Masters First Round Leader Picks and Predictions: Back Dustin Johnson for a Hot Start at Augusta

We have arrived at Augusta for our first major, The Masters! We are going to break down what it takes to lead at this event after day one and who we think can take advantage of their course knowledge to start fast on Thursday.
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Masters First Round Leader Picks and Predictions: Back Dustin Johnson for a Hot Start at Augusta

The outright betting market is going to be the focal point this week, but the First Round Leader market is a fun way to get on your favorite selections early and try and secure some profit on day one!

MASTERS FIRST-ROUND LEADER STRATEGY

In terms of AM/PM splits at the Masters over the past 10 years, there has only been two occasions where the leader or one of the co-leaders hasn't come from an afternoon wave, so if anything there seems to be a bias towards afternoon starters here.

Now with the weather forecast over the next couple of days, Augusta is expected to be soft Thursday, so a morning tee time might still be advantageous, despite the history here, but I will split my selections over both waves.

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HERE ARE THE FIRST-ROUND LEADERS AT AUGUSTA SINCE 2012

2021 - Justin Rose (12:48 pm) - 65

2020 - Dustin Johnson (12:10 pm), Dylan Frittelli (12:10 pm), and Paul Casey (7.54 am) - 65

2019 - Brooks Koepka (14:00 pm), Bryson DeChambeau (13:38 pm) - 66

2018 - Jordan Spieth (13:49 pm) - 66

2017 - Charley Hoffman (13:08 pm) - 65

2016 - Jordan Spieth (09:48 am)- 66

2015 - Jordan Spieth (13:15 pm) - 64

2014 - Bill Haas (10:08 am)- 68

2013 - Marc Leishman (09:28 am), Sergio Garcia (12:57 pm) - 66

2012 - Lee Westwood (12:58pm) - 67

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FASTEST STARTERS THIS SEASON

Here are the top-10 fastest starters in this field, based on Round 1 Scoring Average on the PGA Tour this season:

T1 Cameron Smith - 6 starts & Patrick Cantlay - 7 starts - Scoring average 67.00

3 Russell Henley - 11 Starts - Scoring Average 67.27

4 Billy Horschel - 8 Starts - Scoring Average 67.50

5 Daniel Berger - 5 Starts - Scoring Average 67.60

6 Joaquin Niemann - 6 Starts - Scoring Average 67.80

7 Jon Rahm - 8 Starts - Scoring Average 68.38

8 Sam Burns - 11 Starts - Scoring Average 68.45

T9 - Tommy Fleetwood - 6 Starts, Brian Harman & Cameron Young - 12 Starts - Scoring Average 68.50

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WHAT SCORE IS REQUIRED TO LEAD AFTER ROUND 1?

Averaging out the leading round 1 scores here from the past decade, the number we get is 65.8 and while that suggests we should lean towards an opening day score of 66, Bill Haas' leading score of 68 on day one in 2014 is a bit of an outlier, so I would be tempted to round down this time to 65. The leading score on Thursday has been 65 or better on four of the last ten occasions, including the last two years, and three of the last five. If the course is soft Thursday as expected, we could get some good scores, although the wind may mitigate that somewhat. I still forecast the score to be 65 or 66, and 65 is a great target for someone to hopefully post.

THE MASTERS FIRST-ROUND LEADER FAVORITES ODDS

Jon Rahm +2000 (Bet $100 to Win $2000)

I have written about Jon Rahm as a favorite in all markets for what feels like a million years, but the gap is closing, and now he comes to Augusta with the hope of finding a better putting stroke. If he does, he will contend for the win, and maybe in this market as well.

His best opening-day rounds here have been 69, which he shot in both 2019 and 2020, but he will need to start faster than that to cash in this market.

Rahm has three rounds of 66 or better on his resumé here in five starts and one of those will put him right there in this market if he can produce one on Thursday.

He ranks 7th in this field in Round 1 scoring average this season, averaging 68.38. He opened with a round of 66 in his first three-straight events in 2022, and a 67 in Phoenix. Rounds of 69-72-69 to open his last three are less appealing, but overall he is a solid round 1 player.

Justin Thomas +2200 (Bet $100 to Win $2200)

We know Justin Thomas has been a fast starter throughout his career, leading or co-leading 11 times after day one, and being within two of the opening-day lead a total of 34 times, most recently when two back after an opening 66 at the Valspar.

Thomas is my pick to win this week and a fast start is clearly a possibility as well. Unfortunately, it has been round 1 that has been the problem for Thomas almost every year at Augusta, failing to break 73 in five of his six starts.

When he did break 73 on day one though, he did it in fine fashion, firing a 66 in round 1 in 2020, to sit one back of the day one lead in 4th. Coincidentally, this led to his best-ever finish by a stretch in this event, as he finished in 4th place, and a fast start might be essential to his victory this week.

In the last ten years, only Sergio Garcia (6 shots) has been more than 4 shots back on day one and then gone on to win, so he will want a decent start, even if not out in front. An opening 67/68 would be a really good start for Thomas to grow into the event, and I suspect that is how he will play it, so he might not reach the pinnacle on day one.

Cameron Smith +2500 (Bet $100 to Win $2500)

His round 1 form isn't as disappointing as Justin Thomas' is, but he's only broke 70 once on Thursday in his five starts here, and that was when he opened with a 67 in 2020.

Smith is the joint-fastest starter on the PGA Tour this season in terms of round 1 scoring average, averaging 67.00 across his 7 starts.

Just this season, Smith has opened with rounds of 66, 64, 65, 67, 67 so he's made his intentions clear from the get-go most weeks, and it would be no surprise were he to do it here.

16 times in his career, Smith has been within two of the lead after day one, including five times since the start of 2021. One of those came here in the 2020 Masters and he's held four first-round leads worldwide since the start of his career.

Given his awesome starts this season and his affinity with Augusta, a day one lead here is certainly not out of the question.

Dustin Johnson +2500 (Bet $100 to Win $2500)

Dustin Johnson is one of my selections, so more on him below.

Scottie Scheffler +2500 (Bet $100 to Win $2500)

Scottie Scheffler has held one first-round lead so far in his career, but he's not been out here long, so it is nothing to hold against him. That was at the 2019 Bermuda Championship where he opened with a 62 and we know Scheffler is accustomed to a low round at any given time, you don't get to World No.1 without that trait.

Extending the parameters to within two then Scheffler has been within two of the lead a further 9 times, and three of those came in 2021.

He's seemed to be the type that is happy to grow into an event, and that is smart especially in a major, as trying to sleep on a lead every round at the biggest event of the year is going to be tough.

15th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season, averaging 68.64 over 11 starts is nothing to be sniffed at though, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on, with Ted Scott, a two-time Masters winning caddie on his bag. Will it make an instant impact? That remains to be seen, but Scheffler already has a round of 68 under his belt at Augusta, and a couple of shots better is well within his grasp.

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MASTERS FIRST-ROUND LEADER SELECTIONS

Dustin Johnson +2500 (Bet $100 to Win $2500)

Best Round 1 position at Augusta: T1 (2020)

Best score at Augusta: 65 (twice in 2020)

Best Round 1 score this season: 65 (Saudi International)

Dustin Johnson co-led here two years ago and that adds to a 67 he shot in 2013 to sit 3rd after day one, and the 68 he shot in 2019 to sit 4th going into Friday.

All in all, then, he's been pretty successful here on day one, especially in recent years and I can see history repeating itself.

In his career, dating back to 2008, Johnson has been within two of the first-round lead 57 times and led or co-led after day one on 17 of those occasions. The most recent of those was that lead here in the 2020 renewal, so he's not been prolific in this department of late, but he's found some form recently, and I could certainly see that leading to a sub-70 round here on day one.

On top of his historically good form on Day One, Johnson opened with a 69 at the PLAYERS which was three off the best score, 67 at the Valspar which again was three off the best, and a 65 to open in Saudi. For all the talk of his dip in form, he's still playing some good golf, expectations are just so high that we want to see more.

He's going to show it this week at Augusta, and preferably in round 1.

Dustin Johnson tees off at 1:30pm, with Billy Horschel and Collin Morikawa

Jordan Spieth +3000 (Bet $100 to Win $3000)

Best Round 1 position at Augusta: 1st (2015, 2016, 2018)

Best score at Augusta: 64

Best Round 1 score this season: 66 (twice)

With three first-round leads in eight Masters starts, Jordan Spieth is clearly very comfortable playing Augusta on a Thursday, and after leading the field in tee-to-green, and posting a bogey-free 67 at the Valero on Sunday, he's in fine spirits.

He needs to sort his putting out, that much is obvious, but his tee-to-green game has been in good shape on and off this season, and if he can marry both together, on greens he used to be very good on, it could culminate in a round 1 lead.

I don't like his chances outright this year, I just don't think he's playing well enough to do it for four days, but one of Augusta's favorite son's can do it for one round.

Outside of his three first-round leads, he's also been 8th (2021) and 12th (2014) after day one, so he's almost always in and around the first page of the leaderboard heading into Friday here.

Jordan Spieth tees off at 1:52 pm, with Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele.

Shane Lowry +5000 (Bet $100 to Win $5000)

Best Round 1 position at Augusta: 2nd (2016)

Best score at Augusta: 68

Best Round 1 score this season: 67 (Abu Dhabi)

Shane Lowry will need to improve on his Masters record if he wants to contend this week, and he will certainly have to start faster, but I think both of those things are possible for a man that leads the field in Approach and Tee-to-Green in 2022.

Lowry appears to be learning here, and in what will be his 7th start at this event, I think this former major and WGC winner can ruffle a few feathers this week, especially if the weather gets up.

To really contend for this title I do think he needs to be in touching distance on day one, and the best way to ensure that happens is for him to go and shoot a career-low score around Augusta, which his current form suggests he can do.

I will take a chance that this year is the year he finally pieces it together in a major he's threatened to play well in but never seen it through to the end. We don't need him to do that this week though, one good round on Thursday will do!

Shane Lowry tees off at 10:01 am with Kevin Na and Max Homa.

Justin Rose +6000 (Bet $100 to Win $6000)

Best Round 1 position at Augusta: 1st (2004, 2007, 2008, and 2021)

Best score at Augusta: 65 (2021)

Best Round 1 score this season: 67 (three times)

Justin Rose has been pretty abysmal of late and is outside the top-50 once again, and if he doesn't want to end the year outside of that number for the first time since 2009, he needs to buck his ideas up.

The best place for Justin Rose to put this slump to a halt is at Augusta, where he relishes the big stage and the tough challenge Augusta presents, and just like he did last year, I think he can put on a show in round 1.

Rose, after finishing T54 at WGC Workday, and withdrawing from Bay Hill, came here on his very next start and shot a 7-under 65 to lead this field by four shots 12 months ago, and that was the fourth time he had led this field going into Friday.

On top of his four-round 1 leads here, he was 2nd behind Spieth in 2015, when firing a 67 on day one, was 4th the following year with an opening 69, and in the same position again the year after that with a 71. Again in 2020, he opened with a round of 67 to sit 6th after day one, and the good opening-day performances continue to roll.

I might not think he can win here anymore, despite being convinced a few years ago that he was certain to, at some point in his career, but I do think he can set the pace once again.

Along with Spieth, Rose is the ultimate day one player here, and I like both of their chances of doing it on Thursday.

Justin Rose tees off at 12:02 pm with Gary Woodland and Takumi Kanaya.

Brian Harman +8000 (Bet $100 to Win $8000)

Best Round 1 position at Augusta: 2nd (2021)

Best score at Augusta: 69 (three times)

Best Round 1 score this season: 66 (RSM Classic)

In the interest of balance, I wanted another player from the AM wave, and while I was tempted by the big-hitting, Cameron Young, who I expect to have a good week, no course debutant has led after day one of the Masters since Brett Wetterich did it in 2007. It is possible of course and many have come close, but instead, I will opt for Brian Harman who is making his fourth start at Augusta.

Harman closed with a final-round 69 in 2018 and came back three years later, and opened with two rounds of the same score, and all of a sudden he looks like a player who could go well round here.

As a Georgia Bulldog, a good week at Augusta is the pinnacle, and Harman after finishing 12th last year looks capable of producing that now.

Harman has played some good golf this year, finishing T3 at the AMEX, T14 in Phoenix, and T5 recently at the Valspar, and he's consistently opening with rounds of 66 or 67.

I think he is continuing to learn here and is capable of going a step further than his 12th last year, so I could see him starting with a great 66 here on Thursday and then cross everything that it is enough. How he reacts after that is anyone's guess, but for the purposes of this bet, we don't care.

Brian Harman tees off at 9:06 am with Harry Higgs and Stewart Cink.

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Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-host the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on the tours on both sides of the pond. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, but his main passion remains golf, and every year he holds onto the hope of Lee Westwood winning his first major championship.

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