While the two main tours are taking their customary Christmas break, Steve's going to take an initial peek at 2017's four major championships, beginning with the US Masters here...
"Casey’s already got a great record at Augusta and in the last two editions he’s finished sixth and fourth. He’ll be inspired by fellow Englishman, Willett’s, win in April and watching Henrik Stenson grab his first major at Royal Troon at the age of 40 in July will have also motivated him."
The 2017 US Masters
Augusta National Golf Club
All four days live on Sky Sports
The PGA and European Tours have both shut down for the year now and the next event to look forward to, the SBS Tournament of Champions on the PGA Tour in Hawaii, is still weeks away, so now is an opportune time to not only reflect on 2016 but to look forward to 2017, and in particular, the four majors. And where better to start than the first of the year - the US Masters.
The last two editions have differed greatly and both strayed from the norm. This year's edition was tough and the 2015 edition easy.
Windy conditions in April resulted in only six players breaking par and Danny Willett's five-under-par 283 total was the same as Nick Faldo's in 1989, when he won his first Green Jacket. Zach Johnson, who won with a one-over-par total in 2007, is the only winner in-between Faldo and Willett to win with a bigger score.
In 2015, a rain-softened and receptive Augusta National yielded to low scores and Jordan Spieth amassed an 18-under-par winning total, which matched Tiger Woods' record in 1997. Had he parred the 72nd hole instead of bogeying it, he'd have set a new tournament record.
Although the conditions varied and differed from the norm, both winners ranked highly in the usual vital Augusta stats - Greens In Regulation and Scrambling. Spieth ranked second for GIR and 10th for Scrambling and Willett ranked sixth for GIR and first for Scrambling. When considering likely candidates for the Augusta showpiece in the spring, it's essential to examine those two indicators.
Towards the head of the market, the two I like are Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama. The case for the Texan is as straightforward as it gets. He's clearly taken to Augusta like a duck to water and but for this horrendous mess at the 12th hole last year, he'd be heading down Magnolia Lane in search of three wins in-a-row.
Spieth was matched for more than £1m at 1.121/8 and below in April and his Masters collapse was big enough to easily rank alongside Greg Norman's in 1996 and Rory McIlroy's in 2011 and that's a concern. The fact that he's already won the title once will stand him in good stead but it's hard to believe that there won't be some sort of mental repercussions following his Golden Bell hell.
If Spieth starts 2017 well, he will shorten up a point or two but I'm inclined to hold on for now and see how he fares first. There's not an awful lot of upside to backing the fancied runners so far in advance.
Matsuyama is another to have already shown an aptitude for Augusta, given he's finished fifth and seventh in each of the last two editions, and with form figures that read 5-1-2-1-1, nobody has ended 2016 playing better. His price has, understandably, dipped to below 20/1 now, and if he starts the new year in the same fashion that he ended the old, I can see it tumbling much further but my concern with him is that he's not yet won a major.
Hideki looks almost certain to become Japan's first major champion sooner or later but it is worth highlighting that he fell from second to seventh in round four last year before missing the cut in his next two majors (the US Open and the Open Championship) and the ridiculous levels of media coverage he gets may well have played a part in those unusually poor performances. He has the game but is he quite ready?
This time last year I got Brandt Snedeker onside at a triple-figure price each-way and but for a late collapse, he'd have been placed so I'm tempted by him again and the other one I like at a decent price is Paul Casey.
The 39-year-old Englishman found a rich vein of form at the end of the season finishing second twice and fourth in the last three FedEx Cup Playoff Series events and he finished third at the PGA Tour's 2016/17 curtain raiser - the Safeway Open. He cooled off bit after that in Malaysia and China but he's definitely one to keep an eye on.
Casey's already got a great record at Augusta and in the last two editions he's finished sixth and fourth. He'll be inspired by fellow Englishman, Willett's, win in April and watching Henrik Stenson grab his first major at Royal Troon at the age of 40 in July will have also motivated him.
Whether Paul has quite the minerals in-the-mix to emulate Henrik is debatable but over the last six months on the PGA Tour he's ranked sixth for Scrambling and 11th for GIR and at 50/1 or above he looks very fairly priced.
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