US Masters 2019: The Punter's in-depth betting preview

Golfer Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka - too big on the exchange says The Punter

The US Masters is nearly here so arm yourself with all the trends and stats ahead of Thursday's eagerly awaited start with The Punter's comprehensive preview here...

"Augusta is famous for its drama on the back-nine on Sunday and laying back some profit at odds-on is definitely the sensible thing to do if you get the chance."

Tournament History

Manchester City and Watford have both progressed to next month's FA Cup final, 4/1 favourite, Tiger Roll, has won the Grand National (the first to win it back-to-back since Red Rum in 1973/74) and for the real traditionalists, 46 year-old Olympian, James Cracknell, has ably aided Cambridge to Boat Race glory against Oxford so we've witnessed three big sporting spring stories in the UK this weekend, but for me, nothing announces the arrival of spring quite like the US Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

Played at the iconic and stunning Augusta National, with its wonderful flowering dogwoods and azaleas, the US Masters is the first of four major championships played throughout the year and it's the only one 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.

Originally called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament, a name it kept for five years, it wasn't initially a major championship.

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.

Venue

Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,475 yards, stroke average in 2018 - 72.93

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 bentgrass 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 a touch under 7,500 yards now, it's a long course.

This year's change is a surprising one as they've lengthened the already long par four fifth by 40 yards. It was the sixth hardest hole 12 months ago and historically it's been the fifth hardest. It won't be any easier now it measures 495 yards.

Augusta plays even longer than its 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.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

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 as well as full live coverage of every round from 20:00 on Thursday night.

Last 12 Winners

2018 - Patrick Reed -15 Pre-event price 70/1
2017 - Sergio Garcia -9 (playoff) Pre-event price 50/1
2016 - Danny Willett -5 Pre-event price 66/1
2015 - Jordan Spieth -18 Pre-event price 12/1
2014 - Bubba Watson -8 Pre-event price 28/1
2013 - Adam Scott -9 (playoff) Pre-event price 28/1
2012 - Bubba Watson -10 (playoff) Pre-event price 55/1
2011 - Charl Schwartzel -14 Pre-event price 90/1
2010 - Phil Mickelson -16 Pre-event price 10/1
2009 - Angel Cabrera -12 (playoff) Pre-event price 150/1
2008 - Trevor Immelman -8 Pre-event price 150/1
2007 - Zach Johnson +1 Pre-event price 200/1

What Will it Take to Win the US Masters?

To provide an at-a-glance picture of what's required at Augusta, here are the average rating for the last 12 winners in all the key stats.

Driving Accuracy - 25.08
Driving Distance - 19.42
G.I.R - 7.08
Scrambling - 7.8
Putting Average - 9.58

Although Augusta is tree-lined, Driving Accuracy is the least important stat to consider. The trees are well-established and the branches are high so errant drives aren't always punished. Length off the tee is advantageous and historically much more important than accuracy but it isn't an absolute imperative. Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel and Zach Johnson have all won here in the last 12 years with DD rankings of 52nd, 32nd, 40th and 57th respectively but they're the exceptions. The last two winners have ranked sixth for DD and six of the last 12 have ranked inside the top-six. Bubba hit it further than anyone off the tee when he won his second Green Jacket.

Bubba Watson (720).JPG

Reed only ranked 21st for Greens In Regulation and that was unusually shoddy - nine of the last 12 winners have ranked sixth or better for GIR - and he only ranked 16th for Scrambling, which was also unusual. Johnson only ranked 27th for Scrambling but the ten winners in-between Zach and Patrick had an average ranking of 5.1 so a fabulous short game and the ability to get up-and-down repeatedly is vital.

Reed topped the Putting Average stats last year but only three of the last 12 winners have ranked inside the top-12 for that stat and a quick glance at the list of winners above will show you that a number of players that have had their fair share of woes on the greens have won here recently. The fast, sloppy, often treacherous, glass-like surfaces are hard for everyone and it almost levels the field out a bit.

The two playoff protagonists in 2017, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, ended the 2017 season ranking 112th and 168th for Strokes Gained Putting so although I wouldn't go out of my way to find a poor putter, it's perhaps a bit of myth that only the best putters win here.

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 12 winners on the par threes, fours and fives.

Par threes +3
Par fours -40
Par fives -102


Trevor Immelman played the long holes in only three-under-par in 2008 and up until 2016 that was the lowest score any winner had recorded on the par fives dating all the way back to 1995 so the fact that Danny Willett won three years ago, having played the long holes in just level par, is astounding, and it has to be viewed as an anomaly. Sergio only played them in seven-under-par in 2017 and even that was an unusually low score. Reed smashed them up 12 months ago -playing them in 13 under-par, despite failing to pick up a shot on any of the four on Sunday - and that's far more usual.

PATRICK REED August 2018.jpg

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 12 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.

Angles In & Augusta Trends

Patrick Reed's course form coming in to the championship last year was pretty poor, reading MC-22-49-MC and he was the first winner since Tiger Woods in 1997 to have missed the cut the previous year. They're the only two to have achieved that feat since Fuzzy Zoeller won on debut in 1979 so not playing the weekend last year is a significant negative.

Another no-no used to be backing anyone yet to break 70 around Augusta and I'd definitely prefer to back someone that had shot a round in the 60s previously. Up until 2015, 23 of the previous 24 winners had all previously shot a round in the 60s but following Reed's win, and the victories of Jordan Spieth in 2015 and Danny Willett in 2016, three of the last four winners had failed to break 70 before they won. And they hadn't played in the tournament as often as most winners either...

Prior to Reed's win at the fifth attempt, Sergio had won at the 19th time of asking and at the age of 37 and that was much more the norm. The two winners before Garcia, Spieth and Willett, had only played Augusta once before they won and that really went against the grain given previous course form is usually vital.

JORDAN SPIETH 1280 2nd.jpg

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 and I loved the way Ernie Els highlighted how much of a knowledge bank gets collected over the years when he said after round one two years ago that conditions had reminded him of the third round in 2000!

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 age of 41 back in 1998, is the last winner in his 40s. That's a negative for Phil Mickelson (48), Tiger Woods (43), Ian Poulter (43), Henrik Stenson (42), Paul Casey (41), Matt Kuchar (40) and Bubba Watson (40).

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 great angle in of late. An eighth place at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was the best form 2010 winner, Mickelson, could boast but every winner since has brought really solid form to the table. Reed had narrowly missed out to Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship a month before he won 12 months ago and his form figures read 2-7-16, and the four winners before him had all won one of their five previous starts before teeing it up at Augusta.

The 2011 winner, Charl Schwartzel, hadn't been in stellar really recent form but he'd won on the European Tour three months before he won the Masters. Bubba Watson had finished second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship (now the WGC-Mexico Championship) and fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before he won the first of his two titles in 2012. Adam Scott had been third in the WGC-Cadillac in his penultimate start before his 2013 victory. Bubba had won the Genesis Open at Riviera and finished second in the WGC-Cadillac before a strange withdrawal in his final start before his second win in 2014. Spieth had won the Valspar Championship and finished second in both the Texas Open and the Houston Open in his three starts before he won here four years ago. Danny Willett had won the Dubai Desert Classic and finished fourth at the WGC - Cadillac and Sergio had ticked over nicely in his four starts before Augusta two years ago, having also won the Dubai Desert Classic.

It's a shame we don't still visit Doral for the Cadillac (replaced by the WGC - Mexico Championship) as Reed became the latest in a long line of Augusta winners to have won there also, but form at the Genesis Open is worth more than a cursory glance.

Following Bubba Watson's third victory at Riviera last year, a total of 11 Masters Champions have now won 22 editions of the Genesis Open and Bubba, Mickelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Tom Watson have all won multiple PGA Tour events at both Riviera and Augusta so the courses obviously correlate quite nicely.

Bubba won his second Green Jacket in 2014, two years after his first, and Mickelson won the last of his three in 2010 but the last four winners, and seven of the last eight winners here were winning their first major championship and that's a general trend across the majors.

Brooks Koepka successfully defended his US Open title last year before adding the USPGA Championship two months later but ten of the last 13 major championships have gone the way of a first time major winner. If that's to become 11 from 14, six of the first seven in the betting can be disregarded. Step forward Jon Rahm or (finally) Rickie Fowler maybe?

RICKIE FOWLER NOV 2018.jpg

For more trends, please see Dave Tindall's Ten Year Trends piece here.

In-Play Tactics

Like many a Masters winner before him, Patrick Reed was up with the pace throughout. He sat tied for fourth after round one and was never headed after that. Jon Rahm, two-time winner, Bubba, and Dstin Johnson made up ground to figure but the rest of the final top-ten and ties were up with the pace from the start. Here's the final top-ten and ties with their positions after round one.

1 Patrick Reed (T4)
2 Rickie Fowler (T11)
3 Jordan Spieth (1)
4 Jon Rahm (T55!)
T5 Rory McIlroy (T4)
T5 Henrik Stenson (T4)
T5 Cameron Smith (T16)
T5 Bubba Watson (T29)
9 Marc Leishman (T11)
T10 Tony Finau (2)
T10 Dustin Johnson (T29)

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 within two shots off Fred Couples' first round lead. He'd sat tied for 22nd and was five back after round one.

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 places 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 21 years ago.

Andy Swales explores the importance of a fast start in more depth here but it's one of the reasons that the US Masters is a fantastic event to trade in-running and why keeping some powder dry for trading is essential.

Reed was the first winner in eight years to be drawn in the morning on day one but he teed off late in the morning at 11:15 and he was one of only a few early starters to thrive on Thursday. Yet again the afternoon starters enjoyed the advantage, averaging 73.11, compared to the 74.52 the AM starters averaged. An early start on Thursday can probably be viewed as a negative.

And finally, make sure you lay back some profit if your pick looks like winning and goes odds-on. Rose hit a low of 1.171/6 two years ago, as Sergio took a penalty drop on the par five 13th, but he's far from the first long odds-on shot to get beat. It's almost an annual occurrence!

Spieth was five clear at the turn on Sunday three years ago and he was matched at a low of 1.091/11 before his infamous debacle at the par three 12th on Sunday. Jason Day hit 1.75/7 in 2013 but missed out on the play-off by two strokes and Angel Cabrera, beaten by Scott in extra time, traded at 1.9110/11.

In 2012, 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 1.84/5 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.

Augusta is famous for its drama on the back-nine on Sunday and laying back some profit at odds-on is definitely the sensible thing to do if you get the chance.

Last year's contenders might be best swerved

Although course form stands up well and multiple winners are fairly common, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are the only players to win the US Masters back-to-back and something I've touched on in in previous years is the poor performances often put up by players that contended the year before.

I suspect it's something to do with mindset. Having held a chance to win the year before, expectations are no doubt higher 12 months down the line and that may explain why so many struggle, and why it might make sense to be wary of backing those in-the-mix last year. As a demonstration, here's the top-10 from 2017, with their finishing positions last year in brackets.

1 Sergio Garcia (MC)
2 Justin Rose (12th)
3 Charl Schwartzel (MC)
T4 Matt Kuchar (28th)
T4 Thomas Pieters (MC)
6 Paul Casey (15th)
T7 Rory McIlroy (5th)
T7 Kevin Chappell (MC)
T9 Ryan Moore (28th)
T9 Adam Scott (32nd)

Rory was the only one of the top-ten in 2017 to improve his position last year. That looks a decent effort on paper and one could say the 12th by Rose, the 15th by Casey and even the 28th by Kuchar were fair attempts too, but were they? Rory hit the front and traded at odds-on last year, 12th was Rose's worst finish in four years, it was the first time Casey hadn't finished inside the top-six in four years and Kuchar had recent Augusta form figures reading 3-8-5-46-24 before his fourth in 2016. I'm not sure what to make of Rory but the other three are all renowned Augusta specialists and it's easy to argue that they underperformed 12 months ago.

Market Leaders

Following an impressive victory at the Players Championship last month, Rory McIlroy has shot to the head of the US Masters market, having been matched at a high of 30.029/1, and he's now a very warm favourite.

Rory McIlroy wins the Players.jpg

This will be Rory's 10th appearance at Augusta and he's finished inside the top-ten in each of his five visits but he's seen more than his fair share of heartbreak here.

Rory famously blew a four stroke 54-hole lead in 2011, when he shot 80 in round four. He only trailed by a stroke at halfway three years ago but lost his way with a 77 in round three and last year he traded at 1.758/11 when he had a four foot eagle putt to tie the lead at the second on Sunday with eventual winner, Reed, but he missed that, bogeyed the third, and went on to finish tied-fifth, beaten by six.

The US Masters is the major he needs to complete the Grand Slam and there must be a slight possibility that completing the full set is proving a bit of a mental barrier. He's been fairly poor in-contention for a few years now and when he went in to round four at Sawgrass trailing by a stroke, his record looked dodgy. He'd been within three of the lead 14 times since he'd won the Tour Championship in 2016 and only once had he gone on to win. Plenty of good judges felt his victory at Sawgrass proved he's more than capable of kicking on now and that any questions about his in-contention character is mere poppycock but I'm not convinced. His three nearest rivals all failed to break par in round four at the Players and I'm happy to leave him out. I'll also be happy to oppose him in-running too as he very often trades far shorter than he should.

Dustin Johnson arrives at Augusta having won two of his last seven and having just been edged off the top of the world rankings by Justin Rose - even though neither of them played last week! Having struggled to get to grips with Augusta, he has respectable form figures here reading 6-4-10 for his last three visits but I'm still not convinced he quite gets it.

The big problem with DJ is the number of mistakes he makes here. He enjoys the par fives, which is a big plus, 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 and he eventually finished sixth. 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. There were a similar amount of errors in 2016 - nine bogeys and three double-bogeys - and having missed the event in 2017, when he fell down the stairs in his rental property, he racked up nine bogeys and a double 12 months ago.

If he can start nicely with few errors on Thursday and build on that he has to be in the shake-up but it's a big if and others are preferred. Most notably, the man that's returning to the top of the standings.

Justin Rose is my idea of the most likely winner. He's a winner at Doral, has great course form, he's won recently (at the Farmers Insurance Open in January) and the only negatives I can really see are the daft quirk that World number ones don't have a great record of late and his price. He's just a fraction short for my liking.

And so is Tiger Woods. It's now 21 years since Tiger Woods won the first of his four Green jackets, and 14 years since he won his last. Age is against him and while he has to be respected, he can't be backed at less than 20/1.

Selections

I took a chance that Jordan Spieth would find some form in-between Christmas (piece here) and now but he hasn't really and the 14.5 I took about him winning his second Green Jacket looks a bit rubbish now. He's played out a strange but slightly promising Valero Texas Open, contending for two days before losing the plot on the front nine on Saturday but he putted really well on the back-nine and I also backed Billy Horschel at 250.0249/1 but that looks like a stray bullet now.

As already mentioned, I like Justin Rose here and I can certainly see Paul Casey having a good week but they're both too short for me, especially when compared to three-time major winner - Brooks Koepka.

The reigning US Open and USPGA champion missed last year's renewal with wrist injury but he has a progressive little bank of Augusta form reading 33-21-11 and he improved round by round on his last visit in 2017, shooting 74-73-71-69. His talent is undisputable but his application in ordinary event sis. Somewhat bizarrely, three of his five PGA Tour titles have come in majors but he still ticks the in-form box given he won the CJ Cup in Korea in October and he was second at the Honda Classic in March. I'm struggling to spot any value at the head of the market but Koepka's too big on the exchange at 34.033/1.

I really like backing course specialists here and so I've backed both Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson at juicy prices, despite their respect ages, and my only other pre-event pick is the monster-priced Genesis Open winner, J.B Holmes. He plays at the pace of a snail but he ticks quite a few boxes. In addition to winning at Riviera this year, he holds the course record of 62 at Doral, which he shot four years ago when finishing second, and he was also fourth here three years ago. I'm pretty sure all that gives him a better chance than his exchange price of 300.0299/1 plus suggests.

Selections:
Jordan Spieth @ 14.5 (ante-post)
Brooks Koepka @ 36.035/1
Bubba Watson @ 44.043/1
Phil Mickelson @ 60.059/1
Billy Horschel @ 250.0249/1 (ante-post)
J.B Homes @ 360.0359/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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