Main Bet: Xander Schauffele each-way @ 16/1
Events since the start of the 2020 Masters, just three months ago, determine that most of the top ten players in the market are similar or shorter prices this time around.
In the cases of defending champion Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, in the light of subsequent wins and their major championship history, the shortening of their prices makes perfect sense.
With Jordan Spieth I’d need some persuading that the promise of the last fortnight is worth taking less than 40/1 about (and he’s a lot shorter than that).
It’s been refreshing to see how much happier he appears, but he’s got away with some wayward driving and a) that may not be the case in the next two months (in which case his price may drift again), and b) he might not get away with it at Augusta National.
Of the two players to have drifted in price, Bryson DeChambeau is of interest because with a couple of good results he has the potential to shorten as punters rush to be onside.
He also must surely have learned plenty of lessons in his last visit to Augusta, not only in terms of on-course strategy, but also in his off-course dealings with expectations and the media.
The flipside is that his 16 round log book at Augusta continues to show 11 failures to break par and only one glimmer of hope – the 66 with which he shared the first round lead in 2019. You might take that on the chin with a 50/1 shot, but 11/1?
I prefer to favour the second drifter, Xander Schauffele, whose 16/1 price also offers some each way value given that he’s a bit of a major machine: his 14 starts at the highest level of the game have produced six place payouts.
True, he is yet to win a major, but his performances in other elite field events continue to impress.
He’s finished second in THE PLAYERS Championship, first and second in the WGC HSBC Champions, tied sixth at the WGC St Jude Invitational, first and second in the Tournament of Champions, and first in the Tour Championship (he was also the low-scorer over 72-holes at that event last September, but lost on the handicap system).
At Augusta National he’s found over 70% of the greens in regulation during his last two visits and he topped the Putting Averages in 2019.
I thought Steve Rawlings made a terrific point in his 2020 Masters preview, when highlighting the danger of a player’s high expectations from a good effort in the previous year’s tournament and it may have born heavy on Schauffele after he finished tied second in 2019.
But I do like a player to have contended in recent times, albeit with that confidence corrected.
Severiano Ballesteros was inspired by watching Gary Player win the Masters, and Sandy Lyle by Jack Nicklaus – both of them having the best seats in the house as playing partners and both acknowledging that it helped their own victory charges.
Danny Willett had something similar, albeit Zach Johnson at the Open, the summer before he won at Augusta National.
It is not a perfect parallel, but I did take note when Schauffele spoke after his second place in 2019.
He first hung around to watch Tiger Woods complete victory and then said: “An awesome experience, what I just witnessed. It was really cool to know him a little bit now and congratulate him coming off 18.
“It was so cool coming down the stretch, the historic holes, Tiger making the roars, I got a very full Masters experience.
“I’m not one bit sad. I told my caddie on the last hole that we just proved to ourselves that we can win on this property if I just have a little more experience, because some of the putts I’d never seen before. I can definitely win here.”
Next Best: Paul Casey each-way @ 40/1
Having put Paul Casey up as the main bet in last November’s column I was a little excited when he opened the week with a 65 for a share of the first round lead.
Alas, he couldn’t maintain the pace and ended the tournament T38th, but my interest remains piqued.
On the one hand, that’s because the fact he shone so brightly early on kind of validates the thought which prompted the pick – that he is playing very good golf at major championship level at the moment.
He was second in August’s PGA Championship and T17th at the US Open when flying home on a wet sail after a Thursday 76 had him T119th.
Only the winner Bryson DeChambeau went lower over the final 54 holes and only Dustin Johnson equalled his tally – that’s mighty fine company to be keeping.
And whilst those two Americans are worthy of the attention their golf has garnered since the start of August, Casey continues to be a little overlooked.
They’ve won a major each – he’s played well at all three majors in that stretch.
They’ve won elsewhere in that period – and so has he.
What’s more, his win came at the Emirates GC in the Dubai Desert Classic and recent winners there have included Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia (who went on to win Green Jackets) as well as Alvaro Quiros and Bryson DeChambeau (who shared the first round lead at Augusta after winning in the desert).
Final Bet: Marc Leishman each-way @ 100/1
Aussie Marc Leishman was absolutely flying this time last year, winning the Farmers Insurance Open and adding an impressive second behind Tyrrell Hatton in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He even got off to a good start in THE PLAYERS Championship, carding a 67 in round one (tied fifth) whereupon the plug was pulled on action everywhere.
On return post-lockdown he was in dismal form until a swing thought he picked up at the Zozo Championship transformed everything.
A vastly improved T13th followed at the Masters and he’s opened 2021 with three finishes in the top 25, including a particularly aggressive tied fourth at the Sony Open. I can see more of that to come in the next six weeks and, if it does, his price would drop.
He was second at halfway in the 2018 Masters, on his way to tied ninth, and he famously finished a fist-pumping fourth in 2013, when playing alongside the Green Jacket-winning Adam Scott (the fist-pump was for his compatriot).
That experience could pay mighty dividends if he gets into contention again.