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A November Masters! That there is a Masters at all is something to be grateful for. It's such an enjoyable event and even without galleries, it should be a special week. There's hopefully a vaccine on the way and life might be changing for the better.
In the last tournament I made predictions for; the Bermuda Championship, Doc Redman was placed at 28/1 and Denny McCarthy was placed at 33/1. I feel like a golfer coming into form, which means I virtually will be bold and having a go at the Masters as regards my staking to try and meet my own targets.
Please don't replicate my staking plan at home! A euro each way is fine! This is something one should follow for interest, nothing more. Use this as a guide and trust your own judgement.
So the pot available is €674 ahead of the Thursday tee off at Augusta National in Georgia.
Be sure to shop around, with bookmakers such as Paddy Power, Betfair, and Boylesports offering 1/5 the odds for your pick to get into the top 10. There are only 94 players in the field, and some veterans can be ruled out.
You have until Noon Thursday before the tournament goes in-running and the advance terms extinguish.
There are four Irish players in this week's field; Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, and amateur James Sugrue. Other leading competitors include defending champion Tiger Woods, US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, world number one Dustin Johnson, and top Americans Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, and Xander Schauffele.
Let's go through the contenders.
Rory McIlroy is capable of winning anytime, anywhere, such is his supreme natural talent. He was in poker hot form before lockdown, posting six consecutive top five finishes on the US PGA Tour, including a win at the HSBC Champions. Since the summer, he's become a father and his form has been more patchy. He did tie for 8th at the US Open and a softer Augusta in November should suit his immaculate driving and high ball flight. No crowds takes the pressure off. For McIlroy to break a six-year major hoodoo and complete the Grand Slam, his irons will have to be better and he'll have to be certain over short putts. He's well capable of wearing a green jacket for the first time and I hope he does it, but we are talking about a price of 12/1. I don't think it's a generous enough price to recommend an investment.
Shane Lowry played well in Houston last week, but I am yet to see enough to believe he can win a second major title this week. He faded at Wentworth and his best finish at Augusta is 39th. Not for me.
McDowell's tight, straight game doesn't align with the unique demands of Augusta, and six missed cuts down Magnolia Lane is a testament to that. Sugrue will have a ball, and I hope he makes the weekend.
Dustin Johnson's trending better at Augusta, but I wonder if he has the imagination to win this major. Justin Thomas is a fierce competitor and a brilliant iron player, but I question if he's more suited to US Open and US PGA venues. Woods is not displaying the form that brought him to major number 15, while Brooks Koepka has to convince me he is clear of his injury ailments. Schauffele is ridiculously consistent and has a winning mentality. I just think 14/1 is a skinny price to proclaim confidently that he'll be in the Butler Cabin.
In terms of DeChambeau, this is a second shot golf course and he won't have the putting books on the Augusta greens, on which he has putted poorly in the past. I think he's a false favourite. On the other side of the big-hitting ledger, Bubba Watson is twice a winner at Augusta and can contend again. And there is probably someone I have missed who could be fitted with a new jacket on Sunday!
None of the above feature in this year's picks. Here we go.
Our headline selection in the outright market is Jon Rahm for €50 each way at 9/1. (1/5 the odds the first 10 places).
It has nothing to do with skimming a ball across the water and making a hole in one on 16 in practice, but I really believe Spain's Jon Rahm is the most exciting player in world golf. He can follow in the footsteps of Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, and Sergio Garcia in winning the Masters for his country. Rahm is a proven winner, twice at the DP World Tour Championship, twice at the Irish Open, and recently on the US PGA Tour, at the Memorial Tournament and the difficult BMW Championship. He is a brilliant driver of the golf ball and his game has few weaknesses. The 26-year-old has curbed a suspect temperament and on his last two visits to the Masters, he's finished 4th and 9th. He is ready to become a major champion and I think he will win this week.
Our second selection in the outright market is Patrick Cantlay for €30 each way at 20/1. (1/5 the odds the first 10 places).
Quiet American Patrick Cantlay was once the best amateur golfer in the world, and he's battled back from a serious injury and the loss of a close friend to fulfil his early potential. He enters this tournament off the back of a win at the ZOZO Championship. Last year at Augusta, Cantlay shot 64 on Saturday and was then closing fast on Sunday, six under par through 15, before fading with two bogeys. That's natural talent. He's won the prestigious Memorial Tournament, has a fine long game, and is an underrated putter. A steely temperament may be his best asset and he won't be unheralded anymore in the world of golf if he wins on Sunday. Put simply, he's too good not to win a major.
Our third selection in the outright market is Matthew Fitzpatrick for €20 each way at 55/1. (1/5 the odds the first 10 places).
Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, and Lee Westwood will have their fans to give England a first winner of the Masters since Danny Willett four years ago. All of them are contenders. However, I like 26-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick to challenge for a first major title. Fitzpatrick led the field in greens hit when finishing 7th at the Masters in 2016. Last year, he opened with a disastrous 78, before matching Tiger Woods' score for the final three rounds. He's an excellent putter and he's been playing well of late on both sides of the Atlantic, without delivering for all four rounds. In 2013, Fitzpatrick became the first English winner of the US Amateur since 1911. His consistency and ability could make him a lively outsider if he can limit the mistakes and match his talent with belief.
Our fourth selection in the outright market is Victor Perez for €10 each way at 200/1. (1/5 the odds the first 10 places).
No rookie has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, and that's unlikely to change this week. However, at a monster price, it could be worth chancing Frenchman Victor Perez to be on the first page of the leaderboard. 28-year-old Perez has made rapid progress on the European Tour and he's a solid iron player. A winner of the Dunhill Links Championship, he finished second behind Tyrrell Hatton at the PGA Championship at Wentworth last month. Interestingly, Perez has Rory McIlroy's former caddie, JP Fitzgerald, on the bag. Fitzgerald knows his way around Augusta and may plot the unflappable Perez to a good showing. It's why I also advise a look at him each way in the top debutant market, which has 25 runners.
Our final selection in the outright market this week is Justin Harding for €10 each way at 300/1. (1/5 the odds the first 10 places).
South African Harding was in great form entering last year's Masters and parlayed that into a tied 12th finish on his debut. His putting was excellent and he wasn't intimidated by the challenge. I remember Chris DiMarco and Angel Cabrera taking a shine to Augusta, and it can be argued Paul Casey is another horse for the course. Perhaps Harding, who has posted third place finishes at the British and Andalucia Masters since lockdown, can channel good memories and take like a duck to Augusta once more. Not every contender on Sunday afternoon will be a superstar and I think he's overpriced at 300/1 to reach the top 10. If he wins, we can all take 2021 off!
I also recommend an each-way bet on Victor Perez in the top debutant market for €10 each way at 25/1. (1/5 the odds the first 4 places).
Please gamble responsibly, never bet more than you can afford, and good luck!