Dave Tindall assesses the mood of the players and arms you with the stats that matter for a punt on the Top 5 and Top 10 Finish markets ahead of the 2021 US Masters...
"He's finished in the top five (top three actually) in four of his seven Masters and confidence is sky high after the win in Texas."
Dustin Johnson - Quick defence for new champ
The defending champion is trying to keep things simple as he bids to follow up his November triumph. "The mindset coming into the week doesn't change at all. It's another tournament. I won the Masters; it was five months ago." As for the state of his game? "It's in good shape. Maybe not quite as good of shape as it was in November, but I feel like it's coming together. I'm starting to hit a lot of the same shots and getting a lot more comfortable over the golf ball. I feel like the game is starting to get really sharp again." As for the different conditions: "With the course being firm and fast like it is, you're definitely going to have to be a little more careful about where you hit the ball." DJ has made the top 10 in each of the last five Masters. It's a brave call to say he won't extend that sequence even with the extra Green Jacket distractions.
Last four events: 28-48-54-8
Course form: 1-2-10-4-6-MC-13-38-38-30
Last 50 starts - Win: 12%, Top 5: 32%, Top 10: 46%
Bryson DeChambeau - Monster hitter still without a top 20
Here's Bryson on whether Augusta suits him despite his best finish in only four starts being T21. "I certainly believe that to be the case. I think there is a place where I do put an expectation value that, yeah, I think I have a good chance to play well here. The Players is a golf course that I don't think I should play as great on, given what I have off the tee and how it limits me. There are certain holes out here where length does help tremendously. As for this week's conditions: "I love firm, fast golf courses. Whenever it's firmer, faster conditions, whether it be Shriners, whether be Bay Hill or the U.S. Open or different golf courses I've won on, they have usually always been firm. So I think that plays into my hands nicely." His general improvement in the majors suggests a good Masters finish must surely come soon, especially given his hot recent form in Florida.
Last four events: 42-3-1-22
Course form: 34-29-38-21
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 24%, Top 10: 42%
Justin Thomas - JT getting better by the year
Thomas has improved his Masters finish on each visit and made the top 10 for the first time last year when solo fourth. Looking back at the conditions in November, he noted: "The golf course was so incredibly different. There were no fans. There were some new pins. It was obviously still the same golf course tee-to-green, but it was a different golf course at the same time. Any sort of past memory that you had, you almost had to throw it out the window because a lot of chips and putts just reacted differently." Does that make us suspicious that his best performance came in atypical conditions? Without doubt, though, JT loves Augusta. "I know that I can play this place well. I mean, very similar to Sawgrass. I love this golf course. I feel like it's a place that I'm going to win at some point, at least I hope, and I feel like I can do it multiple times."
Last four events: 42-1-15-MC
Course form: 4-12-17-22-39
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 30%, Top 10: 44%
Jordan Spieth - Former champ on a high
Spieth is the man of the moment after crowning his return to form with a wonderful win in Texas last week. He has some good history of playing well the week before a major and then excelling in the main event itself so no wonder his price has crashed. Arriving at Augusta, he said: "When you're coming here in form, it's a good feeling when you arrive here, and I've had that a few times. I've had it where I pulled down after missing a cut or played well not leading up to it and still played well here, too. I love being here. I love being on the grounds. It's my favourite tournament in the world. I've expressed that many times in here." His theory on why he has such a brilliant Augusta record is based on putting prowess: "I've really fared well on the greens. Whether I've come in putting well or even in tough putting years, the ball seems to find the hole here, when I get on the putting surface. I think a lot of that has to do with speed control. I think mid-range and even long-range putting and touch putting is more important here than it is just about anywhere else. I would say that over anything else has been the biggest strength over the years."
Last four events: 1-9-48-4
Course form: 46-21-3-11-2-1-2
Last 50 starts - Win: 2%, Top 5: 10%, Top 10: 24%
Jon Rahm - New dad seeks first major
As of Tuesday evening in Augusta, Rahm was the only top player not to have been interviewed. There's a good reason for that, though; he's just become a dad for the first time. Initially, the baby was due during the tournament and the Spaniard had said he was prepared to walk off. But, like Danny Willett ahead of his 2016 triumph, the little 'un has showed perfect timing. So, can Rahm follow in the footsteps of the Englishman and win his first major? It's a guessing game as everyone can react differently. What we do know is that Rahm has reeled off three straight top 10s in this event after T27 on debut. He said last year: "You don't need to play perfect golf to win at Augusta National. You just need to stay true to yourself and just play the best you can with what you have at the moment and not be too, let's say, ambitious. I've erred about being too aggressive in the past, and I've made birdies, but I've also made some big numbers."
Last four events: 5-9-32-5
Course form: 7-9-4-27
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 32%, Top 10: 62%
Rory McIlroy - Northern Irishman coming in under the radar
Rory isn't the man on everyone's lips this year despite the storyline that a victory here would complete his Grand Slam of majors. His assessment of the course: "It's very dry out there, very sunny, and the greens are already starting to get pretty firm. This week's going to be a huge premium on accuracy, on landing your golf ball on your numbers and being precise with your iron play. And the ball is not hitting and stopping. So you're inevitably going to miss a few greens, and scrambling is going to be key, too." McIlroy has brought in coach Pete Cowen to help him "fix things on the fly" when it's getting away from him. He's also sounding a little mystical ahead of his latest attempt: "I'm obviously focused on this week, but it's bigger than that. It's a journey, right, and it's a journey to try to get back to playing the game the way I know that I can play the game." Beyond all the words, the bottom line is that he's been superb in this market with six top 10s in his last seven Masters.
Last four events: 28-MC-10-6
Course form: 5-21-5-7-10-4-8-25-40-15-MC-20
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 36%, Top 10: 58%
Xander Schauffele - A man for the majors
"I feel like I'm in a pretty decent place. Short game is the biggest knock I give myself. Any time I feel like I should have won a tournament or I kind of pissed a few shots away coming down the stretch, it's always been chipping or pitching where I feel like a top player would get that up-and-down with ease and end up winning the tournament, where I'm sitting there stressing out a bit. It's something I've been very aware of in my game. And it's a statistic that if I can improve, it will make my life a little bit easier." A firm and fast Masters could put more pressure on that short game but Schauffele certainly has a comfort level on this course after finishing runner-up in 2019 and T17 in November; it's been helped by playing practice rounds with Augusta expert Fred Couples. A strike-rate of seven top 10s in his 13 majors also adds to his appeal.
Last four events: 18-MC-39-15
Course form: 17-2-50
Last 50 starts - Win: 6%, Top 5: 28%, Top 10: 36%
Patrick Cantlay - Californian sounding confident
Cantlay briefly held the final-round lead on the back nine in 2019 before fading to T9 and he added another top 20 last year. This is his fifth Masters and the California gives the impression he's really starting to work things out. "Just the more I play this place, the more I get comfortable with the shots, and I think I've tried to draw a lot on Fred Couples' knowledge and some of the other guys' knowledge. I expect it to get really firm and fast, and I think that's when this golf course shines. So I'm looking forward to the challenge that that is, and it puts a premium even more on controlling your golf ball, which I think is one of my strengths. And then I love fast, old-school putting greens. And so this is the, you know, apex of that. It's the most undulated, in general, fastest greens we play all year. It feels easier for me to make putts when it's like that, and I look forward to that every time I come here." Cantlay has backed up the theory by finishing in the top five for Putting Average in two of his four Masters.
Last four events: 18-MC-15-3
Course form: 17-9-MC-47
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 20%, Top 10: 36%
Brooks Koepka - Injury concerns hard to shake off
Koepka seems to have cheated medical science just to be here having had recent surgery on his knee. So will it hold up? Some quotes from his press conference. "It took about three hours this morning just to get going, and I didn't finish last night until about 12:30 or so." And this: "Just watching my steps at home, kind of watching how many minutes I'm on my feet. If the swelling pops up it's quite difficult. Yesterday it swelled up a little bit, but nothing I can do." And this: "I can't bend down. My knee doesn't go. I mean, that's the most stress you're going to have on your patella." Walking downhill clearly hurts him and although Tiger won at Torrey Pines on one leg in 2008, it's a big ask for Koepka just to complete four days. For those who believe he can, the four-time major winner has an excellent record here. He has all the shots to shine but can he pass the physical test on one of the most undulating courses he'll ever play?
Last four events: 2-38-1-MC
Course form: 7-2-11-21-33
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 34%
Collin Morikawa - Youngster should step up on debut effort
Morikawa felt he was trying to do things too properly last year when making his Masters debut (T44). "I wasn't playing my game last November, because everyone talks about hitting a draw and everyone talks about you've got to work your right-to-left, and, yeah, it helps, but I've played on golf courses where it doesn't fit a fade and I've played all right. There's a lot to take from and a lot to learn from last year, but I feel like this is a course I can still play really well at. I've got a lot of confidence. The game feels good." As one of the best iron players in the game, it's certainly a place where he should thrive in years to come but until someone has recorded a low finish at Augusta there's always a greater element of risk compared to backing the tried and trusted course horses.
Last four events: 56-41-1-43
Course form: 44
Last 50 starts - Win: 9%, Top 5: 19%, Top 10: 34%
This is the major where the big names usually dominate but there are some doubts over several of the top stars whether it be mental or physical.
Laying Brooks Koepka for a top 20 at 2.35/4 may appeal to some but I'll look to back a couple of players for top 5/10.
The top five play is Jordan Spieth. No rocket science involved here but it makes sense to be more aggressive and go for the Top 5 at the bigger price.
Why? When Spieth does excel at Augusta, he doesn't just limp into 10th spot; he's a huge part of the story.
He's finished in the top five (top three actually) in four of his seven Masters and confidence is sky high after the win in Texas.
Take Spieth for a Top 5 at 4.84/1.
Perusing the press conferences, the other player sounding primed for a big week is Patrick Cantlay.
Tied ninth two years ago after leading late on, he looks a solid play for a Top 10 at 3.55/2.
He'll like the conditions and looks to have a good draw (see first-round leader preview).