Daniel Box
By Daniel Box

The Masters Preview

The greatest thing about The Masters, for me, is the fact that it is the only major played at the same venue every year. It means that the whole week serves as a nostalgic reminder of some of golf's greatest moments and players.

Augusta National Golf Club is iconic. The course is perfect. But it's the images of the greats of the game from over the years, on the same holes that today's stars will battle, that set it apart. Nicklaus walking in the putt on 17 in 1986, Woods chipping in on 16 in 2005, Fred Couples somehow surviving a watery grave on the 12th in 1992, Sandy Lyle from the 18th fairway bunker in 1988, and Faldo in a playoff in 1989. You can't help but think of these great moments every time you settle down on that Sunday night in April to watch the final round.

This year's tournament is set to be as exciting as ever, with numerous world-class players in great form and looking to add a Green Jacket to their career highlights. Tiger is fit, and coming off two near misses in his last two majors of 2018. McIlroy is seeking a career Grand Slam, whilst Tommy Fleetwood is in search of his first major. It's all to play for.

As usual there have been plenty of changes and new releases in the golf equipment world to recognise Masters week, and you can keep up to date with it all by reading our Equipment Roundup here.

The Course

It's one of the most admired and instantly recognisable courses in the world, and for good reason. There's just no other place quite like it. Not a blade of grass is out of place, the fairways look like green carpets, the greens are pristine and the sand is so white that it almost, almost, looks inviting.

The course has undergone a number of changes over the years to cope with the increase in driving distances. This year, the par-4 5th hole has been lengthened by 40 yards so that it measures at 495 yards, increasing the overall length of the course to 7,475 yards. Despite the Sub-Air system installed on Augusta's grounds, there's stormy weather around this week and so if the course plays long and soft it could be a struggle for the shorter hitters.

One of the keys to scoring well, like most courses, is to take advantage of the par 5s. Last year, winner Patrick Reed played them better than anyone, with a combined 13 under-par including two eagles and no bogeys.

The Field

It's a major, so of course the field is strong. But there is also plenty of 'deadwood' in there, for want of a better word. This is because The Masters Tournament holds the great tradition that anyone who wins the event is entitled to compete in as many future events as they so wish. Whilst it is great for the players, and us, to relive the glory years where it all happened, it also means that a proportion of the field, such as Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Larry Mize, can be discounted. In effect, there are usually around 50 players who are in with a realistic chance of winning the event.

This year's Masters is also set to be the smallest major field for the last 20 years, but there is no shortage of quality there. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Tiger Woods, and many more will all be vying for the Green Jacket. Woods has had a relatively quiet start to his 2019 season so far, he hasn't played badly but hasn't truly contended. McIlroy and Johnson are arguably the two hottest players in the world at the moment, having both won already this year.

Just below the favourites are a whole host of players who also have a great chance this week too. The likes of Patrick Reed, Danny Willett and Charl Schwartzel were definite outsiders going in to Masters week but managed to end up winning, and so it'd take a brave person to completely discount anyone outside of the world's top 30. The likes of Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele are in good form and looking to pick up their first major. In fact, the last 4 Masters winners, and 7 of the last 8, have been first-time major winners. A sign of things to come?

Last Year

In 2018 it was America's Patrick Reed who came out on top with a gritty final-round of 71 to take a one-stroke victory over a fast-finishing Rickie Fowler. Just a few minutes earlier Jordan Spieth had suffered heartbreak when he clipped an overhanging branch with his tee shot on 18, leading to a bogey which gave him a still-excellent final round of 64. Tony Finau managed to survive a horrible ankle injury suffered after making a hole in one at the Par 3 contest to finish in the Top 10.

Tiger Woods made his first appearance since 2015 and finished in a tie for 32nd, whilst the two previous winners, Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett, missed the cut. Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples both made it of course, finishing together at T38.

Our Tips

Those of you who have watched The Masters over the years will know that, invariably, one of the most important ingredients for success is previous course experience. Unless your name happens to be Jordan Spieth, that is. We would suggest however that a sensible starting point is to look at those players who have played at least twice at this event, and seen the course at its most fearsome under tournament conditions. Our picks this year have played a combined 92 rounds here, so we're hoping that they should be well on their way to figuring out the layout by now!

Whilst there is always plenty of talk about putting at Augusta, it is often the approach play which is even more important for those looking to finish on top. The greens contain so much undulation that you simply cannot afford to land the ball in the wrong sections. One of the keys to scoring well is learning where you need to be in relation to the pin in order to catch the right slope and leave yourself a makeable putt. So only the most confident of ball-strikers should be considered here, as precision is required.

If you're not convinced by any of the prices for outright finishes, then you can always take a look at some of the other markets. When it comes to First Round Leader, Charley Hoffman is as high as 40/1 in some places. The American has finished inside the Top 30 in all five of his visits here, and has a first-round average of 68 in the four tournaments since 2015. He also finished 2nd last week in Texas, shooting 13 under par for the weekend.

For the Low Amateur Award, it is hard to look past Norwegian Viktor Hovland who is the 3rd ranked amateur in the world, and has already made cuts on both the European and PGA Tour. Combine him with a couple of others, such as McIlroy for lowest Irishman and Matsuyama lowest Japanese, and you can get yourself decent odds.

For our full list of Betting Tips, follow the link here to find out who we are tipping to take the title!

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