt must fancy his chances of success this week. He has a 3rd and 6th placed finishes here in his career but I feel he is coming here in the best condition he has ever been. Butch Harmon seems to be a theme in this preview, but believe me it wasn't intentional beforehand. There is no doubting that Butch has improved Brandt's game though. He pulled out of the Cadillac with injury in March but bar that hasn't missed a cut this calendar year. Outside of the favs he represents the best value.
Brandt Snedeker - 0.75pts e/w @ 66/1Lost -1.5pts
Finally I'll have a small bet on Bill Haas. He has six made cuts from six outings here at Augusta and is more than capable on his day. His form here reads 26-42-37-20-20-12. Steadily getting better this last five years on the trot. He has four top tens in his last seven starts and I would not be surprised by a strong showing this week.

With six wins on tour he has shown himself to have a lot of ability and I fully expect him to contest in a right few majors over the next ten years. There is no doubting that his game suits a more challenging, tighter track than Augusta however the likes of Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar have posted solid results around here so this type of golfer can not be ruled out. Certainly has the class to contend. Of the others Phil Mickelson was reluctantly left off my list. He is playing out of skin right now and clearly has the bit between his teeth. He wasn't too far off last week and admitted afterward the shots he was hitting were geared towards Augusta and so not the correct strategy for the course in Houston. Given that he still made the fringes of contention on Sunday is evidence that Phil holds every chance of winning on this week. In recent months there has always been the odd mistake however and that is the reason I can't invest in and around the 20/1 mark. I wouldn't put anyone off backing him though.

Bubba and Scott hold every chance but don't represent any market value for me. I'll be back tomorrow with another write up on the best extra bets for the years first major.
Bill Haas - 0.5pts e/w @ 125/1Lost -1pts