Dustin Johnson is the new Masters favourite but remains closely pursued by Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Paul Krishnamurty weighs up the top three candidates for Augusta...
"Johnson's third straight tournament victory could not have been more comprehensive, in a format where favourites only very rarely have it all their own way...A repeat performance would likely overwhelm Augusta."
With golf becoming more competitive every year, betting sentiment changes very fast. Long gone are the days of Tiger dominance, when the 'Without Woods' market was a popular heat even before the event started. The top of the rankings change frequently and if you asked a dozen people who the best golfer in the world was, you might get three or four different answers.
Indeed, four different players have traded below 9.08/1 in our ante-post US Masters market. Of that quartet, Jason Day has since fallen away amid injury, illness and personal problems. That leaves three vying for favouritism - Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, all trading between 6.86/1 and 8.88/1. Though Dustin is currently in front, a lot can change over the next fortnight. After all, a strong case can be made for all three.
Dustin Johnson is the standout pick on recent form
After last weekend's remarkable, dominant performance at the World Match Play, it would take a brave man to bet against the latest Augusta favourite. Johnson's third straight tournament victory could not have been more comprehensive, in a format where favourites only very rarely have it all their own way. Only one of his seven matches was even vaguely close.
Right now, every area of Dustin's game is in perfect shape. His massive yet relatively straight driving offered an overwhelming advantage against last week's opponents, repeatedly setting up wedge approaches on long holes. His long game set up relentless birdie chances and, from there, the putter was deadly.
A repeat performance would likely overwhelm Augusta, especially the par-fives which are so pivotal to scoring in this major. While his length has always been the perfect fit for this course, Johnson's scrambling often let him down around these famously complex greens. He's improved no end in that department though and been rewarded by much better results, finishing sixth and fourth in the last two renewals.
It takes most players around six or seven attempts to produce their best at Augusta. This will be Dustin's eighth visit and he is ready to peak, in line with results elsewhere. Regardless of the fact others can boast better course numbers, the market is right - he is the man they all have to beat.
Jordan Spieth boasts the best Augusta numbers
Going on past performance, Jordan Spieth sets the standard - a point reflected by his consistent standing as favourite or second best all year, despite a slip in form since a remarkable 2015. Indeed, 2/1/2 from his first three attempts defies a longstanding, logical Masters trend against young players still learning the course.
The highlight of that year was his runaway, record-tying victory here to land a first major title. 12 months ago, he looked certain to retain the title before an inexplicably disastrous start to Sunday's back-nine - particularly on the par-three 12th. Despite seeming to make more uncharacteristic mistakes that week - Sunday wasn't the first time he'd surprisingly fallen back into the pack - than the entire previous year, Spieth still finished second. He lost by fewer shots than the four given away on the 12th.
However there are clearly players currently in better form and Spieth suffered a very different fate to Johnson last week, ruining his chance on the first day with a shock defeat to Hideto Tanihara. (In fairness, that defeat looked a lot better after Tanihara went on to beat Paul Casey and give Dustin his hardest match).
Jordan gets an immediate chance to correct in this week's Houston Open, where a win will doubtless drive a big Masters gamble, potentially resuming favouritism. However if he doesn't contend, the reverse market momentum will apply.
Rory McIlroy looks close to his best following injury
McIlroy was another early casualty at the World Match Play but that reverse should definitely be overlooked as a form signal. Soren Kjeldsen played outstanding to beat him in a classic match first up, and then Gary Woodland's withdrawal meant Rory didn't even get a second chance.
Previously, he'd looked in eye-catching form, coming from way back to challenge and eventually finish fourth at Bay Hill. After having his early season curtailed by a rib injury, that along with seventh in the WGC Mexico Championship represent extremely encouraging returns from his first two starts back. He looked primed to go on a run and, regardless of last week's hiccup, still does.
Rather like Dustin, however, sceptics must point to previous failures on a course that should suit him perfectly. We've known McIlroy had the tools for Augusta ever since he took a four-shot lead into Sunday when still seeking a first major in 2011. The fact he blew up was easily attributed to nerves but nobody could have predicted that, six years on, he'd still have never seriously contended down the stretch in this major. Rory's best finish was a very distant, fast-finishing fourth, behind Spieth in 2015. That must surely change soon.