The 2021 US Masters
Augusta National Golf Club
All four days live on Sky Sports
The brief pause in PGA and European Tour action around Christmas is the perfect time to look back and reflect and to look forward to what's to come and, at this juncture, two things usually happen. Firstly, I spend a few senior moments trying to recall who actually won the US Masters way back in the spring, and secondly, I start to get a bit of a buzz about the next instalment of Augusta magic.
Neither of those things have happened this year. The last edition was a little over a month ago and even I can recall results that recent and if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that looking forward to anything has been futile lately.
Dustin Johnson won the US Masters last month and he did it very easily. The world number one won by five-strokes and he set the aggregate scoring record of -20 (268 strokes) but in many respects, it's a result we can largely ignore. Cameron Smith, who finished tied for second, alongside tournament debutant, Sungjae Im, became the first player in history to shoot all four rounds in the 60s at Augusta but it's going to play very differently in April.
Torrential rain on Thursday morning caused a near three-hour delay to the opening round and it softened the course up considerably, making it a far easy test than normal.
With less run on the fairways and softer greens, the players were able to be more aggressive and I suspect anyone that made their debut in the event in November will wonder what's hit them in April.
Jordan Spieth won the US Masters a year after finishing second on debut but I wouldn't be in a rush to back Im to emulate him. The Augusta experience he now has may not only be limited, it might even be misleading. So, who should we be looking at?
This is a difficult tournament in which to grab any early value as it's a championship that tends to go to a fancied runner. DJ went off at a single-figure price a month ago and since Argentine veteran, Angel Cabrera, caused a bit of a shock in 2009, the last 11 winners have all been priced at no bigger than double-figures and they've all ranked inside the world's top-30.
DJ had Augusta form figures reading 30-38-38-13-MC-6-4-10-2 so like many a Masters champion, he'd served his apprenticeship and was ready to don the Green Jacket and the one I really like towards the head of the market, with a similar profile to DJ, is world number three, Justin Thomas.
With Augusta form figures that read 39-22-17-12-4, Thomas has improved his finishing position on every visit and his fourth in November was a great effort given he wasn't close to his best. He was tied for the lead at halfway last month but his poor long game finally caught up with him on the back-nine in round three when he bogeyed four of the last seven holes to play his way out of contention. In addition to ranking only 44th for Driving Accuracy, he ranked an uncharacteristically poor 42nd for Scrambling and bearing in mind that seven of the top-nine ranked ninth or better for that stat, that was a severe handicap.
It's no surprise to see that Augusta suits Thomas given he really should have won at the best two correlating courses - Club de Golf Chapultepec, which hosts the WGC Mexico Championship, and Riviera, which hosts the Genesis Invitational. He's traded at odds-on without winning at both venues and both are great pointers. All four editions of the WGC-Mexico Championship have now been won by a US Masters winner and 12 Masters champions have won 24 editions of the Genesis Invitational.
Thomas ticks all the right boxes so it's just a question of how well he's playing in the spring.
Having won three times between August 2019 and January 2020, from just six starts, Thomas wasn't at his best after the restart and yet he still won the WGC - FedEx St. Jude Invitational in early August before signing off the year with six straight top-12 finishes.
Thomas is no bigger than 11/1 on the High Street but if he comes back refreshed and picks up a trophy or two before April, he'll be shorter than that at Augusta so nibbling away at around 16.015/1 on the exchange makes a lot of sense.
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