The first major of the new golf season and, arguably its most prestigious, begins on Thursday as the 85th edition of the US Masters gets underway.
Back in its usual springtime slot on the PGA calendar, the US Masters, which was delayed in 2020 and only took place as recently as November, will take place on the azalea flanked, manicured lawns of the Augusta National in Georgia USA.
As well as the $2,070,000 winner’s prize money, up for grabs is the famous green jacket but who is the year’s top pick to be wearing it come Sunday night?
Well, the favourite is the obvious choice, world number one Dustin Johnson. It was he who won here 21 weeks ago. He is as low as 35/4 however and, given that the Masters has an exceedingly low winner’s retention rate, that may, understandably, be a little on the slim side for many.
Not since Tiger Woods, one of only three golfers to successfully retain their title, in 2002, have we seen a back to back winner. Those considering Johnson might do well to bear such a stat in mind.
Woods, of course, will not be present this year because of the horrific car accident he suffered recently back in Los Angeles.
US Versus Them
Another golfer who looked like missing out is Brooks Koepka. Koepka, who’s best finish at the Masters was joint second in 2019, underwent knee ligament surgery just three weeks ago but is now back and in bullish mood ahead of Thursday.
The Floridian hasn’t played competitively since February, last turning out at the WGC Workday Championship in his home state at the end of February, where he finished in joint second place.
He has missed the Players Championship and the Honda Classic since then, allowing his price here to drift out to 25/1, odds you were unlikely go get on the multiple US PGA Championship and US Open winner without his injury problems.
Another sure to be popular choice for NoviBettors is Bryson DeChambeau.
As the reigning US Open champion, he too has a major win in the bank and will want to build on his fledgling collection.
That said, the lush vegetative greens of Augusta may not play to Bryon’s particular skillset. This is famously a precision course, and the heavily built DeChambeau leads the tour in driving distance with a whopping coverage of 320.8 yards and also has the highest PGA scoring average of 69.432.
Sure, driving harder and faster than your rivals has proved useful elsewhere, but his best finish here is 21st, meaning he has never finished inside the top 20, a wrong he will be desperate to right but potentially unable to.
Race to Dubai leader and WGC Match Play champion Billy Horschel is another who is in good shape ahead of the Masters and is a pick for a top ten finish in what will be his seventh participation at the Augusta National.
Horschel, whose best result here is a tie for 17th in 2016, enjoyed success a fortnight ago at the Austin Country Cub where, although it was a match play event, the greens are very similar and need to be attacked in the same way. We have priced him up at a tasty 80/1.
A winner from this side of the water then?
The shortest priced European star in the field is Spain’s Jon Rahm.
The world number three – and new dad – is among the favourites to win the title at Augusta as he continues his quest for a first major.
Three years ago, he made his best finish here when he came home fourth and last year made the top ten again when he tied for seventh.
He will desperately want to improve on that and justify his ranking but, for me, the Basque star continues to disappoint.
Another European in the shorter prices, and one who knows what it takes to win a major is Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. This being the only one of golf’s four majors he has yet to win, he will be absolutely crying out for a green jacket and the 17/1 on offer for him sure is tempting. Six top ten finishes in his last 13 stroke play events is, at least, encouraging.
England’s Tyrell Hatton is another useful iron player. Ranked eighth in the world, Hatton has been priced up at 45/1 which just seems too good to ignore. Where else but the Masters are you getting that kind of value of such a talent even if his previous four appearances here fail to suggest that Masters victory is just around the corner.
At 35/1 Paul Casey is another UK talent that draws the eye. He has been around for a long time now and has been written off in some quarters but then so too was Sergio Garcia who, by the way, has been in horrible form since he won here in 2017.
As for Casey, he is one of the best drivers on the tour and has banked eight top twenty finishes in 14 appearances, making top six finishes in four of his last six appearances suggesting he has a habit of making money for each way punters.
If there is any caution to be advised, it is that we have not had a European winner of the Masters since 2017 when Sergio Garcia got fitted for the green jacket.
Other Value Picks
Just this past Sunday, we were treated to the timely return to form of Jordan Spieth. Playing in his home state of Texas, Spieth successfully took down the Valero Texas Open trophy to perform his own Easter Sunday rising having been winless in his last three seasons and falling outside of the world’s top 50, ranking as low as 92 only two months ago.
Whether or not he is getting close to being back to his best, only time will tell but, as a previous winner here, his timing will certainly draw interest in the markets and his price of 21/2 – much, much higher a week ago – will only continue to whittle down further between now and Thursday’s tee.
While not quite in the same category as Tiger Woods winning in 2019, comparisons are inevitable.
Elsewhere, recently crowned Players champion and world number two Justin Thomas looks to be a strong candidate. Thomas has finished in the top 15 finish in every other event since the Genesis where, admittedly, he did miss the cut.
Finishing fourth in the belated 2020 renewal, Thomas is the best in the field in finding the Augusta greens where skill on the irons often plays the determining factor.
Thomas is absolutely one of the best iron players on the Tour, which is why his merits, as opposed to those of Bryson DeChambeau, make him our pick for US Masters success this time around.