JASON DAY is back at world No.1 and in perfect position to shoot for his first Green Jacket.
Last year Jordan Spieth ran away with the title with a dazzling display of precision putting no one could live with. It was brilliant to watch on my first trip to Augusta even though there was little or no drama on the final day.
Augusta requires accurate placement even more than big hitting – although it’s a long course now after recent changes – and Spieth’s game is all about accuracy as opposed to bone-crushing length. But where he won it was on the manicured greens and he must have worried supporters by claiming he’s lost his way with his putting in recent weeks.
He was blown away by Louis Oosthuizen in the Dell World Match Play and Spieth can’t win this weekend unless he putts the lights out so despite last year’s dominance I’m leaving him alone. For anyone interested the defending champion is 9-1 at Betway.
Outright favourite Day looks better placed after playing magnificently to lift the World Match Play crown. He beat Rory McIlroy on the way and took care of Oosthuizen in the final.
His Majors record in recent seasons has been impressive with victory in last year’s 2015 PGA Championship and he has a best finish of second at Augusta.
Day looks the one to beat on current form and he is slightly ahead of McIlroy on the anteposts. You can have 13-2 at Betway.
Oosthuizen was right up for the Majors last season and has a great temperament and it could be the South African who pushes Day closest.
The South African seems to have a game plan in Majors having won the 2010 Open, losing in a play-off to Bubba Watson in the 2012 Masters and runner-up in both the US Open and The Open last year.
In the US Open at Chambers he hit an opening-round 77 yet finished one shot behind winner Spieth and that shows terrific temperament from a player who isn’t easily flustered.
His driving accuracy is 57.93 per cent which could be a problem but usually hits greens in regulation (71.3 per cent – ranked 20th on Tour).
McIlroy can win any tournament if he brings his A game but needs to putt above his best if he’s to wear a Green Jacket. The Northern Irishman is 8-1 at Betway.
Dustin Johnson will be well fancied despite his third-round collapses last season and returned to form with a top-five finish in the Houston Open on Sunday. In many ways Augusta is made for him and if he birdies or eagles enough of the par fives he could go close.
But for a second each-way pick my money is on his big-hitting rival Bubba Watson who has the power, the putting skills and the temperament to win Majors – and of course he already has two Green Jackets in his cupboard.
Bubba is fourth favourite at 10-1 with Aussie Adam Scott at 12-1 with Betway.
With some firms paying seven or even eight places others to consider at bigger prices include Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Jimmy Walker.
There are usually one or two long shots in the top 10 and of course you can back a player to finish in the top five or 10.
Justin Rose was the only player who threatened Jordan Spieth at last year’s Masters and will hope to go close again. The Englishman fired four rounds under par and his total would have won all but six previous Augusta titles.
Spieth took advantage of softer and slower than usual greens to shoot a record 18 under but the course will be back to its fiery best.
Rose has an excellent record at Augusta making 10 cuts in 10 attempts and eight top-25 finishes. He’s not one of my main picks but at 25-1 with Betway will tempt some as an each-way punt.
I prefer to take him at 2-1 to finish top 10 as he’s been in the top six in three of the last four years.
It’s easy to forget three Englishmen featured in the top eight a year ago – Paul Casey and Ian Poulter were joint eighth but both have struggled in 2016. So back Rose at 13-8 with Betway to be leading Englishman and his closest challenger is likely to be Danny Willett at 9-2.
There are just two Scots in the field – debutant Russell Knox and old stager and former champion Sandy Lyle. They say experience of Augusta is everything and there’s not many in the field who have appeared more times than the 1988 winner.
Lyle is playing for the 35th year and in a two-horse race I’m tempted by him at 9-1 with Betway to finish ahead of Knox.
Knox is a decent player and has a WGC title on his CV but how he fares on his first trip to Augusta is anyone’s guess. He is 1-25 at Betway to score better than his elder statesman who has made the cut on two of his last three visits and will look to be competitive at the scene of his most memorable triumph.
Remember to check out Ace Venturer’s antepost tips and both of us will be putting up more tips throughout the tournament.
2pts Day to win
1pt ew Watson
1.5pts ew Oosthuizen
2pts Rose top Englishman
0.5pt Lyle to beat Knox