With a high number of top nation and continent markets to get involved in at this week's US Masters, we asked Mike Norman for his thoughts on who will finish as the Top Continenal European...
"The Spaniard hasn't failed to finish in the top 20 of any event since October last year, won the Qatar Masters at the start of this seasn, and last week warmed up for this event with an excellent third-place finish."
When I put together my 21st Century Trends preview of the US Masters a fortnight ago, Sergio Garcia very nearly made it on to my shortlist of possible winners. In a nutshell, I wouldn't put anyone off backing the popular Spaniard to win this week and I feel he represents a solid wager in this market.
I'll put forward the case for backing Garcia shortly, but almost equally encouraging are the holes that we can pick in his opponents chances of finishing with Top Continental European honours.
Henrik Stenson is Garcia's nearest rival in the Sportsbook market, and at 5.04/1 to back you'd imagine that last season's Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup champion is a serious contender. But the Swede's form this season has been nothing more than average while his record at Augusta is nothing to shout home about either.
Stenson has failed to record a top-15 finish at the Masters in eight attempts, missing the cut on three of those occasions, while he has just one top-10 finish to his name from eight events played in 2014. True, he's a player that can go on and off form like a switch, but even at his best Stenson isn't a player that I'd be in a rush to back to contend for a Green Jacket given his less-than-brilliant tournament form.
Theoretically, Francesco Molinari's tee-to-green excellence should be well rewarded at Augusta but that would only apply if you putt well. Although fast greens should be more to the Italian's liking, he misses too many putts from inside six feet to merit serious consideration. He's the third favourite in this market, but even at 11.010/1 he's easily dismissed.
Three players are priced at 15.014/1, Martin Kaymer, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Peter Hanson, and of these Kaymer is the easiest player to rule out. The German's record at Augusta is terrible - four missed cuts and a best finish of T35 in six attempts - while his golf in the last few years is a million miles from the standard that took him briefly to world number one.
Jimenez's best performance at the Masters in 14 attempts is a tie for eighth but he has made the cut in eight successive starts at Augusta now and I'd expect him to do so again without featuring too highly on the leaderboard, while Hanson went close to winning here in 2012, but that effort sandwiched a missed cut in 2011 and a T50 last year and he's not in the same kind of form this season.
Perhaps Victor Dubuisson (17.016/1) could be the man to lead home the continental Europeans should Garcia falter, but debutants have an extremely poor record at Augusta. The Frenchman demonstrated an incredible short game at the WGC Match Play however and that form alone could see him finish in the top 10 or 20 this week, and that might just be enough to land the honours in this market.
But with everything in his favour Garcia is almost impossible to oppose here, and although odds of 3.211/5 are not everyone's cup of tea I think they are very fair in a field of just 15 runners, most of which you can rule out straight away.
Garcia is on a run of five consecutive cuts made at Augusta and last year recorded a top-10 finish. That was only his third single figure finish in 15 attempts here but he has rarely turned up in Georgia in better form. The Spaniard hasn't failed to finish in the top 20 of any event since October last year, won the Qatar Masters at the start of this season, and last week warmed up for this event with an excellent third-place finish.
As always with Garcia the key will be his putting, but like Molinari he seems better suited to faster greens and he is missing far fewer 'shorter' putts now than he ever did.