As usual, the Masters has no shortage of interesting storylines, and this year’s version is no exception. Here are some of the biggest storylines, along with best bets from Brady Kannon, Wes Reynolds and Matt Youmans.
Storylines to watch
Will he or won't he?
Tiger Woods is on the grounds at Augusta National looking to play his first event 14 months after his horrific car crash. He is a perfect 21-for-21 in Masters cuts made as a professional, and for the first time in his career that streak could be in potential jeopardy.
Grand Slam or Grand Slump?
It is hard to believe that Rory McIlroy last won a major championship on August 10, 2014. This means that the 2022 Masters will be the eighth time for him to try and complete golf's version of the modern Grand Slam, which has only been accomplished by five players -- Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
Masters of their domain?
Numerous contenders such as Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka have been vying for their first Masters victory after years of close calls.
It is not just Tiger that comes in with questions regarding health and fitness. Top contenders like Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, and Bryson DeChambeau are coming to Augusta in less-than-ideal health.
Two months ago, Scottie Scheffler was seeking his first PGA Tour victory; now he has three in less than two months. He will come to Augusta making his first start as the new World No. 1. Can he live up to new expectations?
Reynolds: The Masters Tournament began in 1934 and has been held at the Augusta National Golf Club each year. Since 1949, a green jacket is awarded to the champion who must return it to the clubhouse one year after his victory, although it remains his personal property and is stored with other champions' jackets in a specially designated cloakroom. The winner also receives a sterling replica of the Masters trophy and a gold medal to go along with the green jacket.
Spectators are scheduled to return to the event, but in reduced numbers with social distancing requirements put in place.
Players will need to be in the Top 50, including ties, in order to make the cut.
There are 91 players comprising this week’s field for the 2022 Masters, all of whom I’ve broken down right here.
Reynolds: Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA has hosted the Masters Tournament since 1934 and this will be the 86th Masters (cancelled from 1943-1945 due to World War II). ANGC was designed in 1933 by Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones. It is a Par 72 of 7,510 yards that plays longer than its listed yardage. Augusta National usually plays to its standard firm and fast conditions. ANGC is a classical, undulating meadowlands track. Water is in play on five holes. The fairways are Overseeded Perennial Ryegrass with Bermuda grass base. The rough isn't very thick (1.5') but there are trees and pine straws that provide obstacles after errant tee shots.
Meanwhile, the greens are Bentgrass that will be fast and slick and run from 13-14 feet on the stimpmeter. Shots not in the right spots can fall into tough, shaved run-offs. The lack of rough around the green complexes creates indecision both with approach shots and recovery chips. Longer hitters certainly benefit here, and players must take advantage of the Par 5s, but on-target approach shots are what put you in position to win here.
There are 41 bunkers and six water hazards and a whole lotta pine straw scattered across the grounds. Unless there’s an untimely tree in the way, however, the pine straw isn’t the end of the world. The Bentgrass greens are around Tour average in size; the major difference are the wild undulations. These are some of the hilliest and fastest putting surfaces the players will encounter all year.
No course really is a direct comparison nor has a direct correlation to Augusta National, but Muirfield Village, Plantation Course at Kapalua, Bay Hill, Riviera CC, Accordia Golf Narashino, Torrey Pines, and Quail Hollow have had the most common characteristics and most common winners.
Masters Recent History/Winners
2021: Hideki Matsuyama (-10/278); 45/1
2020: Dustin Johnson (-20/268); 9/1
2019: Tiger Woods (-13/275); 16/1
2018: Patrick Reed (-15/273); 50/1
2017: Sergio Garcia (-9/279); 40/1*
2016: Danny Willett (-5/283); 66/1
2015: Jordan Spieth (-18/270); 10/1
2014: Bubba Watson (-8/280); 25/1
2013: Adam Scott (-9/279); 28/1**
2012: Bubba Watson (-10/278); 50/1***
2011: Charl Schwartzel (-14/274); 90/1
2010: Phil Mickelson (-16/272); 10/1
Playoff win over Justin Rose - *
Playoff win over Angel Cabrera - **
Playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen - ***
Masters Recent Trends
· Nine of the last 10 Masters winners ranked 16th or better in the official World Golf Rankings coming into the tournament (2021, Matsuyama was 25th).
· The past 17 Masters winners have all finished Round 1 tied for 10th place or better.
· Nine of the last 12 Masters winners had played in at least three Masters tournaments before getting the victory. Going back further, this trend used to be at least six trips to Augusta before winning. The point is that experience matters here.
· Six of last 12 Masters winners had posted a win earlier that same season.
· Each of last 12 Masters winners has posted a Top 10 finish that same season.
· Nine of the last 10 Masters winners had at least two Top 15 finishes in their three events leading up to the tournament. Matsuyama in 2021 is the lone exception.
· The Masters defending champion has not successfully defended his title since Tiger Woods (2002).
· In 2020, Dustin Johnson became the first World No. 1 to win the Masters since Tiger Woods (2002).
· Dating back to 2007, only two event winners the week before the Masters finished Top 10 or better at Augusta (Anthony Kim, third in 2010; Jordan Spieth, winner in 2021).
Justin Thomas 14-1 (Caesars Sportsbook)
Reynolds: Phil Mickelson may not be in the field this week, but his longtime caddie that was on the bag for all of his Masters victories is at Augusta. Jim “Bones” Mackay liked working in television, but always had the itch to return as a caddie for the right player. That player for “Bones” is Justin Thomas. Before last year’s T-21st, Thomas had shown incremental improvement every year at Augusta, capped off by finishing fourth in 2020 (where he was the 36-hole leader).
It is hard to believe that Thomas has not won a major since 2017 in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. He just hasn’t been able to put all the puzzle pieces together. This is where Mackay comes in to help him read the putts on these tricky greens and knowing which holes to play it safe and which holes are there to be attacked.
Thomas has not been far from winning as of late with six finishes of eighth or better in his last nine events. He led the field for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green in a third-place effort at the Valspar Championship. Over the last 24 rounds, Thomas is the No. 1 player in this field in Strokes Gained: Total and second for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green.
He has also gained over three strokes on the greens in two of his last three starts. If he can putt like that, then we may be looking at this year’s Masters champion because his usual world-class ball striking looks in even better shape than usual coming into Augusta.
Rory McIlroy 18-1 (Caesars Sportsbook)
Reynolds: This will be McIlroy’s eighth year chasing the elusive career grand slam. It has also been nearly eight years since McIlroy has won a major of any kind (2014 PGA Championship). In his bid to win the career grand slam, McIlroy has tried nearly everything. He's played a lot. He's played very little. He's gone to Augusta National early. He's gone to Augusta National late. He's convinced himself that the Masters is the only tournament that exists. Nothing has worked to this point.
McIlroy has the whole package to win here at Augusta, but his irons have let him down here often in recent years. According to Justin Ray of Twenty First Group, McIlroy ranks 54th in strokes gained on approach shots of the 74 golfers who have at least 10 rounds at Augusta since 2015 (he's second off the tee and 16th in putting). He is still one of the game’s best off the tee despite his obvious frustration in not being able to match Bryson DeChambeau’s length. McIlroy won twice in 2021 – Wells Fargo Championship and CJ Cup at the Summit – and it still felt like a down year because he is now being judged, fairly or unfairly, by his performance in major championships.
The pressure of trying to become just the sixth man to complete the career grand slam has gotten to him in the past. However, the longer the pursuit goes, the less of a story it becomes. It will be even less of a story should one of those five grand slam winners, Tiger Woods, decides to give it a go at Augusta this week. That could lead to Rory falling under the radar, which would probably be the best thing for him.
Kannon: I believe Rory, like many other top players in the field, are benefitting from all the attention that is being paid to Tiger Woods. The story this year, finally, is not about McIlroy completing the Career Grand Slam. Like DJ and Koepka, when I see the price on Rory drift up to 20-1 or higher, I have to look closer. Rory missed the cut at Augusta last year but prior to that finished fifth, 21st, fifth, seventh, 10th, fourth and eighth. He’s too good around here to not be in the hunt once again. He checks three big boxes for me this week: Scrambling, Par 5 Scoring, and Strokes Gained Off The Tee. He’s Top 10 in the field in all three categories.
Dustin Johnson (18-1)
Youmans: A buy sign on DJ finally showed two weeks ago when he beat Brooks Koepka to reach the Match Play semifinals in Austin, Texas. Johnson has been out of sorts too often since winning at Augusta in November 2020. In fact, he missed the cut as defending champion last April. Still, his Masters form is too good to ignore. Prior to his missed cut and win, Johnson posted four consecutive top 10s, including second- and fourth-place finishes. His tee-to-green play should be about as good as it gets this week, so he can win if the flat stick gets hot.
Kannon: I was waiting for 20-1 or better to show up, but I don't believe it will now after DJ shot a 63 in the final round at The Players Championship and advanced in the Match Play to the semifinals. His game is really starting to come around again after for being off the mark for the past year. Due to his play being less than sharp, Johnson dropped out of the Top 10 in the world rankings for the first time in quite a while and I believe this serves as motivation. He really liked being the world No. 1. In his Masters title defense in 2021, Dustin Johnson missed the cut. Prior to this, he had finished first, second, 10th, fourth and sixth. I think he's going to be right there again this year, so I am fine settling for 18-1.
Brooks Koepka (20-1)
Kannon: Koepka only cares about the majors, right? I doubt that is completely true, but they certainly get his full attention -- he already has four major championships to his credit at just 31 years old. The Masters has eluded him however, and in a couple of instances, it was due to injury. He skipped the tournament in 2018 with a wrist injury and could barely walk the course in 2021 with a knee injury (and eventually missed the cut). Prior to last year's missed cut, Koepka finished seventh, second and 11th. Like DJ, I think Kopeka will be right there again this year, and for me 20-1 is fair.
Youmans: The blonde bomber still has the swagger of John Wayne, even while his recent results fail to back up the bravado. Koepka is 0-for-9 in majors since winning his fourth at the PGA in 2019. With injury excuses in the rear-view mirror, he’s bringing something close to his ‘A’ game to Augusta, where he has two top 10s in his past three starts. I did not plan to bet on DJ or Koepka in this Masters until each started to heat up in recent weeks, so with their odds drifting to the 20-1 range, it’s time to go for the green.
Patrick Cantlay 25-1 (DraftKings)
Reynolds: “Patty Ice” currently sits No. 5 in the world and not only is the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year with three PGA Tour wins (Memorial, BMW Championship and Tour Championship) in 2021, but also is the defending FedEx Cup champion.
However, the golf world is still waiting for what seems like an inevitable breakthrough in a major. Cantlay only currently has one Top 5 in 19 career majors (T-3rd in the 2019 PGA Championship). He has proven that he can go low at Augusta National with a third-round 64 to vault himself into contention in 2019, plus had a share of the lead on Sunday’s back nine that year before two late bogeys dropped him to a T-9th finish. Cantlay is also a two-time winner of The Memorial Tournament, held at Muirfield Village which Jack Nicklaus designed as his tribute to Augusta National.
Cantlay has had two cracks at victories already in 2022 but finished T-4th at Pebble Beach and lost in a three-hole playoff to Scottie Scheffler in Phoenix.
Cantlay is No. 1 in this field for Strokes Gained: Total over the last 36 rounds (No. 2 over the last 50 rounds). The overall game is there to win the green jacket if he has figured out the speed and undulations on these Augusta greens.
Cameron Smith (40-1)*
Youmans: The asterisk means this price, which I bet at 41-1 on Jan. 7 after Smith outdueled Jon Rahm in Maui, is no longer remotely available and has moved to the 16-1 range. I would not play Smith on the futures board now, but he’s an appealing matchup option. The 28-year-old Aussie is in his prime and on the upswing. He’s not exceptionally long off the tee, yet he is long enough, and his iron play can be pinpoint. In five Masters starts, Smith has finished second, fifth and 10th. Another player to watch in this price range is Sam Burns at 50-1.
Kannon: I believe the Plantation Course at Kapalua does have some correlation with Augusta National. Both have a great deal of elevation change, wide fairways, very little rough and large greens. Many Masters champions have also won at this course: Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, and Zach Johnson. When Smith was the 36-hole leader at Kapalua back in January, I bet him to win The Masters at 40-1. I knew his odds would fall if he went on to win over the weekend and I also liked his past success at Augusta, having finished 10th, second and fifth in previous visits. Smith did go on to win the Tournament of Champions and added a win at The Players Championship in March. His odds are now in the neighborhood of 15-1 to win The Masters. If I could get 20-1, I would probably still make a play.
Shane Lowry (46-1)
Reynolds: Lowry is here by virtue of his winning of the Claret Jug in the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, his last win anywhere worldwide. Nonetheless, he has shown some solid and consistent form as of late, finishing 24th or better in his last seven stroke play events worldwide. His runner-up finish at the Honda Classic last month is his standout performance.
Lowry also aced the 17th island green at THE PLAYERS a few weeks ago leading to a T-13th finish. He went just 1-2 in group play in Brooks Koepka’s group and failed to advance at the WGC-Dell Match Play.
Lowry can struggle driving the ball, but his approach play has been on point of late ranking fifth for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 36 rounds. While he is not a big hitter, it is surprising that his best finish here was a T-21st that came last year. His short-term form is also peaking right now, as he leads this field for Strokes Gained: Total over the last 12 rounds.
Kannon: Lowry has played The Masters six times. For many years, this was the amount of trips to Augusta needed before a player was likely to win it. We have seen players with fewer trips win The Masters in the last 15 years, but the point is that it takes a few laps around this track before one has the knowledge and experience to crack the Augusta code -- so I like that Lowry has now been here a handful of times. He is also a major champion, a world golf champion and has Ryder Cup experience, all of which tells me he can win on the biggest stages. I got this at 100-1, and I’m now seeing anywhere from 55 to 70-1 to win this year's Masters. He's off to a great start this season with a second-place finish at the Honda Classic, a 13th at The Players and a 12th at the Valspar. He has finished Top 25 in his last two visits to Augusta.
Tony Finau 74-1 (Circa Sports)
Reynolds: Finau has finished Top 10 or better here at Augusta in three of his four appearances. He also got the winless monkey off his back, as he broke a near 5.5-year drought with a win last August at The Northern Trust in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. However, he comes to Augusta in arguably the worst form he has ever had prior to the year’s first major.
Finau’s best finish in 2022 came in the year’s opening event at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he finished T-19th in a field of just 38 players. The ball striking, especially on approach, has been relatively solid, but Finau’s short game both on and around the greens has been an absolute mess. In fact, he rates 79th in this field of 91 players over the last 36 rounds for Strokes Gained: Putting and is 201st overall with the flat stick on the tour this season. That number even rates lower than some of the amateurs in the field that have PGA Tour starts.
Nevertheless, this is close to double the price that he was last year at The Masters, and a return to Augusta might be what he needs to turn around what has thus far been a miserable 2022.
Adam Scott 76-1 (Circa Sports)
Reynolds: After blowing The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2012, Scott rebounded to win the 2013 Masters over 2009 champion Angel Cabrera in a playoff. Becoming the OWGR No. 1 soon followed, but a second major championship has not for a man that we all thought was going to win multiple majors.
Towards the end of 2019 and at the beginning of 2020, Scott looked like he was going to have a bit of a career resurgence winning the Australian PGA Championship and the Genesis Invitational over the course of a two-month period. Then, COVID-19 stalled the momentum.
At the start of 2022, Scott was ranked OWGR No. 50. He had not finished a year outside the Top 50 since 2000. This year, he has posted four Top 10s in seven worldwide events and reached the Round of 16 in the WGC-Dell Match Play, an event he skips often, with wins over Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth before being eliminated by eventual runner-up Kevin Kisner.
Putting has been the weakness for much of Scott’s career, but now it seems to be his strength. He has not missed a cut here since 2009 and was the 36-hole leader here just three years ago, so he is always a threat to play well here.
Joaquin Niemann (87-1)
Youmans: The handicappers who like to factor in courses correlated to Augusta will have to give a look to Niemann, who was sensational in a win at Riviera in February. He rips it off the tee, is strong with the irons and excels on bentgrass greens. The 23-year-old Chilean has only six rounds of experience at Augusta, but the price is right on this rising star.
Reynolds: With a T-6th at the Farmers Insurance Open and a T-8th at the Saudi International, Niemann telegraphed a victory in the not-too-distant future. That future was two weeks later as the 23-year-old Chilean earned the biggest win of his career at the Genesis Invitational.
In that Genesis victory, he held off some of the world's best chasing after him including Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, and Viktor Hovland.
He has yet to follow up that victory in the short time since, but his tee-to-green game has been one of the best (fifth) on the PGA Tour over the last 24 rounds, and Riviera has historically proven to be a good guide for success at Augusta.
Niemann first played the Masters as an amateur, having won the Latin America Amateur Championship and being the former No. 1 World Amateur and winning the Mark H. McCormack medal back in 2017. He does not have a great deal of experience here, but he is a different player now ranking in the OWGR Top 20. In 11 career majors, he has failed to register even a Top 20 finish.
Paul Casey 99/1 (Circa Sports)
Reynolds: Casey makes his 16th career appearance in the Masters courtesy of a top-four finish in last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. He also finished T-7th at Torrey Pines in last year’s U.S. Open. However, the winner of 21 worldwide professional events over the course of his career, Casey is still chasing that major championship triumph.
While still playing good and consistent golf, Casey is 44 years old and running short on chances to bag a major. He has a strong record at Augusta with five Top 10s including finishes of sixth, fourth and sixth from 2015-2017.
He is only four weeks removed from a near-miss at THE PLAYERS Championship where he was two shots off the lead and hit a perfect drive on the 16th hole only for it to land in a divot and eliminate a birdie opportunity, forcing him to settle for third.
Casey only was able to play two holes in his first match at the WGC-Dell Match Play two weeks ago before back spasms forced him to concede all three matches in group play. This is buying on weakness here because there are questions regarding health and fitness, but this also may have just been precautionary and a veteran player is going to know when to save his body for bigger events like the Masters.
Thomas Pieters 125/1 (Westgate Superbook)
Reynolds: The end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 showed that the potential is still there for Pieters to be a big-time player. In November, he won the Portugal Masters for his first victory in almost two and a half years. In January, he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to rise just outside the Top 30 in the OWGR.
The former NCAA Champion at University of Illinois in 2012, Pieters has shown glimpses of brilliance during his career. He was the star of the European Ryder Cup team in 2016 at Hazeltine, going 4-1 in five matches and was the team’s leading point-getter in defeat; however, he hasn’t made a Ryder Cup team since. In 2017, he was T-4th on debut at the Masters. After missing the cut the following year, he was not qualified to receive an invitation to play until this year.
Pieters has yet to make any waves in the few events he has played stateside in 2022 and went 1-1-1 at the WGC-Dell Match Play two weeks ago. However, he has proven that he can hang with top competition in spots and at only 30 years old, there is still the potential for elite golf to come from Belgian.
He ranked second in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green on the DP World Tour in 2021. Pieters is also in the Top 10 on the DP World Tour for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green
Marc Leishman (125-1)
Kannon: The Aussie has fallen off during the Florida Swing but during the West Coast swing, he was in very good form, finishing 10th at Kapalua, 16th at Torrey Pines and 15th at Riviera. Speaking of Riviera Country Club, where they hold the Genesis Invitational, I have always felt this is one of the strongest course correlations to Augusta National and Leishman has finished Top 15 at Riviera twice and Top 5 twice. At The Masters, he has finishes of fourth, ninth, 13th, and fifth just a year ago. I think he'll find his game once again at a course he clearly likes. This is a nice number, but a Top 20 finish may be a better bet.
Cameron Champ (500-1)
Youmans: Why not bet on a longshot with pure power off the tee? Champ’s current form is less than impressive, but he’s got some course form with two top-30 finishes in his two trips to Augusta. He has carded three sub-70 scores in his eight rounds. Champ’s long odds at Circa Sports hooked me, and I also took triple-digit shots on Seamus Power (125-1), Justin Rose (128-1) and Cameron Young (425-1).