The big-hitters could be in their element this week.
At the age of 25, Rory McIlroy stands on the brink of becoming the second-youngest Grand Slammer in the history of golf (the youngest being Tiger Woods at 24), with just the Masters title missing from his Majors CV, and he’s a general 6/1 shot to make that happen this week.
The Northern Irishman is undoubtedly the best player of his generation and has served his Masters apprenticeship well, with eighth place last year his best finish in six starts here. He would have done better still had he made more of the par-fives (level-par over the 16 played), always the key to a good score around Augusta, and he’ll surely go under par this week with his long game looking in excellent nick. However, a few doubts remain over his short game – his putting in particular is a worry – and he’s reluctantly swerved at such short odds.
Last year’s runner-up Jordan Spieth is also opposed on the grounds of being too short at 11/1 for a player who is not yet the finished article and has endured a busy few weeks on Tour in the run-up. Instead, the largest chunk of the betting portfolio is reserved for Dustin Johnson. A giant hitter, it’s surprising he’s yet to break into the top-two here but has never arrived in top form previously and, having taken an extended break from the game to sort out some personal problems before returning in February (form figures since of MC/T4/2/MC/1/T6), this nine-time Tour winner looks ready to finally fulfil his massive potential. The bit of rain around this week is in his favour too as that just serves to lengthen the track for the bombers like him.
It will also play into the hands of last year’s brilliant winner Bubba Watson, although I’m far from convinced he arrives here fully fit and healthy and, besides, he too is a skinny price. Not so Louis Oosthuizen, who was defeated in a playoff by Bubba for the 2012 Masters and has been on his A game for a while now. When healthy the South African is right up there with the best in the world and he looks ready to contend for another Major, having already bagged the 2010 Open Championship. He also looks a shoe-in for Top South African honours as none of his compatriots are playing that well.
Given the limited field of 97 (which includes ten seniors and ten amateurs), it’s tempting to have a few each-way tickles at big odds and Gary Woodland could well outrun his 100/1 price tag and reward those who play him in the Top American market. Finishers of 24th and 26th the two times he has turned up here healthy suggest he’s got an eye for the place, and his prodigious length off the tee is a major asset for the reason already given. At the same price, Russell Henley could go well as he’s long enough off the tee and was swinging sweetly when shooting four rounds in the 60s on his way to fourth in last week’s Houston Open. A local man, he won’t lack for support.
McIlroy aside, the European challenge looks strong and is headed by Justin Rose, who has finished no worse than 39th in nine starts, with fifth place in 2007 his best finish, and Henry Stenson, who is a perennial challenger in Majors but seems to struggle to get over the line. At a big-looking 40/1, it’s the Englishman who makes it into the staking plan, along with preacher’s son and big-hitting Danny Willett, who could reward backers in the Top Debutant market, providing he can contain the nerves. The Yorkshireman leads the Race To Dubai after winning a mega-bucks event in South Africa before Christmas and has held his form well since, including when a fast-finishing 12th in the WGC-Cadillac at Doral. There are fitness doubts over the favourite in this market, Brooks Koepke.
Last but definitely not least I’ll be having a few quid on Miguel Angel Jimenez in the Top Senior market, though his short odds mean he’s best supported in multiples. The 51-year-old is showing signs of slowing down and is on a run of nine made cuts in a row at Augusta, with four top-four finishes to his name, including fourth place last year. He looks to have a rejuvenated Vijay Singh to beat.
Dustin Johnson each-way @ 18/1 William Hill (1/4 odds, 18.104.22.168.5)
Justin Rose each-way @ 45/1 William Hill (1/4 odds, 22.214.171.124.5)
Louis Oosthuizen each-way @ 55/1 Sky Bet (1/4 odds, 126.96.36.199.5.6)
Gary Woodland each-way @ 100/1 Paddy Power (1/4 odds, 188.8.131.52.5.6)
Russell Henley each-way @ 100/1 Paddy Power (1/4 odds, 184.108.40.206.5.6)
Gary Woodland Top American each-way @ 50/1 Paddy Power (1/4 odds, 220.127.116.11)
Russell Henley Top American each-way @ 60/1 Paddy Power (1/4 odds, 18.104.22.168)
Louis Oosthuizen Top South African @ 8/5 / Miguel Angel Jimenez Top Senior double @ 9/4 BetVictor