Happy 1 year anniversary: SL looks for a blossoming weekend at Augusta to celebrate in style
A couple of big price place money last week was topped off by Mull of Killough’s barnstorming late effort which saw him defeated in the Lincoln by a nose. Poor Jockey-ship was definitely to blame, but none the less a great start to the flat season. It was one year and 84 article posts ago that Sports Leviathan began and what better place to mark the anniversary than Augusta. There is always something very special about 1 year anniversaries and with Golf’s most beautiful gem at the heart of this weeks article lets hope we can bag a birthday winner.
There is lots of talk about this years Masters being the most exciting ever and it is easy to see why. Of the main protagonists World Number 1 Luke Donald won last time out, World Number 2 Rory Mcillroy won a month ago and his last three tournaments read 2-1-8 in finishing positions. Lee Westwood lies 3rd in the rankings and his recent major record has seen him finish in the top three, five times in the last nine majors. Newly promoted to World number four, Hunter Mahan won last week in Houston, so he is in great shape. World number 5 Steve Stricker has already won this year and world number 6 Martin Kaymer announced his appearance with a lake skimming hole in 1 this week to delight the bamboozled crowd. Just for good measure Tiger Woods fresh from his exceptional victory at Bay Hill is world number 7, returning champ Charl Schwartzel is at 8 and 9 and 10 are filled by ultra consistent Justin Rose who won last month in the WGC Cadillac and Webb Simpson, who although hasn’t won yet this year was a two time winner on the PGA tour last year and this year looks set for an exciting masters debut.
Now the top 10 in the world rankings are obviously there for a reason. Two of last years major winners are in there and their recent form is the yardstick for others to live up to but with the Masters being the only major to return to the same course each year course form becomes a key factor. For example players that draw the ball have an edge here, left handers are pretty successful too (well one in particular). It is also important to be long off the tee but not as important as the necessity to have an excellent short game. Zach Johnson showed that you don’t have to attack and destroy the courses par 5′s to be successful, however I suspect this year, with the course being tweaked since last year (the Par 5′s have been made slightly more accessible with more accommodating greens to attack from your second shot) scoring on the par 5′s will be crucial. My main point here is “horses for courses” therefore rule out Mickelson (form figures of 7,3,CUT,12,6,7,3,3,1,10,1,24,5,5,1,27 !!) at your peril. 9 times he would get your each way money paid out and 3 times he pays out the winning stake too. Very impressive. Although less impressive Angel Cabrera boasts 5 top tens with 1 victory and several other respectable finishes. Fred Couples has 12 top 11 finishes in his illustrious career as well as green jacket to boot. He is currently 250-1 and a repeat of his 6th 2 years ago would see a huge 50-1 place payout!
So who to choose? A) It looks a great tournament B) The field is very strong C) There are lots of players in form, so it is a bit of a minefield but there is lots of value around. I am not a huge believer that you have to be long off the tee to be great round Augusta. Sure it can help and makes approach shots easier if you can reach flat spots in the fairway with ease of the tee, however a quote from Mcillroy made me think. When asked about his shocker at 10 last year they asked would he play it the same? He replied “I have practiced it several times using Driver and 3 Wood. When the weather is nice a 3 wood will be fine as the ball runs on but if the rain comes I will have to boom the driver to be in an ideal position for my second shot” . If it does get wet, length off the tee will come in to play, certainly for at least one round and the bigger hitters will have the advantage of easier approach shots into the par 4′s and the ability to make eagles or at least have cheap birdies on par 5′s where others with less length may not.
Pick 1 – I have backed Tiger Woods at 8-1 before Bay Hill because I could see a very real opportunity to lay him if he won and subsequently shortened. However his stats at Augusta are frightening and I can’t put anyone off backing him. Since he won this for the first time his finishes read – 1,8,18,5,1,1,15,22,1,3,2,2,6,4,4. In the last 7 years he has paid out every time on the place money and has won this 4 times in total. The last few year he hasn’t been at his best yet he hasnt finished outside the top 6. This year he is getting somewhere close and his PGA tour stats this year are incredible. Tiger is back and although I would love Rory or Donald to go close (and I think they have the game to win) if Tiger steps up he is going to be difficult to hold back.
Pick 2 – Bo Van Pelt is my idea of a new name on the scene who has a bright future in the majors. This is down to one facet in his game. His putting. On initial view his driving and iron stats aren’t outstanding. 23rd in driving distance means he can strike a long ball and 64th in driving accuracy leaving him overall ranked 6th in driving on the tour, shapes up pretty nicely. Couple that with the fact he leads the whole tour in Birdie average and Par breakers is a real plus particularly on the tricky Augusta greens. Furthermore he leads again on Stokes gained-putting and has the 2nd overall best putting stats. He also carded an outstanding 59 with Sean O’Hair in the Tavistock cup, he is clearly in form. Long off the tee, red hot putter, 8th last year on debut – 100/1. Yes please.
Pick 3 – Trevor Immelman is a past winner and regularly features in the final round at this event. He has had a pretty bad elbow injury which is a concern, as is the fact he hasn’t won since his masters victory in 2008. However he has good course form finishing in the top 5 twice and in the top 15 the last two years showing he plays the course well. He is also 100/1 and could go well at a big price.
Pick 5 Bubba Watson – 40/1 The course should suit his huge right to left hitting and if his putting holds up he can go very low.
What is also quite fun is to back people at big prices to be leading after the first round. Often players start really well but fizzle out and the list below are players to keep an eye on who may be quick out the traps.
1) KJ Choi – 50/1 First round 66 last year and 67 the year before. Starts well and often fades. 50/1 looks big.
2) Brandt Snedeker – 60/1 First round 69 last year and someone who will consider himself a challenger this year.
3) Alvaro Quiros – 80/1 Led after the first round with a 65 last year and if long driving is rewarded he could again be up there
4) Sang Moon Bae – 100/1 – Livewire of a youngster who has the ability to score low, is in an exciting group and is worth a go at a big price.
5) Johnson Wagner – 100/1 – Very good tour stats and second in FedEx cup points. Leads the whole tour on total birdies and total eagles so if anyone knows how to pick up shots its this man.