Welcome to Virtual Insanity, Masters edition, where we spend virtual money to try and win virtual money on golf betting. It's that simple!
Last week was a great week for the feature, as headline tip Jordan Spieth won the Texas Open at 12/1 and our next pick Chris Kirk was placed each way at 35/1.
It means that profit is at 4.5% in 2021 and the virtual pot is at €1045 from €1000 entering golf's first major tournament of the year, the Masters at Augusta National in Georgia.
What can you say about the Masters? It's the only major played at the same course each year and if St Andrews is the home of golf, Augusta is the game's cathedral.
I grew up watching the Masters with my late Dad, the curtains closed on a Saturday and a Sunday night in the dreary and poor Ireland of the late 1980's as this Wizard of Oz contraption was beamed into the sitting room. The course seemed greener than anywhere else, the flowers were beautiful and you had these rituals such as the Butler Cabin ceremony and green jacket for the winner. TV presenter Myles Dungan wore jumpers and the drama of the risk and reward holes and a host of European winners (Faldo, Woosnam, Langer and Olazabal) made it appointment viewing, even before Tiger Woods came along.
The par 72 requires strong iron play and a deft short game.
In terms of the weather forecast, although there could be thunderstorms, the course and the greens should be firm and fast this week, so nerve will be required on the slick, contoured greens for one's chosen golfer to join the immortals of the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Woods in the history books.
The tournament starts at 1pm Thursday, Irish time.
Be sure to shop around with the bookmakers, as William Hill are offering 1/5 the odds for your pick to get into the top nine places, Paddy Power, Betfair and Boylesports are going 10 places, and SKY Bet are going 11 places. Other bookmakers are offering less places, but better odds. My judgement of the best value recommendation is beside each pick.
Just before we get to it, it would be remiss not to mention the two Irish players in the field, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry.
Still to my mind the most naturally talented player in the game, McIlroy has an excellent record at Augusta with six top tens in his last seven appearances. It's a decade since his collapse when holding the lead, and it's the only major he needs to complete the career grand slam. McIlroy is an 18/1 shot, and when one considers that 23 majors have come and gone since his last big triumph at the 2014 US PGA, those are poor odds. McIlroy's wedge game has deteriorated in recent years and he can be a streaky putter. Of course he can win, but he's only just started working in earnest with swing coach Pete Cowan and their work may take a little longer to come to fruition.
Shane Lowry is part of the staking plan below.
I have more bets than normal listed below a) because we are playing with virtual house money and b) because with 88 players, some of whom that don't have a realistic chance, the Masters is one of the best sporting events to bet on all year with the each way terms on offer. At last week's Texas Open, there were 144 players in the field.
Our headline selection is Patrick Cantlay for €10 each way at 22/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).
In 2019, when Tiger Woods won the Masters, American Patrick Cantlay shot 64 on Saturday and was then closing fast on Sunday, six under par through 15, before fading with two bogeys. If he'd played those final three holes in one under par, he would have been in a play off. That's natural talent. The unassuming Cantlay was once the best amateur golfer in the world, and he's battled back from a serious back injury and the loss of a close friend to fulfil his early potential. He's won the prestigious Memorial Tournament, has a fine long game, and is an underrated putter, especially on fast greens, which he will encounter this week. Now 10th in the world rankings, Cantlay has played well on the PGA Tour this year, with a second at the American Express and a tie for third at Pebble Beach. 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. I think he wins this week and people will be looking back afterwards and kicking themselves because 22/1 is value.
Our second selection is Jon Rahm for €6 each way at 12/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).
Spain's Jon Rahm is a proven winner, twice at the DP World Tour Championship, twice at the Irish Open, and last year on the US PGA Tour at the Memorial Tournament and the difficult BMW Championship. He is a brilliant driver of the golf ball, has a sure short game and he carries few weaknesses. The evidence of that is a record of rock solid consistency from the world number three in 2021 - he's accumulated five top 10 finishes in seven events. The 26-year-old has curbed a suspect temperament and on his last three visits to the Masters, he's finished tied for 7th, tied for 9th and 4th. Overjoyed at the birth of his son Kepa last weekend, he can carry those good vibes to Augusta. He is unquestionably ready to become a major champion and it's a matter of when, not if. Why not on Sunday April 11th 2021?
Our third selection is Matthew Fitzpatrick for €4 each way at 50/1. (1/5 the odds the first 8 places, Bet 365).
I like the prospects of 26-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick to challenge for a first major title. I believe the firm and fast conditions will be right up his alley. He's an excellent putter and has finished in the top 20 on his last five starts on the PGA Tour, so his form is red hot. Fitzpatrick led the field in greens hit when finishing 7th at the Masters in 2016. In 2013, Fitzpatrick became the first English winner of the US Amateur since 1911. He's not afraid to win a big event - he has landed the DP World Tour Championship twice, including last December's renewal. He also has the very experienced Billy Foster on the bag this week. His consistency and ability could make him a strong contender for the green jacket if he can limit the mistakes and match his talent with belief.
Our fourth selection is Paul Casey for €3 each way at 33/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).
England's Paul Casey went very close to winning the US PGA Championship last year and the 43 year old will be hoping he can claim a major title before the window closes on his chances. Casey has always been a talented golfer with a strong all round game. He's experiencing a second wind career wise - he's now in the world's top 20 and before the WGC Matchplay, he racked up four top 10s in a row on the PGA Tour. He likes Augusta - he's been inside the top 10 five times in his 14 starts to date and has shot 15 rounds in the 60s. A 15 time winner on the European Tour (including the PGA Championship) and a three time US Tour winner, a major is the only thing that's missing. His experience, ability and current form certainly gives him a chance.
Our fifth selection is Shane Lowry for €3 each way at 125/1. (1/5 the odds the first 8 places, Bet 365).
I think Lowry could engineer his best ever Masters finish this week. His tie for 25th last November has been his highest Augusta showing to date - and the Open champion seems to have found something with his game. A top 10 at the Players Championship will give him confidence and firm and fast conditions should be nothing for him to fear - he nearly won a US Open at Oakmont. Lowry has the talent to contend this week and maybe finishing the job at Portrush will allow him to become a part of the conversation.
Our final outright selection is C.T. Pan for €2 each way at 250/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places, William Hill).
In 2019, Taiwan's C.T. Pan won the Heritage at Harbour Town and that qualified him for last November's Masters. On his debut appearance, he led the field in scrambling and tied for seventh place. Once the leading amateur in the world, he enters this event off the back of a tie for third at the Honda Classic, where his approach play was sharp. He is using a local caddie and I think he's overpriced at 250/1.
I am also recommending a bet on Phil Mickelson in the first round leader market for €2 each way at 90/1. (1/5 the odds the first 7 places, Betfred, William Hill).
One thing that's so important at the Masters is course experience. Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson is 50 years old now, which is hard for me to get my head around. The three time Masters champion has finished inside the top 10 on 15 occasions at Augusta! The firm and fast conditions should be right up his street this week to conjure some of the old magic. Mickelson has always been a wonderful iron player with an outstanding short game. For years I watched Fred Couples deliver as a veteran at Augusta and while I don't think Mickelson can put four rounds together to win, he does interest me to roll back the years on the opening day. He tuned up with a 69 in the second round of the Texas Open.
So that's €60 wagered virtually on this week's golf. Make sure you bet less at home! A euro each way will do!
Please gamble responsibly, never bet more than you can afford, and good luck!