We’re now just a matter of weeks away from the first of golf’s four major tournaments.
There’s always a lot of debate about which is the biggest of the four but if you ask the players which one they want to win more than any other – The Masters would probably come out ahead.
This would almost certainly be the case with players from the American side of the pond, so it’s perhaps no surprise that golfers from the host nation have the upper hand. Over the past 20 Masters tournaments, American golfers have won over 50% – with 12 wins. Of course, Tiger Woods helps skew these stats somewhat with four wins on his own account, beginning in 1997, whilst Bubba Watson has also won two of the last three tournaments.
Woods, though, hasn’t won a Masters for a decade and isn’t really expected to go all that well in this year’s tournament. As things stand, he’s generally in the region of 25/1 in the golf betting market. His compatriot, Watson, however, is given a far better chance by the market at around 14/1.
Understandably, Rory McIlroy, who is only missing this competition from his career major wins, is currently around the 7/2 mark with the bookmakers. But the 25 year-old Northern Irishman, who has been questioning the USA’s Ryder Cup strategy, hasn’t fared as well in this tournament as others. In fact, his best finish at Augusta so far was a relatively measly tie for eighth place in last year’s event. This is a poor performance for a man who currently holds both the Open Championship and US PGA titles, so perhaps the target golf required at Augusta doesn’t really suit McIlroy’s game?
It most certainly suits Bubba Watson’s game as history has shown us. So, it’s understandable that he’s well-fancied to make it three from four. But there’s one man splitting Watson and McIlroy in the market and that’s Australian golfer Jason Day. The 27-year-old from Queensland is yet to land a major golf title. But he has been the nearly man on a number of occasions, including finishing as runner-up to Justin Rose at the 2013 US Open. But perhaps most notably, Day tied for second place in the 2011 tournament at Augusta with fellow Australian Adam Scott – who went on to win at Augusta two years later. The pair were two shots behind South African winner Charl Schwartzel.
Day is around a 12/1 chance with the market, whilst compatriot Scott is a best-priced 16/1 and Schwartzel is a big-priced 50/1 chance for punters who think he can do it again in Georgia.
Another golfer many expect to win a major title very soon is the young Texan, 21 year-old Jordan Spieth (pictured below left).
Spieth is a golf legend in waiting as things stand. At such tender years, it’s understandable that he hasn’t yet bagged one of the big four tournaments. But he came very close at Augusta in 2014, tying for second place with 30-year-old Swedish golfer Jonas Blixt and three shots away from eventual victor Bubba Watson.
When you think that Spieth hadn’t even received the 21-year-old’s “key to the door” at the time, this was an amazing performance. So, the young Texan is clearly quite at home in Georgia in the spring and it would be no great surprise to see him going one better at some point in his career. This is a golfer who will surely win a Major sooner or later as long as he keeps things on track.
During last year’s final round, the youngster led all on his own at one point by two clear strokes and it looked like the miracle would happen. This would have made Spieth the youngest ever masters winner (Woods still retains the record at age 21). In the end, Watson was able to retake the lead going into the back nine and retained it to the finishing line.
Nevertheless, Spieth’s second place tie with Blixt still made him the youngest runner-up in the history of the masters and helped push him into the world’s top 10.
In November 2014, Spieth bagged his second tournament as a professional golfer in the Australian Open, shooting a course-record 63 along the way to win by six clear shots. Then just a week later, he won the Hero World Challenge event in Florida having led more or less from the outset and with an eventual record-breaking score of 26 under par.
As things stand, the market has Spieth as 16/1 for this year’s Masters tournament. We’ve seen what he can do at his best. So, it would be no great surprise to see him donning his first green jacket and at the price, he looks better value than McIlroy given the pair’s history at Augusta.
But perhaps the next two golfers in the market, Dustin Johnson or Rose will have something to say about that?
The 30-year-old American Johnson is yet to win a major and has a pretty poor record in the Masters. But he is already moved back into the top 15 in the world rankings and will surely win a Major at some point.
Both Johnson and Englishman Justin Rose are around the 25/1 mark for the Masters. As discussed, the 34-year-old Rose won the US Open in 2013 – his first and only Major title to date. But he’s playing very well at the moment, he won last year’s Scottish Open and it would be no surprise to see him in the shake-up on the final day in this year’s Masters.
All in all it promises to be a fascinating encounter at Augusta. In particular, it will be interesting to see if the greatest golfer of the modern era, Woods, can get anything like back to his former best. Because if there’s one place he’s going to do it, it’s surely here at his second home. The Masters takes place between April 9th and 12th.