2017 US Masters Preview

Our golf scribe previews the first Major of the year, the 2017 US Masters, which gets underway this Thursday.
This year’s Masters at Augusta comes at a very strange time in the world of golf. The controversy surrounding Lexi Thompson’s four-shot penalty at last week's first female golfing major has once again called into question some of the draconian laws that seem so idiosyncratically confined to golf. To put into context - imagine that exact same incident were to occur with Rory pressing towards that mythical career Grand Slam. Let’s hope that such an event doesn’t occur this week as Augusta prepares for what is sure to be an astounding Masters. The sheer wealth of subplots and intrigue is the envy of any Hollywood blockbuster.

You have the dominant presence of Dustin Johnson to factor into the equation. Fresh off of making it a slam of WGC events, Johnson is the preeminent force in world golf, utilising that massive driving distance to win his last three events. He leads the markets ahead of Rory, whose push for a career Grand Slam has had a fairly low-key build up this year: which could actually work to his advantage. What story would be more satisfying come Sunday than a victory for the affable Jason Day, whose own preparations for the event have been problematized by his mother’s sickness?

Jordan Spieth will be hoping to exorcise some fairly resistant demons this year as he aims to don his second green jacket. His Shakespearean collapse last year is a reminder to all of the pitfalls that await the players out there. You also have Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama - two golfers who started the season majestically but have gone somewhat silent in the last few weeks. Then you have that bevvy of players for whom Augusta just makes sense. The likes of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen will be eagerly awaiting the chance to make that walk down Magnolia Lane with a chance of adding to their major’s count.

The Masters | Thursday 6 April - Sunday 9 April | Augusta National, Georgia, Texas

Top 5 Masters Meltdowns
Scott Hoch (1989)
While not a meltdown in the truest sense of the word, this one gets pride of place amongst the top momentary brain-farts in golfing lore. Forever known as Scott Choke in the wake of this, Hoch forced a playoff with Nick Faldo. He then proceeded to miss a two-footer on the 1st playoff hole. It wouldn’t be the last time that the occasionally truculent Englishman would benefit from a lapse in judgement at Augusta.

Kenny Perry (2009)
I don’t know what it is about recent years at Augusta that has helped to facilitate such bloodcurdling fades in judgement. Perhaps it has something to do with the growing self-awareness that the media coverage introduces. Leading by two with two to play; the Green Jacket seemed destined for Perry. But four consecutive missed greens with short irons - including two in sudden death - put pay to his chances. This including a frankly embarrassing bladed chip at the 17th that virtually handed the tournament to Angel Cabrera.

Rory McIlroy (2011)
This one has always amused me. There’s nothing quite like seeing a professional golfer hunting for his ball amongst the residential cabins to remind one of the all-too-human fallibility of these guys. The Northern Irishman held a four-stroke lead after 54 holes, but things started to capitulate pretty early on. He did, however, still hold a one-stroke lead after the front 9 and had the chance to keep it together. But then there was that ill-fated drive at 10 that went miles left. He ended with a triple bogey 7. He then bogeyed 11 before double bogeying 12 and bogeying 15. He ended up ten shots behind eventual winner Charl Schwartzel.

Jordan Spieth (2016)
This one was really one that had to be seen to be believed. Just pipped to the post by Norman’s date with destiny in 1996, this one perhaps features the most abrupt reversal of fortune in Masters History. Spieth led Smylie Kaufmann by one shot going into the final round, making it seven consecutive rounds he led at Augusta. He then proceeded to birdie the final four holes of the front nine - opening up a five-shot lead in the process. Destiny seemed to be on his side. But three holes changed all that. Bogeys at the 10th and 11th dented the lead, but it was a horrifying quadruple bogey at the par 3 12th that literally sank his chances.

Greg Norman (1996)
Despite the intensity of Spieth’s debacle last season, I still that that the Great White Shark’s demise was ‘numero uno’. It traversed all the emotional landscape that makes meltdowns so compelling. He held a 6 shot lead over Nick Faldo at the start of the day before he finished 5 shots behind the Englishman. The Aussie made 3 consecutive bogeys from 9 to 11, before doubles at both 12 and 16 extinguished any hope for Norman

Past Winners
2016: Danny Willett (-5) | 2015: Jordan Spieth (-18) | 2014: Bubba Watson (-8) | 2013: Adam Scott (-9)*playoff | 2012: Bubba Watson (-10)*playoff

To Win Outright 
Dustin Johnson 6/1 | Rory McIlroy 8/1 | Jordan Spieth 9/1 | Jason Day 20/1 | Ricky Fowler 22/1

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Value Bets
Justin Rose - To Win 30/1 & To Place 54/10
The evergreen English Olympic Champion is just one of those guys that seems destined to have a Green Jacket in his possession. It would make a nice companion piece with that gold medal in the iconography stakes. He has finished inside the top 15 times in five of his last six starts at Augusta, finishing in a tie for 2nd in 2015 with Mickelson, behind Spieth. He has top 5’s at the Sony, Farmers and Genesis, and recently finished inside the top 15 at both Houston and Bay Hill. He has shown good form and is traditionally strong around a course that doesn’t punish his relatively poor driving accuracy as badly as some of the other courses.

Brandt Snedeker - To Win 55/1 & To Place 19/2
Snedeker has had a good recent run of form at Augusta and defiantly should have placed last year.  He was three off the lead at halfway and bogeyed the last two on Sunday to slip out of the places.  He had a chance to win in 2008 but managed to shoot a 77 in Round 4 to finish in 3rd.  He also went into Sunday tied for the lead in 2013 before shooting a 75.  So there is a propensity for blowing big opportunities that I’m hoping would have mellowed out somewhat.  He has three top 10’s in his last six starts and has been putting extremely well- which is always the ultimate litmus test of any player going into Augusta.  Who knows if he does have the bottle or distance to truly challenge for that jacket, but the price indicates that Sneds is worth a sniff this week.

Marc Leishman - To Win (60/1), To Place (10/1)
Leishman has always been one of those players that seems destined for a great showing in a major.  His wife- Audrey- has been healthy this year and it has seemed to translate into better golf on the course for the jovial Aussie.  It’s probably best to not dwell on the missed cuts here in 2014 and 2016, but rather look at his tie for 4th in 2013.  He recently won at the Arnie’s tournament in a performance that perfectly highlighted his strengths.  He is 3rd this season in strokes gained putting and looks excellent at this price.

The Man to Beat 
Rickie Fowler - To Win 22/1 & To Place 39/10
Rickie Fowler looks sets to potentially debunk the myth that he lacks the big game temperament necessary to don a major championship.  The American has often battled to shake off perceptions.  Everyone can remember a young Fowler arriving on tour looking like something out of a SNL skit of a drunken frat party.  People have taken time-understandably - to take him seriously.  But the stats don’t lie.  Fowler has six top 10’s in majors since 2011- only Day, Spieth and McIlroy have more among the twenty-somethings.  His disastrous opening 80 last year contributed to him not making the weekend for the first time, but Fowler already has a win at the Honda Classic this year plus his recent 3rd place finish in Houston.  His putting has been sensational and I think he’s the right man at the top end for the price.

Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets

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