Having lost the Open Championship from the rota, the US Masters, which is usually the first, is this year's third and final major, following Collin Morikawa's US PGA Championship victory in August and Bryson DeChambeau's US Open success at Winged Foot in September.
Played at the iconic and stunning Augusta National, the US Masters is the only one of the four (usually) major championships played at the same venue year after year.
Augusta National was founded at the start of the Great Depression and when the first edition of what was originally called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament was staged in 1934, the club had just 76 paid up members. That was 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.
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia.
Par 72, 7,475 yards, stroke average in 2019 - 71.87
Originally the brainchild of Bobby 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 recognise 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 just under 7,500 yards now, it's a long course.
Last year's change was a surprising one as they lengthened the already long par four fifth by 40 yards. It was the sixth hardest hole in 2018 and historically it's been the fifth hardest but it was the hardest hole on the course last year, averaging 4.34.
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 and it's going to play even longer again this time around with the move from Spring to Autumn.
This small article from Geoff Shackelford has some very interesting quotes from Rory McIlroy about the condition of Augusta.
There's no Par Three Competition on Wednesday this year for obvious reasons but Sky Sports will still be live from Augusta from 19:00 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and live Featured Group coverage begins on Thursday as early as 12:30, with full coverage beginning at 18:00.
It's the same again on Friday and the live coverage of the third round begins at 18:00 on Saturday evening but beware of the early start on Sunday. In order not to clash with the NFL action the fourth and final round starts early with regulation play predicted to be all done by around 19:45 in the UK so the live coverage on Sky begins at 15:00.
Last 12 Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Tiger Woods -13 22.021/1
2018 - Patrick Reed -15 70.069/1
2017 - Sergio Garcia -9 (playoff) 50.049/1
2016 - Danny Willett -5 70.069/1
2015 - Jordan Spieth -18 13.012/1
2014 - Bubba Watson -8 28.027/1
2013 - Adam Scott -9 (playoff) 28.027/1
2012 - Bubba Watson -10 (playoff) 55.054/1
2011 - Charl Schwartzel -14 90.089/1
2010 - Phil Mickelson -16 11.010/1
2009 - Angel Cabrera -12 (playoff) 150.0149/1
2008 - Trevor Immelman -8 150.0149/1
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 ratings for the last 12 winners in all the key stats.
Driving Accuracy - 28.75
Driving Distance - 18.34
G.I.R - 6.83
Scrambling - 9.47
Putting Average - 10.33
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 of the tee is advantageous and historically much more important than accuracy but it hasn't been an absolute imperative in the spring.
Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel and Tiger Woods last year have all won here in the last 12 years with DD rankings of 52nd, 32nd, 40th and 44th respectively but they're the exceptions. The two winners before Tiger 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 in 2014 and the general school of thought ahead of this year's renewal is that length will be even more important in the autumn.
Nobody hit more greens than Woods last April and nine of the last 12 winners have ranked sixth or better for Greens In Regulation but he only ranked 47th for Scrambling and that was unusual. Even with Woods' high ranking last year, the last 12 winners have averaged only 9.47 for Scrambling and the players ranked one to eight for Scrambling last year all finished inside the top- 12. A fabulous short game and the ability to get up-and-down repeatedly is vital.
Reed topped the Putting Average stats two years ago but only two of the last 12 winners have ranked inside the top-12 for that stat and amongst the list of winners above are a number of players that have had their fair share of woes on the greens. 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 and to get up-and-down successfully when one is missed but what's often the most important factor is how you play the long holes.
Tiger played the par threes in four-under-par and the par fives in just eight-under-par but the three players tied for second, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson, ranked tied first and tied third for Par 5 Scoring, playing them in -13 and -12, and Tony Finau, who ranked tied first with Brooks, finished tied fifth.
Here are the total scores to par for the last 12 winners on the par threes, fours and fives.
Par threes -4
Par fours -32
Par fives -99
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 four 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 two years 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.
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 13 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, reading MC-22-49-MC, was pretty poor in 2018, 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 before. 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 five 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.
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 three 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 had been a bit of a barrier until last year. Prior to Tiger's win at the age of 43, Mark O'Meara, who took the title at the age of 41 back in 1998, had been the last man to win in his in his 40s.
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.
Although he'd won the Tour Championship only six starts prior to his win, a 10th at the WGC-Mexico Championship had been Tiger's best result in 2019 and an eighth place at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was the best form 2010 winner, Phil Mickelson, could boast but every winner in-between brought really solid form to the table.
Reed had narrowly missed out to Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship a month before he won two years 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 three 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 in 2017) as Reed became the latest in a long line of Augusta winners to have won there. As many as four of the last five winners at Doral have also won the Masters, and Woods has won there seven times! But I fancy its replacement isn't a bad pointer either. Like Augusta, Club de Golf Chapultepec is a tree-lined track and Augusta form was franked back in February when Reed took the title, two years after three-time Masters winner, Phil Mickelson won there but form at the Genesis Open is arguably the best guide.
Following Adam Scott's second victory at Riviera in February, a total of 11 Masters Champions have now won 23 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.
Tiger Woods won the US masters for a fifth time last year but the four winners before him, and seven of the last nine winners here were winning their first major championship and that's a general trend across the majors.
The last four, and 14 of the last 19 (74%) major championships have gone to a first-time major winner so don't be surprised if we get another but do expect them to feature fairly highly in the Official World Rankings because the last 34 majors have been won by someone inside the world's top-50.
For even more trends, please see Dave Tindall's Ten Year Trends piece here.
Last Six Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Tiger Woods - tied second, trailing by two 4.94/1
2018 - Patrick reed - led by three strokes 2.265/4
2017 - Sergio Garcia - tied for the lead with Justin Rose 6.05/1
2016 - Danny Willett - tied for fifth, trailing by three 22.021/1
2015 - Jordan Spieth - led by four 1.51/2
2014 - Bubba Watson - tied for the lead with Jordan Spieth 4.67/2
Tiger sat tied for 11th and four of the lead after the opening round last April but that was the first time any winner had sat outside the top-ten since he sat tied for 33rd and seven off the lead in 2005.
Like many a Masters winner before him, Patrick Reed was up with the pace throughout in 2018 He sat tied for fourth after round one and was never headed after that. Jon Rahm, two-time winner, Bubba, and Dustin 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 Watson were all in the first six places at the finish.
Tiger and Phil Mickelson 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 22 years ago.
Tiger Woods was drawn late in the morning for his opening round last year, at 11:04, but the afternoon starters enjoyed fractionally better conditions - averaging 0.2 of a stroke better - and Reed was the first winner in eight years to be drawn in the morning on day one in 2018 but he too teed off late in the morning, at 11:15. Reed was one of only a few early starters to thrive on Thursday all things considered 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. Francesco Molinari was matched at 1.68/13 last year, Justin Rose hit a low of 1.171/6 three years ago, as Sergio took a penalty drop on the par five 13th, but they're far from the first long odds-on shots to get beat. It's almost an annual occurance!
Spieth was five clear at the turn on Sunday four years ago and he was matched at a low of 1.091/11 before his infamous debacle at the par three 12th on Sunday. A renewal I wrote about at length here during the first lockdown. 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 the following year 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-10s from 2017 and 2018, with their finishing positions the following year in brackets.
1 Sergio Garcia (MC)
2 Justin Rose (12th)
3 Charl Schwartzel (MC)
T4 Matt Kuchar (28th)
T4 Thomas Pieters DNP
6 Paul Casey (15th)
T7 Rory McIlroy (5th)
T7 Kevin Chappell DNP
T9 Ryan Moore DNP
T9 Adam Scott (32nd)
Three of the ten didn't play but Rory was the only one to improve his position. 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 in 2018, 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 two years ago. And it was a similar story last year too.
1 Patrick Reed (T36)
2 Rickie Fowler (T9)
3 Jordan Spieth (T21)
4 Jon Rahm (T9)
5 Rory McIlroy (T21)
5 Cameron Smith (T51)
5 Henrik Stenson (T36)
5 Bubba Watson (T12)
9 Marc Leishman (T49)
10 Tony Finau (T5)
10 Dustin Johnson (T2)
None of the first nine from 2018 finished inside the top-eight last year and the two players that finished tied for 10th were the only two to improve their positions.
I looked at the chances of pre-event favourite, Bryson DeChambeau in detail after his demolition job in the US Open a couple of months ago and nothing much has changed. I think he's too short and I'm happy to swerve him.
Having missed a couple of weeks due to a positive COVID test, world number one, Dustin Johnson, played last week's event, the Houston Open, to sharpen up his game and it worked. After a 72 in round one, he fired rounds of 66, 66 and 65 to finish second and he perhaps should have won. With recent Augusta figures reading 6-3-10-2 and current form figures reading 2-1-2-1-6-2, he should be at the head of the market.
World number two, Jon Rahm, is impossible to ignore. He's won two of his last nine events and he arguably should have won last time out too, having hit a low of 1.654/6 on the back nine at the ZOZO Championship two weeks ago. This is the Spaniard's fourth visit to August and he has impressive form figures reading 27-4-9.
Rory McIlroy is making his 12th appearance at Augusta and whilst Rahm is looking for his first major success this week, Rory is attempting to complete the major slam. He's had more of his fair share of heartbreak here and it would be fantastic to see him complete the set but he hasn't won since golf restarted back in June and he has just two top-tens from 12 starts. Erratic on the greens and with a propensity to lose focus, he's not for me at only 14.013/1 but coming in fractionally under the radar could be a plus.
Justin Thomas has improving, if not spectacular, Masters form reading 39-22-17-13 and like Rahm, he also traded at odds on in the ZOZO Championship last time out. Having been very unlucky to lose to Colin Morikawa in a playoff at the Workday Charity Open in July , Thomas won the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational a couple of weeks later and he's contended at numerous tournaments since but that's been in spite of his game and not because of it. Thomas is a real streetfighter but he's had to be and the fact that he's not playing at his absolute best is a concern.
Xander Schauffele finished tied for second last year, having finished only 50th on debut in 2018 and he arrives in decent form if we can disregard a rather disappointing 17th at the ZOZO Championship last time out. At 27, he's already a great major championship performer, with top-10s in all four championships, but he hasn't won for almost two years and is becoming expensive to follow.
Brooks Koepka is the only other player trading at under 20.019/1 and that's because he shortened up over the weekend while shooting back-to-back 65s at the Houston Open. He's been lightly raced of late, having been dogged by hip and knee injuries but with two US Open and two US PGA Championships already on the CV, and following his tied second last year, he commands the upmost respect.
His second behind Thomas at the WGC FedEx St Jude, around a track he adores, was far and away his best effort since July, before his tied fifth in the Houston Open on Sunday but he felt that he should have won there, having put a new driver in the bag over the first two days.
This is a fabulous renewal and a wide open one. I quite like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka towards the head of the market but for now I'm going to war with just one - Tyrrell Hatton.
I've been nibbling away at the Englishman for a few months now but he's still a great price at 40.039/1 given how well he's playing.
Having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, the last event before golf was suspended due to the pandemic, he's been in fine form since the restart, with victory in the BMW PGA Championship the highlight. Now inside the world's top-ten, Hatton is one of the game's elite players and the only negative is his previous at Augusta.
Hatton has never broken 70 there and he has form figures reading MC-44-56 but I see no reason at all why he can't improve dramatically on that given he has all the right attributes to perform here and that he's won on several tree-lined tracks.
Hatton's not the longest off the tee but he hits plenty of greens and he's a terrific scrambler. He'll also be glad that the event has moved in the calendar given all five of his European Tour wins have come in October or November. This is his time of year and his tied-seventh in the Houston Open on Sunday, where he improved his score every day, was a perfect warm-up.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter