PGA Tour: The Masters 2018 Preview

Golfer lines up iron shot

Our golf writer previews the 2018 Edition of The Masters set to take place at Augusta between Thursday 5 April and Sunday 8 April. 

There are few sporting events that capture the worldwide imagination with the same magnetism as the Masters. Whether it’s talk of famous meltdowns around the hallowed ‘Amen Corner” or jibes at the organizers for insisting on calling the fans ‘patrons’; there is just something inherently iconic about Augusta- almost self-consciously mythic. 

And with perhaps the most iconic figure in the history of the sport- Tiger Woods- surging back to prominence, there just seems to be even more Augusta hysteria this year. Added to that is the fact that there are numerous players approaching their peak, and you have all the ingredients for perhaps the most eagerly anticipated Masters in years.

The Masters | Thursday 5 April - Sunday 8 April | Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia 

Formerly known as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament, the Masters was the brainchild of Rees Jones- who co-founded the course with Clifford Roberts. He co-designed the course with Allister Mackenzie over the sight of an old nursery, hence the use of flora and fauna in the naming of the holes. In reality, in bears little resemblance to the Jones-Mackenzie course now, with the old Bermuda Greens replaced by Bentgrass in the 80’s. Tom Fazio also staged a massive overhaul of the course in 2002, with many of the courses drastically lengthened.

Now playing nearly 7,500 yards, Augusta is now considered something of a monster. It actually plays longer than its yardage, with all the holes generally on a slight incline from the tee-box. Augusta is a classic tree-lined course, though the rough hasn’t proved to be overly punitive in recent years. It is the idiosyncratic greens, with their extreme breaks and massive undulations that really test players. Scrambling ability is usually huge at Augusta, with the ability to negotiate the often brutal run-off areas crucial to victory. The pure speed of the putting can actually be a leveller: last year’s winner Sergio Garcia and runner-up Justin Rose are usually considered slightly indifferent putters. 

Tiger Woods has clearly regathered some of his former magic, and he returns to the sight of four of his Major victories. Rory McIlroy will be looking to win the career Grand Slam, right off the back of a sensational performance at Bay Hill. World Number One Dustin Johnson has been unusually low-profile following an opening victory, with compatriot Justin Thomas closing in on the top ranking. Thomas- the current US PGA champion- is probably the most dangerous player on tour. But add to that the fact that Augusta aficionados such as Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson have already this season, and you have a melting pot of endless possibilities to consider. I haven’t even mentioned Jordan Spieth or defending champion Sergio Garcia. This truly has the potential to be unbelievable. x

Past Winners
2017: Sergio Garcia (-9)*playoff
2016: Danny Willett (-5)
2015: Jordan Spieth (-18)
2014: Bubba Watson (-8)
2013: Adam Scott (-9)*playoff

To Win Outright
Rory McIlroy 10/1 | Justin Thomas 10/1 | Jordan Spieth 10/1 | Tiger Woods 10/1 | Dustin Johnson 11/1

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The Return of the Tiger
In assessing the chances of Tiger, I have to remember that it was barely a year ago when he was battling to just get out of bed in the morning. Then the world cheered when he made it through four rounds in the Bahamas. So it’s fair to say that Tiger’s resurgence has perhaps taking the world somewhat by surprise. He has three consecutive top 12 finishes and has four Green Jackets to his name. But it has been 13 years since his last Masters Title, and five years since that last PGA victory. Furthermore, Tiger is going to have to hit driver a lot more this week, and the sheer amount of dog-legs this week will put huge pressure on his ability to draw effectively with that club. 10/1 looks too short this week. 

Value Bets

Bubba Watson- To Win 16/1, To Place 32/10
Augusta is a course that attracts repeat victors. No fewer than 17 victors have gone on to win again- including the one and only Bubba. Furthermore, four of the last five Masters champions had won an event in their last five events prior to Augusta. So this event also rewards form. Bubba has both. The two-time Masters champion had already won at Riviera before teeing it up at the WGC Match-Play. His victory in Austin was an ominous sign for the field this week. Just like Mickelson, Watson as the ability to hit high fades to holes, opening up the course to his variety of quirky shot-making talents. 

Alex Noren- To Win 45/1, To Place 9/1
Looking for a dark horse this week, I have stumbled upon a man who seems to be growing more comfortable on the demanding PGA Tour every week: Alex Noren. His brilliant ball-striking abilities were well known to fans of the European Tour, where his nine victories included five in the space of 18 months. He has made eight out of eight cuts on the PGA Tour this year, with three top 10 finishes thus far. That included a second at the Framers Insurance Open and an extremely impressive third at the Honda Classic. He has enjoyed some much needed down-time after Bay Hill and could be force to be reckoned with under the radar. 

Louis Oosthuizen- To Win 60/1, To Place 12/1
This is one for the purists. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Champion, completed the ignominious Grand Slam of Major second place finishes last season, finishing behind Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship. He is certainly someone who saves his best golf for the big stage- as evidenced by that impressive- if unwanted- statistic. Few will forget he went on to lose that 2012 playoff to Bubba, having seemingly seized complete control on the second playoff hole, only for Bubba to play one of those characteristically miraculous recovery shots. Louis has had three top 25 finishes at Augusta since then, and he also almost won the Players last year. While his year has been unspectacular thus far- there have been enough encouraging signs to suggest a return to Augusta could provoke a spark: he had top 30 finishes at Valspar, the Honda Classic and the WGC Mexico. 

The Man to Beat- Jordan Spieth- To Win 10/1, To Place 2/1
Jordan Spieth comes into this event as a curiously enigmatic quantity. He has had an indifferent season to date, but this is his favourite event of the calendar. He finished second in his first Masters before winning with a score of -18 in 2015. He then enjoyed that spectacular downward spiral against Danny Willett in 2016, a result that could have finished lesser men. But his victory in last years’ Open Championship showed you exactly what Spieth is about. He started to show in Houston that his touch may be coming back. He loves the ultra-fast conditions here and may be able to flourish slightly outside of the radar. Woods and McIlroy will likely attract the most media attention, allowing Spieth to go under the radar to some degree. 

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets

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