Golf,

A Masters like no other

THE US MASTERS


Best bets
2pts each-way Patrick Reed @ 28/1
2pts each-way Justin Thomas @ 11/1
1pt each-way Bubba Watson @ 28/1
1pt each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 28/1
1pt each-way Dustin Johnson @ 9/1
0.5pt each-way Matt Wolff @ 40/1

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Masters odds


The Masters in November! It’s hard to get one’s head around it … an eerie Augusta with no “patrons” (as the stuffed-shirts insist we call the fans), no dazzling magnolias, pink dogwood or flowering peach, a flat atmosphere and a two-tee start to make up for the loss of daylight.

To add to the plot, midweek thunderstorms threaten to interrupt the action and make the already-long course (7475 yards, par 72) play every inch of its length while softenIng the fairways and slowing down the famously glacial greens.

That should bring low scores and more players into the mix. Or will it? Some judges think the hulking Bryson DeChambeau, runaway winner of the US Open in his new, bulked-up, almost unrecognisable state, has only to pitch up to take the Green Jacket from five-time champion Tiger Woods.

Brash Bryson has added even more muscle and frightening length since butchering stately Winged Foot and is a man on a mission: to pulverise all classic courses which have until now, with a few tweaks here and there, stood the test of time.

They tried to “Tiger-proof” Augusta by lengthening it significantly after Woods won by an outrageous 12 shots as a 21-year-old in 1997 and scored back-to-back triumphs in 2001-2. To a degree they succeeded because it was 14 years between Tiger’s fourth and fifth Green Jackets.

And last year, at the age of 43 and after countless surgeries, he was a long way from being the biggest hitter in town as he was in his heyday.

The longer the course plays, the more likely it is for a bomber to prevail, yet why in cold, wet 2007 when nobody finished under par did Zach Johnson, a puny driver at best, come out on top?

He did it with a magical wedge and putter, just as Mike Weir had done a few years earlier. Not even attempting to reach the four par fives in two, he still birdied 11 of the 16 over the four days with short-game wizardry while the monster mashers, needing to use longer clubs into the greens than they were used to, perished.

And why if length is so all-important were four of the five most recent champions, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, Patrick Reed and Woods, outside the top 150 in the power league? Or another relative “shortie”, Francesco Molinari, having one hand on the Jacket two clear on the 12th tee on Sunday before the wheels fell off?

For me, it’s the most accurate iron players who are a step ahead knowing which side of the pins offer the scoreable birdie opportunities. Think Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal, master iron men but very average hitters. Each won two Green Jackets when admittedly Augusta National was not the length it is today.

Talk of great iron players of the present generation brings Justin Thomas, Hideki Maruyama (back close to his best in Houston on Sunday and 5-7-11 at the Masters in 2015-16-17) and Tyrrell Hatton into the equation.

Already a major champion, Thomas, twice a winner either side of lockdown and improving on his Masters finish year on year (39-22-17-12), ticks most of the boxes. The way his driving went AWOL when push came to shove on his latest start is a slight worry but as Joe E Brown said at the end of Some Like It Hot “Nobody’s perfect”.

If Hatton had shown in past Masters how to unravel the mysteries of Augusta he would be the main bet but the Englishman has not bettered 44th in three visits.

That was the old volcanic Hatton but he has noticeably changed in keeping his cool. Nor has he arrived before with confidence so high as a winner on both sides of the Atlantic in top company, plus a perfect warm-up in seventh on Sunday.

I think he has the best credentials of any British or Irish player, even Rory McIlroy, who needs the Masters to complete a career Grand Slam, a feat achieved only by the creme de la creme, Sarazen, Hogan, Nicklaus, Player and Woods.

That is an added pressure and one that has seen Rory buckle in the past but for once he arrives more under the radar, his spotlight taken by DeChambeau who starts favourite at 8-1, ahead of FedEx Cup winner Dustin Johnson (pipped by 150-1 Mexican Carlos Ortiz at the weekend) and Europe’s best Jon Rahm.

Despite posting only two top-tens in 12 starts since the resumption, McIlroy is tempting as his birdie count of 29 last time out (more than the winner) shows he is starting to do a lot of things right again. In the past he has been guilty of trying TOO hard but if he can relax and concentrate better, he won’t be far away.

The single-figure price for DeChambeau is skimpy on examining his two Masters finishes as a pro, 38th and 29th. Of the 58 who played all eight rounds those last two years, Bryson comes out plumb bottom of the putting pile.

That was the “old” DeChambeau though. The “new” DeChambeau was No. 1 putter at the US Open with an ugly upright method that makes no appeal to the purists but works with ruthless efficiency. Which one turns up this week? I am as curious as anyone.

At 20 points longer, the 2018 winner Reed, who went to college in Augusta, rates a sporting each-way bet at 28-1 even though he will be the best part of 50 yards behind DeChambeau off the tee.

He makes up for lack of power with a razor-sharp short game that has seen him win a WGC event in Mexico this year, post top-15 finishes in the first two majors and create a good impression when coming over to Wentworth and finishing third in Europe’s flagship event.

I was looking for signs in Houston that 2013 champion Adam Scott was worth backing but no world-class golfer should shoot three double-bogeys in one round as Scotty did on Friday. He and fellow Aussie Jason Day have strong Augusta credentials but Day fell apart when presented with a winning opportunity in Houston.

Both are difficult to trust and preference is for Bubba Watson, the most creative golfer in a line-up of 92 (why no invitations to world No.13 Daniel Berger and No.23 Viktor Hovland?). The 40-1 has long gone but 28-1 is acceptable for a dual Masters champion hitting form (4th at Zozo, 7th CJ Cup) at just the right time.

Left-handers have won six of the last 16 Masters, an extraordinary percentage when you consider how few of them there are, and with Phil Mickelson in abysmal main-tour form (though two from two on the over-50s circuit), Bubba should finish Top Lefty and make top-five in the main event.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay are serious contenders and while Tiger could pull another rabbit out of the hat, he comes into Augusta without the prop of recent form to underpin his claim.

Genius that he is, he has proved us wrong before but he is undergolfed because of injury as is Brooks Koepka, co-runner-up with Schauffele and DJ to Woods last year. It was no real surprise Koepka’s driving went off the boil when in contention on Sunday.

If Paul Casey reproduces his second to Thomas at the PGA, he could go close again on a course he likes but more recent form is less compelling.

I don’t think Casey, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood or Tony Finau (tenth and fifth on only two Masters starts) putt well enough to win and backing them for the top-ten market is more realistic.

I fell for Spieth last week and logically should do so again as he has a phenomenal Masters record (2-1-2-11-3-21), even performing well there in the years his game was dire everywhere else. But he missed the Houston cut in such a flurry of bogeys I dare not foist him on you again, an omission I shall probably regret.

No first-timer has won at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. That stat weighs against Collin Morikawa, Matt Wolff and Sungjae Im. Powerhouse Wolff, second at the US Open and fourth to Morikawa at the PGA, can complete a hat-trick of Major top-tens after only 18 months as a pro and take Top Debutant honours.

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