Golf,

Go with the flow: the Justin & Jordan Show

The Masters


Best bets
Justin Thomas 2pts each-way @ 10/1
Jordan Spieth 2pts each-way @ 10/1
Jon Rahm 1pt each-way @ 11/1
Adam Scott 1pt each-way @ 50/1
Bubba Watson 0.5pt each-way @ 50/1
Brooks Koepka 0.5pt each-way @ 22/1
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It’s good news week … Jordan Spieth is back in the winners’ enclosure for the first time since the 2017 Open, Jon Rahm is a first-time dad and won’t have to drop everything to be at his wife’s side at the birth and the azaleas are blooming at Augusta.

It’s Masters time, spring is in the air and punters are ready for battle in the only Major that’s fought out on the same magnificent golf course every year and considering there are only 88 runners – 11 of them, three amateurs and eight of the nine ceremonial former champions, can be discounted – generous place terms are hard to resist.

There’s bad news too. No Tiger and scattered thunderstorms forecast. But at least it’s warm in Georgia and a limited number of “patrons” (as spectators are quaintly referred to) will be allowed, unlike the rearranged Masters won in record-breaking style by Dustin Johnson in November.

Thanks to Covid, the world number one will have the shortest tenure of a Green Jacket on record, a mere 21 weeks, unless he makes a successful defence. He is favourite and the only player quoted at single-figure odds.

Aiming to be the first back-to-back champion since Woods in 2001-2, DJ arrives with a dazzling 6-4-2-1 record from his last four visits but the towering form he showed before and after Christmas has tapered off with disappointing strokeplay performances at The Concession and Sawgrass and an early exit from the Match Play.

He was worried enough about his game to dither about playing in Texas last week, deciding in the end to do his Masters prep at home, leaving the way clear for comeback man Spieth to build on three top-four finishes and regain that elusive winning touch in his home-State Open after a drought lasting 83 tournaments and 1351 days.


It is only seven weeks since Spieth started to show signs of his old carefree self


It is only seven weeks since Spieth started to show signs of his old carefree self with fourth place at Phoenix. I backed him at 50-1 for Augusta on the Saturday of that tournament because, in my view, nobody in the past decade played the course better.

The youthful Spieth of 2014 to 2016 was an extraordinary talent and it was always my intention to put him up for the Masters if he could convince me he retained the nerve to convert good golf into winning golf.

That barrier was broken down on Sunday and while there were no marquee names chasing him down in San Antonio, it was a critical part of his rehabilitation to put that “W” on the board. He could not have timed it better and even though he’s only 10-1, who is playing better right now?

To recap what he did in past Masters: nobody had won on his Augusta debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 but Spieth nearly did in 2014, two ahead at one stage of the back nine, but an inspired Bubba Watson regained the lead and never relinquished it.

The following year Spieth led after round one, broke the 36-hole record with his 14-under 130 and fired in 28 birdies in his 18-under victory, a record shared with Woods until DJ broke it with 20 under last year.

In 2016 he again led and was five clear heading into the back nine on Sunday but bogeyed 10 and 11 before dunking two tee shots in the water at the treacherous short 12th, yet still finished in a tie for second behind shock winner Danny Willett.

And although he went on to win our Open the following year, that quadruple bogey scarred his confidence so deeply that his decline these last couple of years has often been painful to watch.

What clinched it for me that he and Augusta were made for each other was his third place at the 2018 Masters, shooting a 64 on the final day, when much of his golf that campaign was verging on the embarrassing. It was the highest finish of a winless year.

So, although all the value has gone, I am duty-bound to include him in the staking plan even against the might of DJ, Justin Thomas, Rahm and the eccentric Bryson DeChambeau who has already brought Winged Foot to heel at the US Open and is in a mission to demolish the world’s most iconic courses.

Thomas is a prolific winner whose Augusta sequence of 39-22-17-12-4 indicates a year-on-year improvement and there aren’t many places left on that ladder if he is to maintain that progress.

His driving can be suspect but that hasn’t stopped Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Tiger himself, Patrick Reed and, further back, multiple champions Ballesteros, Crenshaw and Olazabal because Augusta is generous to wayward off-the-tee performers. The winner on idyllic 7475-yard par 72 Augusta National will be a great iron player capable of spearing his approaches to the right parts of glacially fast greens to set up birdie chances and avoid triple-putting.

And he must get round Amen Corner, the notorious 11th, 12th and 13th, four times without serious mishap. As one wit once wrote: “More Green Jackets have been lost at the 12th than at Augusta City Dry Cleaners.”

Thomas and Spieth are two of the best iron players in the game and these two pals could finish 1-2 on Sunday with third place going to daddy Rahm (4-7-9 for last three Masters).

I had put a line through the Spaniard because you can’t win with only half your mind on the job, A phone call to say his wife was going into labour would have meant dropping everything even if he was leading. But that is no longer a problem and a first Major triumph is due.

“Without doubt, the greatest moment of my life”, the arrival of baby Kepa on Saturday, has given Rahm the green light to give the Masters his full attention.

The new arrival could inspire him to the second-greatest moment of his life and would echo Willett’s Augusta victory three years ago only days after becoming a first-time father.

Sharing second spot with Spieth behind Willett was Lee Westwood who tees it up for the 19th time at Augusta armed with a tremendous course record – twice runner-up, once third, nine top-15 finishes – and playing arguably the best golf of his life.
He’s in a great place these days with fiancée and son sharing caddying duties but if he hasn’t won the Masters – or any Major – by now, why would he at pushing 48?

While sure Westwood will go well, 33-1 is not tempting enough and at bigger odds past champions Adam Scott and Bubba Watson are preferred.

With Tyrrell Hatton’s Augusta record being poor, Westwood, Paul Casey and Matt Wallace, a confidence-boosting third to Spieth and Charley Hoffman on Sunday, could fight out the Top English market.

Bubba, the winner in 2012 and 2014, hasn’t won since 2018 but has been prominent enough recently to suggest there are more good times ahead for this self-taught genius who has been to some dark places.

He has had anxiety issues, lost weight, been hospitalised, and even thought he’d had a heart attack but is fine now. This left-hander has his own way of doing things but when his putting holds up, Bubba is a match for anyone on this course.

Lefties have won six Masters (Mickelson 3, Watson 2, Mike Weir 1) since the turn of the century, a huge percentage considering how few of them are about.

Scott won the Green Jacket in 2013 having been foiled by Charl Schwartzel’s freaky four-birdie finish two years earlier. Form that old belongs on the History Channel rather than on Sky Golf but the stylish Aussie has had decent Masters since and prepped encouragingly when 13th at the Honda.

The mystery man is Brooks Koepka, second and seventh in past Masters and runner-up at The Concession the last time we saw this mopper-up of Majors. But that was seven weeks ago, since when he has undergone surgery for damage done by a dislocated knee cap.

He pitched up on the practice ground at Augusta on Sunday 19 days after going under the knife, declaring “I’m here to win. If I was only going to be second, I wouldn’t have bothered.” If he can overcome competition-rust, this big-occasion golfer will be a serious contender.

I’m a fan of DeChambeau now he’s speeded up a bit but can’t have him this week as he has not finished in the top 25 in three visits as a pro. Xander Schauffele was runner-up two years ago but rarely wins.

At three-figure odds Francesco Molinari holds some appeal as he led the 2019 Masters, the one Woods won, with seven to play only to fall victim to the dreaded 12th. One in the water there and another on the 15th knocked the stuffing out of the little Italian. It has taken him a long time to recover but two PGA Tour top-tens since he resumed indicate he’s back in business.

It’s a long course but short hitters such as Zach Johnson and Mike Weir tamed it, the former making 11 birdies on the 16 par fives without ever trying to reach any of them in two in 2007. It was a wedge-play masterclass by Zach. Rory McIlroy needs this one to join the famous five (Sarazen, Hogan, Nicklaus, Player, Woods) who have scored career Grand Slams but it’s hard to see it happening given the current inconsistencies in his game.

Victory for Sergio Garcia would be less of a surprise as he is a past winner in fair form while Casey has plenty of Augusta form and might make the frame, as he did when sharing second place with DJ behind Collin Morikawa in last year’s USPGA. Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith, who shared second spot at the November Masters, are also on a long short list, along with Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama.

 

Masters Specials


Best bets
Thomas to beat DeChambeau 4pts @ Evens
MacIntyre to be Top Debutant 2pts @ 5/2
Rahm top 5 & Casey top 10 1pt @ 12/1
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There are plenty of special markets on the Masters and the evens for Justin Thomas to beat “mad scientist” Bryson DeChambeau over 72 holes looks great value.

Fair enough, having put on 40lb and 40 yards, then knocking off half the weight gain because too much of it was round the waist, the 2021 version of DeChambeau is a very different beast from the 2020 version but he was hitting the ball far enough on his first three pro duels with Augusta ended in defeat with finishes of 38th, 29th and 24th.

Thomas (17-12-4) not only beat him in those three Masters but beat him out of sight.

And while DeChambeau has improved to the extent of winning the US Open by bringing hallowed Winged Foot to its knees, JT has not exactly gone back, has he?

In winning the Players Championship against the strongest field of the year, he had Bryson two back in third spot.

The Top Debutant market has promising Will Zalatoris as 5/4 favourite but he may have been overrated although there is no doubting his consistency. American first-timers frequently underperform at Augusta because they are in awe of it such is its mystical reputation.

Take him on with fresh-faced Scot Robert MacIntyre, the European Tour’s rookie of the year who broke his duck at the Cyprus Showdown in November and started 2021 with a third to Paul Casey in a decent Dubai Desert Classic field.

Left-handed Bob hits it miles and is one hell of a long putter. He loves to attack and Americans were impressed by the way he held world number one Dustin Johnson with a 22-footer at the Match Play and eagled the 18th with a 370-yard drive to two feet to save his match with Adam Long.

MacIntyre also has a chance on the Top Lefty market dominated by Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. It’s a big ask to beat two superstars who have won five Masters between them but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise of the week.

Finally, the pick of the Crunch Specials could be Jon Rahm to finish top 5 and Paul Casey to finish too 10 at 12-1. Both have first-rate Masters records.

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