The 2016 Golf Masters

April 5th, 2016 | Marten Julian's Guest Contributor News

By Paul Day

The Masters, the first golf major of the year, starts on Thursday on the majestic Augusta National course. It is the only major which is played on the same course every year. In my view this tournament is one of the best sporting events of the year.

The whole organisation of the tournament, the standards of behaviour of the crowd – the patrons as they are known at Augusta, the setting within the grounds and finally the amazing course itself – makes for another incredible tournament.

The course hasn’t been altered this year. Often Augusta will make a few tweaks but it doesn’t appear they have made any this year. The management – the Green Jackets as they are known – have released that they are in the process of buying a little more land to enable them to move the tee back slightly on the dogleg par 5 13th.

It is rumoured they were not happy that Bubba Watson drove over the trees on the corner of dogleg to reduce their iconic par 5 to a drive and a 9 iron. The hole is set up for the drive to be drawn slightly and the second shot to be played from a hanging lie over Rae’s creek onto the green from over 200 yards out. This is the challenge they rightly want to preserve.

My preview from last year covered some other aspects about the course and this is still available within the Blogs section in this area of Marten’s website. It might be of interest particularly since the course remains the same.

History shows Augusta is a course where certain players do well, while others don’t. All courses favour certain types of players and I suspect this factor is more even pronounced at Augusta. Generally it favours the longer hitters more than normal championship course.

This is due to two principal reasons, – the first is that the long hitters have an advantage on each of their four par 5s. The second is that the 2nd and the 8th, are really only reachable by the longest hitters.

The 13th and the 15th require a second shot to be played from range over Rae’s creek, the shorter that second shot is the easier it is to both clear the water and to stop the ball on the green.

If you go through the green, the pin positions for both holes make it difficult to get up and down for the birdie. In fact with certain pin locations, it is very dangerous to be over the green because the water at the front is in play if the player hits the ball slightly too hard from beyond the green.

The second reason, and probably the more important one, is that the long hitters are playing their second shots from closer range allowing a more lofted iron and a higher approach shot. This enables these players to stop the ball more easily on the lightning fast, firm greens.

The long hitters generally win, from Jack Nicklaus in his day to Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and more recently Bubba Watson. They are all long hitters who have worn the coveted Green Jacket.

Sir Nick Faldo won three Masters, and in 2007, when exceptionally fast conditions prevailed, Zach Johnson won. Both were short hitters so on occasion the short hitter can prevail but it is quite rare.

The course tests every aspect of your game, particularly chipping and putting. Those that are weak at chipping, like Martin Kaymer, generally don’t fare well but it is absolutely paramount you putt well if you are to be in contention at the end of the tournament.

This is why players like Garcia and Westwood, although great players in their time, have struggled to win at Augusta and it may be this is the reason that has held back McIlroy to date.

McIlroy is a streaky putter in my opinion. If he’s confident and relaxed and starts to hole a few putts, he can get better and better, but equally he isn’t as consistent at putting and it’s definitely the weakest part of his game.

The pressure mounts as the tournament progresses, and the old saying the tournament starts on the back nine on Sunday does hold true. Players have to be able to cope with the pressure, because every shot carries danger at Augusta and holding a lead is probably more difficult there than at most other championship courses. There have been some spectacular failures – Norman in 1996 springs to mind – but more recently McIlroy collapsed when holding a three-shot lead entering the final 9 holes.

The normal pin placements on Sunday do allow more birdies if the players can make the shots, and thus most years the leaders have to attack to make birdies on the back nine to win.

Generally the top players win a higher proportion of time than at the other Majors, but whether this is the course coupled with the pressure of the magnitude Masters, I don’t know.

The final element that is hugely important is course management and, probably, intelligence.

The players will know the strategies surrounding each hole, however when things go wrong, experience counts and shots can be saved or lost with strategy.

Over 72 holes at the Augusta National decision making will count.

Only this week I watched a programme documenting the remarkable victory of Jack Nicklaus in 1986 and Jack explained how he thought Seve Ballesteros had made an error with his club selection for his second shot on the 15th that, in his view, cost Seve the tournament.

Not many players can go to Augusta and be competitive from their first tournament.

Spieth’s play in his first two Masters may identify him as being exceptionally clever, as well as being a top player.

So who is going to win? It is always difficult to find the winner of any golf tournament, but the Masters is generally slightly easier because there is a smaller field. This year I feel it is more difficult because my clear intended selection is in such poor form.

I start by looking at the long hitters as they are the more likely winners.

Bubba Watson is at the top of the list, he has won two Masters, loves the course, has the length and the touch around the greens. He definitely has a chance and his price has shortened to around 11.5/1 on Betfair. This is still fair value in my opnion.

Dustin Johnson is in good form, finishing third last week in Houston. He is putting very well and his game should be ideally suited to Augusta. However his record is not as good as you’d expect for such a long hitter. He must also carry some mental scars from his losses in other Majors. I admire his tenacity and his courage and hope one day he will win a Major his talent deserves, but I would be surprised if he wins this tournament. He is currently 20/1 which is reasonable value for such a good player, but he carries too many mental scars for me to advocate backing him.

McIlroy and Day are both massively long hitters, and they have good chances.

Day is the player in form having won twice already. He is the favourite at 7.8 on Betfair. I have nominated Jason Day as one of my selections for the last three years, and he’s now performing to the potential I thought he had but I can’t bring myself to think he is value at under 7/1. Day is the rightful favourite and his iron play is the best at the moment. He does have a good chance but I believe his price is too short to warrant selecting him.

Rory McIlroy is exceptionally good, his driving and iron play are excellent, but I fear for his putting on the super-fast greens. He has drifted to 9/1, which is still a little short for me.

If he drifts further to around 10/1, I think he becomes fair value.

Henrik Stenson is in good form coming into the tournament. He is a good driver of the ball and must have a fair chance, but again I don’t think he will win.

Justin Rose was tied for second last year and he has an outside chance, although his putting has been below par so far this season. I can’t select him.

Phil Mickelson loves Augusta, knows the course perfectly and is likely to go well. I think he still has an outside chance, although he hasn’t displayed the consistency necessary to win at this level for a while. He is 20/1 and this represents fair value. Hopefully you would get a good run for your money.

Adam Scott is another player in form with two PGA victories this year. He loves the course and is a past winner. He is rumoured to have Steve Williams on his bag, and this could help him. Scott has had to change from the long handle putter back to a conventional putter and so far he’s looked good with it, but I do have concerns that his putting may not stand up to the severest test on the Augusta greens. At 12.5/1, he is too short for me.

Oosthuizen is a player I admire and he does have a reasonable chance. He’s solid, sound mentally and he has made a play off at Augusta. He makes my short list and at 40 on Betfair is good value.

Rickie Fowler is steadily developing into one of the elite players. He could win, but he hasn’t really challenged yet at Augusta. He is improving and must have a chance this year. However at 19/1 I prefer not to back him until he has demonstrated his ability on the course.

Matsuyama is another player making his way to the top. He has a good all round game and he might go well this year. He doesn’t have the course form that I am looking for, so at 45/1 I couldn’t recommend backing him.

Jimmy Walker is over 100/1 on Betfair and he is playing reasonable well. He might go well at a longer price. He has shown good form on the course and he has closed out tournaments in the past. I think he is the best value of the players who are 100/1 or more.

Jordan Spieth is the puzzle I am struggling to solve. He is not the longest hitter, although I sense he plays within himself and can add a few yards when the risk reward factor favours going for that extra distance. He is statistically the best putter from between 15 and 25 feet – a key range for making birdies. He has played twice at Augusta, leading until the 12th in the final round on his first visit and winning last year equalling the course record. He is my natural selection but he has played badly this season. There is no other way of saying it. He is out of form, even his overall putting statistics are not great, and it should be impossible for any player to win unless they are on top form. His price has lengthened and he continues to drift to 11/11.5 at the time of writing. I still think he has a chance, and at the current price of longer if he keeps drifting which is what I expect, I think he is a back.

Last year he was my number one pick and I had more confidence when I selected him than when selecting for any other golf tournament. I don’t have the same level of optimism last year, but I hope he plays well. He has shown glimpses of brilliance, in the first six holes of the final round last week, when his putting was exceptional. I don’t know if he can reproduce good form this week and there’s no doubt you are taking a chance by backing him.

However he is super bright, a proven winner, the best putter by far when he’s on form and I’m hoping if he gets near the lead he just might play to his potential. If he does, he wins.

I’ll stick with Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen and Jordan Spieth as my three selections.

Enjoy the tournament. It will be fun to watch.