Special thank you to @PhilPickleson for taking the time out of his life to write more than 2,100 words about the golf!
The Masters is back, and with it the start of the 2018 Major season in the PGA Tour. Although the 2018 season has technically been underway for over 5 months, this is always when I consider the real season to begin. It’s also the unofficial start of spring for upper-Midwest golf fans who have been mired in a frozen daze, devoid of golf for the past 5 months. If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where it’s April and you don’t see snow and ice outside your living room window, then congrats, amigos. But for those of us not so fortunate, The Masters signals that we are, indeed, so close to getting back out and playing the game we love.
My sources tell me that Augusta National is the venue for this year’s Masters and if you’re a golf nerd like me, you imagine that if there is a heaven, then Augusta is it. All of the holes are named after the Augusta National flora, such as “Yellow Jasmine”, “White Dogwood”, and “Azalea”, reminding us that soon the snow will melt and life (and golf) will return to us. The Green Jacket resembles the perfect, lush, rolling fairways, and is indeed a fitting prize for the annual champ. Out of the four golf majors, this is the one where we return to the same track every April, and there’s just something special about that.
The familiarity of Augusta is a treat for the fans, but it also makes this tournament an advantage for the players who are fortunate enough to return every year. Course knowledge is a huge advantage for players and their caddies, maybe more on the treacherous, lighting-fast Augusta greens than anywhere else. It’s a course that was designed to reward a golfer that can work the ball off the tee, hit accurate iron shots, and, of course, will test the short game of anyone. The back nine on Sunday makes for the best fan experience in all of golf. Eagles can be had on 13 and 15, but disaster is always an option, as we saw with Jordan Spieth two years ago with a quad on 12. We are all aware of where the pins will be on Sunday, so when a player lands his tee shot on the ridge on 16, we know it might have a chance of being an ace as it trickles down towards the pond.
I am not much of a gambler, but if I were, this would be the tournament I would bet on. Because of reasons explained above, my advice is to never bet on a first-timer at Augusta (sorry, Shubhankar Sharma). As much as we love guys like Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer seemingly making the cut every year, the course is almost 7,500 yards, and the oldest winner was 46 (Jack Nicklaus, 1986, famously), so I would also advise that you leave out the washed grandfathers. Finally, I would suggest not betting on Sergio Garcia to win this year, as there hasn’t been a back-to-back Master’s winner since Tiger Woods in 2001-2002. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the guys that I feel will be in the mix.
Dustin Johnson (10-1); Rory McIlroy (10-1); Justin Thomas (10-1); Tiger Woods (10-1); Jordan Spieth (12-1); Justin Rose (12-1)
As I understand it, betting the favorites in sports is not typically the best strategy for getting a return on your money, but golf is different. As you can see, the top odds for any golfer this year is 10-1, so if you’re confident enough in any of these guys, it’s a good play. Out of all of these 6, I would suggest Rose, who has had 5 top 10’s in the past 7 Masters. Last year, if you’ll recall, he lost a heartbreaker to Sergio in a playoff. Rose has a US Open championship to his name and has been playing very well as of late, after a tough stretch last summer.
I watched the WGC – World Match Play Championship last weekend, and my God, Dustin Johnson looked like more like a toilet factory employee than the world #1. Johnson lost all three of his matches in pool play, and his putting was atrocious. We all know DJ is elite, and has finished T6 and T4 the last two Masters, respectively, but I would steer clear of him this week. Jordan Spieth’s putter surprisingly caught Zika this winter and spring as well, but he putted a lot better at Bay Hill and at the WGC, and finished T3 this weekend at Houston. He is always a good bet, and I would expect he is in the top 5 on Sunday, but I say he falls a couple strokes short.
Most of the Vegas action has been on Tiger, and it’s not just Tiger hype. The past two tournaments Tiger has played (The Valspar and Bay Hill), he has finished in the top 5, and his short game and killer instinct seems to be resurfacing. Tiger is a four time champion and knows (and loves) Augusta as well as anyone. I think, after a couple years’ absence, a top 10 would be a nice result for Tiger, and I think he’s not quite killer Tiger…yet. Finally, Rory McIlroy had been slumping a bit until he got back to form with a win at Arnold’s tourney at Bay Hill. He has finished top 10 in each of the last three Masters. I would feel okay throwing a few bucks down on Rory, but I do not think he will win.
Justin Thomas was one match away from taking over the #1 spot in the world last week at the WGC-Match play. There is nobody playing better than JT since his PGA Championship victory last August. As you know by now, however, experience at Augusta is a real advantage, and this will only be Thomas’ third Masters. Would I be shocked if he wins? No. Do I expect that he will? No.
In the end, any of these guys are solid bets this weekend, but I don’t feel that this year’s winner comes from this elite group.
Bubba Watson (14-1), Jason Day (16-1), Phil Mickleson (16-1), Rickie Fowler (18-1), Jon Rahm (18-1)
I excluded Sergio (25-1) from this group by using the “repeat champ will not repeat” rule I made up earlier. There are two guys in this grouping who I particularly feel very good about this weekend, and they are Bubba and Phil. As much as I am sick of watching Bubba cry after a win (as he did at Riviera and last weekend’s WGC – Match Play), I can’t deny that he is playing great golf again, and nobody works the ball like Bubba does (could Bubba even hit a straight shot if he tried?). Add onto that the fact that Bubba has won here twice, and you have a pretty good value bet here at 14-1. Look, I won’t tell you not to bet on Bubba, this week, I just would be a little irked if he won and started crying as he hugs Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas on the 18th green.
The other guy I love out of this group is Phil Mickleson. Lefty has been an weekly top 10 guy all year long, and won, impressively, a few weeks ago at the WGC Mexico Championship for the first time since 2013. Phil is playing his best golf in years and I would put him in my top 3 as far as guys I like to win it all. Add to the fact that Phil, at age 47, would break Jack’s record as the oldest winner at Augusta, and you have my sentimental favorite….but I think Phil gets second this weekend.
Jason Day, for whatever reason, always seems to underwhelm at Augusta. He does have two top 3’s here, but those happened in 2011 and 2013. I have no reason to believe Day will challenge this weekend. Jon Rahm started the season on fire, but has tapered off a bit lately. Factor in that this will be only his second Masters, and I am steering clear of Rahm this weekend. Rickie is being Rickie this year, and by that I mean he is in contention but not winning. Sure, he won the Hero World Challenge in the late fall, but that is a tiny field and doesn’t really count, in my humble opinion. Rickie will pull a Rickie this year again, and finish with a top 25 and will wait at 18 to see if his pals Bubba or Justin Thomas can pull it out.
The winner this week very well might come from this group, but I beg to differ.
THE VALUE BETS
Alex Noren (40-1), Henrik Stenson (40-1), Adam Scott (60-1), Ian Poulter (75-1)
Two Swedes, an Aussie, and an abrasive Brit walk into a pub and order Zimas…we all know the joke. As much as I hate Ian Poulter (as do most American fans), there’s no denying that his Medinah putter is on fire. He’s rolling it in from everywhere, and his late inclusion into this week’s tournament is quite remarkable. It was widely believed that Poulter would have been in last weekend if he survived pool play at the WGC – Match Play by virtue of moving into the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings. He did, indeed, win his group, but he ended up getting smoked by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6 in the round of 16, and would up at world #51, just fractional points out of the Masters auto-bid. After this revelation, he knew he had one chance to get into the field: win the Houston Open, and he did…remarkably, by confidently rolling a 20 footer in on 18 to force a playoff. He then watched Beau Hossler implode on the 1st playoff hole, did his annoying Poults Ryder Cup celebration, and was onto Augusta this week playing his best golf in years. At 75-1, it’s a hell of a value bet, but let’s hope that Poulter runs out of steam because he sucks dong.
Adam Scott has been MIA for a while, but has started playing better golf lately. He’s made six of his last seven cuts, and let us not forget that he won here in 2013. I don’t think he wins nor even places in the top 10, but at 60-1, maybe it’s worth taking a shot. As for the Swedes, Noren and Stenson, they’ve both been playing well lately. Stenson, who was on top of the golf world less than two years ago, went through a long stretch of mediocrity, but has since placed in the top 10 in three of his past PGA Tournaments and 2 of his past three European Tournaments. Never count out the stoic Swede, as he is one of the best ball strikers alive. Aside from Poulter, Noren might be the best putter in the world right now. He’s quietly world #15, and finished third in both the Honda Classic and WGC – Match Play, as well as runner-up at Torrey Pines. All this said, he has only played in one Masters, last year, and missed the cut.
These four foreigners have a good shot this week, but in the end, it will be an American reclaiming the Green Jacket.
I was going to include a “Dark Horses” category, but I just don’t see anyone pulling it off in that group. If you’re into living on the edge, Xander Schauffele (80-1), Brian Harman (80-1), Tyrrel Hatton (80-1), and Rafa Cabrera Bello (125-1) are some suggestions, but don’t put your money on them. My pick to win the 2018 Masters has four top ten finishes in the last six Masters, and also finished as Low Amateur in his debut in 1998. He has missed the cut only once – in 2002 – in his eleven appearances at Augusta National. This golfer is a fan favorite who finished solo second last July at Royal Birkdale. He has not missed a cut this year, and has three top 10’s in his 2018 campaign. That’s right, it’s 2016 Olympic Bronze Medalist Matt Kuchar (50-1).
“Koooooch!” will echo through the pines on Sunday at Augusta, as he and friend (and fellow “nice guy”) Phil Mickelson go toe-to-toe on the back nine. Look, as online’s @PhilPickleson, I’d love to see Phil win his fourth Green Jacket and break Jack’s seniority record at Augusta, but the last three Master’s winners have been first-time major winners, and I expect that trend to continue this week. Aside from Rickie Fowler, Kuch, at WGR #20, is likely the guy who holds the dubious “Best Player to Not Win a Major” title. Fowler will get his, someday, I truly believe that, but at age 39, it’s Kuchar’s time. This non-gambling golf fan will be putting $50 on Kuch to win $2500, so even if you don’t like golf and are more looking forward to the Westworld season 2 debut Sunday rather than this Sunday (the second best sports Sunday of the year), at least check in and pull for ya mans Philly Pickles to win some cheese.
Good luck, friends.