The Punter's US Masters De-Brief: Major success for Sergio at last!

Sergio Garcia with the US Masters trophy
Sergio Garcia with the US Masters trophy

Our man looks back at a fabulous edition of the US Masters were a certain Spaniard has finally removed a troublesome monkey from his back. Read Steve's reflections on a brilliant finish to the 81st US Masters here...

“Sergio had the most top-10s in majors before winning (22) and nobody in the history of the game has played in so many before finally bagging one. I’m not a huge fan myself, and I was pulling for Justin, but when you read stats like that it’s no wonder there was so much love for El Nino. He’d paid his dues in spades.”

After what will go down as one of the most memorable tussles in US Masters history, 60 years to the day since fellow Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros, was born, and at the 74th time of asking, the ever-popular Sergio Garcia has finally won a major title.

His victory extends the streak of first time major winners to five and following victories for Dustin Johnson (US Open), Henrik Stenson (Open) and to a lesser extent, Jimmy Walker (USPGA), he's the fourth in-a-row to have won one when many were wondering whether they ever would.

Sergio was matched at 100.099/1 in the early Exchange market but the vast majority of cash was traded at 55.054/1 and below and Justin Rose was a fairly well-fancied 30.029/1 chance having been matched at a high of 40.039/1 and there were all sorts of shenanigans in-play!

With American duo, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, dropping away tamely, the tournament developed into a duel from quite early on and it ebbed and flowed quite magnificently with the initiative swinging first Sergio's way then Justin's, then back-and-forth again.

Sergio was matched at 1.784/5 when he led by three after the fifth hole but momentum swung Rose's way soon after and when Sergio took a penalty drop on the 13th hole the Englishman hit a low of 1.171/6 and Garcia traded back at a double-figure price.

Most unexpectedly, the two parred the hole before a reprieved Sergio ran free with a birdie at 14 and a magnificent eagle (a la Jose Maria Olazabal in '94) at 15 and when he hit his tee-shot on 16 to just five feet he was matched at a low of 1.618/13.

The Spaniard was quite rightly the favourite at that moment in time but Rose then hit a superb tee-shot himself to within eight feet and knocked in the putt. Thankfully for Sergio, his awful dribble of an attempt at a two will soon be forgotten but as they marched to the 17th tee, it was Justin that looked by far the most likely winner with a one-stroke lead.

A bogey for JR at 17 saw them tied for the lead again and Garcia was then matched at just 1.241/4 as he stood over a birdie putt of five feet for the title on 18. Agonisingly for Sergio backers, another poor effort saw the ball slip by the cup and we were in to extra time, where an odds-on Rose found the trees off the tee. That led to a bogey five for the Englishman, giving Sergio had two putts for title. He needed only one.

Sergio had the most top-10s in majors before winning (22) and nobody in the history of the game has played in so many before finally bagging one. I'm not a huge fan myself, and I was pulling for Justin, but when you read stats like that it's no wonder there was so much love for El Nino. He'd paid his dues in spades.

My Bets

My each-way fancy, Paul Casey, placed, my hole-in-one wager was a winner, thanks to this from Matt Kuchar, and although I layed Garcia in-running at 2.26/5 on the fifth hole yesterday, with so many massive swings after that, trading to a small profit was simple enough.

It could have been better and it could have been worse. I backed Lee Westwood to finish inside the top-ten (finished 18th) and first round leader, Charley Hoffman, to finish inside the top-20 (he finished 22nd!) so they were irritating results but on the other hand, had Sergio ran away from the field after the fifth hole or had Rose failed to spark, I'd have an ugly book to sort.

What Have We Learned This Week?

Garcia is the eighth winner in-a-row to be drawn in the afternoon on Thursday and he's the fourth player in-a-row to have won earlier in the year. Like last year's champ, Danny Willett, Sergio won the Dubai Desert Classic in February. Five of the last seven winners have won in the build-up and all seven have been place inside the top-three somewhere at least once. Recent current form looks key.

The two playoff protagonists were the only two players without an over-par round and like nearly every Masters winner, they were up with the pace all the way. Both sat tied for fourth after round one, and they were in the van thereafter. Garcia co led after rounds two and three and Rose went from tied sixth to tied first between rounds two and three.

Both Garcia and Rose have find records at Riviera so that remains the course correlation to consider.

Two negative stats that get discussed every year before the off - the infamous 'no debutant winner since 1979' and the no winner over the age of 40, in what's now 20 renewals, stats - were both established further this time around.

Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who have both since won majors and reached number one in the world rankings, finished second here on their first visits and the odd lesser known player places at the first attempt but the vast majority struggle on their first visit to Augusta National.

There were a number of high-profile first-timers prominent in the market this year and two of them - Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters - went close. They were both involved at halfway and both traded at single-figure prices. Rahm was matched at 6.86/1 and Pieters 9.08/1 during round three but both failed to break par on moving day. Pieters then came again yesterday and hit around 12.011/1, after he'd birdied 15, but a bogey at 16 followed and that was that.

Ernie Els highlighted how much of a knowledge bank gets collected over the years when he said after round one that conditions had reminded him of the third round in 2000! I know Pieters and Rahm went fairly close but they're clearly top class and putting a line through debutants is still the way to go.

It's been a brilliant and richly enjoyable tournament but two player's performances were a bit sad. Poor ole Lee Westwood, who let's not forget has been a world number one, slipped away yesterday with a 74 but the even more poignant was the way Phil Mickelson faded...

Lefty hit a single-figure price on Friday after he'd birdied the 13th in round two but he bogeyed three of his final five holes. He then opened up round three with back-to-back birdies to again trade at a single-figure price but he immediately lost the ground made with a double-bogey at three. Date of birth disease appears to have caught up with him.

I was cool on the chances of Sergio for a number of reasons, one of which was his putting, and it was Rose's recent performances with the flat-stick that steered me away from him, but on reflection, I've perhaps given too much credence to putting at Augusta.

The greens are so tricky and fast that even the very best can struggle and that makes it a bit of a level playing field. Everyone is going to miss short ones - good and bad putters alike. Both playoff protagonists ranked outside the top-20 for Putts Per Green but only Paul Casey hit more greens than the pair.

Is this the beginning of another golden era for Europe?

Willett and Garcia are the first back-to-back winners for Europe since Bernhard Langer and Olazabal in 1993 and '94 but with the likes of Rahm and Pieters emerging and the likes of Rory and Rose serious contenders year after year, who's to say a spell of domination isn't in the pipeline.

Rory McIlroy didn't play close to his best last week and I fancy he may been a little undercooked after his rib injury in South Africa but it's worth highlighting he still finished inside the top-ten for the fourth year running and nobody else can boast such a run.

He may still be worth taking on or trading though - he was somehow matched at just 4.57/2 for the win and he was matched at 1.558/15 for a top five finish this year.

We've two events to look forward to this week - the Trophée Hassan II on the European Tour and The Heritage on the PGA Tour. I'll be back later today or possibly tomorrow with my previews.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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