Hooray! We have finally arrived at the greatest week of the year. The talking stops, more about the predictions stop and the results are clear for everyone to see. Sunday night will see one man atop the pile and he will don the green jacket across his shoulders. Our job as punters is to try and pick out who will be this man and our job as spectators is to enjoy every single minute. Unfortunately, malady it will be another year before we can enjoy this feeling again so savour it each and every time. Welcome to Augusta!
What does it take to win at Augusta? I have often thought about this and would love to pick the brains of any of the past champions. It was put to me recently that The Masters is actually 3 tournaments within the overall set up. Firstly, web the players must make it to the 3rd round. Then, they must be in contention after 63 holes. Finally, they must have the nerve to finish the last 9 holes as confidently as they started the first 9 on Thursday. There is a common adage in the golfing community that The Masters doesn’t really begin until the back 9 on Sunday. This is to say that many players may be ahead after 63 holes but the last 9 can find out a lot about a player’s mental fortitude and their technical skill. The pin positions, the weather, the crowd, the TV audience and the history of the moment contribute to a tremendous crescendo of pressure on the group who are leading at this stage.
This leads to the first of my criteria to find the winner: Experience. Ideally, the experience will include multiple good performances at Augusta, in other majors and big competitions and playing with all the big names in world golf. The Masters is played at the same course every year so past experience at the venue is of huge benefit to all players teeing it up. Naturally, positive past experience will ensure a player will have confidence coming into this week and can rely on good memories to hopefully reproduce a top performance. We want players who are consistently fighting it out at the top of leaderboards and players who are very good at closing out tournaments. As written above, if our man is a couple clear at the turn on Sunday night, we want him to finish strong and positive!
Secondly, when the pressure reaches its climax, the first thing to let players down is their putting. This can be a combination of factors but a lot of the time, players will simply misjudge the putts at Augusta. The greens are notoriously fast and the winner will always be found somewhere near the top of the tournament’s putting stats. A good caddy comes into his own here as well. A caddy can calm players down, can help make right decisions and keep things light-hearted when they are at their most serious. We want someone who putts with authority. They should be very good at the shorter putts, holing out from 10 foot will be of great help this week. If they happen to throw in one or two monster putts for an eagle or birdie then that will always be a great bonus to their scorecards!
Thirdly, it is widely accepted that the par 5s are the best opportunities for scoring at Augusta. Past winning scores here are around the 8 under mark and through 4 rounds; pars with a few birdies thrown in are the order of the day. We want players who hit it far enough that they can attack the greens in 2 and have the occasional chance for eagle or 2 putts for birdies. Past winners being Bubba and Adam Scott highlight the necessity for length even if there have been the odd exceptions (Zach Johnson for example). Every player will make a few mistakes and the group at the top of the leaderboard will all make at least one big error. It is the ability to deal with this one mistake and rescue the best situation when it comes around that separates the winner from just some more place money.
Finally, as with any other tournament we do want a degree of current form in our selections. Augusta is one of the most difficult golf courses in the world and the tournament is the biggest test of a player all year. It is unfair to expect a player to somehow produce his best golf in this week if he has been struggling throughout previously.
All of that above leads me to a current 20-man shortlist as follows:
Charl Schwartzel (40/1), Dustin Johnson (28/1), Bubba Watson (28/1), Rory McIlroy (11/1), Sergio Garcia (25/1), Jimmy Walker (66/1), Adam Scott (12/1), Zach Johnson (33/1), Graeme McDowell (66/1), Ian Poulter (66/1), Graham DeLaet (100/1), Ernie Els (150/1), Matt Kuchar (25/1), Jordan Spieth (50/1), Nick Watney (125/1), Thorbjorn Olesen (150/1), Phil Mickelson (14/1), Justin Rose (33/1), Ryan Moore (110/1) and Keegan Bradley (45/1).
For the purposes of consistency, in previous blogs I have already said I liked Charl Schwartzel (40/1) and Bill Haas (100/1). From my list above, I’ll quickly dissect the prices. Most seem reasonably in line with my valuations but two immediately jump out: Graham DeLaet and Justin Rose. DeLaet drives the ball a long way and has done well on par 5s throughout the year. It is his first trip to Augusta and as such, it will be very difficult for him. For this reason, I’ll advise the 12/1 about being the “Top Debutant” as being a decent price. He will need to find some form with the putter which is no certainty but certainly worth a small investment. Justin Rose is a past major winner and probably represents England’s best chance this week (sorry Poults!). Anywhere near back to his best and 33/1 is massive. It’s tentative but let’s hope the fortnight break he has had will leave him in good stead. Rose joins my other two for “outright winner”.
Of the rest, there were a few prices that did look generous. Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell in particular were very close as was Ian Poulter. I wouldn’t talk anyone out of these selections and the prices could well be value. Jordan Spieth is the main danger to the DeLaet bet in my opinion and the 50/1 about him to win it all was nearly tempting but this may be due to liking the player! We are left, therefore, with Justin Rose (33/1), Charl Schwartzel (40/1) and Bill Haas (100/1) along with Graham DeLaet (12/1 Top Debutant) this week.
Remember that I have written a couple of pieces previous to this and I urge you to give those a read. I wish everybody the best of luck and remember to enjoy the week. It will be Sunday far too soon and we’ll be waiting over 360 days before we can have it all again! Tweet me or leave a comment on here to let me know what you think and who you’re backing.