Four weeks out from the season's first major championship, Paul Krishnamurty recommends three contenders whose odds are fancied to tumble during the run-up...
"The forthcoming events are very promising. Paul is defending champion at the Valspar and has a superb matchplay record on both sides of the Atlantic."
Betting markets quick to react to impressive performances
Following last night's victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Francesco Molinari is the latest market mover for next month's US Masters. The reigning Open champion's odds tumbled from [65.0] to [44.0] on the Betfair Exchange over the weekend - showing just how instantly responsive markets are to current form.
We should expect several similar gambles in the run-up to the season's first major. Although less than five weeks away, there are plenty of top-class events to negotiate first. First, we have this week's Players Championship, followed by the Valspar Championship to complete the Florida Swing, then the WGC World Match Play and Valero Texas Open.
By studying past renewals of those high-class events, we can find plenty of clues to identify late market movers. Molinari, for example, was very pickable last week. This trio, for my money, represent the best current trading value.
Consistent Casey has obvious trading potential
Although some way down the Masters list - a consequence of his failure to land a major title yet - Casey has few rivals in the consistency stakes and plenty of pedigree for Augusta National's unique test. He's made the top-20 on two-thirds of his 12 attempts in this major and all bar one of the four failures came when his game was in crisis.
That has certainly not been the case in recent years as the Englishman has become a top-ten machine on the PGA Tour. He's started 2019 in typical style - runner-up at Pebble Beach and in the Singapore Open, third in the Mexico Championship, from his last four starts. Sure, he doesn't win anywhere near often enough or look reliable in contention, but he invariably trades at a fraction of his starting odds.
The forthcoming events are very promising. Paul is defending champion at the Valspar and has a superb matchplay record on both sides of the Atlantic. He's finished top-six in three of the last four Masters and seems bound to offer a good run for our money again. Get on at [48.0] now and don't reassess until the Augusta leaderboard has taken some shape.
Augusta is Kuchar's best chance of a major
Similar comments apply to Kuchar - a relentlessly consistent type in his early forties, who has achieved everything apart from winning a major. If he is ever to get that monkey off his back, Augusta must be regarded the likeliest venue, having finished top-eight in four of the last seven Masters renewals.
Again, there's been plenty of early season encouragement. He won the Sony Open, adding to the Mayakoba Classic title earned late in 2018, and challenged until the final holes when fourth at the Phoenix. The embarrassment endured after that Sony triumph - for seriously short-changing his stand-in caddy - might put some off, but surely Kooch is too experienced to be distracted by any of that.
Again, there are plenty of promising opportunities coming up. As a former Sawgrass champion (also third in 2015), he has a definite chance at The Players Championship. Kuchar is also a former World Match Play champion and, like Casey, is arguably better in that head-to-head format than converting at the end of strokeplay tournaments.
Powerful Pieters ideally suited to the test
This time last year, Pieters was a considerably shorter price but it seems the memories of his 2017 debut at Augusta National are fading. The Belgian bomber put up an outstanding performance in fourth, challenging early then fighting back into contention on the final day. His powerful, aggressive style looked absolutely perfect for this challenge.
That wasn't the first time he'd caught US attention during what is still a short career. Top-scorer at the 2016 Ryder Cup, Pieters was also second on his debut at Riviera - another classic PGA Tour venue where form strongly correlates with Augusta - and sixth in last year's USPGA. He was also placed on debut in two other WGC events - the WGC Bridgestone and Mexico Championship. Evidently, he is not scared of the biggest stages.
Granted, Pieters' star has waned a bit as his form dipped, but the 27 year-old has plenty of time to deliver on extreme early expectations. He isn't without recent form - finishing sixth in Oman following a quartet of top-30 finishes. Of the forthcoming events, I think his best chance is the World Match Play. He's already proven in that format, and Austin CC offers a big advantage to powerful bombers of his ilk.