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Tom Jacobs picks five players in the First Round Leader market in the first major of the year, The Masters!
ANALYSIS

2024 Masters First Round Leader Picks and Predictions: Bet on Young to Start Fast at Augusta

The Masters is my favorite golf event of the year and I enjoy analyzing the first round leader market, so this is always going to be fun.

The 2024 US Masters is almost upon us, and with just two days to go until the opening round, it is now time to pick out our favorite players for the opening round. This market can of course be volatile, but there are definite trends when you look back over the years, as you would expect at an event so closely aligned with course history.

Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm battled it out for the Green Jacket last year and shared the lead with Viktor Hovland on day one, who would also go on to finish 7th.

Over the past five years, 2 of the 10 leaders/co-leaders here after round 1 have gone on to win the event (Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm), two more have finished runner-up (Brooks Koepka x 2) and only one has finished outside of the top 8 at the end of the week (Paul Casey 38th in 2020). This means you will likely need to target players who you truly believe can contend at the end of the week, in this market as well.

We are here to kick off your Masters betting week in the best way, by nailing a winner in this First Round Leader Market. Whether we give you the pick, or our research helps you find a selection of your own, we hope this article helps you find a winner on Thursday.

2024 Masters First Round Leader Strategy, Trends

We are going to make a slight alteration to the format of this section, for The Masters, as this is an event with plenty of course history and there are trends to establish.

First, let's look at every First Round Leader here since 2010.

  • 2023 – Viktor Hovland (10:18 am), Brooks Koepka (11:54 am), Jon Rahm (10:42 am) - 65
  • 2022 – Sungjae Im (12:57 pm) - 67
  • 2021 – Justin Rose (12:48 pm) - 65
  • 2020 – Paul Casey (7:44 am), Dylan Frittelli (12:00 pm, Dustin Johnson (12:00 pm) - 65
  • 2019 – Bryson DeChambeau (1:38 pm), Brooks Koepka (2:00 pm) - 66
  • 2018 – Jordan Spieth (1:49 pm) - 66
  • 2017 – Charley Hoffman (1:08 pm) - 65
  • 2016 – Jordan Spieth (9:48 am) - 66
  • 2015 – Jordan Spieth (1:15 pm) - 64
  • 2014 – Bill Haas (10:08 am) - 68
  • 2013 – Sergio Garcia (12:57 pm), Marc Leishman (9:28 am) - 66
  • 2012 – Lee Westwood (12:58 pm) - 67
  • 2011 – Rory McIlroy (9:24 am), Alvaro Quiros (13:59 pm) - 65
  • 2010 – Fred Couples – (11:58 am) - 66

The weather is going to dictate whether there is a draw bias here or not because there has been a good mix of AM and PM first round leaders here since 2010.

We will go into the Weather Forecast for round 1 of the Masters below, but first, let's look at some Masters first round leader trends.

Masters First Round Leader Trends

Course Experience Key: It won't be a surprise to anyone, but course experience is as key as they suggest at Augusta. Brett Wetterich (2007) was the last debutant to lead after round 1 at Augusta, and before that was Chris DiMarco (2001). Of the 32 players to lead or co-lead here after round 1 here at Augusta since 2001, only 5 had played here less than two times. DiMarco and Wetterich led after round 1 on their debut, and Justin Rose (2001), Marc Leishman (2013), and Jordan Spieth (2015) all led after round 1 on just their second start.

Breaking Par Before Essential: It obviously wasn't the case for DiMarco or Wetterich, but of the other 30 players to lead or co-lead here since 2001, only Marc Leishman (2013), Alvaro Quiros (2011), and Dylan Frittelli (2020) had led here after round 1, without previously breaking par at Augusta. The 27 other leaders/co-leaders here after round 1 had previously broken par (71 or better) before posting the first-round lead here.

Look for a Genuine Masters Contender: Of the 32 players to lead/co-lead here on day 1 since 2001, 21 of them went on to finish inside the top 10 at the end of the week. That means only 11 of those players failed to make the first page of the leaderboard by the end of the week. In my eyes, this means we are looking for someone you truly believe can top 10 at Augusta, not just play one good round.

So what do we need?

  • Someone who has played at Augusta at least once, but preferably 2+ times
  • Someone who has broken par at Augusta already
  • Someone who you think can end the week in and around the top 10

Weather Forecast at The Masters

The weather is set to be problematic on Thursday, with the potential for Thunderstorms in the morning likely to disrupt play. If and when they clear, the players will then be faced with strong winds and gusts.

Knowing the morning tee times could be delayed, I think it is wise to split your picks across the morning and afternoon starters.

Augusta Weather

Who in this Field Started Fast on Tour Last Season?

Here are the 5 fastest starters in the field based on their Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2022/23 PGA Tour season.)

  • Scottie Scheffler (1st overall in 2022/23 – Scoring Average 67.91 – Low Opening Round – 63 (Travelers Championship)
  • Adam Scott (2nd Overall in 2022/23 - Scoring Average 68.50 - Low Opening Round - 62 (Travelers Championship)
  • Ludvig Aberg (3rd overall in 2022/23 – Scoring Average 68.54) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Rocket Mortgage Classic)
  • Xander Schauffele (4th overall in 2022/23 – Scoring Average 68.62) – Low Opening Round – 62 (US Open)
  • Viktor Hovland (5th overall in 2022/23 – Scoring Average 68.86) – Low Opening Round – 64 (RBC Heritage)

What Score is Required to Lead After Round 1?

Since 2010, the average leading score in round 1 has been 65.78, and I am quite happy to round that up to 66 given the weather conditions in front of us.

A 65 was required to lead after Round 1 in 3 of the last 4 Masters, but a 66 should definitely put you in the mix this year, and a 65 would almost certainly be enough.

The Favorites in the Masters First Round Leader Market This Week

Here are the favorites in the First Round Leader market at the 2024 US Masters.

  • Scottie Scheffler (+1200)
  • Rory McIlroy (+1800)
  • Jon Rahm (+1800)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (+2500)
  • Xander Schauffele (+2500)
  • Brooks Koepka (+3000)

2024 Masters First Round Leader Picks

Here are my First Round Leader selections for the 2024 Masters.

Xander Schauffele +2500 (BetRivers)

Xander Schauffele loves Augusta National, and while he has not managed to win here yet, he has posted some seriously good rounds.

In the 2019 Masters, Schauffele shot a second-round 65 to vault himself to within 1 of the lead, and that is where he finished the week, coming up one shot shy of Tiger Woods' winning score.

Xander then opened with a 67 in 2020 to sit within two of the first round lead, and he has since shot two 68s (Round 3 2021, Round 1 2023).

To own 6 rounds of 68 or better in as many appearances is strong, and that means he's averaging at least one round of 68 or better each time he tees it up here. His debut in 2018 and his missed cut in 2022 were the only two times he'd failed to post a score of 68 or better at this course.

Last season, Schauffele finished 4th in Round 1 Scoring Average, and that adds to rankings of 10th (2021-2022), 7th (2020-2021), 18th (2019-2020), 59th (2018-2019), 20th (2017-2018) and 44th (2016-2017). Simply put, Schauffele is one of the best when it comes to round 1 scoring, and that has carried over to the biggest events.

He has led after round 1 of the Tour Championship (72-hole scoring leaderboard 2019), the U.S. Open (2023), and most recently the PLAYERS Championship (2024).

27 times in his career, Xander Schauffele has been within two shots of the first round lead, which means he's been within touching distance of cashing in this market on many different occasions. Of those 27 instances, 8 of them have been in majors or the PLAYERS Championship, including once here, and four times in the U.S. Open. Schauffele knows how to start fast, and will look to do so again this week.

Schauffele ranks 8th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season, as well as 2nd in Scoring Average, 8th in Birdie Average, 5th in Birdie or Better Percentage, and 2nd in Bogey Avoidance.

Playing with Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler, I think Xander enjoys his opening round at Augusta. Xander played with Rory in the opening two rounds of this event in 2021, beating him in both, and he has the slightest edge over him throughout his career, winning 15 of the 29 rounds they have played with one another. On the flipside, Xander is 1-5 against Scheffler, when the two are paired together. Schauffele shot a 63 in round 2 of the Tour Championship when paired with Scheffler in 2022, but that is the only time he has broken 70 playing with him. Scheffler has also only broken 70 twice when paired with Schauffele, and one of those was when shooting 66 to Schauffele's 63 at East Lake.

Cameron Young +4500 (FanDuel)

I don't know if being all-in on a player who has never won on the PGA Tour is the way to go at Augusta, but that is the position I find myself in on with Cameron Young.

Young was one of my Masters sleepers, as I think he has a great chance of contending, and if he is to do so, it will almost certainly have to be off the back of a fast start. Masters winners generally have to start quickly, so betting on Young to start the week quickly has to make sense to me.

He fits the trends I like, as just like Schauffele he's a player that can truly contend here and he has broken par on multiple occasions (Round 1 67, Round 4 68 in 2024). Add in the fact that this is his third start around this course, and I am excited about his chances at Augusta. He has the perfect game for this course and now the (positive) experience to go with it.

I wonder what size jacket he wears?

In all seriousness, Young is generally a fast starter, and while it has been an up-and-down year for him, he's already led the Dubai Desert Classic for the first three rounds, opened with a 67 to sit 8th in Phoenix, a 65 at the Cognizant Classic to sit 3rd, and he finished 2nd in his most recent start at the Valspar Championship.

Young tees off in the afternoon with Adam Scott and Sam Burns, and he will look to build on the 15 occasions where he has already ended the day within two of the first-round lead. Young has experience leading a major after round 1, as he held a 2-shot lead in Round 1 of the 2022 Open Championship.

Cameron Young has played with Adam Scott 5 times, beating him on three occasions and tying him on another. Playing with Sam Burns hasn't been as fruitful, with the latter coming out on top in 5 of their 11 rounds together, with Young winning 3 and the rest ending in a tie.

Jason Day +5500 (DraftKings)

Jason Day opened with a 67 here last year to sit in 4th place after round 1, and that was the second time he'd opened with that score in his Masters career, as he did the same back in 2015, to sit three back of Jordan Spieth's first-round lead in 2nd place.

That means the Aussie has twice been within touching distance of the first-round lead here at Augusta, and he's broken par in round 1 at this event in five of his seven starts.

He's not been prolific here in round 1 by any means, but he's shown with a second-round 64 in 2011, two 67s in 2019, and two opening rounds of the same score in 2015 and 2023, that he's more than capable of shooting a low one here. Add that to the fact he's started fast on more than one occasion this season, and I think we have a major contender in the first-round leader market.

Day opened with a 65 at The Sentry to kick off his year in 2nd place in round 1, and he started with the same score at Riviera to sit in the same position on Thursday there as well. That's two opening rounds of 65 this season that have seen him sit one back of the first-round lead, but that same score would almost certainly be enough to lead The Masters after round 1 this week. Another fast start at The PLAYERS where he sat 6th after round 1 with an opening 67 suggests he's saved his best work for the biggest opening rounds this season, and they don't come any bigger than Thursday at Augusta.

Day will have to deal with big crowds, as he tees it up with Tiger Woods and Max Homa in the afternoon in Round 1, but he's been fine with that in the past. In fact, Day has got the better of Tiger in 9 of the 12 rounds they have played together, although Woods was rarely playing his best stuff. That will likely be the same this week though, and the only time the two were paired together in a major, Day shot a 66 to sit one back of the opening-day lead at the 2015 British Open.

Day has played three rounds with Max Homa, all at the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship, and he kicked the week off with an opening round 63 to lead after day one, backed that up with a 67, but then unfortunately shot 79 in round 3. He will have the Thursday lead to lean on as a positive memory with this pairing. One he should be comfortable with.

Nick Taylor +10000 (BetRivers)

It was a toss-up between Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor and I have given the edge to Taylor, in the interest of balance. With two later starters in Cameron Young and Jason Day, I wanted another early starter or at least someone who is scheduled to play on Thursday AM!

Taylor opened with a 60 when winning the Phoenix Open earlier this season, and in his last three events, he's opened with rounds of 69, 66, and 68, to sit 8th, 4th, and 14th after round 1, so he's getting himself in the mix early and often.

I have talked at length on the podcast this season, about Taylor's improvement and how I think he's destined to do bigger things after the Canadian Open win really gave him the confidence to kick on after an extremely promising college career.

To change his status in the game, he would need to find himself in the mix at one of the majors, and so far, his T29 here in 2020 was his best finish in the four biggest events of the year. Being in the mix through two rounds at The PLAYERS this year felt like another step forward in bigger events, and considering he shot a 69 here in 2020, albeit in a November Masters, he should at least know his way around.

Taylor has twice shot 65 in the company of Russell Henley (Round 4 2024 Sony Open, Round 2 2019 Greenbrier) and he also shot a 64 in round 1 of the 2018 John Deere Classic, when paired with Joaquin Niemann, so he should feel comfortable with his playing partners on Thursday morning.

He fits the trends in terms of his playing experience here, and while it is the first time he's playing at this time of year, I think this might be more suitable for him.

Mathieu Pavon +10000 (BetMGM)

So I might be about to make the most tenuous link possible, but I like the fact that Mathieu Pavon is seemingly following Jon Rahm, and other Masters winners around.

Pavon opened with a 64 at the Open de Espana in 2022, leaving him one shot off the lead after round 1, and he eventually finished 2nd to Rahm that week. A year later he opened with a 63 to lead after round 1, a tournament he then went onto win, with Rahm finishing in 9th.

Pavon has been in the mix after round 1 of the Dubai Desert Classic on two separate occasions, a tournament, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Tiger Woods have all won. Each of those stars has starred at Augusta over the years, and that is another good sign for Pavon.

Then factor in his hot start at the Nedbank Challenge, a tournament Masters winners, Garcia, Willett, Trevor Immelman, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Fred Couples, Raymond Floyd and Seve Ballesteros have all won, and you have another positive.

He hasn't played in many majors, but in 2018 he was 2 back of the first-round lead at the U.S. Open, and let's not forget he was the shock winner at Torrey Pines, another win he and Rahm have in common.

Pavon threatened to go off the boil, after first adapting to life as a winner pretty well, but he has since finished top 5 at the Singapore Classic, so I think he'll be confident enough to lead the debutants on round 1 and start off a dream week in the right way.

The Frenchman has already played twice with Keegan Bradley this season, and he shot 67 when paired with him in round 3 at the Sony Open (Keegan shot 63), and he posted a 66 in round 3 atPebble Beach to beat Bradley by 3 that day, so they seemingly enjoy each others company. Pavon has surprisingly never played with Tyrrell Hatton.

Article Author

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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-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!

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