The Masters is the first of golf’s majors in the calendar year, and so by proxy it is eagerly anticipated by fans of the sport and punters in equal measure.
But there is just something about Augusta National, the host venue, which really gets the juices flowing. It’s stunning to the eye but complex to play on, and it’s difficulty – particularly when the wind is blowing – plus the pant-shredding prospect of trying on the famous green jacket for size has led to some breath-taking conclusions to this tournament over the years.
Not least last year, when good friends Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose battled it out in a play-off. The Spaniard prevailed in the end to put the gloss on another week of outstanding golf in Georgia.
Happily the 2018 edition is shaping up to be an absolute humdinger too. Take a look at the betting market and you can easily make a case for the top 12-13 names listed; and that’s assuming there isn’t a shock result, such as when Danny Willett won in 2016 at a starting price of 100/1.
The Form Players
There are so many players coming into the tournament in excellent form that it is so tough to separate the field. In the past few weeks alone we’ve seen Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey and Jason Day win PGA Tour events, as well as the two-time champion Bubba Watson.
How can we forget the world number one Dustin Johnson, the FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas, last year’s winner Garcia and the runner-up Rose, and a trio of exceptional talents in Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama as well?
One of the factors to consider in Masters predictions: Who’s played well at Augusta in the past three years? A couple of names might surprise you on this list. @MattFitz94 @DanielBerger59 pic.twitter.com/YAwhLBj7LK
— Mark Broadie (@MarkBroadie) 3 April 2018
Whisper it, but there are two other curveballs to consider: Jordan Spieth, who has won once at Augusta and finished second twice. The three-time major winner is having some real problems with his putter, but who would write off a man with the ‘X Factor’ that Spieth possesses?
And there’s a Tiger in town, too. Despite his personal problems and various injuries, Tiger Woods is back and playing some sublime golf at the minute. The four-time Masters champion, with eleven top-10 finishes in this event in all….well, he couldn’t, could he?
Key Trends to Consider
To make life easier for punters fancying a flutter on the first major of the year, here are some intriguing trends and patterns that tend to be of relevance year on year at Augusta:
A Young Man’s Game
Each of the last ten – and 19 of the last 20 – winners of The Masters were aged under 40 at the time of their triumph.
There have been a number of 39-year-olds – good news for Bubba Watson backers – but nobody past the big 4-0 has slipped into the green jacket since Mark O’Meara (who was 41 at the time) in 1998.
That, statistically at least, discounts Phil Mickelson, Tiger, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson of those towards the head of the betting market this year.
Class is Permanent
It won’t surprise you to note that the best players tend to have their day in the majors, and The Masters is no exception.
Nine of the last ten champions were ranked inside the top 30 of the Official World Golf Rankings at the time of their win.
The exception to the rule was Angel Cabrera in 2009, who was ranked 69th.
Indeed, each of the last six champions have been ranked inside the world’s top 20; a trend which would discount Bubba, Patrick Reed, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen from the rollcall of potential winners.
Horses for Courses
There are a trio of anomalies in Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel and Zach Johnson, but generally speaking you are looking for players who have enjoyed relative success at Augusta in the past.
Since the year 2000, 15 of the 18 Masters champions had recorded a top-25 finish at Augusta prior to their win, with 12/18 delivering a top-10 finish and 10/18 finishing inside the top-three.
The unique conditions at this sublime course – as well as the pressures that are attached to playing in arguably the biggest major in world golf outside of The Open – dictate that familiarity is the key.
According to the theory, we can eliminate the likes of Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Alex Noren from our shortlists.
Sergio Oh No
He’d love to re-write the history books, but unfortunately The Masters has not proven too kind to defending champions over the years, and so Sergio Garcia may have to take one last look at the green jacket before handing it over to somebody else on Sunday April 8.
Nobody since Tiger Woods in 2002 has successfully defended their title, and you have to go back more than a decade prior to that to find Nick Faldo as the preceding champion to retain in 1990.
Prior to Faldo, the last champion to defend was Jack Nicklaus in 1966! Good luck with that, Sergio.