I believe it was here in Point Spread Weekly that I said last season, this has to be the most highly anticipated Masters 40 years or so. Well, I think we’ve eclipsed last year’s buzz with the 2019 edition. Tiger Woods is back but this time he has a win under his belt since making his return to competitive golf and he’s ascended all the way to the 12th-ranked player in the world. Last year we saw his odds go from 100/1 all the way down to 20 or 25/1. This season, Tiger is one of the favorites, just down from the top of the board at 14/1. His long time adversary, Phil Mickelson, already has a win this season. Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson are swapping spots atop the world ranking it seems on a weekly basis, Masters savant, Jordan Spieth, has been in awful form and comes in with huge intrigue as to what he’ll show us this week, Tommy Fleetwood leads the ticket count to win the tournament at most Las Vegas sportsbooks, and world No. 3, Rory McIlroy is playing some of the best golf of his career, looking to complete the career grand slam.
I could go on with compelling storylines for nearly every one of the 87 players in this year’s field, but along with this, what is really fueling the buzz for this particular Masters is that the excitement for golf betting increases every year and it doesn’t hurt that the star power is currently as deep as it’s ever been in the sport. When asked if they anticipate this to be the biggest betting handle ever for The Masters, Westgate’s Jeff Sherman says, “It’s on par with last year, so far” but Nick Bogdanovich of William Hill simply says, “for sure.”
When handicapping The Masters, we have to look at course form or how players have performed historically at Augusta National Golf Club. More so than any other tournament, The Masters produces the highest percentage of repeatability. This does not go back forever as the course was “Tiger Proofed” in 2008 and prior to this season, the already menacing Par 4 fifth hole was lengthened by 40 yards, bringing the Par 72 course to a total of nearly 7500 yards in length. Yes, Driving Distance will be important and more so over Driving Accuracy as the fairways remain generous and the rough, as is a Masters tradition, will not be especially punishing. Some of the most important skill set categories at Augusta, those that we have seen the tournament winners rank high in over the past 20 years, are Strokes Gained: Approach, Greens in Regulation, Scrambling, Par 5 Scoring, and Bogey Avoidance. As far as correlated golf courses, we have seen a great deal of crossover success with Augusta National and Riviera Country Club, home of The Genesis Open, and St. Andrew’s --The Old Course--where every British Open winner since 1970 has also won The Masters except for John Daly in 1995 and Louis Oosthuizen, who won at St. Andrew’s in 2010. Nick Faldo has won at all three courses; Augusta, Riviera and St. Andrew’s.
FULL TOURNAMENT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUP
Marc Leishman (-125) over Sergio Garcia
Leishman has twice in his career threatened to win at Augusta, finishing 4th in 2013 and beginning the weekend in the final pairing last year before slipping to 9th place in the end. Sergio, of course, won in 2017 in a playoff but it was never this major championship that most felt best suited for El Nino. Leishman ranks much higher in three key stats, Scrambling, Bogey Avoidance, and Greens in Regulation. He also took 4th at The Genesis Open with all four rounds in the 60’s back in February and he went to a playoff in The Open Championship at St. Andrew’s in 2015, eventually losing to Zach Johnson. I believe Leishman is a candidate to win The Masters this year and I cannot say the same for Garcia, who right now seems content to have just one green jacket.
MY PICKS TO WIN THE MASTERS
Jon Rahm (16/1)
Spaniard’s have a history of winners here at Augusta with Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, and most recently, Sergio Garcia. Rahm took 27th in his debut at The Masters and followed that up with a 4th-place finish last year. His length off of the tee is a bonus but knows that it comes down to the short game and creativity. Playing a great deal with fellow Arizona State Sun Devil, Phil Mickelson, Rahm has been able to garner some of what it takes around this place with Lefty, another who has length off of the tee and a great short game. Rahm has six Top 10 finishes this season and has won all over the world, including experiencing tremendous success at last year’s Ryder Cup, where he beat Tiger Woods in singles. The major stage may be his next accomplishment. He’s 3rd on Tour in 1st Round Scoring Average, and getting off to a hot start is definitely part of The Masters equation.
Louis Oosthuizen (40/1)
South African’s have a nice track record at The Masters as well; Gary Player, Trevor Immelman, and Charl Schwartzel have all won it while it was Louis that lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson in 2012. Oosthuizen has never won in the U.S. but did bag a major championship at St. Andrew’s and arrives here this week in good form, after taking 2nd at The Valspar Championship and 5th at the WGC Match Play. He’s 36th on Tour in Ball Striking, is carrying a hot putter right now and is able to avoid bogeys as one of the best scramblers on Tour, ranking 23rd. He’s finished Top 30 at Augusta five times and has made the cut in five straight visits.
Marc Leishman (50/1)
I’ve already noted above, many of the reasons that I like the Australian this week but let’s dive a little deeper. He’s 19th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, 26th in Par 5 Scoring, 15th in Bogey Avoidance, and 6th in Scrambling. Leishman also ranks 24th in Proximity to the Hole and accuracy in finding the right areas in which to land one’s ball on the greens at Augusta is paramount. Speaking of paramount, how about those 10-foot putts for par that win championships? Leishman is No. 1 on Tour putting from 10 feet.