Intelligent punter's guide to the US Masters golf at Augusta
Who's worth a flutter in the year's first Major, which tees off in Georgia today? Our man picks his top 20
TIGER WOODS may be missing through injury but there's still a great four days of action to look forward to in the first golfing Major of the year - the US Masters.
Unlike the other three Majors, the Masters is always played at the same venue, the Augusta National course in Georgia, which makes the task of finding the winner - or at least a top six finisher - marginally easier because course form is a key factor.
Indeed, previous Masters form is the first thing we should look for when compiling a shortlist from the field of 97 golfers who will tee off today. You have to go back to 1979, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, to find the last time an Augusta debutant (Fuzzy Zoeller) won the event.
Another interesting statistic is that the last 14 winners had all made the cut at Augusta the previous year. Last year's winner, Adam Scott, had finished tied eighth and second in his previous two attempts, while the man he beat in the play-off, Angel Cabrera, had won the Masters back in 2009 and made the cut every year since 2005.
What about nationality? Not surprisingly Americans have fared best of all, with 56 wins in the last 77 tournaments. South Africans have prospered in recent years, with two wins since 2004 and four second places. Last year saw the first ever victory by an Australian (Scott), but it's now 15 years since the winner came from Europe.
The stats suggest that it's also worthwhile including a left-hander in our portfolio. Five of the last 11 winners have been 'lefties' and that's striking when you consider that no southpaw has ever won the US Open and only two have won the British Open. It is believed that the course favours them because of the relatively high number of holes that are shaped from right to left.
While previous Augusta form is essential, don't be deterred from backing golfers who have never won a Major: five of the last seven winners of the Masters were collecting their first Major when they put on the famous Green Jacket.
So to sum up, we should focus on golfers with a good record at Augusta, who at least made the cut in 2013, and include in our portfolio at least one left-hander, one American, and one Major 'virgin'. And when it comes to placing those bets, if you're backing them each-way, do try and find a bookie who is paying out for the first six places.
Let's take a closer look at 20 golfers who could triumph at Augusta, shortest odds first:
ADAM SCOTT Best odds: 12-1. Only three men have won back-to-back Masters, so the stats are against him, but given Scott's record in the event he can't be left off anyone's shortlist. In addition to his victory last year, he finished second in 2011 and has made the cut in all but one year since 2005. He does have a record of blowing final round leads but despite the pressures of being defending champion he's likely to be there or thereabouts once again.
RORY MCILROY Best odds: 12-1. He comes into this in fair form having finished seventh in the Houston Open after shooting an excellent 65 in the final round, but his price looks too short. He does pass the key test of having made the cut last year, but the best he's finished in five attempts at the Masters is a tie for 15th in 2011 and at current odds he isn't hugely appealing.
PHIL MICKELSON Best odds: 14-1. 'Lefty' has by far and away the best Masters record of anyone in the field: he's won it three times and has finished in the top five on ten other occasions. Bookies aren't taking any chances with his price, but he's very likely to be in contention at the business end of affairs.
JASON DAY Best odds: 16-1. If ever there was a golfer knocking at the door marked 'Majors', it's the 26-year-old Australian (above). Last year he led the Masters with three holes to go, eventually finishing third, and he also tied for second in the US Open. Overall he has finished in the top three in four of the last 11 Majors he has contested. The negative is that he is only "85-90 per cent" right after a thumb injury. So supporting him comes with a risk.
SERGIO GARCIA Best odds: 25-1. With top 12 finishes in the last two Masters, the Spaniard hasn't finished out of the top 20 in his last 13 tournaments. A third place in the Houston Open last week should have him spot on for this and he looks a serious contender for a top ten finish.
MATT KUCHAR Best odds: 25-1. He certainly puts ticks in the right boxes: an American, a Majors 'virgin', and he has good Masters form, finishing eighth last year and third in 2012. That said, he has blown leads in his last two tournaments and because of that he appeals more as an each-way proposition than a straight win bet.
DUSTIN JOHNSON Best odds: 28-1 He has been in great form on the PGA Tour. But while it would be no surprise to see him figure, others at around his price have better records at Augusta.
BUBBA WATSON Best odds: 28-1. The winner two years ago, the left-hander only finished tied for 50th last year. However, he's been in good form this year and, without the pressure of being the defending champion, it would be no surprise to see him doing much better this time on a course that clearly suits.
JUSTIN ROSE Best odds: 33-1. He landed his first Major when winning last year's US Open at Merion and has a reasonable record at Augusta: he's made the cut every time he's played in the Masters and has two top ten finishes to his name.
HENRIK STENSON Best odds: 33-1. He had an excellent 2013, finishing second in the British Open and third in the USPGA. He's surely going to win a Major one day, but his record at the Masters isn't as good as elsewhere and he hasn't been in great form since the turn of the year.
ZACH JOHNSON Best odds: 35-1. The 2007 winner has made the cut in the last two years - but without threatening to repeat his win. He posted top ten finishes in last year's British Open and USPGA and it would be no surprise to see him in the mix at Augusta.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL Best odds: 35-1. The 2011 winner from South Africa has posted two top five finishes in 2014 tournaments to date. Another each-way possible but his putting can let him down and it's a hard job winning this twice.
BRANDT SNEDEKER Best odds: 40-1. He's enjoyed top 20 finishes in his last three Masters (he was sixth last year) and it's quite easy to make an each-way case for the talented American who is still waiting to win his first Major.
LEE WESTWOOD Best odds: 50-1. Still looking for his first Major, he has a good record at Augusta with five top 11 finishes in the last six years. At 50-1 he has each-way appeal, and you can get 100-30 on him being the top Englishman.
ANGEL CABRERA Best odds: 70-1. The portly Argentinian lost in a play-off to Scott in 2013 but he has a great Masters record, having won it in 2009 and made the top eight in four of the last eight years. Given his Augusta pedigree, at current odds he's surely worth a small each-way flutter.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA Best odds: 80-1. The 22-year-old from Japan made the cut twice here as an amateur and posted top 20 finishes in the three Majors he contested last year. Has to be an interesting outsider.
MARC LEISHMAN Best odds: 100-1. He tied for fourth last year – and yet he's available at three-figure odds this time round. Australians filled three of the first four positions last year and we should not rule out Leishman going well again.
NICK WATNEY Best odds: 125-1. The odds look too big for a man who has finished in the top 20 at Augusta in five of the last six years and who has never missed a cut in the tournament. As we see year after year, there's no form for Augusta like previous Masters form and he's surely worth an each-way bet.
THORBJORN OLESEN Best odds: 150-1. The 24-year-old Dane has not been in good form so far this year - he's missed the cut in three of his last four tournaments - but he played well at Augusta last year when he finished tied for sixth, making him the leading European. On that basis alone 150-1 could be too big.
PETER HANSON Best odds 175-1. The Swede led the Masters going into the final round in 2012 but eventually finished third. His recent form hasn't been great: he has missed the cut in two of his last four tournaments, but 175-1 for someone placed in the event just two years ago aren't bad odds.