I’m going to quickly recap last week’s picks at the Shell Houston Open instead of a more in-depth look back as usual because there are so many Masters props that I could write at least five stories alone on the season’s first major championship that begins Thursday at historic Augusta National.
For the first time I will head into the Masters having not picked a season’s winner yet. We had another first-time winner last week in Matt Jones, who beat Matt Kuchar in a playoff to earn the final spot in this week’s Masters field. Needless to say, I didn’t even mention Jones in my preview. I went with Hunter Mahan at 28/1 to win as he had previous success in Houston, but he finished T31. It’s the second time Mahan has let me down in the early season. I’m sure he’s crushed about that. It was a terrible tournament overall that wasn’t helped by Dustin Johnson, a guy I expected a lot from, withdrawing after a first-round 80.
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Frankly, the most interesting things to happen in Houston last week had nothing to do with Jones winning. Seeing Rory McIlroy shoot a final-round 65 to bring momentum into Augusta is a huge story line this week. That matched the low round of the week in Houston. Sergio Garcia looks ready to contend this week as well after his third-place finish, continuing his worldwide success since late last year. Phil Mickelson, whom I didn’t like at all last week because of his 2014 struggles and back issues, has to feel better about his game after a T12.
The Masters is by far the most-wagered golf tournament of every season at the sportsbooks. I doubt the absence of Tiger Woods will change that, although it could affect TV ratings a bit (unless Mickelson is in contention).
There are a few things to watch in picking a winner this week. One is previous success during that calendar year. According to the Golf Channel, in the past 23 years only one player who won the Masters didn’t have a Top-10 finish on the PGA Tour or European Tour in the current season before arriving at Augusta: Angel Cabrera in 2009. Having a previous Top-10 finish in the Masters is big, too. Don’t think the first round is important? No winner in the past nine years has been outside the Top 10 after his first round (the last winner to be leading after 18 holes was Trevor Immelman in 2008). You also have to be long off the tee, kill the par 5s and rank high in greens in regulation.
Three players have a chance to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world this week, and it would be a first for all three: defending champion and No. 2 Adam Scott, No. 3 Henrik Stenson and No. 4 Jason Day. A win would do it for each. The worst Scott could finish to get No. 1, which he has stated is a goal, would be a two-way tie for third.
Scott and McIlroy are the co-10/1 favorites at Bovada . I’ll say flat out I give Scott, who served surf-and-turf off the barbie at the champions dinner, little chance because only three players have ever repeated at Augusta. He did fit all the criteria listed above for winning last year: Top 10s in 2013 heading in (two), previous success at the Masters (runner-up in 2011, eighth in 2012), a strong first round (T10), long off the tee (18th in distance at Augusta), hitting greens (No. 1 in GIR) and playing the par 5s well (5 under).
It’s fairly amazing that McIlroy still doesn’t have a Top-10 finish at Augusta. Of course, he dominated the 2011 tournament until he stepped on the 10th tee Sunday and ballooned to a final-round 80 and a 15th-place finish. He actually has more rounds of 76 or worse (five) than he does in the 60s (four) at Augusta. McIlroy seems over all his equipment problems that plagued him much of last year.
Mickelson is 12/1 to win his fourth green jacket to tie Woods. He needed a confidence boost last week and got it, but one wrong swing could re-aggravate that oblique muscle issue. Day is 14/1 and Kuchar 18/1 to each win their first major. Day won the WGC-Match Play earlier this year for his biggest win yet on the PGA Tour, but he’s been bothered by a thumb problem and hasn’t played a competitive round since. Scott was the first Aussie to win this tournament last year; could it happen twice in a row? Day was co-runner-up in 2011 and third last year. Kuchar didn’t start playing well at Augusta until 2012 when he finished third. He followed that with an eighth last year.
Golf Odds: Masters Picks and Expert Predictions
So many props to choose from. On the top debutant, I like Harris English at 7/1. What’s not to like? He’s long off the tee and leads the PGA Tour this season in GIR and ranks second in par-5 performance. Top American: Kuchar at 7/1. Top Englishman: Lee Westwood at 3/1. Top European: Garcia at 6/1. Top Australian: Marc Leishman at 12/1 (he was fourth last year).
I’m taking the field at -500 against the Big 3 of Scott, McIlroy and Mickelson (+330). I’m also rolling the dice on Kuchar/Garcia at 17/2 on two chances to win. I really wish Garcia was part of a “selected four” of Day, Johnson, Bubba Watson and Kuchar (+500) against the field (-900). I’d probably take that if Garcia was in it instead of Day, whom I think will be very rusty because of that thumb sidelining him. I don’t like the “selected five” of Garcia, Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley and Graham DeLaet at +650 nearly as much against the field (-1400) as I would that previous selected four were Sergio in it.
Each of the past three Masters winners and 15 of the past 19 major champions were first-time major winners. So I’m going that route. I probably would have taken Johnson at 22/1 to win (and thus 8/1 as top American) if not for last week’s W/D, which he blamed on his troublesome back. He otherwise has been playing tremendously. My guy is Sergio at 20/1. It also seems perfect karma that he wins the year Tiger, his disliked rival, isn’t in Augusta. Garcia has improved his finish each of the past three years up to eighth last year. He would have been in the mix Sunday if not for a second-round 76.
Written by Doc Sports for VegasTopDogs.com