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The Masters

Magnolia Lane, Amen Corner, Augusta National, The Masters – the first major championship of the year and the most anticipated tournament of the year for most golf fans too.

The players are like the fans: they’ve watched the tournament for years so they know they course well and yet, as they point out every year, the slopes are steeper, the grass is greener, the greens are swifter.

No rookie has won since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 but plenty of rookies rise to the challenge at first exposure – they simply struggle just enough not to win in the white heat of battle because there is nothing like the back nine on Sunday at Augusta.

The course has been lengthened yet again but not by much this time (10 yards). It’s now 7,555 yards with a par of 72.

Let’s take the various elements of the course one by one.

Common wisdom has it that driving plays a lesser part in the riddle, except to say that length helps (or lack of it produces problems with the second shots – Tony Finau has said: “If you can fly the ball 315 yards comfortably, you’re going to turn that course into a different one.”).

The counter to this is to imagine a player you have backed, in contention during the final round, stood on every tee – a bad drive and he’s fighting to make par (or birdie at the par-5s).

Then there is the approach. Jason Day said: “It’s very much a second-shot golf course. I’ve played with countless older generation players and younger generation players, and you can definitely tell that the more you play here, the better your course management gets around this golf course.”

The difficulty of those approaches is not just the exacting targets (the greens) but, as Bubba Watson explained: “You get all kind of different angles and slopes and things, so there’s lies above your feet, below your feet, uphill, downhill. Rumour is they cut the grass towards us, so it’s into the grain when you hit, so the quality of iron shots has to be pinpoint.”

The importance of driving and approach play is highlighted on the par-5s. A good drive on each of them is required to take on the green in two – and then the approach needs to be bold and well-executed.

And then there are the greens. “I love fast, old-school putting greens and his is the apex of that,” Patrick Cantlay said. “It’s the most undulating and fastest greens we play all year.”

And what of the mind? Rory McIlroy was thinking of himself when he said “it’s the biggest test of discipline and the biggest test of patience of the year” but it applies to pretty much everyone.

Angles to consider

1/ Augusta National form

Seven of the last 10 winners had already finished top five at the Masters, nine had a top 25, all a top 40. All 10 had broken par in a round at Augusta National, nine of them had posted a 70 or lower.

2/ Major form

Seven of the last 10 winners (and seven of the last nine) had finished top six one of the four majors prior to their win.

3/ Form

All of the last 10 winners had finished T15th or better in the year of their win. Seven had already won and another had finished second. Nine of the 10 had finished T12th or better in one of their last two completed stroke play starts (the odd one out had a best of T30th).

4/ SG Approach

We’ve got tournament-by-tournament Strokes Gained rankings from the last six winners and all of them had excelled in at least one start that year in SG Approach before winning. Five had recorded a ranking of first and the sixth had a second (Dustin Johnson’s win had come late in the year before his late in the year Masters win). The man before this run, Sergio Garcia, had topped the GIR stats when winning the Dubai Desert Classic shortly before he nabbed a green jacket. It makes sense – winners need to hit exceptional approaches.


The above angles have been used to create a shortlist from which the following players are selected.

Jon Rahm

Defending champions famously struggle but Rahm has the potential to join the elite trio of Nicklaus, Faldo and Woods in doing so. He also won by four blows last year despite gifting the field an advantage when he four-stabbed the first green of the week, his fifth top 10 in his last six starts at Augusta. We don’t have SG stats – bar some bandied-around ones – for LIV but his GIR stats have been excellent. He’s yet to win since this event last year but he has landed five top 10s in five starts this year.

Cameron Young

Of course he hasn’t won at the top level but the flipside of that is that he has performed consistently well in the majors: third in the 2022 PGA Championship and second in the same year’s Open, eighth at the Open last summer – and then also seventh in the Masters last April. He was third in Dubai in January, eighth at Scottsdale, fourth at PGA National and second last time out at Innisbrook. His SG Approach stats are very fine. A good price.

Russell Henley

A man with local connections and he turned consistency at Augusta (five straight finishes of T31st or better) into quality with fourth last year. He was also a today T14th at the US Open in the summer. He’s been fourth three times this year, at Waialae, Bay Hill and last week in Texas when he ranked second for SG Approach.



1pt e.w. Jon Rahm at 12/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

1pt e.w. Cameron Young at 50/1 (Unibet, BetMGM, BetUK 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Russell Henley at 66/1 (William Hill, livescorebet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)