The Masters Tournament Preview – Picks to Win
Date: April 5-8, 2018
Course: Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, GA
By Evergreen, Golf Betting Analyst, Predictem.com
The first Major Championship is finally here. The NCAA has crowned National Champions in basketball and the MLB has had its opener but Spring hasn’t officially sprung until the first tee shot is in flight at The Masters. The annual tour around one of the most legendary landmarks in golf begins this Thursday and there are few, if any, PGA Tour events that have the collective pomp and circumstance of The Masters. The Old Course at St. Andrews may be the birthplace of golf but the heart of golf beats in Augusta.
The 82nd edition of The Masters is one the most anticipated of the last few decades as nearly all of the world’s best players head to Augusta playing at a very high level. Phil and Rory have won recently and two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson has also regained his winning form. Justin Rose has been a top-10 machine around the globe over the last year with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas poised to be a factor. Of course, Tiger Woods is back as the main draw and the very prospect of him prowling the back nine on Sunday has fans looking forward to this year more than any since Woods made his debut. Oh, and we haven’t even talked about defending champion Sergio Garcia yet. Given the stringent guidelines used to invite players to the Masters, you can rest assured that this is one of the strongest fields of the season. 87 players will tee it up and there are as many as 50 that you could make a legitimate argument for in terms of contending. A 36-hole cut will trim the field to just the top-50 and ties by the end of Friday, leaving a bit of a mad dash to the finish line as Augusta has the tendency to give up a few rounds in the middle 60’s each year. There are just a few players making their debuts this season so this Masters field is overflowing with experienced players. Experience and course knowledge counts for so much at the 7,435 yard, par-72 course that hitting the “right” shot is sometimes more important than hitting the “best” shot.
Augusta National is one of the most famous tracks in all of golf but the secretive nature of the club has kept the course itself a bit of a mystery. The course has never been surveyed to determine a slope rating so there is no comparative measure of how hard it really is. The front nine remained off of TV broadcasts for decades, further adding to the Masters mystique. The course has seen nearly 700 yards added to it in the Tiger era but the timeless elements of Augusta are really the greens. The massively undulating putting surfaces are some of the toughest to play in the world. Expert pin placements require overly precise iron shots in order to get near the hole and some hole location are simply inaccessible. To counter those really tough chances, Augusta also features some relatively easy pins, provided the player can hit the right kind of shot. The final day at the par-3, 16th hole may be the most exciting as tee shots played to the slope on the right side of the green will see those shots filter directly to the hole, sometimes ending in an ace. Several other holes have similar landings that can lead to tap-in birdies but players missing those landing zones will pay the price. Missed greens at Augusta almost always end up with tough up-and-down chances. The closely mowed collection areas push missed approaches as much as 30 or 40 yards away from the greens, often to the low points that make chips shot all the more difficult. Add in false fronts and linoleum quick stimp readings to further increase the degree of difficulty on these famous Augusta greens. The winner will undoubtedly need a successful tee-to-green game this week but there is simply no succeeding here unless you can be one of the best on the putting surface.
Each week, we take a look at the online betting sites and highlight the best values on the board. We make some picks to win and breakdown a couple of the most popular head-to-head matches featured at the various golf betting outlets. As of Monday, the betting ticket leaders are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson but it is Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas that lead in terms of money bet. Rory is the short odds favorite at 9 to 1 with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas at 10 to 1. Dustin Johnson is close at 11 to 1 with Tiger also at 11 to 1. There is a group that includes Fowler and Jon Rahm nearing coming in at the 20 to 1 mark but the odds get very long in a hurry for the remaining field. Past Major champions like Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner are both at 100 to 1 or greater and former Masters champ Danny Willet is at 250 to 1. That dramatic change in potential payout makes for a very profitable week if you can identify the dark horse that is about to come through. Here are our picks to win the 2018 Masters.
Bubba Watson (14 to 1)
The 2012 and 2014 Masters champion has won twice in 2018, most recently at the Dell Match Play, and is simply made for this course. Augusta demands controlled approaches and no one can shape shots like Bubba. He can tackle the course with the 3rd longest driving average on Tour and those big tee shots help set up short irons. Hitting the ball high enough to stop it on Augusta’s fast greens is key and Watson will have plenty of wedges in his hands this week. It has been a quiet couple of years for Bubba but two wins this season against strong fields suggests he is back in the right physical and mental place to contend here again. He is a proven Masters closer with rounds of 68 and 69 on Sunday during his two wins. He has the winning experience and has one of the best course-specific games outside of vintage Tiger Woods. Look for Bubba to make a legit attempt at becoming a three time champ.
Justin Rose (14 to 1)
Rose has been on a tear since winning Olympic Gold in 2016. He has a laundry list of top finishes around the world, including four more PGA top-10’s in just six 2018 starts. His worst week by far came in Houston where he still managed to shoot seven-under par for the week. Rose had one arm in the Green Jacket last year before hitting an errant tee shot on the first playoff hole and that runner-up was his sixth top-11 finish at Augusta in his last seven Masters starts. Winning here often means taking advantage of the par-5 opportunities and Rose is 39-under on those par-5’s in the last five years. That is the best scoring mark of anyone over that time and a big reason why Rose will be a factor this week. Additionally, Justin is top-10 on Tour in birdies, scoring and total strokes gained. His experienced is nearly unmatched in this field and those that do have more Augusta rounds are also on the wrong side of 40 with Rose firmly at a veteran peak age.
Ian Poulter (50 to 1)
There have been few players in recent memory that have played better with their backs to the wall. Last year, Poulter was facing a loss of his exempt status before a T2 at the Players and a 3rd place finish in Canada. He needed a very strong result in each of the last two weeks to even make the Masters field and he did so by making the quarterfinals at the Match Play and winning in Houston last week. Anyone who watched his showdown on Sunday with Beau Hossler can not doubt Poulter’s guts. That clutch ability led him to be a stalwart on the Euro Ryder Cup teams for over a decade and he should be able to stay in that very strong frame of mind now that he is safe in the field. Poulter has yet to win a Major Championship but he does have over 20 wins worldwide and has made 11 of 12 cuts during his Masters career. He has had three top-10’s here since 2010 and has a fine game to score well at Augusta. He is top-25 in both fairways and greens hit this season and is 9th in approach proximity. He does not have a statistically strong putter when compared to the field but I think that is offset a bit given his wealth of knowledge at this course. They make Houston play as close to Augusta as possible so it would be hard to predict a complete fall-off this week, even though a win is a rightful longshot.
Kevin Chappell (100 to 1)
The 10-year Tour vet is a professional grinder and that shows this season with nine cuts made in ten starts with three top-10’s, including a T7 at a very tough Arnold Palmer Invitational. Chappell has made just two Masters starts but has seen the weekend in both and finished T7 last year. He is a bomber that ranks in the top-20 in driving distance but also hits enough greens to come in at 9th overall in total driving. He putts well enough to net a top-20 birdie average and also rolls it well in the clutch to sneak inside the top-30 in scrambling. There are not a lot of stand-out stats on his sheet but there are few true weaknesses and a win for Chappell would be reminiscent of the Trevor Immelman, Mike Weir or Zach Johnson wins. You wouldn’t exactly predict a win but an eventual victory wouldn’t exactly surprise given the talent of the player.
Picks to win based on predicted score after all four rounds. Check with 5Dimes for single round matches and a variety of prop bets.
Rory McIlroy v. Jordan Spieth (pick to win: McIlroy)
McIlroy does have four Majors on his record but is still missing that Green Jacket. He does have four consecutive top-10 finishes at Augusta and is fresh off a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Rory is 5th in driving distance but seems to have no limit to his power game when he reaches back for a little more. Augusta can still be shrunk with epic tee shots and few can match Rory’s power. Spieth absolutely owned the Masters with a T2-1-T2 run from 2014 to 2016 but he has been a bit off that ridiculous pace despite nabbing the 2017 U.S. Open title. Spieth is not the dominant ball striker that many of his competitors are but he does have a better clutch putting game than just about anyone. That was on display for much of his run as the #1 player in the world but he has been off with the flatstick and enters the week at 185th in strokes gained-putting. I think Rory has a bit more momentum at this point and Spieth is vulnerable given his slightly depressed putting trend. That might mean that Spieth is 12th and McIlroy is 9th this week but that is the kind of hair you have to split when picking between favorites.
Matt Kuchar v. Patrick Reed (pick to win: Kuchar)
Although Kuchar has no wins on his Masters record, there are few that have the consistent quality of finishes. Matt started way back in 1998 as the low amateur and has missed just one cut in twelve appearances at Augusta. He finished T4 last year and that is just one of his four top-8 finishes in the last six seasons. Reed has just four total Masters appearances with no top-10’s and two missed cuts. Reed has proven to be a spirited competitor always but he hasn’t quite figured out the recipe for success at the Majors with just one career top-10 in sixteen Major appearances. Kuchar enters with a rather quiet stat sheet overall but is 22nd in strokes gained-putting with Reed a bit further back at 75th. Despite some rather ordinary ballstriking, Kuchar still has some edges over Reed in fairways and greens hit with the players nearly identical around the greens in terms of saving par. Given Kuchar’s track record and Reed’s relative lack of one at Augusta, it seem smart to stick with Matt this week.
Good luck and good golf!