IT’S THAT TIME of year again. Nike has already released images of what outfits Tiger Woods will be wearing over four days at Augusta even if we still don’t know if he will be there to wear them; whilst the rest of the golfing press seems to be going into a McIlroy frenzy about whether the young Irishman’s break from tournament golf just before the US Masters is one of the most inspired ideas since an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head.
What most of us, or at least those who undertake an occasional flutter, want to know is who stands the best chance of winning and at the moment the hottest tip appears to be last year’s winner, Bubba Watson. The highly strung Watson likes Augusta, it suits his ability to hit massive draws and fades, and he has already won here twice.
This means no temper tantrums, no bawling out of his caddy, Ted Scott, and no distractions. Watson also finished as runner-up at Doral in 2012 and 2014 when he won the Masters. Spookily, he finished runner-up there this year too. Bookmakers are notoriously mean with their odds when it comes to the golf’s ‘Major’ winners but at 12-1 Watson is certainly worth a punt.
At 11-2 Rory McIlroy is pegged at the sort of outrageously short odds that Tiger Woods used to receive in his pomp. Going for his third successive ‘Major’ the pressure on the young Irishman will be immense and this year may be one, or even two, too soon. There is no doubt that on his day he is the world’s finest player but he has yet to put four good rounds together in Georgia.
Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, Darren Clarke has no doubts, although he too is not quite sure about the timing. He said, ‘If he doesn’t win at Augusta this year, he’ll win next year. IIf he doesn’t win next year, he’ll win the year after. He’s going to win there some time. His game is perfect for there. It’s only a question of when. He’s that good. He’ll have a great chance this month. It’s suited perfectly for him. That high draw when his swing is on is just perfect around there. He’s got the shots, he’s got the touch, he moves the ball both ways, he flights it whatever way he wants. He’s also got those soaring, high long irons that Tiger (Woods) would hit in his prime.’
Of the others likely to lead the charge, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose look the pick of the Europeans. Stenson fumed about being put ‘on the clock’ by a PGA rules’ official at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, after which intervention he was to three-putt the next two greens to lose out to Matt Every by a shot. Most experts in golf say that the usually affable Swede is certainly good enough to win a ‘Major’ and now may just be his time. Rose, at 33-1, looks good value although a lot may depend on his opening round. He started last year with a four over 76.
Of the most hotly tipped Americans the pundits are going for youth with last year’s runner-up, Jordan Speith, already having four top-10 finishes this year. He has the temperament and the ability to succeed at Augusta. The aggressively self-confident Patrick Reed would certainly be backing himself to win and is unlikely be bothered by a book excerpt recently released last month that included accusations of cheating and stealing whilst he played collegiately at Georgia and Augusta State.
Ricky Fowler’s name always crops up when ‘Majors’ are mentioned because he invariably seems to do well in them. Significantly though he has yet to win any, and should it come to him and McIlroy in a reprise of last year’s Open head-to-head there would not be much money going on the American. Dustin Johnson is also back from whatever it was that was ‘personal’ and hitting the ball miles. He too should be in the mix come Masters’ Sunday.
Of the Australians Jason Day looks a better bet than Adam Scott, who appears to have lost it since using a short putter, but for punters looking for a dark horse and a good each way bet for a top five finish take your pick between the 23 year old, Japanese, Hideki Matsuyama, who is quoted at 66-1and Billy Horschel, coming nicely into form, and currently available at 90-1. And the very best of luck whoever you choose!