US Masters

US Masters 2024: Three picks from Dave Tindall in his early look at Augusta

American golfer Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas is on the up again golf tipster Dave Tindall begins his series of antepost tipping previews for 2024's four Majors with a look at the US Masters where Rory and Rahm are vying for favouritism...

Tournament: The 2024 US Masters
When: April 11-14
Where: Augusta National Golf Club
How to watch: All four days live on Sky Sports

While golf goes mad and eats itself in a whirling mass of green dollar bills, let's ignore the internal politics and enjoy the intellectual exercise of trying to pick out the Masters winner from a long way out.

The big fun of ante-post betting is trying to secure a price now that won't be available when the players pull into Magnolia Lane and arrive at the most magical place in golf.

To help with this, I'll be leaning on my trends pieces and, as it's the only major played at the same course, they should work best in the US Masters.

Last year's winner, Jon Rahm, scored heavily with 69pts out of a possible 76 and, in fact, scored maximum points in nine of the 10 categories.

The one he fell short in was current form after a Masters build-up that featured 39th at Bay Hill, a WD at the Players Championship and a group-stage exit in the World Matchplay.

But, let's be honest, Rahm was a great trends fit. The Spaniard was a good age, high up the world rankings, had a strong bank of Augusta form under his belt, was an elite performer in majors and ranked highly in two desired Strokes Gained categories: Around The Green and Approach.

If we needed even more confirmation that Augusta is a horses-for-courses track, these were the best previous Masters performances of the top six finishers in 2023:

1st Jon Rahm - 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th
2nd Brooks Koepka - 2nd, 7th
2nd Phil Mickelson - three-time winner
4th Russell Henley - 11th, 15th
4th Jordan Spieth - 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd
4th Patrick Reed - 1st, 8th, 10th

So that's three former winners in the top six, along with a runner-up. Rahm had previously had two top fives.

Rahm and Rory McIlroy, the latter still chasing a Green Jacket of course, currently share favouritism at 8/19.00 on the Betfair Sportsbook, with 2022 winner Scottie Scheffler 9/110.00.

It's then Viktor Hovland at 14/115.00, ahead of 16/117.00 Koepka and 18/119.00 Spieth and Collin Morikawa.

The current each-way terms are 1/5 the top six.

Back Justin Thomas @ 32.031/1

One player whose price could easily shorten up pre-Masters has to Justin Thomas following his pick-up in form at the end of 2023.

JT was certainly struggling for large periods but the exaggeration of his demise got silly.

From August onwards he began to turn a corner. First there was a 12th in the Wyndham Championship, a lip out attempted chip-in at the last almost squeezing him into the play-offs.

He followed that with a fifth at the Fortinet, was one of the USA's better Ryder Cup performers in Italy and then closed his 2023 with a fourth at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa and a third in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

All the pieces aren't quite in place yet but current form of 3-4-5-12 suggests he's getting close and, if that continues, a big Florida Swing (he's a Honda Open and Players Championship winner) will see his price contract.

"I'm playing really well. I'm excited, everything feels good," said Thomas at the Hero World Challenge where he also revealed that changes to his diet (six months of dairy free and a year of gluten free) hadn't helped during his poor run. That project has been abandoned and so has his mood and results.

Thomas has a fourth (2020), an eighth (2022) and four other top 25s at Augusta in seven of the last eight Masters.

The two-time major winner gives the impression that one day it will really click there and JT has played Augusta fewer times than Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson did before they both went on to claim the first of their three Green Jackets.

Let's take the 32.031/1 on the exchange now and hope it's shorter come April.

Back Justin Thomas to win @ 32.031/1

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Back Justin Rose @ 80/181.00

LIV golfers should certainly be given close inspection after last year when Mickelson, Koepka and Reed all made the top four.

The problem I have with putting any of them up in a preview like this is that will they really move the needle playing LIV golf?

The same applies to Jon Rahm. What can they really achieve on LIV that will shorten their price? Win four events in a row maybe? From what we know, that sort of thing doesn't really happen.

Perhaps the advantage of LIV is freshness so I'll look at the chances of Rahm, Koepka and whoever else joins nearer the time.

Instead, I'll have an ante-post each-way wager on a pair of 80/1 shots who could be shorter than that when they hit their first tee shots off 'Tea Olive', Augusta's par-4 opener, next April.

Veterans often find a place on a Sunday Masters leaderboard, almost always ones who have contended heavily there before.

That certainly applies to 43-year-old Justin Rose, a Masters runner-up in both 2015 and 2017.

He's sprinkled four other top 10s and there's been no obvious drop-off since he turned 40. Rose was seventh in 2021 after being first-round leader for the fourth time and 16th last year before adding a top 10 in the US PGA a month later.

Rose's focus these days is more on the majors than trying to keep high levels throughout the slog of a long season.

After signing off from 2023 by shooting 68-66 to finish eighth in the Hero World Challenge, he'll have plenty of opportunities to hone his game and hopefully shorten his odds before Augusta.

Back Justin Rose each-way @ 80/181.00

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Back Sahith Theegala @ 80/181.00

Some players take three or four years to find any sort of comfort level at Augusta National. Some never find it at all.

But not Sahith Theegala. He rocked up in Georgia for his first Masters last year and closed with a 67 to finish in a tie for ninth.

That 5-under Sunday effort included a Tiger Woods-esque chip-in at 16 from up and down a slope and asked where the round ranked in terms of pure enjoyment in his life, Theegala responded: "Yeah, it was up there. I think once I get some time to look back at it, I'd say it's the most enjoyable round of golf because I played really well, and the energy was so good.

"We did so much good prep with my coach and trainer and my caddie and everyone. I really wanted to make sure I felt like I got the most out of it, and I really did. I played really well, I just didn't putt great the first couple rounds." (he eventually finished 13th for SG: Putting so certainly worked something out.)

Since then, he's bagged a first PGA Tour win by claiming the Fortinet Championship in September.

A top five in the 2022 Memorial on the fast greens at Muirfield Village is a further nod that he can play well again at Augusta, as does sixth at Riviera (Genesis) last year, a course that has been a great pointer to success at Augusta.

Theegala was also fourth at Torrey Pines in 2023 so there's the potential for him to land one of the early big West Coast events which would see his Masters price contract.

Every Masters winner over the last 10 years started the event in the top 30 of the world rankings.

At the time of writing, Thomas is 26th, Theegala 31st and Rose 37th but if everything goes to plan, all three will have climbed inside and ticked that box in time for the year's opening major.

A final stat worth mentioning is Strokes Gained: Around The Green which counts far more than usual at Augusta National where chipping from below or around the super-quick putting surfaces is a massive key.

In the season just completed, Thomas ranked 4th for ATG, with Rose 20th and Theegala 22nd.

Back Sahith Theegala each-way @ 80/181.00

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Read all our golf previews here

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