During the ten weeks remaining until the season's first major, the betting will change markedly as candidates exchange form and reputation. Paul Krishnamurty recommends three players to back now before their odds plunge...
"We know from the vast bank of past Masters form that largely the same group of course specialists contend, year in, year out. Bubba should be one of them. Like fellow big-hitting lefty Phil Mickelson, wide-open Augusta's suits his eye perfectly."
Back Adam Scott @ 16.5
My first ante-post bet for the Masters is a player who can do nothing to advance his own case in the next couple of weeks. Adam Scott is on his usual winter break and will only play a light schedule before the season's first major, yet as every week goes by the world number two looks ever more like the game's top dog.
After missing the cut in his favourite event, (an unimaginable catastrophe in the past), Tiger Woods'status as 7.413/2 favourite for the season's first major looks increasingly tenuous. How could one justify a single-figure bet about a man who hasn't won a major since 2008 or a Masters since 2005? If he doesn't win soon, Woods has to drift.
Nor are Scott's other rivals at the head of the market really thriving. Rory McIlroy seems to have found some form, but hasn't won on a main tour since 2012. Phil Mickelson is in form but injured. Henrik Stenson has yet to recapture anything like his remarkable 2013 form.
Alternatively Scott has a rock-solid case, which is highly unlikely to diminish any time soon. He's the defending champion, following on from eighth and second in the previous two Masters. He's become the most consistent performer in majors, boasting seven top-eight finishes in the last three years and missing the top-15 in only one of his last nine. Last year was easily his best ever, with four titles. For my money, Scott should be no bigger than 12.011/1.
Back Bubba Watson @ 75.074/1
Bubba hasn't won anything since the 2012 Masters, which may lead some to dismiss him in majors, assuming that triumph was a typical one-off from a unique yet streaky, unpredictable player. I disagree and wouldn't be in the least surprised to see him win a second major, and this one is by far the likeliest.
We know from the vast bank of past Masters form that largely the same group of course specialists contend, year in, year out. Bubba should be one of them. Like fellow big-hitting lefty Phil Mickelson, wide-open Augusta's suits his eye perfectly, particularly the back-nine where the two par-fives represent genuine eagle opportunities.
This is no secret so, if Watson achieves anything impressive over the next few weeks these odds would tumble. There's every chance he will do so, as this time of year has historically been his most productive and lucrative.
Back Hunter Mahan @ 80.079/1
Mahan is another who tends to thrive around this time of year. He's a former champion of both this week's Phoenix Open and the forthcoming World Matchplay. Further down the line, he's also won the tournament that precedes the Masters, the Houston Open. An expectation of good form in those events is enough alone to warrant a bet for trading purposes, but his case for Augusta is deeper than that.
He fits almost the perfect profile of a first-time major winner. He's in the right age range, has won several top-class events and results in majors are improving. This particular major venue nearly always needs several years of learning and Mahan is making definite progress, finishing top-12 in three of the last five.