Smith a crisp bet for Augusta glory


Best bets
2pts each-way Cameron Smith @ 16/1
2pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 20/1
2pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 11/1
1pt each-way Xander Schauffele @ 20/1
1pt each-way Scottie Scheffler @ 16/1
view odds

We’re paying SEVEN places at The Masters!

Bank on the S Factor for a 152/1 Masters-Grand National double with Cameron Smith (16/1) and Snow Leopardess (8/1) on a tremendous sporting and punting weekend. I’d advise a 0.5pts investment to pull off the ultimate spring double.

With gutsy Aussie Smith the winner of the Tournament of Champions and the all-star Players Championship this year and Snow Leopardness the leading British-trained runner in the National betting for the very good reason that the grey mare won the Becher Chase over the Aintree fences in December, it looks an each-way steal.

At the worst, it’s a bit of fun which is more than you can say about that annual yawn-fest the Boat Race which was over as a contest after three minutes on Saturday, is of little or no interest to anybody who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge and is worth its prime TV slot only because of its archaic curiosity value.

My job is to point you towards a profit on a far more thrilling sporting spectacle, the Masters at glorious Augusta National, a hallowed place that’s been on Tiger Woods’ mind for many a month as he plans another “miracle” comeback, this time after the near-fatal car accident in Los Angeles in February of last year.

As far as the world’s media are concerned, the other 90 runners will barely exist this week as Tiger bids to win his sixth Green Jacket on his favourite golf course. It is only three years since his last Augusta “miracle” but this is the tallest order yet. To win a 16th Major without a single tournament round since tying for 38th place in the Covid-delayed 2020 Masters more than 15 months ago … not possible, is it?

When one is talking about a genius who wouldn’t play if he didn’t believe he could win, it is never wise to say no but I doubt whether he can be good enough after so long out of the game even if the multi-injured leg stands up to four tiring rounds on a fiercely undulating course measuring over 7500 yards.

Since becoming Mr Nice Guy, he no longer inspires the fear factor either and it will be job well done if he makes the cut which is an even-money shot. Anything more will be a bonus with Fitzdares making him a 50/1 to repeat his 2019 triumph at the same age as Jack Nicklaus was when he stunned the golfing world in 1986. The Golden Bear hadn’t been in a major car crash though or undergone multiple back surgeries.

Whatever happens, golf is a better sport with Woods back and if punters can’t make it pay in the one Grand Slam event that’s always played on the same iconic layout with course and current form all there laid out on the table, they never will.

Rule out seven ceremonial ex-champions, six amateurs, the first-timers (it’s 43 years since a debutant won) and those who never do well there – like Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood – and the number of potential winners or even top-five finishers in an already limited field of 91 is halved.

With JJ Spaun the final name in the draw after his 150/1 Texas Open victory on Sunday, all we’re waiting for is the confirmation that defending champion Hideki Matsuyama is fit to do himself justice after pulling out with a neck problem in San Antonio last Thursday, now that Tiger has confirmed his participation.

Thunderstorms projected for Wednesday and Thursday will take the sting out of fairways and greens but the weather looks set fair for the last three days with a sunny Sunday showdown in prospect. Course changes see the downhill par-four 11th widened and extended to 520 yards and 20 yards added to the par-five 15th, now not quite such a birdie gift at 550 yards, while there are three new greens, the third, 13th and 17th.

My five against the field are putting wizard Smith, Augusta specialist Jordan Spieth, new world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele and the favourite, Jon Rahm. Expect the burly Spaniard to come hurtling back to peak form, motivated by losing the top spot to Scheffler whose three victories in seven weeks lit up the golfing world.

And while not doubting that the big American, who impressed with top-20s on both Augusta starts in the days long before he became a winner, is the real deal, I still believe Rahm is the best golfer in the world. It is a worry that he’s failed to win this year despite setting up several clear-cut chances and that the putter has been letting him down, resulting in a rare down-the-field effort at Sawgrass and a last-16 exit from the Match Play.

On the credit side is Augusta form of 4-9-7-5 on his last four attempts and the fact that he’s been in the top-ten in his last five Majors, winning his first one, the US Open, in that period. The first of many, I predict. It’s another plus that he’s arguably the best driver in the world even though Augusta’s generous fairways have allowed the wayward ones like Ballesteros, Woods, the absent Phil Mickelson and Spieth to get away with murder over the years. Woods will take all the media attention away from the others, so Rahm can concentrate on business and each-way seven places at 11/1 looks a steal.

My main fancy is the gutsy Aussie Smith who is all heart and, like Scheffler, is better at winning than the consistent Rahm. Cam is a double winner in just four starts this year and has a Masters record reading 5-51-2-10, that second place coming behind Dustin Johnson in the delayed-until-November 2020 renewal.

Outside a Pebble Beach second, Spieth has failed to fire this year but left San Antonio with a spring in his step after a closing 67, one of the best Sunday rounds, and becomes a different golfer when he drives down Magnolia Lane. Nobody in the current generation plays Augusta better as his 2-1-2-11-3-21-46-3 record proves and although his sublime putting stroke, once his calling card after making his usual Houdini-style escapes from the jungle, has become worryingly fallible, he reads these glassy greens better than anybody.

Schauffele, quiet so far this campaign, just gets the nod over DJ for the fifth spot on the staking plan on the back of a Masters second and third in just four attempts. And his 2022 form, a third at Phoenix and three other top-13s, while unspectacular, is solid enough to be worth support.

A second Masters for DJ or a first for Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Colin Morikawa or Viktor Hovland would come as no surprise but the injury-jinxed DeChambeau was pitiful at the Match Play and in Texas and the additional pressure of trying to complete a career Slam with confidence far from peak makes Rory McIlroy a shaky betting proposition. This is his eighth attempt at joining the elite quintet who have done the Slam and it doesn’t get any easier.

Will Zalatoris almost won at the first attempt last year which will give supporters of Valspar winner Sam Burns encouragement as he bids to be the first debutant to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. But Augusta has proved over the years that at least one go is needed before it will yield the Jacket. Justin Rose, twice an Augusta runner-up and first-round leader last year, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Patrick Reed, the last two past champions, could be the pick of the longer prices while Padraig Harrington, runner-up on the Champions Tour on Sunday, qualifies for his first Masters since 2015 and should be a winning favourite on the Top Senior market.


Best bets
2pts win Stewart Cink Top 20 @ 4/1
2pts win Si Woo Kim Top 20 @ 9/4
2pts win So Woo Kim top South Korean @ 7/5
3pts win Padraig Harrington top senior @ 11/8
1pt win Robert McIntyre top left-hander @ 5/2
0.5pts each-way Justin Rose first round leader @ 60/1
view odds

A feast of Masters Specials are there to entice you on the Fitzdares website and two golden oldies still with plenty of powder in their guns, Stewart Cink and Padraig Harrington, are well worth your attention.

It was Cink’s 12th place in last year’s Masters that prompted his selection for the following week’s Heritage where he gave me (and you, if you took the advice) the biggest-priced winner of my career – I was lucky enough to get 225/1 – so he will always have a special place in my heart.

As he posted his first top-ten of the year on his latest outing at the Valspar, I’m hoping lightning will strike twice and he can land a 4/1 shot on the Top-20 market.

At 48, he hits the ball 300+ yards, further than when briefly, 13 years ago, becoming the most unpopular man In golf by spoiling the fairy story of Tom Watson trying to win the Open at the age of 59, beating the legendary five-time champion in a Turnberry play-off.

Harrington’s fourth place in last year’s US PGA earns him a first Masters start for seven years and he warmed up nicely by finishing runner-up in Mississippi on the Champions Tour on Sunday, well clear of Bernhard Langer, his chief market rival this week for Top Senior.

So the 11/8 looks fair value as third-in Fred Couples has missed his last three Augusta cuts and at 62 is not the shoo-in for top senior he used to be.

Langer is even older but is a Champions Tour winner this campaign, fit as a flea, and a bigger threat but Pod has a 14-year age pull. Besides, Harrington has shown good form in the Gulf Swing, notably ninth in the Dubai Desert Classic, and with Ryder Cup captaincy duties long out of the way, the Irishman is applying himself to his own game these days.

Reverting to the Top 20 list, the 9/4 about Si Woo Kim looks tasty. He was 13th in last year’s Masters despite having to hole out with a 3-wood after breaking the putter on day two and has finished 34th or better on all four appearances. From Sunday’s 13th place in San Antonio we know his game is in good nick and he is also fancied to pip Sungjae Im at 7/5 for top South Korean.

Despite having dual Masters champion Bubba Watson among the opposition, take a chance on ambitious young Scot Robert MacIntyre taking Top Lefty honours.

With Phil “No Mates” Mickelson still in hiding and breaking a run of 27 consecutive Masters, this is a less competitive market than usual so BobbyMac, as they call him, is only a 5/2 chance but he raises his game for Majors, was 12th on his Masters bow last year and did even better at the Open.

A good showing at Riviera and three sub-70s in San Antonio have set him up nicely for this but it’s no two-horse race as Brian Harman (also T12 last year) comes into the conversation too so it will be a tight one.

Go for a repeat on First Round Leader and find a bit of loose change for Justin Rose at 60/1. The tall Englishman shot a 65 to lead by four at the end of day one last year and has led on each of the first three days on separate occasions. Twice a runner-up and eight-times a top-12 finisher, Rosie absolutely loves Augusta and although you can pick plenty of holes in his game right now, remember that form is only temporary, class is forever and he’s an Olympic gold medalist and past US Open and FedEx Cup champion.


Best bets
2pts win five-fold
Padraig Harrington (1.11pm)
Sepp Straka (1.22pm)
Si Woo Kim (2.17pm)
Justin Thomas (3.45pm)
Robert McIntyre (4.51pm)
view odds

So now it’s confirmed. Tiger Woods will play the Masters and when asked yesterday whether he thinks he can win it, he replied: “I do”. Well, you wouldn’t expect the most positive man in sport to say otherwise, would you?

He tees off at 3.34pm our time on Thursday alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann, plus inevitably the biggest crowd and media entourage of the day or, quite probably, any day.

The curiosity value is tremendous, but as a betting medium, until we see what he can do – and he admits his mobility is limited – there are better threeballs to focus on.

The course was closed yesterday as a storm raged and more bad weather is forecast right up to Friday so not only will the going be soft and tiring but strong winds could also be a hazard.

It’s going to a slog for Tiger but the early-to-middle start means he’ll have plenty of time to get the expected swelling in his right leg down sufficiently for battle to recommence on Friday afternoon.

There’s going to be a long, long wait for Europe’s two main hopes, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, on day one. The Northern Irishman is last man out at 7.03pm UK time alongside Brooks Koepka and Matt Fitzpatrick while Rahm is just two games ahead of him at 6.41 in the company of Patrick Cantlay and last year’s runner-up Will Zalatoris.

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