It's that time of year again... Kinda…
The hallowed greens and fairways of Augusta National beckon once more, just this time they’ll be surrounded by the autumnal shades of a November fall rather than the vibrant colours of an April spring.
Instead of being the first major of the year, it’s the last of a Covid-induced shortened season, though it will reclaim the mantle in April 2021 if the gods align.
There’s nothing in the world of golf quite like the Masters. The iconic course itself, so well known by fans who tune in year after year to watch the drama unfold. Amen Corner, Rae’s Creek at the 12th, the 16th, the famed crowd roars (though absent this year), the history, the heartbreak. April or November; crowds or no crowds.
The back nine on Moving Sunday - that’s when the diehards say the competition really starts.
Ahead of the 84th Masters Tournament, Cloudbet runs down the top 10 by current betting odds and explores some of the unique markets available to Cloudbet players looking to get some action at the venerable Augusta National Golf Club.
Cloudbet’s Top 10
At the the time of writing, these are the top 10 players and the Cloudbet odds offered on them to win: Bryson DeChambeau (7.26), Dustin Johnson (9.29), Jon Rahm (10.7), Justin Thomas (12.8), Rory McIlroy (12.9), Brooks Koepka (15.8), Xander Schauffele (16.6), Tony Finau (24.6), Hideki Matsuyama (26.1) and Patrick Reed (27.6). You can find the latest winner markets here.
Bryson DeChambeau - favourite at 7.26
Bryson DeChambeau is in the favourite’s seat, ranked #6 in the world and looking to add to his US Open title in September, where his long game landed him the win at Winged Foot - with an impressive six-shot lead.
His prodigious length off the tee has opened the intriguing notion that it gives him the option to experiment with different lines around Augusta National, leaving him new routes into greens and possibly angles of attack into pins - routes that no one has ever taken before, or at least, not intentionally.
Let’s start with the 1st, a 445-yard, theoretically left to right, par 4. None other than the legend Jack Nicklaus - six-time green jacket winner - has even suggested he could make it on, or close, in one - though the man himself told Golf Digest he’s more likely to “fly it to probably 50 yards, 60 yards out” (with the help of the wind) - because the course is playing soft at the moment.
On 18, he’s talking about “sending it into the oasis” over the famous Sandy Lyle bunker and leaving himself an easy shot in. That would require a carry of around 340 yards.
And who knows what he might be able to get up to in between…
Well, he’s flagged the 510-yard par-5 13th already. Generally described as - and accepted as being! - a sweeping dogleg left, DeChambeau says, “If the wind is right, 13 will play way different.” If he hits straight up and over the trees on the left he could make a mockery of it. A drive of that sort takes the tributary to Rae's Creek that protects the green out of the equation.
If the wind is right. And given the weather forecast, it could be.
What’s more, the lack of patrons this year means the course will be a lot more open than usual, for the wayward, with the lack of grandstands allowing for even more creativity with shot-making - and not just for DeChambeau.
Final word of warning: The 48-inch driver hasn’t made an appearance yet.
For the counterintuitive, you can wager on him missing the cut at 5.63.
Dustin Johnson - 9.29
You’re never going to rule out the world #1, and DJ comes to Augusta having just tied for second with Hideki Matsuyama at the Vivint Houston Open last weekend. He’s finished in the Top 10 in his last six straight events. The 2016 US Open champ is looking for his first Masters title, after missing out by one shot to Tiger Woods in 2019, finishing in a three-way tie for second alongside Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka - two more Top 10 players both in the hunt this week. In September, he tied for sixth at Wingfoot.
Jon Rahm - 10.7
A lot of commentators are gushing over Rahmbo’s chances this year - and not without good reason. The world #2 (former #1) is here to play, his all-round game intact, immense off the tees, and buoyed by the idea that he could join the pantheon of champion Spanish golfers and don the green jacket 40 years after national hero Severiano Ballesteros won his first Masters (his second followed in 1983). The fact that two-time winner Jose-Maria Olazabal (1994, 1999) is here too means he joins yet another hero in the field this week.
Having just celebrated his 26th birthday with the now viral hole-in-one in Tuesday’s practice round, he’ll no doubt be hoping his luck continues.
Any golfer will tell you that they’ll always take the lucky breaks, but Rahm has a game at the moment where he shouldn’t have to rely on it.
Justin Thomas (12.8)
Justin Thomas and Rahmbo finished up the ZOZO Championship at Sherwood Country Club two weeks ago - the last tournament JT played - in joint-second, so there’s a nod to his (and Rahm’s) recent form. They were just one shot back of Patrick Cantlay (who at 29.0 sits just outside the Cloudbet Top 10). JT has shot in the 60s in six of his last eight rounds.
His well-known friendship with Tiger may also pay dividends this week - arguably there's no better mentor, period, but certainly not when it comes to Augusta.
With the media focus likely to remain on DeChambeau this week, the world #3 has been playing as well as anyone and may just enjoy going about his business somewhat under the radar.
Rory McIlroy (12.9)
Still hunting his first green jacket to round out his career slam, the Northern Irishman’s game has been out of sorts since play resumed on tour after the lockdown. He’s struggled a bit recently, by his own admission, but while he may not be expected to achieve the career slam this week he’s been working on some swing changes and you never know what might happen if he sticks around there or thereabouts come moving Sunday.
Brooks Koepka (15.8)
The four-time major champ - former world #1 and now #12 - has had a rollercoaster ride these last couple months on his return from knee injury. But signs that the old Brooks is back were evident when he finished in Houston last week with back-to-back 65s to tie for fifth.
And he seems to like where he is right now… with his old driver back in the bag, to boot.
Xander Schauffele (16.6)
The world #8 is consistently included in commentators top-five placements this year, which should be enough not to rule him out - don't forget, he led momentarily in 2019 before Woods’ incredible performance pipped him by a shot, meaning he finished alongside DJ and Koepka in that three-way tie for second.
After an opening 73 last year, he played the next 54 holes in 13-under par, leading the field with 25 birdies. Given the importance of course knowledge and experience at Augusta, it’s worth remembering that that was only his second outing here.
Tony Finau (24.6)
After a brush with Covid that took him out of action for most of October, Finau’s odds are perhaps a tad longer than his tied-eighth in the US Open would suggest. At Sherwood he finished tied 11th and finished tied 24th in Houston. The world #17 needs to get into the habit of closing out wins - he has just one tour win, which was back in 2016, but the dubious distinction of 30 top-10 finishes since then.
He has a pretty remarkable track record in major championships - he tied for fourth at both the US Open and the PGA this year; in 2019 he finished fifth at Augusta and third in the British Open. Will this be his breakthrough year?
While his odds to win are shorter than Hideki Matsuyama’s, there’s even money at 1.92 that Finau will finish better placed overall.
Hideki Matsuyama - (26.1)
At these odds, Matsuyama could be a bit of a (relative) outside shout, coming off last weekend where he tied DJ for second in Houston - one of three players to shoot a final round 63, though no one went lower, and where he led the field in birdies. That was thanks in no small measure to a red hot putter… and if he can keep that rolling this week…
With 2020 being a year of first-time major winners, could the 28-year-old world #18 become Japan’s first major winner? If you don’t necessarily want to put your money that far down the line, the odds are at 2.13 that he finishes the tournament as the highest ranked Asian player.
Patrick Reed (27.6)
Out of this list of players, Reed is the only one to have had the honour of deciding the menu for the Champions dinner. Bone-in rib-eye and mac n cheese seems no surprise. He’s been quietly going about his business recently and could be a bit of a sleeper pick.
One of the special prop markets Cloudbet is offering is on the top former champion - where you can get Reed at 3.94, Bubba Watson at 4.24, Tiger at 5.38, the Aussie Adam Scott at 5.84, Jordan Spieth at 6.83 and Phil Mickleson at 9.71.
And Tiger Woods (40.3)
No self-respecting commentary on the Masters can ignore the presence of Tiger Woods - especially after his unbelievable effort 19 months ago. It’s also the 25th anniversary of his first Masters appearance.
While he’s unlikely to compete at the top this year… No, wait - people have made that mistake before...
No matter how unlikely a defence of his title may seem - only three players have managed to defend their titles over the years, Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and, er, him - write him off at your peril.
When asked on Tuesday what he thought has kept him from contending recently, he zeroed in on his inconsistency. His game is good, it's just that “I haven’t put everything together at the same time”. If he finds a way to do that here, watch out.
To say Woods has a special affinity with Augusta is to do the five-time champion an injustice of understatement. Still massively respected by his fellow professionals, Woods’s approach to the game has clearly shifted with age - but the competitiveness lives on. Perhaps at 40.3 it’s worth a pop.
The course will play longer
At Augusta, the groundskeepers maintain a bermuda grass base which is over-seeded with rye that takes hold and shape through the winter months as the bermuda dies out - such that by spring it can be cut short for the typical felt-like conditions viewers are used to seeing - and players are used to playing off.
During practice, comments have been commonplace that the course is playing longer. Due to the grass and moisture levels, balls aren’t running nearly as far as players are used to. That limits a key component of the sport: the ability to use the natural landscape to shape the roll of the ball into position.
Add to that the cooler temperatures, and the ball simply isn’t flying as far as it would if we were in spring. Expect to see players going out early wrapped up more than usual - Tyrell Hatton’s hoodie may have finally justified itself… (he’s at 36.6, by the way).
The fall of course also brings shorter days - with the loss of two hours of sunlight compared to the spring.
The lightning fast greens have been tamed a bit, but will quicken as the course dries out.
The weather forecast is for a wet Thursday, but it should start to clear up from then.
Perhaps the biggest impact of the different grass will be felt around the greens, where players are having to adjust their chipping game to conditions at Augusta that they’re not used to. The longer cut, because of the presence of the bermuda, means balls are lying differently - sitting down a little, making it harder to get the desired spin.
In the words of Tiger, “The rye is a little spotty in places and the ball is settling down a little bit. Generally, around the greens we have the ability to play bump and runs or play more spinning golf shots. That’s going to be a little different this year.”
But at the end of the day, these guys are the best in the world at what they do - and everyone will be out there on the same course. Perhaps Tommy Fleetwood sums it up best: “Yeah, you know, you keep playing and keep figuring it out as you go along.”
However different this year may be, one thing is always guaranteed at Augusta - a hell of a weekend of golf.
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