Paul Day’s Preview of The Masters
April 8th, 2019 | Marten Julian's Guest Contributor News
Thursday sees the start of the The Masters. It is the only major that is played at the same venue every year, the iconic Augusta National Course.
The grounds are always in pristine condition, no expense is spared to make this venue one of the most beautiful sporting in the world. The grass is like a carpet. It is perfectly prepared, cut to exact measurements – fairways 3/8th of an inch, second cut which is their rough is 1 and 3/8th inch, green collars ¼ inch and greens are shaved as close as they can get them, 1/8th inch or less.
The second cut was added some years back because it reduced the players’ ability to impart backspin, thus making it more difficult to hold the ball on the fast firm greens. Fairways are always mown in the direction heading towards the tee to reduce roll, it effectively adds to the course’s length, which is now a hugely challenging 7,475 yards. This adds to the advantage of the longer hitters.
Fast, firm greens are really the course’s protection. Although to the naked eye the greens don’t appear so undulating, close inspection shows all the greens are sloping. When these slopes are coupled with the green’s extreme speed, Augusta National provides an extreme examination for the players.
Every green has an underground heating system so the tournament management can control the firmness and speed almost regardless of the weather. Putting is always important in golf tournaments, and it’s generally a premium at Augusta.
The course has evolved over the years. Generally holes have been lengthened and this year is no exception with 40 yards being added to the already difficult 5th hole. It’s now an uphill, 495 yard, par 4 with a huge bunker covering the left hand side of the fairway. The green was already one of the most difficult, making it the 5th most difficult hole. The increased length means very few players, if any, can now take the bunker out of play by driving over it. Driving accuracy will be required, and approach shots will be longer. This hole may well challenge the infamous 11th as the most difficult this year.
The question then comes as to who will win and don the Green Jacket.
The course tests all aspects of a player’s game, including course management, and dare I say it, the player’s intelligence. Course form is important. Longer hitters generally have a greater advantage at Augusta than on most courses because approach shots from closer range have more likelihood of stopping on the firm greens.
It’s always difficult to pick the winner of any golf tournament because there are so many players. Augusta does have a shortened field and has a tradition whereby past champions have an invite until the Committee inform them their standard is no longer good enough, thus you do reduce the players with a real chance to somewhere around 85, compared with around 154 in the other majors. It does give you a slightly better chance. This year, though, has proven difficult for me, primarily because I don’t fancy the favourites.
McIlroy is the favourite at around 8/1 and he has shown excellent form in recent weeks. His driving and iron play is of the highest quality. I do, though, remain concerned about his putting on the super fast greens and therefore can’t fancy him at the price.
Dustin Johnson is great to watch. He is long, possesses great touch but he doesn’t have good course form, so again I prefer to pass over him.
Justin Thomas is also becoming a great player but to date has struggled to cope with the challenge set by Augusta National.
Brooks Koepka, a three-time major winner and one of my favourite players, is slightly out of form at the moment and therefore I can’t recommend him.
Patrick Reed, the defending champion, decided to change his swing and is really struggling to find any form.
Jordan Spieth, a player who excels at the course and is one of the best putters ever to play the game, is also struggling for form. Spieth has played a bit better in this week’s PGA tour event, and just maybe this will kick start his season. I love Spieth at Augusta, he has challenged most years and already has a victory, but you are taking a big chance with his form. At 20/1, he is about right in terms of the market price but I prefer others.
Ricky Fowler is present on the leader boards most weeks but I’m not sure about him at Augusta.
I keep looking at Tiger Woods. It’s barely believable that he has recovered from his serious injuries and mental anguish, but in my opinion he is beginning to look very good. His driving is long, his general game is strong, the only question mark I have relates to his putting. I would not put anyone off him. I thought it was impossible for him to win another major but now I think he can. The dream is on, he just might win, but deep down, I don’t think he will this week.
The European challenge is strong, led by Garcia, Stenson and Molinari. Of the three, Molinari would be my preferred choice based on his solid all-round game, coupled with excellent putting. He could add a Masters to his Open Championship. At 25/1 he is reasonable value, but I think he is not quite long enough to win on this course.
The British challenge is strong too. We have the older guard of Rose, Casey and Poulter together with our young guns of Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick, Pepperell, Wallace and Hatton. I like these young players, they are all promising but, as yet, I’d be surprised if they could win.
Poulter and Casey are in good form and just maybe have outside chances but the one I much prefer is Justin Rose. He is a solid player, has a great temperament, good course form and is a proven winner. I do have a question mark over his putting but I am prepared to take a chance on that and he is one of my two selections. At 16 on Betfair, I think he is good value.
I have always liked Louis Oosthuizen. He has recovered from injury, has good course form and is playing well. He is now trading at 50 on Betfair and he is fair value.
I slightly prefer, though, Mark Leishman who is trading at 60 on Betfair. Leishman has good course form too, is in good form right now and has matured into a top player. He has not won a major championship as yet but at 60 I think he represents good value and he just gets my second selection.
Good luck to all, I’m sure the tournament will be a feast for all golf fans and let’s hope the two selections, Justin Rose and Mark Leishman, give us a run for our money.