US Masters

US Masters: Sensational Scheffler all set to claim his second Green Jacket

Golfer Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler after his victory at Augusta two years ago

The LIV stars join forces with the best players in the world for the year's first major championship, and Steve Rawlings is here with his in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's eagerly awaited start...

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Tournament History

The US Masters is the only one of the four majors that's played at the same venue every year - the iconic and stunning Augusta National.

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 90 years ago, 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.

The US Masters is the first opportunity of the year for the LIV golfers to play alongside the rest of the world's elite so it's the first time in 2024 that last year's front three will tee it up alongside their peers.

Following his switch to LIV at the end of 2023, the defending champion, Jon Rahm, and the two men to finish tied second behind him, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, all ply their trade on the rebel Tour.


Venue

Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia.


Course Details

Par 72, 7,545 yards

Scoring average in 2023 - 72.96


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.

Augusta officially opened in January 1933, and it's been evolving ever since and to such an extent recently that the original designers would barely recognize the place.

The Bermuda greens were changed to bent grass and the fairways were tightened at the end of the last century before a major overhaul was orchestrated by Tom Fazio in 2002, when more than half the holes were lengthened and tightened.

Augusta National 13th.jpg

Prior to the off in 2023, both the 11th and 15th holes were lengthened slightly (details here), and another 35 yards were added before the off last year, courtesy of an extension to the par five 13th.

The course measured 7,545 yards last year, but it will play slightly longer this time around as the par five second, which is consistently the easiest hole on the course, has been lengthened by ten yards.

Augusta is a long course, and it 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.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

The Par Three Competition is live on Sky Sports from 19:00 UK time on Wednesday and live coverage of the tournament itself starts at 14:00 on Thursday UK time, with several different options behind the Red Button.


Last 12 Winners with Pre-event Prices

  • 2023 - Jon Rahm -12 11.521/2
  • 2022 - Scottie Scheffler -10 19.018/1
  • 2021 - Hideki Matsuyama -10 70.069/1
  • 2020 - Dustin Johnson -20 9.89/1
  • 2019 - Tiger Woods -13 22.021/1
  • 2018 - Patrick Reed -15 70.069/1
  • 2017 - Sergio Garcia -9 50.049/1 (playoff)
  • 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 28.027/1 (playoff)
  • 2012 - Bubba Watson -10 55.054/1 (playoff)
  • 2011 - Charl Schwartzel -14 90.089/1

    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 15 winners in all the traditional key stats.

    • Driving Accuracy - 27.3
    • Driving Distance - 20.6
    • G.I.R - 6.33
    • Scrambling - 9.6
    • Putting Average - 11.8

    Although Augusta is tree-lined, Driving Accuracy is the least important traditional stat to consider.

    Although you can't just spray it everywhere off the tee, the trees here are well-established and the branches are high, so errant drives aren't always punished.

    Length off the tee is advantageous and historically much more important than accuracy, but it hasn't been an absolute imperative of late.

    Rahm only ranked 24th for Driving Distance last year and Hideki Matsuyama, Tiger Woods, Danny Willett, Jordan Spieth, Charl Schwartzel and Zach Johnson have all won here in the last 17 years with DD rankings of 47th 44th, 32nd, 52nd, 40th and 57th respectively but most victors give it a good whack.

    Dustin Johnson, in November 2020, and the two winners before Tiger Woods in 2019, all ranked sixth for DD, seven of the last 16 winners have ranked inside the top-six for DD and Bubba Watson hit it further than anyone off the tee when he won his second Green Jacket ten years ago.

    The last three winners have ranked third, fifth and seventh for Greens In Regulation and the two winners before them both ranked number one for GIR.

    As many as 14 of the last 17 winners have ranked seventh or better so that's obviously a key stat and so too is Scrambling.

    The 2019 winner, Woods, only ranked 47th for Scrambling but the last 15 winners have still averaged only 9.6 so the ability to get up-and-down repeatedly is vital.

    Patrick Reed topped the Putting Average stats in 2018 and Rahm ranked as high as eighth last year but Matsuyama only ranked 26th in 2021 and amongst the list of winners above are a number of players that have had their fair share of woes on the greens - including Matsuyama.

    The fast, sloppy, often treacherous, glass-like surfaces are hard for everyone and it almost levels the field out a bit.

    To emphasize that further, the first and second in 2021, Matsuyama and Will Zalatoris, ranked 175th and 122nd for Strokes Gained Putting on the PGA Tour that season and the two playoff protagonists in 2017, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, ended the 2017 season ranking 112th and 168th for SGP so although I wouldn't go out of my way to find a poor putter, it's a bit of myth that only the best putters win here.

    Strokes Gained stats have only been produced for the last three editions of the US Masters but they back up the traditional stats nicely.

    Rahm ranked number one for Strokes Gained tee to Green and the two winner before him both ranked second for SG: Tee to Green, and the three have ranked sixth, sixth and fourth for SG: Approach.

    Rahm ranked first for Strokes Gained Off the Tee but Scheffler ranked only ninth and Matsuyama 17th. The three winners have ranked only 22nd, 13th and 23rd for SG: Putting but they ranked seventh, second and fourth for SG: Around the Green.

    That's arguably the go to Strokes Gained stat given four of the top-six ranked inside the top-eight for SG: Around the Green last year, eight of the top 11 were in the top 12 in 2022 and seven of the top 11 finishers in 2021 ranked in the top 10 for SG:ATG.

    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...

    Here are the total scores to par for the last 15 winners on the par threes, fours and fives.

    Par threes -13
    Par fours -12
    Par fives -136

    The fact that Danny Willett won here in 2016 having played the long holes in just level par is astounding and it must be viewed as an anomaly. Sergio only played them in seven-under-par in 2017 and even that was an unusually low score.

    Patrick Reed smashed them up six years ago -playing them in 13 under-par - despite failing to pick up a shot on any of the four on Sunday and the last four winners have played them in -11, -11, -8 and -10.

    Scheffler only played them in -8 two years ago but that was only bettered by Cam Smith (-9) and the runner-up, Brooks Koepka, who played them in 11-under-par, was the only man in the field to better Rahm's score on the long holes last year.

    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 17 years ago, he still played the long holes in 11 under-par.

    If you're only going to look at just 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 into 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 winners not to have played rounds three and four in the year before they won since Fuzzy Zoeller won on debut in 1979 so not playing over the weekend on your previous visit is a significant negative.

    Another no-no used to be backing anyone yet to break 70 around Augusta. 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 nine winners had failed to break 70 before they won. And they hadn't played in the tournament as often as most winners either...

    Both Spieth and Willett had only played Augusta once before they won and Scheffler, who had shot just one round in the 60s, was appearing for only the third time two years ago. 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.

    12th Hole Augusta.jpg

    On average, first time winners have played the event six times and with previous course form figures reading 27-4-9-7-5-27, that was the case with Rahm 12 months ago.

    Although plenty of experience is a big plus and the average age of the winners is just under 32, age had been a bit of a barrier until 2019. 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 40s.


    Strong current form crucial of late

    Course form stands up well here and past winners have a fine record.

    As many as three of the five players to finish inside the top-six behind Rahm last year were former winners and 17 different players having won the title more than once, but over the last 12 years, strong current form has often counted for plenty.

    Matsuyama managed to win three years ago despite a relatively poor start to the year. He'd finished 30th in the Valero Texas Open in his penultimate start and in ten previous starts in 2021, 15th at the WGC Workday Championship was his best finish but since Phil Mickelson won his third title in 2010, having produced just one top-ten from seven previous starts that year (eighth at the AT&T Pebble Beach), every winner bar Matsuyama has telegraphed their wellbeing.

    Scheffler arrived at Augusta with current for figures reading 1-7-1-55-1 in 2022 and although Rahm hadn't been at his best in his three events prior to the Masters, he had begun 2023 in fine style, winning three of his first five starts, having won two of his last three events in 2022.


    Riviera form is a huge plus

    Having won the Genesis Invitational at Riviera back in February, Matsuyama is now the fifth player in the last 12 years to win both the Genesis and the US Masters and following his victory two months ago, as many as 14 different US Masters winners have won 24 of the 61 renewals of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

    Bubba Watson, Phil 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 nicely.

    DJ had previously won the US Open and Tiger Woods won the US Masters for a fifth time in 2019 but nine of the last 13 US Masters winners were winning their first major championship and that's a general trend across all the majors.

    As many as 22 of the last 33 (67%) 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 highly in the Official World Rankings because 46 of the last 47 majors have been won by someone inside the world's top-50.

    The odd man out is Phil Mickelson who defied all sorts of logic at the 2021 US PGA Championship when he won at the age of 51 - ranking 115th in the world.


    Last 10 Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round 4

    • 2023 - Jon Rahm - solo second, trailed by two 2.8815/8
    • 2022 - Scottie Scheffler - led by three 1.584/7
    • 2021 - Hideki Matsuyama - led by four 1.9420/21
    • 2020 - Dustin Johnson - led by four 1.422/5
    • 2019 - Tiger Woods - tied second, trailed 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

    Should we swerve last year's contenders?

    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 previous years is the poor performances often put up by players that contended the year before.

    A number of 2019 contenders were in-the-mix in 2020 and the winner, Dustin Johnson, had finished tied for second behind Tiger in the previous renewal but because of the pandemic, the 2020 edition was played in November and there was 19 months between the two renewals. That may have been a reason why we saw a couple of 2019 contenders back in the mix because it's been business as usual over the last three years.

    Ordinarily, the contenders at the previous renewal tend to struggle and 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 fail to figure.

    As a demonstration, here's the top-10s from 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022, with their finishing positions the following year in brackets.

    2017

    • 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)

    2018

    • 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)

    2020

    • 1 Dustin Johnson (MC)
    • 2 Sungjae Im (MC)
    • 2 Cameron Smith (10)
    • 4 Justin Thomas (21)
    • 5 Rory McIlroy (MC)
    • 5 Dylan Frittelli (MC)
    • 7 Jon Rahm (5)
    • 7 Brooks Koepka (MC)
    • 7 CT Pan (MC)
    • 10 Corey Conners (8)
    • 10 Webb Simpson (12)
    • 10 Patrick Reed (8)

    2021

    • 1 Hideki Matsuyama (14)
    • 2 Will Zalatoris (6)
    • 3 Xander Schauffele (MC)
    • 3 Jordan Spieth (MC)
    • 5 Jon Rahm (27)
    • 5 Marc Leishman (30)
    • 7 Justin Rose (MC)
    • 8 Corey Connors (6)
    • 8 Patrick Reed (35)
    • 10 Cam Smith (3)
    • 10 Tony Finau (35)

    2022

    • 1 Scottie Scheffler (10)
    • 2 Rory McIlroy (MC)
    • 3 Shane Lowry (16)
    • 3 Cameron Smith (34)
    • 5 Collin Morikawa (10)
    • 6 Corey Conners (MC)
    • 6 Will Zalatoris (DNP)
    • 8 Sungjae Im (16)
    • 8 Justin Thomas (MC)
    • 10 Cameron Champ MC)
    • 10 Charl Schwartzel (MC)

    As many as five of the top-ten and ties in 2022 missed the cut last year (including the very well fancied Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas). A tie for tenth was the best any of them finished and it was also noticeable how few of last year's contenders weren't in contention in 2022.

    Having finished 27th, Rahm was never in the hunt in 2022, Koepka had missed his last two US Masters cuts, and the other runner-up, Mickelson, hadn't played the year before.

    In tied fourth, Russell Henley had finished 30th (his worst performance in his last four visits), Reed had a couple of top-ten finishes to his name since he won the 2018 edition but he'd only finished only 35th in 2022 and course specialist, Spieth, had missed the cut in 2022.

    Although course form is huge, coming into the event under the radar or with low expectations appears to be a plus.


    In-Play Tactics

    Up with the pace is the place to be at Augusta. DJ led or co-led after every round in 2020, Spieth also won wire-to-wire in 2015 and six of the last ten winners have led after both rounds two and three.

    Despite double bogeying the opening hole, and being on the wrong side of the draw, Rahm was tied for the lead after round one and he sat second after rounds two and three, before winning by four!

    A year earlier, Scheffler had sat third, trailing by two, after the opening round, before making all the running after a five-under-par 67 in round two.

    Tiger sat tied for 11th and four off the lead after the opening round in 2019 but that's the only time any winner has sat outside the top-ten since he sat tied for 33rd and seven off the lead way back in 2005.

    Augusta National is NOT a catch-up course and a fast start is imperative.

    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 26 years ago.

    tiger woods wins 2019 us masters.jpg

    The weather wasn't great last year and after rain delays, Sunday turned out to be a slog with the leaders playing 27 holes.

    Rahm's victory was extremely impressive given he'd doubled the opening hole, that he'd played in the worst of the weather on Friday and Saturday and that his side of the draw (AM-PM), averaged 2.42 more strokes than those that began the event on Thursday afternoon.

    As many as five of the last six winners have now had a morning tee-time on Thursday but that's quite a change.

    The 2020 winner, Dustin Johnson, was drawn in the afternoon on day one and he was the eighth winner to be assigned a PM tee-time in 10 years. Tiger Woods was drawn late in the morning (11:04) for his opening round in 2019 and Patrick 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, so an afternoon tee time on Thursday maybe beneficial, although that's all weather dependant.


    Pace yourself and be ready for Friday night

    As the only adage goes, forewarned is forearmed.

    It's very tempting to avidly watch the first day's play in its entirety but be careful not to be fatigued too soon.

    Only one of the last 12 winners has been outside the top-six and more than three strokes back at halfway so late on Friday night is very often the best time to make a move.

    The market tends to sort itself out overnight and the leading pack will generally shorten up so trading just before the end of round two, or straight after, on Friday night is a good time to strike in-running bets.


    Market Leaders

    Scottie Scheffler 5.95/1

    Augusta Form: 19-18-1-10
    2024 Form: 5-17-6-3-10-1-1-2
    Major Count: One

    Having improved his putting immeasurably, the world number one and 2022 winner, Scottie Scheffler, arrives at Augusta in exceptional form.

    Having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the second time in three years and having been the first player to defend the Players Championship a week later, Scheffler traded at odds-on several times at the Houston Open last time out before missing a six-foot putt on the 72nd hole to take the event into extra time so he's in incredible form.

    In addition to the aforementioned two-time victories at Bay Hill and Sawgrass, Scheffler has also won the Pheonix Open twice, and he traded at odds-on last year to win the now defunct WGC World Match Play title for a second time, so he clearly enjoys going back to a venue at which he's already won and he's very much the man to beat, two years after he first donned the famous Green Jacket.

    Ben Hogan (1951-53), Arnold Palmer (1958-60), Jack Nicklaus (1963-65), Phil Mickelson (2004-06) and Bubba Watson (2012-14), have all won their second Green Jacket two years after their first and Scheffler is a very fair price to emulate them.

    His tied tenth last year was a reasonable defence given he was only the second defending champion to finish inside the top-12 since Tiger Woods finished third way back in 2006 and he's the one they all need to beat.

    Rory McIlroy 13.012/1

    Augusta Form: 20-MC-15-40-25-8-4-10-7-5-21-5-MC-2-MC
    2024 Form: 2-1-66-24-21-19-3
    Major Count: Four

    The world number two, Rory McIlroy, who was the 8/19.00 favourite when missing the cut here 12 months ago, has been largely disappointing since defending his Dubai Desert Classic title in January, although he finished the Valero Texas Open off in style on Sunday and he's shortened up in the market as a result.

    In search of his fifth major title and his first in ten years, Rory needs to win here to complete the career grand slam and he's certainly had his chances.

    He came from miles back to finish second two years ago but he sat second with a round to go in 2018 before finishing fifth and he was very close to winning the title way back in 2011 before a back-nine collapse saw him finish 15th after he'd led by four with a round to go.

    He's very well suited to the venue and coming in slightly under the radar may help but he's not for me.

    Jon Rahm 15.014/1

    Augusta Form: 27-4-9-7-5-27-1
    2024 Form: 3-8-5-8-4
    Major Count: Two

    The defending champion, Jon Rahm, has hardly set the world alight since switching to the LIV Tour at the end of last year.

    He finished third in Mexico on debut but that's his best finish and it will be interesting to see what sort of form he's in as he returns to a 72-hole format.

    Playing on the LIV Tour certainly didn't do Brooks Koepka or Phil Mickelson any harm last year but defending the title here is a huge negative.

    Jordan Spieth finished second when defending in 2016 and he really should have won given he led by five with only nine holes to play (matched at a low of just 1.091/11) but three of the last seven defending champions have missed the cut and I'm more than happy to swerve the Spaniard.


    Selection

    With Augusta form figures reading 50-2-17-3-MC-10, and current form figures reading 4-25-2-5, the world number five, Xander Schauffele, is highly likely to be a factor this week and the 2021 winner, Hideki Matsuyama, appears to be rounding into form at just the right time but my sole selection before the off is Scheffler.

    The world number one is far and away the most in-form player in the field and the 5.95/1 available on the Exchange is more than fair.

    Back Scottie Scheffler @ 5.95/1

    Bet Here

    I'll be back later in the week with a look at some of the side markets and with one or two longshot picks for the Find Me a 100 Winner column but for now I'm more than happy to make Scheffler my sole selection before the off.


    Now read more US Masters tips and previews here.


    *You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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