US Masters 2018: Outright and three-ball tips ahead of round two

American golfer Matt Kuchar
Matt Kuchar during the first round of the US Masters
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With Jordan Spieth threatening to dominate yet another major championship, Paul Krishnamurty surveys the leaderboard in search of value trades and recommends a quintet of bets from today's three-ball coupon...

"We shouldn't question Bernhard Langer's ability to stay the course. He hasn't shot 80 here since 2012 and 13 of his last 17 Augusta rounds were sub-75."

Back Bernhard Langer 2u @ [3.9]

He's done it again. Just as everyone was looking forward to what was widely billed as the most wide-open US Masters in living memory, Jordan Spieth re-affirmed that he is very much the man to beat around Augusta National, storming to a two-shot first round lead.

That makes it nine times he's led here after just 17 rounds - a truly astonishing stat around a course that almost everyone else takes several attempts to work out. Considering his outstanding front-running record, it is easy to envisage Spieth separating himself from the pack and dominating the event, as he did in 2015 and looked for three and a half rounds like doing so in 2016. Spieth also led from start to finish in three events in 2017, including the Open Championship.

That record may not amount to anything less than the 31% chance implied by Spieth's outright odds of [3.2], but it is of course still early days and there is no shortage of quality alternatives on this leaderboard. Most notably Matt Kuchar, the Augusta specialist whose heart Spieth broke at the Open, is tied second and Rory McIlroy battled his way to a 69 - his best opening round at Augusta since 2011.

So where does this leave the betting? As always in this major, we should utilise some of the strongest in-running trends in the sport. Augusta's long history makes it crystal clear that we should be restricting calculations to the first couple of pages of the leaderboard.

As Steve Rawlings explained earlier in his comprehensive Masters preview, (which includes a lovely ante-post bet on Spieth), only Tiger and Phil Mickelson have won this major from outside the top-ten on day one.

The trends are similarly clear about those likely to contend at any stage. In the past decade, of 64 players to finish within five of the lead, only 17 were positioned lower than 13th at this stage. That brings the classy quintet on -2 into it but historically, the plethora of world-class players further back have too much to do, even if some of their odds are very tempting.

In truth, I regard [3.2] about Spieth as a decent price given the current position. Even with a couple of moderate, slightly sub-par rounds, his odds are unlikely to get much bigger. However I'm not backing the favourite for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it just isn't my style of betting.

Also, while Spieth's Tiger-esque powers of recovery continue to amaze, he hasn't been and isn't miles ahead of the rest in the way Woods was at his peak. Sure he hit another 66 on day one but it could be McIlroy, Kuchar or Mickelson's turn to do so today. Rory in particular is fancied to go very close this week. I'm extremely encouraged by an opening 69 which could easily have been 72.

McIlroy isn't exactly huge trading value either at [6.6], though, so for now I'm just having the one bet. Kuchar has finished top-eight in four of the last six Masters and is poised to contend once again. He'll be itching for revenge over Spieth after their memorable Open dual, and has evidently run into form at just the right time. At odds of [18.5], we should get a decent run.

Back Matt Kuchar 4u @ [18.5]


Three-balls - A quintet of bets

Back Cameron Smith 4u @ [2.32] (Starts 13.30) (vs Reavie, Horschel)

Three-ball betting involves the same group playing rounds one and two together and there is always a danger that the market will over-react to the former. In this case, though, I'm delighted to back Smith at [2.32] compared to yesterday's [2.5], considering the Aussie won by five strokes. There's no reason to expect either Reavie or Horschel to vastly improve on what was a fairly predictable struggle.


Back Joaquin Niemann 2u @ [4.4] (Starts 14.14) (vs Li, Couples)

This amateur could be an interesting outsider of three. Yet again, Fred Couples turned the clock back in round one, shooting level par, but his fitness is going to be a concern as the weekend draws on. A late-early tee-time is far from ideal and today could be a struggle. Hao-Tong Li kept the amazing run of Dubai Desert Classic winners at Augusta going with a brilliant 69, but made plenty of mistakes too. Niemann wasn't humiliated on debut with 76 and is fancied to keep this group much closer today.


Back Bernhard Langer 2u @ [3.9] (Starts 14.36) (vs Finau, Ikeda)

In contrast we shouldn't question Bernhard Langer's ability to stay the course. He hasn't shot 80 here since 2012 and 13 of his last 17 Augusta rounds were sub-75. If Tony Finau suffers a reaction either to his sprained ankle, or just finding himself bang in contention on debut, the German will likely set a good enough target to benefit. Much more so than Yuta Ikeda, who has now shot 74 or worse on five straight Augusta rounds.


Back Tommy Fleetwood 2u @ [3.25] (Starts 18.27) (vs Woods, Leishman)

This group produced tremendous excitement for us yesterday, with Leishman hanging on to land our bet despite looking home and hosed with four holes to play. The same logic applies here - opposing the terrible value Tiger Woods - but I'm switching to Fleetwood today. Level par on only his third Augusta round represented a marked improvement on last year's efforts.


Back Justin Thomas 6u @ [1.84] (Starts 18.38) (vs Garcia, Redman)

Finally, I'm breaking a golden rule here and betting odds-on in a three-ball. Quite simply, the best player in the world so far this season looks a banker here, against an amateur and the man sitting second last after round one. Granted, that is defending champion Sergio Garcia but, prior to last year, his Augusta record was pretty poor. He'll do very well to remain fully incentivised today with all hope of a defence lost.


Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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