Augusta in April is proving nothing like last November, with the course predictably playing firm, fast and even more penal than usual. Conditions are unlikely to get any easier.
US Open pedigree should count for plenty
In trying to identify what skills and stats will make the difference from here, there are some strong clues among the dozen players to beat par. US Open specialists and short-game masters. Rose, Harman, Reed, Matsuyama, Simpson, Bezuidenhout, Lowry, Hatton, Spieth.
In addition to Augusta pedigree, I reckon the stats to follow are strokes gained: around the green, bogey avoidance and par-five performance. There won't be very many birdies outside that quartet of holes.
Walker rated the banker
Yesterday's plan started with a rare odds-on banker, because the numbers were unarguable and this looks another. Given veteran Mize hit 84 yesterday, it will probably descend into a match.
Walker won by three, maintaining a fine Augusta record that belies his generally disastrous form. He's never missed a Masters cut or hit worse than 76, only once missed the top-40, and averages 72.46 per round. That's almost two shots better than Gay at 74.43.
Optimum conditions for Leishman?
Marc Leishman managed to avoid shooting over par, for what is now 11 out of 13 rounds at Augusta. He's finished top-13 three times here previously and these conditions present arguably the best chance he's had yet.
Kokrak - an in-form opponent who also went well at last year's US Open - won this by a single shot yesterday and looks strong. The third man Victor Perez looks vulnerable though after shooting 78. He ranks 190th in bogey avoidance and 210th in sg: around the green.
Scott good value against Bryson
After an opening 74, there's still no evidence that Bryson Dechambeau has worked out how to play Augusta yet. He finished last in this group by two yesterday and is a very opposable favourite, against two capable types.
I'm tempted by Max Homa as outsider of three, because I think the Riviera champion will prove suited to Augusta in time. This will however be only his fourth round and he averages 73 so far.
Former champion Scott is therefore preferred. The Aussie is at home in firm, fast conditions and is consistent around here. He's only hit worse than 73 in nine of his last 40 Augusta rounds, with nothing higher than 76.
Langer best suited by this challenge
Fourteen shots separated this group with debutants Will Zalatoris and Joe Long shooting 68 and 82 respectively. Through the middle on 74, Langer hit his 23rd sub-75 round in his last 29 at Augusta.
75 is a competitive score in these conditions. Given this year's stronger emphasis on iron play and short game, I don't doubt the 63 year-old's ability to stay in touch for at least another round or two. He made the top-30 last year - his fourth in eight.
Simpson primed to contend
Right now, my top pick in the outright market is Simpson at 22.021/1. After improving his Augusta record with top-tens in the last two renewals, he's getting the hang of this test, having taken a few tries as so many do.
The former US Open champion's game looks perfect for the weekend challenge, ranking first for bogey avoidance, second for scrambling and ninth for sg: around the green.
Bezuidenhout in fairness ranks first for the last stat and Garcia also has great scrambling abilities. They'll have their work cut out against this strong candidate though, and Sergio is famous for losing his patience when struggling, as he is following an opening 74.
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