Our man looks back at the 2014 US Masters which saw 2012 winner, Bubba Watson, regain the title. What have we learned for next year and what next for Bubba's closest challengers, Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt?
"Bubba was very much the archetypical Masters winner. He came into the event in fine form, ticked all the right stat and trend boxes beforehand, he was up with the pace all the way and his stats at the end of the week were exactly what you’d expect. Nobody drove it further and he ranked 5th for greens hit and scrambling and 12th for putting."
The intriguing third round leaderboard had promised much drama but the 78th US Masters was a bit of a damp squib in the end. It was soon apparent that the 54-hole co-leaders, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, were going to fight out the finish between them and after he'd turned a two-stroke deficit into a two stroke lead in the space of two holes (8 and 9), Bubba traded as short as 1.42/5 and was never headed.
I layed Bubba Watson, who I'd backed before the off at an average of 36.035/1, at 2.01/1 after the 8th hole and again at 1.42/5 after the 9th, to ensure a modest profit had he gotten beat, but I needn't have bothered.
In the side markets, Miguel Angel Jimenez comfortably finished the week as the top Spaniard but those gains were lost in the Top Scandinavian, Top Irish, Top Debutant and hole-in-one market. My only two-ball bet, highlighted yesterday in the In-Play Blog, Jonas Blixt to beat Matt Kuchar, won nicely though so all in all, it's been a very nice week's work.
What have we learned for next year?
Bubba was very much the archetypal Masters winner. He came into the event in fine form, ticked all the right stat and trend boxes beforehand, he was up with the pace all the way and his stats at the end of the week were exactly what you'd expect. Nobody drove it further and he ranked 5th for greens hit and scrambling and 12th for putting.
It is possible to win the Masters if you don't hit miles off the tee but length is a huge asset at Augusta and once again the par fives held the key. Bubba finished the week on eight-under-par, which was exactly how he played the long holes.
Stick to the course specialists. Bubba became the 17th player to win the event more than once and who's to say he won't do so again, but it probably won't be next year...
Bubba spoke during this year's renewal about how much of a distraction defending is. There's an awful amount of media work to get through and of course, the champions dinner to host. Adam Scott started well this year but soon ran out of steam and legends of the game, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo remain the only three to successfully defend.
With Jonas Blixt (the only man to break par all four days) and Jordan Spieth finishing tied for second we came mighty close to only our second debutant winner in 76 renewals but I'd still think twice about backing a first-timer going forward. There were 24 debutants in the field this year, so a strong representation is understandable given that they made up 25% of the field and that a number of the past champions, and all the amateurs, didn't really have a prayer of winning.
Spieth looks a colossal prospect, and Blixt putted superbly all week but Jordan himself said his lack of course experience was costly. I fancy their two performances are anomalies and the wait for another first-time winner could continue a while yet.
The over-40s failed once more (17th year in-a-row) but I'd wager we'll see someone from that age bracket don a Green Jacket again before we see a debutant succeed once more. With Jimenez finishing 4th and 57-year-old Bernhard Langer finishing tied 8th, for the first time ever, two players over 50 finished inside the top 8. The only other occasion that two over-50s had placed so high was in 1967 when Sam Snead and Ben Hogan both finished tied for 10th. And it was only a weak finish from Freddie Couples, once his chance of victory had gone, that stopped there being three over-50s in the top-ten - ole Boom Boom finished tied for 20th.
From an In-Play perspective, it really isn't worth backing anyone not up with the lead from very early on. Get a fast start at Augusta or forget it. Only 26 players shot par or better on Thursday and only two of the final top-13 had failed to do so. Augusta specialists Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood, who at tied 5th and 7th respectfully, finished inside the top-ten for the third year in-a-row - both men had finished tied 8th in 2013 and tied 3rd a year earlier - and they weren't miles back either. They both opened up with one-over-par 73s.
Bubba was tied 2nd after day one and in front by halfway and Spieth and Blixt were tied 3rd after 36 holes. Every winner since 1990 has come from the last two pairings on Sunday and every winner since 1997 has been within three of the lead with a round to go.
I'd suggest avoiding anyone with any sort of injury doubts. Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Hunter Mahan and Louis Oosthuizen all had fine Augusta pedigrees but all had niggling problems. Rose fought like a tiger to reach the fringes of contention and Louis started brightly but given the intensity of the examination, any weakness is accentuated. You need to be at your absolute best to compete here.
What next for Jonas and Jordan?
Having backed Blixt a couple of times lately at a triple-figure price, part of me feels a little aggrieved we didn't see his A-game before now this year but he's clearly one to keep an eye on. He's got bottle in abundance and it could be he's one of those that loses interest when he's not contending. That's fine by me though, that usually means a better price and he's definitely one to get with in-running.
As impressive as young Spieth has been, he hasn't been converting his chances but that's going to change now. He spoke after yesterday's fantastic effort about how much he learned and not just about Augusta. He was far less agitated than he has been in-contention and although I expect an understandable immediate dip in form, he won't be long before he's back in-the-mix somewhere and he'll be one to side with, I feel.
That's enough looking back, we've got a couple of great events to look forward to this week and I need to get my nose in the form book. I'll be back tomorrow with previews for both the Malaysian Open and the RBC Heritage.
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