Every golf fan around the World loves April as it is the time when we all get to sit back and enjoy the first Major of the year.
The who’s who in Golf will descend upon Augusta National this week to take part in the 78th edition of this time honoured event.
Many great legends of the game have played their part in the history of this great tournament. Names like Horton Smith who was the first Masters Champion back in 1934. He also won in 1936. Ben Hogan has 2 victories along with Tom Watson, Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ben Crenshaw and Bernhard Langer.
The Great Sam Snead has won three times. So to have Gary Player, Jimmy Demaret, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson. Arnold Palmer has won four Masters (1958,60,62.64) as well as Tiger Woods (1997,2001,02,05). Then there is the ‘The Golden Bear’ Jack Nicklaus who has won a remarkable six Masters Tournaments! (1963,65,66,72,75,86).
Many believe this year is especially difficult to pick the winner. Look at the season so far and you will see the number of first time PGA Tour winners like Kevin Stadler, John Senden, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones. Then you can add the young guns that have been tearing it apart like Harris English, Jimmy Walker, Russell Henley and Patrick Reed. You then have to worry about a few of the big names who have been dealing with niggling injuries like Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
That is before you get to look at players like Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker and Keegan Bradley who all have the talent to win and then you realize just how hard it is going to be to win the Green Jacket in 2014. With this much talent on display we can expect to see plenty of fantastic nail biting golf over the four days.
The Bookies Top 5 in betting are- 9/1 Adam Scott, 10/1 Rory McIlroy, 14/1 Jason Day, 14/1 Phil Mickelson and 22/1 Sergio Garcia.
Augusta National is considered a national treasure and is always listed in the Top 5 of everyone’s list of top courses in the world. They are always making changes to the course to keep up with technology. In 2001 the course was 6,925 yards and then lengthened to 7,270 yards. In 2006 it was lengthened again to 7,445 yards. The greens were originally Bermuda however they were also changed to Bentgrass in 1981, which resulted in a faster putting surface.
So what does it take to win at Augusta National?
Precise ball striking is a must. Greens in Regulation are what it is all about too. With the steeply contoured greens it is imperative that you hit the ball to the right area of the green to allow for an easier putt. If you fail to do this you can expect to have difficulty in getting it up and down. In fact 3 putts will not be out of the question. Being able to avoid the 3 putts is very important, as poor putters do not win Green Jackets.
Length off the tee is important. The last six winners were all ranked inside the Top 60 in driving distance on the PGA Tour when they won. It is also worth noting that the fairways are mown away from the hole, resulting in less roll from the drive.
Putting, putting and more putting. To play well at Augusta you need to tame the greens. They are some of the fastest in the world. The greens are undulating and are sure to cause issues for many players.
Experience and Wisdom will also take you a long way at Augusta National. Not only experience on the course, but experience on the big stage, under pressure when it is all on the line. Winning a Major is not for the faint hearted. Just look at all the melt downs in Major history!
I have selected three players who will give you a good run for your money, some at longer odds than others.
Jason Dufner 40/1 win, 4/1 Top 10.
Dufner is the perfect selection for those wanting to follow the Masters trends. You need a player who has plenty of Top 20 finishes in his lead up to the tournament. They usually have no missed cuts and have been solid and consistent. Plenty of analysts also point to the WGC Cadillac Championship as a good form guide as past Masters Champions have playing well at Doral. Jason falls into all these trends which are why he is our first man selected.
His form this year reads as 5th, 29th, 65th, 9th, 9th and 14th so plenty of Top 20 finishes in there and no missed cuts. The WGC Cadillac Championship has given him results of 18th, 29th, 12th and 9th at his four starts. This will be his fourth start at The Masters where he has improved at each appearance being 30th in 2010, 24th in 2012 and 20th last year. That is some pretty impressive trending.
Stats wise Dufner is ranked 17th in birdie average, 24th in all round rankings, 12th in Par 4 birdie or better average and 13th in Par 5 birdie or better average. In 20 starts in Majors he has won the 2013 PGA Championship and been placed in the Top 5 at four starts and in the Top 30 on another five occasions.
Could it be time for Major number two? Come Sunday afternoon I expect to see him challenging for the title heading down the back nine.
Patrick Reed 55/1 win, 5/1 Top 10, 13/2 Top Debutant.
Patrick started the 2013 PGA Tour ranked No.584 in the World and missed eight cuts in his first 13 events. Then in August of that year he won the Wyndham Championship and finished the year with three Top 10’s. The 2014 season started with a bang as he finished the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in a tie for 16th and followed that up with a win at the Humana Challenge. Patrick Reed the All-American from Augusta State University was on the map and making a name for himself. He was now ranked No.41 in the World.
Reed continued on his upward trajectory with more great displays of golf. 19th Phoenix Open, 13th AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am, 17th WGC Accenture Match Play, 24th The Honda Classic and then it was a Win at the WGC Cadillac Championship. (A great Augusta trend). He was now No.20 in the World and telling everyone who would listen just how good he was. This kid is brash, outspoken, confident, self assured and has a huge opinion of himself. Tiger Woods is his idol and he loves to wear a red shirt on a Sunday just like him.
According to reports on the internet he is coming off a 10 day minicamp with is coach, Kevin Kirk, where he has been shaping the ball from right-to-left off the tee and controlling the trajectory and spin on his approach shots. When asked about his chances this week at the press conference he replied, ‘I’m very confident’.
It is easy to see why he has a huge ego and believes he is a Top 5 player in the World. In his short career to date he has already claimed a few firsts. He is the youngest winner of a WGC event and made PGA Tour history as the first player to start a tournament with three rounds with a score a 63 or better which he did when winning the Humana Challenge. Reed also became only the fifth golfer to win three PGA Tour events before they turned 24. The other four were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
This will be Patrick’s first Masters Tournament. No one has won it at their first attempt since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. I am sure Patrick Reed knows this and will be out to prove he is the man to do it again. After all history was meant to be broken.
Looking at his stats this week his game is ready for Augusta. 38th in driving distance, 40th in greens in regulation, 22nd in strokes gained putting, 7th in sand saves, 8th in all round ranking, 15th in Par 4 birdie or better average, 22nd in Par 5 birdie or better average and 2nd in FedEx Cup ranking.
One thing is for certain when it comes to Patrick, he has the belief that he can win and sometimes that is what is required to get you over the line.
Francesco Molinari 125/1 win, 8/1 Top 10.
Francesco finds himself trending in the right Masters characteristics just like Jason Dufner. Five starts this year have resulted in 13th, 40th, 33rd, 25th and 5th. No missed cuts, plenty of Top 20’s and good consistence. He has had five starts at the WGC Cadillac Championship for 14th, 3rd, 13th, 28th and 25th. Again this is very positive.
This will be his fifth start at the Masters. His past results have been 30th in 2010, Cut in 2011, 19th in 2012 and Cut last year. Two Top 30 finishes from four starts is nothing to be ashamed of at all.
Molinari’s stats also put him in a good position this week. Just look at his last two starts to get the idea. Two starts ago he was 25th at the WGC Cadillac Championship where he was ranked 4th in greens in regulation, 37th in strokes gained putting and 13th in driving accuracy. Last start saw him finish 5th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he was 3rd in driving accuracy, 19th in greens in regulation, 36th in strokes gained putting and 23rd in putts per GIR.
Good Luck and Good Punting.