Best Bets For Augusta National

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Best bets for Augusta National
Chris Fallica
ESPN INSIDER



The highly anticipated first major of the year is upon us. The Masters Tournament kicks off on Thursday at Augusta National, and bettors will have plenty of options to pick from.

Tiger Woods (12-1) returns to the tournament for the first time since a T17 finish in 2015. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are 10-1, followed by Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose at 12-1.

Here are some of the best bets, along with some betting nuggets to keep in mind when attempting to pick the winner.

Note: All odds as of April 3, via Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Best bets


Dustin Johnson (12-1)

2017 was a lost year in majors for the No. 1 player in the world. Johnson may not be entering the Masters on a three-event win streak like last year, but he still has a win and three top-three finishes from six starts this year, and 16 of his 20 stroke play rounds have been under par. DJ leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, and his improved play on and near the green is a huge part of that. The concern was seemingly always Johnson's putting, and he's now become a top-15 putter (14th in strokes gained-putting this year).

Johnson finished T4 and T6 in his last two Masters, and it would be a shock to me if he wasn't in serious contention entering the final round.

Jon Rahm (20-1)

Rahm's putting has been a bit of a problem this year, as he ranks 129th on the PGA Tour in putts made inside 10 feet. How will he respond Sunday with an 8-footer for par on 18 to win or get into a playoff? But if he puts it together this week, look out.

While his major and Players record isn't great (he failed to crack the top 20 in five starts in those events in 2017), he has contended at WGC events and was fantastic in just about every other event last season. He finished in the top 10 in all of the FedEx Cup events. There is less buzz and pressure around him entering his second Masters, and that could be a good thing for the emotional Rahm.

It seems to me like Rahm is making a natural progression towards contending and winning majors. He's the highest-ranked player in the world without a major win. In his first four majors, Rahm played himself out of the tournament in the first round, but in each of his last two, he's been under par after the first round, starting with a 69 at The Open last July. Then a 70 at the PGA Championship marked the first time he's been closer than four shots off the lead after 18 holes at a major. So maybe the last two major starts, along with a second spin around Augusta, offer a reason for optimism this week.

Bubba Watson (16-1)

After Watson won at Riviera, a course he is familiar with and has had a ton of success on, I took notice. It's apparent his game didn't suit the Volvik ball last year, and a change back to Titleist has done him good. In 2012 and 2014, when Watson won the Masters, he had played well at Riviera and in a WGC leading up to the Masters, and this season, he logged wins both at Riviera and the WGC Match Play.

Bubba Watson entering Masters in years he won
Result at RivieraT13WonWon
Best WGC finishT2T2Won
World rank161219
The biggest difference in his game this year has been with his second shot, as he's found the green at a much higher percentage than last year. The way his game has resurfaced, expect him to mash the par-5s, be creative with his shots and be right there on Sunday in search of a third green jacket. Sure, I wish the price was better, but his play at Augusta and current form override the shorter than desired price.

Bubba Watson's past two seasons
Wins02
Top 10s43
GIR percentage rank161st22nd
Strokes gained: approach-the-green145th58th
Strokes gained-putting145th80th

Price plays


Rafael Cabrera Bello (125-1)

Since Tiger Woods last won the Masters in 2005, the average Masters winner profiled as 32 years old, ranked No. 21 in the world and often majorless. Cabrera Bello is a near perfect fit, at 33 years old, No. 22 in the world and still seeking that first major win -- and he's got game. He's been in the top five of both stroke play WGC events this year. Yes, he missed the cut each of the past two years at Augusta, but that's why he's 125-1. Cabrera Bello typically finds greens in regulation and is worth a top-10/each way look.

Thomas Pieters (60-1)

I've been waiting for Pieters to make a serious run at a major, but it just hasn't happened yet. His game is a little off right now, as he has really struggled off the tee. Pieters has just one top-25 finish from eight starts as a result. Still, he finished fourth at Augusta last year in his first Masters, has a couple of top five results at WGC events and was second to Johnson at Riviera last year. If it all comes together this week, I'd want to be holding a little something at 60-1.

Some other top-50 guys making their second Masters appearances to watch include Alex Noren (15th), Tyrrell Hatton (17th) and Brian Harman (23rd).

Brian Harman (80-1)

Harman has three top-fives since the calendar turned to 2018, with one of those coming in the WGC-Mexico Championship. He finished second to Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open last year and was T13 at the PGA Championship. This is Harman's second Masters, with the first being a missed cut in 2015. His game has come a long way since then, as he's now a top-25 player. He's not the longest hitter in the world (tied for 143rd in driving distance), but he hits fairways (ninth in driving accuracy), hits greens (second in GIR) and is seventh in SG-P. That's a pretty good recipe for success at Augusta National. Sure, it might mean eagle isn't in play on the par-5s, but he should make a ton of birdies on those holes and eliminate a lot of high scores on the par-4s with his accuracy.

Russell Henley (100-1)

The Georgia native has improved his Masters finish in each of the last three years, and if he does it again this year, it will put him in the top 10 (finished T11 last year despite a second round score of 76). Henley shot 65 in the final round at Houston, so he's in a good spot with his game now on the heels of his best finish this year (T8). He probably won't win, but he could be a nice price to play in the top-10 or each way markets.

Xander Schauffele (80-1)

A Masters debutante, Schauffele likely will not win, as no Masters firster has won since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and only three have ever won it on their first try. But he has gotten off to good starts this year (10th in first-round scoring average) and was right in it last year at Erin Hills (T5). He enters the Masters with four straight top-18 finishes and has proven he can beat the best, as evidenced by his win in the TOUR Championship last year. Another price player worth looking at in the top-10/each way markets.

Other notable Masters debutantes this year in the top 50 of the world rankings include Tony Finau (34th), Li Haotong (42nd), Satoshi Kodaira (48th) and Dylan Frittelli (50th). Odds are we won't be seeing of them in the Green Jacket, though.
Betting nuggets


No true favorite

Eleven players are currently shorter than 20-1 to win the event. In other words, it's wide open. In the last 10 years, 51 players have been shorter than 20-1 to win. Just two actually did: Spieth (2015) and Phil Mickelson (2010).

But will that depth of choices mean the winner is more likely to come from that group of 11? In the last ten years, winners have included the sixth betting choice, the ninth betting choice, the 10th betting choice, the 16th betting choice, the 31st betting choice, the 35th betting choice and the 39th betting choice. So while the favorites look enticing, and a number of events have been won by someone in the top-11 choices, don't be totally surprised if someone further down the list winds up wearing the Green Jacket.

Greens in regulation are key

Looking for the key Augusta stat? Fifteen of the last 18 Masters champions have ranked among the top six in GIR for the tournament, including each of the last six. Look for guys who are great ball-strikers who are going to take bad scores out of play.
 

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Continued...


Top-30 golfers seeking first major win

Eight of the last nine majors have been won by a player who previously had not won a major, and eight of the last eleven Masters winners were first-time major winners. Twenty of the last 21 majors have been won by players in the top 30, and 10 of the last 14 have been won by players ranked in the top 12. So who does that potentially leave as possible winners fitting that mold? [h=2]Top-30 players without a major championship[/h]
40-somethings can't win?

In the past 10 years, no 40-year-old golfer has won a major outside of The Open, and just six 40-year-olds have won the Masters. The most recent was 41-year-old Mark O'Meara in 1998. While older than the average winner over the past 12 Masters winners, Pat Perez, 42, fits the rest of the mold as he is seeking his first major championship and sits at No. 21 in the world.

Mickelson, 47, would be the oldest Masters champion ever, eclipsing 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus (1986). Mickelson's form this year has been among the best in his career entering the Masters. This is just the fourth time that he's had four top-fives prior to the Masters (first time since 2006). He's gone win-10-win in the previous three instances. Mickelson is 16-1 this weekend. [h=2]Phil Mickelson's most top 10s prior to the Masters[/h]
20047Win
20185?
20065Win
2005510

Year No. of prior top-10 finishes Masters result

Woods returns

Woods hasn't played the Masters since 2015, and if he were to win, the 13-year gap between wins would tie Gary Player for the longest gap between Masters wins. It's pretty incredible that Tiger opened at 100-1 and is now sitting at 12-1. Woods hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, but Augusta National has been the one place Tiger has been able to play well despite his injuries. Since that win at the U.S. Open, Woods has four top-10s at the Masters and just five in all other majors. He hasn't missed a single cut here in that span, while missing six in all other majors.

It's very likely a healthy Woods will be around for the weekend and be lurking near the top 10, despite the fact that come Thursday morning, it will be 1,089 days since his last competitive round at Augusta.

Can McIlroy notch another weekend top 10?

Of the five players in the Masters era who have completed the career Grand Slam, each of them needed three or fewer starts in the needed major to win and finish off the slam from the time they won their third different major. McIlroy's fourth attempt at the career Grand Slam will come at the Masters this week. So while he seemingly has many more shots to finish the career slam off, history says if you don't finish it off quickly, you never will.

Since entering the final round in 2011 with a 4-shot lead and then shooting an 80, Rory hasn't been much of a factor on the weekend at the Masters. He hasn't entered Sunday closer than five shots back in any of the six years. He entered the third round just one shot back twice in that span (2012 and 2016), but shot 77 on Saturday each time. But then Rory played well on Sunday with no pressure. He is the only player to have four top-10 finishes in the last five Masters.

Thomas and Jason Day still figuring out Augusta

In two Masters appearances, Thomas doesn't have a single round in the 60s and has finished T39 and T22. In that span, he's shot 76 or worse three times in eight rounds at Augusta. In all other majors, he has just two rounds of 76 or worse in 29 rounds. Meanwhile, Day also hasn't been able to solve Augusta National like other major championship courses. He has just five rounds in the 60s here and just two in his last 18 rounds.
 

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Yep he had quite a group behind him . He did it fantastic job and a tidy sum of money too!
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