THE avalanche of money behind Tiger Woods’ bid for a fifth US Masters title shows no sign of stopping after none of his closest rivals made a meaningful bid for the Houston Open which instead went to rank outsider DA Points.
Matched at the maximum odds of 1000.0 pre-tournament, Points became the fifth triple-figure priced winner from the last seven PGA Tour strokeplay events. Given the other two were won by Woods, with some ease, it’s hard to argue with the market.
To be fair it wasn’t all bad news for leading Masters candidates. Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen all flirted with contention which they will doubtless take as a decent warm-up for Augusta.
Dustin Johnson was the biggest market mover, shortening 20 points to 34.0 for Augusta after a closing 65. More significantly, Tiger’s nearest rival at the top of both the world rankings and the Masters market was conspicuous in his absence from weekend leaderboards. In keeping with the rest of his terrible start to 2013, Rory McIlroy could only muster 45th place, 12 shots off the lead.
In response, the world No.2 has opted in to this week’s Texas Open, claiming he felt his game was coming together but felt rusty and needed extra tournament practice.
If McIlroy’s only problem really is rustiness one has to question his highly-paid advisers for arranging a strangely light schedule. Steve Rawlings pointed out the madness of this strategy weeks ago on these pages, free of charge.
According to the early market, punters haven’t lost faith in Rory, installing him as 10.5 favourite. For my money, however, he represents terrible value.
The “rust” argument is almost certainly true but it cannot tell the whole story. It should not make the difference between being the standout best player in the world at the end of 2012, to making just one top 20 this year.
Of course he’ll be back soon, as with all great players going through a bad patch, but without evidence of marked improvement there’s no reason to assume it will be this week.
Furthermore, even if Rory does find some form this opposition will be no pushover. The likes of Charl Schwartzel, Matt Kuchar and Ian Poulter, for instance, have their own realistic chance of Augusta glory. Based on all recent evidence it’s hard to see why Schwartzel should be four points bigger than McIlroy.
Finally, there is a specific reason to oppose the favourite this week – the course. The last two renewals at San Antonio have yielded big-priced winners amidst strong winds.
Long-term Rory watchers will know he has a terrible record in very windy conditions, struggling to alter his usual high ball flight. I can envisage Rory struggling from the off, soon regretting the decision to play a course he never previously planned to and losing interest. The best way to profit from such a scenario is to lay McIlroy for both the top-five and top-10 markets at around 4.0 and 2.0 respectively.
Lay Rory McIlroy for a top-five finish
Lay Rory McIlroy for a top-10 finish