After all the talking and ploughing through articles and statistical analysis it's time to make our final decision on where our money goes in the first major of the year. As I mentioned in our Podcast recorded last week The Masters has always proven to be my most challenging major in terms of making a profit. I always find it difficult to choose between those 20 or so golfers who have legitimate chances. This year is a bit different as I am quite keen on a few at the head of the market. Par 4 scoring is a key metric if you want to slip on the green jacket on Sunday evening. Birdie or better conversion is a stat to look to as all winners in the last handful of years have all been high on that stat in the run into Augusta. Dylan Beirne from the 15th Club joined me on the podcast and gave us the nugget that since 2007 nobody has won the Masters with a Strokes Gained Approach season average of less than 0.2 going into the event. That rules out a fair bunch of golfers and reminds us once again that the most in form golfers from the top 30 in the world is where we need to look to when narrowing our search for a winner.
We will start our analysis with my top selection DUSTIN JOHNSON (best price +1100). He has made the top 10 on his last three attempts in Georgia. His mishap on the stairs two years ago scuppered what was his best chance to win this title as he entered that event with three wins on the trot. He was going off +500 favourite there before having to withdraw. In 2019 he has played more golf before the Masters than any of the previous years and I'm hoping that proves a positive. His strokeplay record this year reads 1-49-9-1-5-6. Not many have that consistency and Dustin strikes me as hot as when he won his US Open a few years ago. His major record since that win hasn't been as good as what you might think it should be but now is the time to prove he is one of the games elite by becoming a multiple major winner. He ranks 21st in Par 4 scoring this year and ranks 8th in strokes gained approach. His putting stats don't look terrible at all but it is the one area that worries me. I've seen a bunch of poor strokes in the last few months but that being said he has two wins and three other top tens. In the mould of Bubba, things should click here for Dustin at some point in his career. There isn't much difference between him and Rory this year and the extra few points makes DJ a slightly better punting proposition than the market leader.
4pts Dustin Johnson to win @ +1100
Earlier in the year I advised a chunky each way bet on McIlroy in Mexico. He obliged in making the places but when writing the preview I suggested piling into him and Dustin each way certainly didn't seem like a bad way to operate that week. I was left disappointed I didn't have the conviction to tip the top 2 in the market as DJ romped to victory on Sunday. I feel similar this week that an each way bet on McIlroy is not a bad punt. He is playing the best golf in the world this year and with a solid putter now in hand this looks like his best chance to date to put the icing on that grand slam cake. That being said the +700 now looks a bit malnourished. McIlroy hasn't found winning easy and I suspect we will see some of the mistakes he has made at Augusta resurface at some stage over the four days. He overcame some setbacks at Sawgrass and he is a lively jolly.
Jordan Spieth again showed some positives when scoring very well over two days last week in Texas. He remains the conundrum this week and whether his season can take so much of an upward curve here at Augusta given the difficulties he has had of late is doubtful. I may take a strong stance on this in my extras preview which will be published later in the week. Tiger Woods looks sure enough to put his name towards the top of proceedings at some point but his price looks thin for someone who has yet to contend at the business end of an event this year. If he can drive the ball well he looks as good as any with his approach play so I can see him playing a huge part in the finish here. Nevertheless the price doesn't interest me and others appeal more ahead of him and behind in the market.
Outside of the top two JUSTIN THOMAS (best price +2000) looks like one worth supporting. 39-22-17 are his figures here where he has failed to put four good rounds together. Improvement year on year is a good sign though and he comes slightly underrated as he has yet to win this season. In seven strokeplay events this year he has posted three top 3 finishes. That is more than Rory and Dustin and the only golfer in the field who can equal that tally of top 3 finishes is Paul Casey. He ranks 2nd in Par 4 birdie or better stats and 5th in Strokes Gained approach this year. He flies a little under the radar with not the same attention on him as the others ahead of him in the market. Most of the attention will go Rory and Tiger's way this week and someone like Thomas who already has a major on the board may just benefit from the pressure the others are under.
2pts Justin Thomas to win @ +2000
In 2016 JASON DAY (best price +3300) went off +600 for this event and ever since he has been lurking between +1400 and +1800. This year we see a much more inflated price and I think it is a bit of an overreaction. The Australian is a strange one when it comes to predicting his best performances. In the fantasy golf era he hasn't won many friends by turning up and playing events with injuries, and many times withdrawing without a hint that he would do so. The latest WD came at Bayhill. He bounced back a week later to most people's surprise with a top ten showing at Sawgrass. That makes it a trio of top tens this season so far with two more dropping at Pebble and Torrey Pines. There is barely a course on the planet that is more suited to Day's game. He hits a high right to left ball and that high trajectory is perfect for approaching these greens. He ranks 16th in the Par 4 birdie or better stats this year but cuts a sorry figure in the strokes gained approaching statistic which seems so valuable here. Nevertheless I am prepared to take the risk on him that this number may never be available for him again in the following few years.
1.5pts Jason Day to win @ +3300
CAMERON SMITH (best price +12000) has shown he can handle pressure by winning his home PGA Championship two years on the trot. That field is deep and those two wins prove he has what it takes to win a major. Indeed in his short career to date he has already posted two top 5s in Majors with the most recent coming here at Augusta on his second appearance last year. Smith has the requisite Strokes Gained approach number above 0.2 at just short of 0.5. He sits 14th in the Par 4 birdie or better rankings. All is going swimmingly for the Australian and top tens this year at Torrey Pines and Mexico are exactly the places you'd like to be playing well on before arriving in Georgia. When he arrived on tour a few years ago he was hotly tipped by many as a future major winner. It has taken a few years for his game to mature but he certainly doesn't look far off landing one of these titles. Now sits 28th in the world and ticks many boxes. The liveliest outsider in the field.
1pt Cameron Smith to win @ +12000