10:15 - April 10, 2022
The world number one, Scottie Scheffler, began the third round of the US Masters with a five-stroke lead and after a composed and brilliant three-under-par front-nine yesterday the 25-year-old Texan was matched at a low of 1.282/7 but a slightly shaky two-over-par back-nine has opened the door. And it could have been worse...
Scheffler looked in big trouble at the 18th when having to take a penalty drop after a poor drive but he made a quite brilliant bogey five to remain three clear. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:00.
Scottie Scheffler -9 1.584/7
Cam Smith -6 3.953/1
Sung-Jae Im -4 17.5
Shane Lowry -2 60.059/1
Charl Schwartzel -2 150.0149/1
Justin Thomas -1 75.074/1
Corey Conners -1 180.0179/1
Danny Willett level 760.0759/1
+1 and 400.0399/1 bar
Given it was the first time he'd ever held a clear halfway lead, Scheffler performed admirably yesterday and the way he kept his composure on the 18th, when it would have been very easy to make a bad situation worse after a terrible drive, was impressive but he'd still be disappointed by the way he leaked strokes on the back-nine and he now looks vulnerable.
Scheffler is the fourth man to hold a three-stroke 54-hole lead at Augusta this century and the first three all won. Vijay Singh won by a stroke in 2000, Tiger Woods beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005 and Patrick Reed converted in style (winning by three) in 2018, but that's where the good news ends.
In total, 12 men have taken a three-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters and only seven have gone on to win and on the PGA Tour since 1996, three-stroke 54-hole leaders have a slightly worse strike-rate.
Since '96, 130 players have taken a three-stroke lead into the final round of a 72-hole PGA Tour event (including co-sanctioned tournaments) and 68 (52%) of them went on to convert.
This is the fourth time Scheffler's been in front with a round to go but he's never been this far clear and he's never successfully converted.
He was tied with Dan McCarthy at the Savannah Golf Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour back in 2019 but finished second - beaten by two (by McCarthy) and he was also tied for the lead with Andrew Landry with a round to go at the American Express in 2020 on the PGA Tour where he finished third. Landry shot 67 to Scheffler's 70.
The only occasion that Scheffler has held a clear lead previously was at the Houston Open in November when he again came up shy after leading by one through three rounds - shooting 69 in round four to finish the week tied for second.
He's obviously going to be far more confident now he's broken through on the PGA Tour and the fact that he's won three of his last five events is going to stand him in good stead but the stats suggest he's just too short at 1.584/7.
It's not really fair or accurate to compare the two as the circumstances are different but for reference, Reed was a 5/4 chance in 2018 with a round to go.
McIlroy was Reed's closest pursuer so that would explain to a degree why Reed was so much bigger than Scheffler is this morning but Cam Smith is a formidable opponent and he's the value this morning.
Scheffler may have won three of his last five starts but Smith has been in fine form himself, winning two huge events in 2022 - the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January and the Players Championship last time out.
Smith is arguably more battle-hardened than the leader and at odds of around 3/1 he represents value this morning.
Sung-Jae Im, who finished alongside Smith in a tie for second here two years ago, can't be dismissed but it's hard to see both the front two performing poorly enough to let him in.
10:50 - April 9, 2022
The weather forecast had suggested that Friday's afternoon starters might struggle but the well-backed second favourite, Justin Thomas, and the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, made light of the conditions.
On a tricky day, when only half-a-dozen men broke 70, Thomas and Scheffler somehow managed to craft a pair of five-under-par 67s. Thomas has gone from struggling to make the cut to the fringes of contention and Scheffler has taken control of the tournament, leading by five strokes.
Here's the 36-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 10:40.
Scottie Scheffler -8 2.1211/10
Hideki Matsuyama -3 14.5
Sung-Jae Im -3 25.024/1
Shane Lowry -3 16.5
Charl Schwartzel -3 80.079/1
Cam Smith -2 15.5
Dustin Johnson -2 16.015/1
Harold Varner -2 80.079/1
Kevin Na -2 85.084/1
Justin Thomas -1 19.018/1
Collin Morikawa -1 30.029/1
Will Zalatoris -1 48.047/1
Joaquin Niemann -1 60.059/1
Corey Conners -1 75.074/1
Level par and 95.094/1 bar
This is most definitely Scottie Scheffler's to lose now. He came into the tournament having won three of his last five events and he should be odds-on to make it four from six.
As highlighted yesterday, five of the last eight US Masters winners were in front at halfway and of the five previous players to lead by five at this stage, only one failed to convert.
On the PGA Tour, three of the last four players to lead by five through 36 holes have been beaten, including Scheffler's good friend, Sam Burns, who lost his way in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera last year.
Seamus Power failed from five in front in this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February and Keith Mitchell finished third in the CJ Cup in October, having led by five at this stage, but Stewart Cink successfully converted from five in front at next week's event, the RBC Heritage, 12 months ago, and since 1996, five-stroke 36-hole leaders on the PGA Tour have a 70% strike-rate.
Scheffler is the 17th man to enter the weekend of a major championship with at least a five-stroke lead and only three of the previous 16 failed to convert.
The four men to lead a major by at least five this century have all gone on to win - Rory McIlroy (2011 US Open), Martin Kaymer (2014 US Open), Jordan Spieth (2015 US Masters) and Brooks Koepka (2018 USPGA Championship).
However we look at the stats, Scheffler is a fair price at odds-against but I'm more than happy to leave him alone.
As highlighted in the piece I wrote a week or so ago, there have been a number of instances in which a long odds-on shot has failed from the front around Augusta and as confident as Scheffler appears, he still has to control his emotions and do something that he's never done before - win a stroke-play event from the front.
He is, of course, a very different animal now so looking back at past efforts may prove to be misleading, but it may be worth highlighting the fact that he was tied for the lead at the halfway stage of two Korn Ferry Tour events and three PGA Tour tournaments between May 2019 and January 2020 and his finishing positions read 2-7-7-3-3.
This is the first time Scheffler has held a clear lead on any Tour and both his stroke play victories were from miles off the pace.
He sat nine off the lead and tied for 44th at the halfway point of the WM Phoenix Open back in February and tied 20th and eight off the lead at the Arnold Palmer in March. He went into Sunday trailing by two on both occasions. His only other victory came in the WGC Matchplay two weeks ago so he's yet to head into the weekend of any tournament on any Tour with a clear advantage and on the five occasions he was tied at the top at halfway he failed to convert.
This is Scheffler's to lose now but I have added a very small bet on Collin Morikawa at 30.029/1.
The world number three has won two of the last five majors, he impressed yesterday morning, and he's no bigger than 22/1 on the High Street.
It's extremely congested below Scheffler, with as many as 14 players on one, two and three under-par and picking out an alternative to the leader is extremely difficult but after rounds of 73 and 70, I like the way Morikawa is trending.
10:55 - April 8, 2022
Morning starter, Cameron Smith, was matched at just 1.364/11 to finish the opening round in front but the 28-year-old Aussie replicated the double-bogey six he made at the first hole with another at the final hole following a poor drive.
Only three US Masters winners in the last 25 years have made a double-bogey enroute to victory and he's made two on day one! Is that going to tell at the end of the week?
Afternoon starter, Dustin Johnson, began superbly and when he found the fairway on the par five 13th, when on four-under-par, he was matched at just 1.84/5 to be the first round leader but he made par there, when a birdie or better was odds-on after the drive, and he played the last five holes in one-over so it was left to Korea's Sungjae Im to take up the running thanks to an eagle at 13 and a birdie at 15.
Here's the first round leaderboard with prices to back at 10:50.
Sung-Jae Im -5 11.521/2
Cam Smith -4 6.86/1
Dustin Johnson -3 8.07/1
Scottie Scheffler -3 9.89/1
Joaquin Niemann -3 20.019/1
Danny Willett -3 65.064/1
Patrick Cantlay -2 13.5
Corey Conners -2 29.028/1
Jason Kokrak -2 85.084/1
Will Zalatoris -1 28.027/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -1 36.035/1
Tiger Woods -1 48.047/1
Daniel Berger -1 55.054/1
Tony Finau -1 60.059/1
Webb Simpson -1 110.0109/1
Harold Varner -1 130.0129/1
Kevin Na -1 200.0199/1
Harry Higgs -1 390.0389/1
Viktor Hovland level 32.031/1
Level Par and 40.039/1 bar
Trailing by seven, the pre-event favourite, Jon Rahm, trades at around 40.039/1, Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa trail by six and trade at less than 50.049/1 and the defending champ, Hideki Matsuyama, is amongst those on level par and five adrift but history tells us not to scan too far down the early leaderboard here and they're all up against it already.
Last year's winner, Matsuyama, sat second after round one, the 2020 winner, DJ, won wire-to-wire, and although Tiger Woods sat tied for 11th and four off the lead after the opening round in 2019, that was the first time any winner had sat outside the top 10 since he sat tied for 33rd and seven off the lead in 2005.
As highlighted in the preview, Tiger and Phil Mickelson repeatedly buck the trends at Augusta and they're the only two men to win the event having finished day one outside of the top 10 since Mark O'Meara won from tied 25th and five off the pace 24 years ago.
Cam Smith heads the market but if the forecast is correct, he'll be playing in the windier conditions this afternoon and the early starters may catch a break today.
That's also against Tiger Woods but I'm not daft enough to write him off. As already highlighted, when he won in 2019, he sat tied for 11th and four back, today he sits tied 10th and four back.
It would be utterly incredible if he were to return to the fray and win his sixth Green Jacket, but Tiger has repeatedly done utterly incredible things and it's going to be a joy watching him later today.
Having backed DJ before the off, I was a bit disappointed by his finish yesterday. I thought he may get to five or six under after his drive on 13 but nevertheless, he's bang there and he's arguably the one to beat.
The Riviera winner, Joaquin Niemann, who plays with Tiger this afternoon, is a tempting price at 20.019/1 but the one I'm adding is former world number one and reigning FedEx Cup champion, Patrick Cantlay.
The pre-event 28.027/1 chance looks fairly priced at around 12/1 given his start. His best finish to date at Augusta is ninth in 2019 when he opened up with a pair of 73s so this his best start to the event and with the possible exception of the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, who's also in-the-mix, he's the best player on the planet yet to win a major.
On the subject of Scheffler - both of his stroke play wins have come from way off the pace so he's yet to win a tournament when up in the van throughout and that's a bit off putting. Cantlay's just a little more battle-hardened and a more appealing price.
I'll be back tomorrow at the halfway stage but if you're betting in-running this evening, bear in mind that five of the last eight winners were in front at halfway.
20:10 - April 7, 2022
With Augusta softened by rain, and with little wind very early on, I thought the scoring might be a bit better than it was in the early part of the morning at the US Masters.
But as some of the stronger players made the turn, the odd birdie started to drop and at the time of writing, there are 22 players under-par, four players tied for second on three-under par and Cameron Smith has just hit the front on on four-under.
The story coming into the week was undoubtedly the return of Tiger Woods and he started brilliantly. The five-time winner very nearly birdied the ultra-tough par four fifth (the hardest hole on the course in each of the last three years) before producing this sensational tee-shot at the par three sixth.
Matched at 200.0199/1 back in February and backed into 80.079/1 before the off, Woods' price dipped to a low of 30.029/1 before a scruffy bogey at the par five eighth. He parred every hole after that before birdying the par five 13th and it's been a very professional start.
Those that had backed Cam Smith into 20.019/1 before the off (from a high of 75.074/1 in August) would have been cursing when the Players champion double-bogeyed the opening hole but he's recovered brilliantly since and having been matched at 44.043/1 after the early hiccup, he's now hit the front and been matched at a low of 6.86/1.
World number one, Scottie Scheffler, who was matched at a high of 250.0249/1, went off at around 21.020/1 and he's started very nicely too, birdying eight, nine and 12 and parring every other hole. He's been matched at a low of 9.08/1.
Courtesy of this holed out approach on the par five ninth, the first man to get to three-under-par, was Chile's Joaquin Niemann, who would have been on plenty of shortlists after his victory at Riviera in February. As highlighted in the preview, the record of Riviera winners at Augusta is superb and he too has started nicely.
The afternoon starters are all off and running so I'm going to settle in and enjoy the evening coverage and I'll be back in the morning with a good look a the first round leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson @ 19.5
Jordan Spieth @ 24.023/1
Patrick Cantlay @ 13.5
Collin Morikawa @ 30.029/1
Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
2 pts Patrick Reed @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back 1 u Patrick Reed Top 10 Finish @ 9.28/1
Back 2 u Justin Rose @ 130.0129/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back 1 u Justin Rose Top 10 Finish @ 9.28/1
Back 2 u Bubba Watson @ 140.0139/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back 1 u Bubba Watson Top 10 Finish @ 9.28/1
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