Nearly nine months after Jimmy Walker claimed the USPGA Championship in the last of 2016's majors, the first of 2017, the US Masters, is now just days away.
Played at the iconic and stunning Augusta National, the US Masters is the only major played at the same venue year after year.
Augusta National was founded at the start of the Great Depression and when the first edition was staged in 1934 the club had just 76 paid up members - someway short of the planned 1,800 - and the inaugural winner, Horton Smith, along with all the top finishers, had to wait for 17 members to club together to raise the purse before he received his winnings.
The US Masters have a number of quirky traditions that add to its appeal. Since 1949, the winner has been awarded a famous Green Jacket, on the Tuesday of Masters week there's a Champions Dinner, at which the previous year's winner chooses the menu, and since 1960, there's been a relaxed par three contest held on the eve of the main event on the most beautiful little course you're ever likely to see. And finally, anyone that makes an eagle at the US Masters receives a pair of Waterford Crystal goblets and those that shoot the lowest individual rounds receive a crystal vase.
This is the 81st edition and believe it or not, it's now exactly 20 years since Tiger Woods won the first of his four Green jackets, and 12 years since he won his last!
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia.
Par 72, 7,435 yards, stroke average in 2016 - 74.42
Originally the brainchild of Rees Jones, Augusta National was founded by him and Clifford Roberts - a wealthy New York investment banker. Designed by Jones and Alister Mackenzie, who died before the course was finished, Augusta National was built on the site of an old nursery and all the holes are named after a tree or shrub.
It officially opened in January 1933 and it's been evolving ever since and to such an extent recently that the original designers would barely recognize the place. The Bermuda greens were changed to bent grass and the fairways were tightened at the end of the last century before a major overhaul was orchestrated by Tom Fazio in 2002. More than half the holes were lengthened and tightened and at almost 7,500 yards now, it's a long course.
Augusta plays longer than it's already demanding yardage because the fairways are all cut in the same direction - towards the tee-boxes - so balls tend to land and stop fairly quickly.
The greens are undulating and lightning fast but for details of each and every hole, please see Dave Tindall's fantastic guide with lots of stunning photos from his own collection here.
Sky Sports is the only place to see all four days live in the UK and their coverage is comprehensive. They have live bulletins from the range on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the Par Three Tournament is live on Wednesday and they have breakfast show recapping the action from the day before on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Live coverage of the event itself begins at 19:00 on Thursday but there is plenty of other coverage in the UK. Featured group coverage will cover two of the morning marquee groups for the opening two rounds, with that stream available from 14:15 on the Sky Sports red button, Sky Sports Xtra and Sky Sports iPad app and you can also track players' progress through Amen Corner on SkySports.com, with a live feed from 15:45 to 19:00 on each day during the first two rounds.
That stream is also available on red button and the app, where cameras focused on the 15th and 16th holes will be live from 16:45 as the early starters get towards the end of their rounds.
There is also live coverage on BBC2 on Saturday and Sunday, and they also have Red Button coverage from mid-afternoon over the weekend, showing featured groups, Amen Corner, and holes 15 and 16.
Last Ten Winners
2016 - Danny Willett -5
2015 - Jordan Spieth -18
2014 - Bubba Watson -8
2013 - Adam Scott -9 (playoff)
2012 - Bubba Watson -10 (playoff)
2011 - Charl Schwartzel -14
2010 - Phil Mickelson -16
2009 - Angel Cabrera -12 (playoff)
2008 - Trevor Immelman -8
2007 - Zach Johnson +1
What Will it Take to Win the US Masters?
Although Augusta is tree-lined, Driving Accuracy is the least important stat to consider. The trees are well-established and the branches high so errant drives aren't always punished.
The last two winners, Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett, only ranked 52nd and 32nd respectively for Driving Distance but length of the tee is advantageous and historically, length off the tee has been much more important than accuracy. But Greens In Regulation and Scrambling are the most important stats to consider and nobody wins at Augusta unless they putt brilliantly.
To provide an at-a-glance picture of what's required, here's the average rating for the last ten winners in all the key stats.
Driving Accuracy - 28.6
Driving Distance - 22.1
G.I.R - 6.2
Scrambling - 7.2
Putting Average - 10.2
Those stats show that the secrets to success here are to find plenty of greens, get up-and-down successfully when one is missed, and to putt really well but what's often the most important factor is how you play the long holes. Here are the total scores to par for the last ten winners on the par threes, fours and fives.
Par threes -4
Par fours -12
Par fives -90
Up until last year, Trevor Immelman, who played the long holes in three-under-par in 2008, had the lowest score of any winner on the par fives going all the way back to 1995 so the fact that Willett won 12 months ago, having played the long holes in just level par is truly astounding, and it has to be viewed as an anomaly.
Phil Mickelson played them in 13-under-par in 2006 and yet his winning total was just seven-under and even when relatively short hitter, Zach Johnson, won with an over par winning total ten years ago, he still played the long holes in a dozen under-par. If you're only going to look at one stat before the off, Par 5 performance would be the one I'd suggest.
More Stats and Facts to Consider
Although the last two winners, Spieth and Willett, had only played Augusta once before they won, previous course form is vital. Other than the first two winners of the event, Fuzzy Zoeller (in 1979) is still the only debutant to win the US Masters and most winners have been around Augusta National enough times to get to know its unique nuisances. On average, first time winners have played the event six times.
It's not just course experience you need - a weekend of Augusta employment 12 months earlier appears essential too. Every winner, apart from Tiger Woods in 1996, stretching all the way back to Zoeller's debut win in 1979, made the cut here in the year before they won.
Although plenty of experience is a big plus and the average age of the winners is 32, age does seem to have been a bit of a barrier of late and Mark O'Meara, who took the title at the of 41 back in 1998, is the last winner in his 40s.
Up until 2015, 23 of the previous 24 winners had all previously shot a round in the 60s at Augusta and I'd still consider that a big plus on someone's CV but Spieth and Willett both won having not broken 70 in the single previous visit.
Course form stands up really well and past winners have a fine record, As many as 17 different players have won the title more than once.
Red-hot recent form has been a good angle in of late. The last three winners had all won earlier in the season and subsequently finished second or third and the last five winners have all finished at least third in one of their three starts prior to the Masters.
Willett won the Dubai Desert Classic and finished third at the WGC-Cadillac three starts before Augusta last year, Spieth had form figures reading 1-2-2 before he won in 2015, and Bubba Watson won at Riviera before finishing second in the WGC-Cadillac prior to victory in 2014. Adam Scott had finished third at the WGC-Cadillac in his penultimate start before he won in 2013 and 12 months earlier, Bubba finished second at the WGC-Cadillac and fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the two starts before he won here for the first time.
Form at the Genesis Open is worth more than a cursory glance. Following Bubba Watson's second victory at Riviera last year, a total of 11 Masters Champions have now won 21 editions of the Genesis Open. Bubba, Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Tom Watson have now all won multiple PGA Tour events at both Riviera and Augusta so the courses clearly correlate quite nicely.
I'm not sure how much credence we can give it but recent history suggests a late start on day one is beneficial as the last six winners have all teed off late on day one. The weather hasn't been a huge factor so maybe playing later in the day is just easier than going off early and pushing too hard? Or maybe it's just a bit of an anomaly? It will be interesting to see how long the sequence can stretch but I'm not at all convinced it's a significant factor.
Augusta National is NOT a catch-up course and a fast start is imperative. No year advertises that better than 2010, when Hunter Mahan, who finished tied 8th, was the only player to finish in the top-11 places that hadn't been more within two shots off Fred Couples' first round lead. He'd sat tied for 22nd, five back from the 1992 champ.
Willett sat tied ninth and four adrift after day one last year but 12 months earlier, Spieth and Justin Rose sat first and second after the opening round and that's how they finished the tournament, with Spieth winning wire-to-wire.
Bubba took a very typical route to the title in 2014 when he sat in a tie for second, just one off the lead, after opening the event with a three-under par 69 and he was three clear at halfway after a second round 68. A slightly sticky 74 in round three saw him lose his outright advantage before he kicked three clear with a closing 69.
Adam Scott's journey to victory in 2013 also followed a very typical route - he was never more than three off the lead but he wasn't in front too early. The ideal scenario is to be up with the pace but not in front too soon. Spieth and Immelman are the only first round leaders to win since Ben Crenshaw in 1984 and they're the only wire-to-wire winners since Seve Ballesteros achieved the feat in 1980.
You can also look to 2012, when the first four names on the day one leaderboard - Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Peter Hanson and Bubba were all in the first six at the finish.
Tiger and Phil 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 in 1998.
And finally, make sure you lay back some profit if your pick looks like winning and goes odds-on. Spieth was five clear at the turn on Sunday last year and he was matched at a low of 1.091/11 but he's far from the first long odds-on shot to get beat.
Jason Day hit 1.705/7 four years ago but missed out on the play-off by two strokes and Angel Cabreara, beaten by Scott in extra time, traded at 1.9110/11. In 2012, Louis Oosthuizen was a heavy odds-on shot when Bubba found the trees before that famous miracle recovery shot at the second play-off hole and there were all sorts of shenanigans in 2011.
Rory McIlroy began the final day four clear and a 1.804/5 shot but he could finish no better than tied 15th and Scott backers were cruelly denied after he'd been matched at just 1.374/11 when Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win.
Mickelson cruised to an emotional third victory in 2010 but a year earlier two players traded at odds-on before losing in a play-off. Kenny Perry, who bogeyed the last two holes, was matched at just 1.331/3 in-running and Chad Campbell, who bogeyed the first extra hole to be eliminated, touched odds-on when he found the fairway and Cabrera the trees.
The Big Three
At combined odds of around 2.89/5, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy dominate the market but all three have plenty of pros and cons...
Augusta Form 30-38-38-13-MC-6-4
It took DJ a while to get to grips with Augusta but he's finished 6th and 4th in the last two years and his 13th in 2013 should have been far better. He hit the front as early as Friday but dropped six shots over the last five holes and after he'd missed the cut in 2014 there were more mistakes in both 2015 and 2016.
He enjoys the par fives here and he made a record-breaking three eagles in round two back in 2015, but to counter that, there were far too many errors for him to contend seriously for the title. He made three bogeys in round one and six more over the next three days, which was damaging enough, but he also double-bogeyed a hole on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and that wiped out completely the shots gained by his three eagles on Friday. And there were a similar amount of errors last year - nine bogeys and three double-bogeys ruined any chance he may have had and fourth was a great effort considering.
It's one thing to pull apart his previous error-strewn efforts at Augusta but he's been a very different player since he won the US Open last year and his backers will be happy to dismiss previous misdemeanours.
With a second son on the way and a major already in the bag, the world number one is the one they all have to beat. He comes here on the back of three wins at the Genesis Open, the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC Match Play. Could that be against him though? Nobody's won four straight PGA Tour events since Tiger Woods in 2008 and there's a real danger that the hot run will come to a sudden stop.
Withdrawing from last week's Shell Houston Open was a good move and also in his favour is his win at Riviera (see above).
Augusta Form 2-1-2
Spieth's course form is phenomenal and he could have won the last three editions. He said his lack of course experience was costly on debut when he was edged out by Bubba Watson in 2014, he won easily by four strokes in soft conditions in 2015 (was odds-on by Friday) and as already mentioned, he blew a five stroke lead on the back-nine last year, after hitting a low of 1.091/11 in-running.
He won Down Under in November and he hacked up at the AT&T Pebble Beach in February but he's arguably been a bit disappointing since. He missed the cut last week at the Shell.
Given how well he plays the course and the par fives in particular (11-under-par in 2015 and 12-under last year) it could be a good job for everyone else that he isn't at his best! He came into the event under a bit of a cloud last year but really should have won and we have to ask the question...how will last year's collapse affect him this year?
It's something we have to consider as it was a remarkable meltdown but it's worth remembering that only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have ever defended the title and Spieth was trying to achieve the feat when not at his best and at only 22.
Overcoming the collapse is a negative and his current form is a negative but there are golfers in the Hall of Fame that played Augusta for decades without achieving what Jordan has here in three years and I won't be in the least bit surprised if he's up there challenging all the way again.
Augusta Form 20-MC-15-40-25-8-4-10
Rory has twice looked like winning but fourth is his best finish and that was from off the pace. He blew a four stroke 54 hole lead in 2011, when he shot 80 in round four, and he only trailed by a stroke at halfway last year but lost his way with a 77 in round three. Is there any mental scarring after 2011? I really don't think it is a serious issue now but is winning the Green Jacket - to complete the full set of majors - a mental barrier now?
The rib injury sustained in January in South Africa could prove to be a significant issue and not getting far at the WGC - Match Play was a frustration. In his two starts before the match play event, he started well in Mexico but didn't perform to his best over the weekend and then he started slowly at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before having a great weekend. Most Masters winners have played five, six or seven events before they arrive at Augusta and there's a danger he could be a little undercooked.
Although he's finished inside the top-ten in each of his last three visits, he's only once been placed in eight starts and that isn't a great return. Of the three main contenders, he's the one I'm least keen on.
Having won the Honda Classic, and finished tied-third at the Shell Houston Open, Rickie Fowler has the same current form profile as the last three winners and he currently tops the PGA Tour Scrambling stats so they're big pluses.
Fowler inexplicably opened up with a round of 80 last year when coming into the event in good form but if we ignore that, he has form here. He was in-contention with a round to go when Bubba won his second title in 2014 but he shot 73 in round four to finish and he was 12th in 2015.
Jason Day is an interesting candidate. He was last year's favourite on the back of wins at the Arnold Palmer and the Match Play but could only finish 10th. Went close on debut in 2011 and he traded at odds-on in 2013. His participation is dependent on mum's cancer prognosis but if the news there is as positive as we all hope it is, he could run free at Augusta and very easily contend. He's not won anywhere since the Players last May but we now know why he hasn't been on it this year and odds of 20/1 plus could look huge in hindsight.
Hideki Matsuyama successfully defended his Phoenix Open title in February but he's not been brilliant since. He finished fifth here in 2015 and seventh last year so he has course form in the book but I'm not convinced Matsuyama's putting stroke is robust and consistent enough for him to win a major just yet and that fear would be especially pertinent here where the greens can be lightning fast.
Jon Rahm was magnificent at the Match Play Championship two weeks ago but his price is too short now off the back of that effort, his recent fifth place in Mexico and his win at the Farmers Insurance Open. I think he'll take to Augusta but age and inexperience are against him.
It's perhaps hard to envisage Phil Mickelson winning a fourth green jacket, almost four years since he last won an event. Were he do so, he'd become the oldest ever winner, beating Jack Nicklaus' record by about six months, but equally, it's hard not to see him being competitive given how well he's played so far this year and he looks of interest in top-five or top-ten markets. Lefty has 15 top-tens and 11 top-five finishes form 23 starts at Augusta.
Justin Rose has played here 11 times previously and he's got four top-tens. He was a well-beaten second to Spieth two years ago and he likes Augusta but can we trust his putting this year? In four of his last seven starts before the Shell he's had a putting average of 1.8 or above and that won't get you a green jacket.
I couldn't go into the tournament without having Dustin Johnson onside given how well he's been playing of late. I took 7/1 about him during last week's Match Play and, as detailed in this piece here, I backed Paul Casey at Christmas.
Brandt Snedeker has a nice bank of Augusta form and he should have been placed last year. He was three off the lead at halfway and he bogeyed the last two holes on Sunday to slip outside the places. He had a chance to win in 2008 but shot 77 in round four to finish third and he shot 75 in 2013 when going into round four tied for the lead. He's been ticking along nicely of late with three top-tens in his last six starts and he's putting really well. Whether Sneds has quite the length for Augusta or quite the bottle when it comes to crunch is debatable but I thought he was worth chancing at the 75.074/1 I took last week.
And finally, I've thrown a few pounds at the recent Arnold Palmer Invitational winner, Marc Leishman.
The 33-year-old contended when Scot won here in 2013 (finished fourth) and he led the tournament after he'd birdied the first three holes in round two 12 months later but he completely lost his way after that. Matched at just 12.011/1 to win the tournament, Leishman played the last 15 holes of round two in ten-over par to miss the cut!
Up until his recent win at Bay Hill, Leishman had been fairly quiet of late but in 2015 he lost a playoff at the Open Championship and he absolutely hacked up in the competitive Nedbank Challenge at the end of that year so he has plenty of class.
Dustin Johnson @ 7/1
Paul Casey @ 66/1 (each-way)
Brandt Snedeker @ 75.074/1
Marc Leishman @ 80.079/1
I'll be back at some point over the next few days with a look at some of the side markets and I'll be back again on Friday morning with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
For all of our 2017 Masters betting tips and previews, check out our dedicated category