US Masters 2019 Tips: Rahm ready for first major win

Spain's Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm can win his first major

The US Masters is upon us once more and Dave Tindall has three each-way picks for the showdown at Augusta National...

"While some will dismiss Rahm as a Masters winner due to his quick temper, I think that overlooks all the other plus points. He has room to breathe at Augusta and possesses the skill-sets to thrive."

Main Bet: Back Jon Rahm each-way @ 16/1

Going into last year's US Masters, Jon Rahm had never had a top 20 in a major.

True, he'd only played in six but that was still a slow start at this level given his rapid rise to stardom.

Rahm had finished a respectable tied 27th on his first visit to Augusta National so the signs were good that he'd kick on but an opening 75 left him outside the cut line.

The momentum changed the following day as he broke 70 for the first time and he followed that 68 with a stunning 7-under-par 65 on Saturday.

The Spaniard was tied fourth heading into the final round although six back from Patrick Reed so it was still going to take a mighty effort.

The final-round surge was building as he played his first 14 holes in 4-under but, with Reed on the radar, Rahm couldn't carry the water with his second to the par-5 15th and a potential birdie or eagle hole resulted in a bogey which killed his chances.

However, a fourth place finish changed the script for Rahm in the majors and he added another top four in the PGA Championship later that year.

Some will argue that the 24-year-old will still need more laps of Augusta National to fully appreciate all the subtleties but if Charl Schwartzel (2011) and Danny Willett (2016) can win the green jacket on their second visits, I have no doubts that Rahm can win it on his third.

Asked about what makes a Masters winner, Rahm said last year: "No. 1, really good short game. I feel like you can't win a tournament here if you don't have good short game. That's just not going to happen. Unless you don't miss any greens. And the second one is some crazy good imagination.

"I try to describe myself as a creative player. I think I'm pretty imaginative. I grew up on a place, tree-lined with tough greens and I know how to use that, so I know how to get out of trouble.

"So a place like this is perfect for someone like me. I love greens that are as sloped as these are because there's no straight putts and there's no easy break. You have to let your feel and your gut tell you what's going to happen, and that's when I putt my best, when I can use my imagination and use the slopes, I feel more comfortable doing that.

"One of the things Phil (Mickelson) was trying to tell me last year, it's like you don't need to play perfect to win at Augusta National just because there's so many ways to do it, there's not only one way."

While some will dismiss Rahm as a Masters winner due to his quick temper, I think that overlooks all the other plus points. He has room to breathe at Augusta and possesses the skill-sets to thrive.

He booms it (2nd for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee), makes lots of birdies (13th Birdie Average), responds well to bogeys (34th Bounce Back) and has iron nerve on short putts (hasn't missed a three-footer all season).

Bogey avoidance and Par 4 Scoring are two big Masters stats and Rahm is 28th in the former and 26th in the latter.

Rahm returns to Augusta with six top 10s in his eight PGA Tour starts in 2019 and that doesn't take into account T12 at Sawgrass where he led after 54 holes.

Everything suggests he's ready for his first major win.

Next Best: Back Bubba Watson each-way @ 28/1

Bubba Watson won the Masters at his fourth attempt in 2012 after putting down a marker with tied 20th on his first look four years earlier.

He followed that victory with a second green jacket in 2014 and added another top five last year.

Some interesting pre-Augusta reading took me to a book by Joe Peta called A 2019 Masters Preview.

The big selling point for numbers geeks like me is that it manages to offer Strokes Gained data despite it not being officially available due to Augusta National refusing to allow ShotLink.

Peta gets it by creating a database of the shot-by-shot details IBM provide on their Track function which appears on mobile and desktop. He then converts the raw info into Shots Gained data.

Rahm ranked second in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee with 5.94 last year but the winner in that category by a distance was Bubba, who gained 8.92.

Confirmation comes by looking at his regular stats for the 2018 Masters which show Watson ranked 3rd for Driving Distance and, eye-poppingly, 2nd for Driving Accuracy.

Given that he was so far down the fairway on so many holes, no wonder that he ranked 1st for GIR.

Bubba was also 13th for Driving Accuracy when he won in 2014 (also 1st for DD) so these holes where he can shape his fade off the tee work out perfectly.

Given that unique ability from Augusta's tees, it seems that all he has to do is perform proficiently in other parts of his game and he'll challenge.

And looking at recent event, there are plenty of good signs.

Watson was was ranked second for Scrambling when fourth at the Valspar Championship two starts ago and sixth in that category at the Phoenix Open where he also cracked the top four.

The putter? Bubba was in the top 25 for SG: Putting at the Valspar, WGC-Mexico and Genesis so, without it being the star of the show in his bag, it's a decent support act.

Watson is 3rd for SG: Off-The-Tee this season so that suggests he can flourish again with his driver at Augusta National while a decent week on and around the greens and he should be right there.

Phil Mickelson won three green jackets in 2004, 2006 and 2010 so, on a course where lefties excel, Watson has the pedigree to repeat the trick by adding his third in 2019.

Final pick: Back Matt Kuchar each-way @ 33/1

For a third pick, there are plenty of options.

I'm certainly keen on Hideki Matsuyama given that he came out on top in my Ten year trends piece but I'm happy for that to stand without me recommending him again here.

Rory McIlroy will surely win one of these but I can't quite pull the trigger at 7/1 given all the talent around him.

Justin Rose is probably the banker bet to challenge out of the top bunch and I prefer him at 11s than Rickie Fowler or Jordan Spieth at 16s although there's no way the two Americans can be ruled out.

Tiger Woods? This isn't the Augusta National he won on and he's quick to acknowledge that but he still has a mental edge here over so many. I can't quite see the fairytale happening though.

I think Phil Mickelson has another big Masters in him and why not this year given that he's already bagged a trophy in 2019?

The lack of anything better than T37 since his Pebble Beach victory probably just puts me off.

I'm on Louis Oosthuizen at 66s ante-post so am naturally a bit reluctant to take 30s while I certainly like the chances of 2013 winner Adam Scott.

So, despite being not his biggest fan, heart will give way to the head and I'll take Matt Kuchar as my final pick.

Kuchar's record at Augusta National since 2010: 24-27-3-8-5-46-24-4-28.

That's an impressive body of work and surely he has to have a great chance of landing his first major this year having won twice already in the 2018/19 season.

One concern is that he might be fatigued after playing seven rounds at the WGC-Dell Match Play and then staying on the road by contesting the Valero Texas Open.

It's valid but he was runner-up in Austin and tied seventh in San Antonio when never under the gun so I won't let it put me off.

A runner-up in the 2017 Open, Kuchar has had two further top 10s in majors since then and, although as a 40-year-old he doesn't fit the Augusta age trends, there's plenty of juice in his each-way price.

It tends to go a little under-reported when key Masters stats are discussed but Bogey Avoidance is a big factor at Augusta National.

Bogey or worse count of last 11 winners

Patrick Reed +11
Sergio Garcia +7
Danny Willett +8
Jordan Spieth +10
Bubba Watson +9
Adam Scott +6
Bubba Watson +9
Charl Schwartzel +7
Phil Mickelson +6
Angel Cabrera +8
Trevor Immelman +7

Seven of the last 11 Masters winners ranked 1st for Bogey Avoidance in the week of their victories and Kuchar is third in that season-long category, making one very 10.97% of holes played.

Players from the southern States have a great record in this event and the Florida-born American, who went to Georgia Tech, can add to it this year.

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