I love the Masters at Augusta, golf's first major championship of the year, and many others do too.
It's the only golf major to be held at the same course every 12 months. Now, on the 85th anniversary of the first hosting of the tournament, it occupies a unique place in the psyche of sports fans. In ways, this week signifies the start of the sporting summer.
There are reasons why it penetrates that psyche; the amazing 18th major title seized by Jack Nicklaus in 1986; Tiger Woods changing the world of sport in 1997 with his 12 shot win; the European invasion, led by Seve Ballesteros, with a supporting cast including Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal. Phil Mickelson's breakthrough. Rory McIlroy's travails. Jordan Spieth's smashing of records in 2015 and meltdown 12 months later.
Then there are the quirks of the place. The Green Jacket, presented to the winner. The Champions' Dinner. The Butler Cabin ceremony, something which hasn't left the 1950's. The lack of cellphones or advertising on course. The affordable food for those lucky enough to be there. Amen Corner. The risk and reward holes of 13 and 15. The roars against the landscape of azaleas and dogwoods. That is looks greener than everywhere else.
What is also engrossing about this year's renewal is the amount of quality players. Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas all have leading claims to win the event for the first time based on form. Rickie Fowler is surely going to shed the bridesmaid's tag sooner rather than later. Shane Lowry has the talent to shoot in the 60's on his 4th Masters appearance. And what about Tiger Woods? His Tour Championship win last September shows us he can compete and he can win, so it's not out of the question that he will wear the Green Jacket for a fifth time and claim his first major in 11 years. That would be a story for the ages. So many possibilities abound and that's not counting surprises, which are guaranteed.
I am always asked about contenders and whom I think will win, so I asked myself how would I spend a virtual €50?
Rory McIlroy (NAP) is the headline tip for €10 each way at 13/2 (Betfair 1/5 the odds 10 places). I think the lesson I took from Tiger Roll's victory in the Aintree Grand National is that the obvious answer beforehand is sometimes the answer! McIlroy is the hottest player in the game right now and arguably the most talented since Tiger Woods began to take on some Kryptonite. McIlroy won the Players Championship and his record in events other than that this year reads: T4, T5, T4, 2, T6 and T9. He has finished in the top 10 in the last 5 Masters Tournaments. He has the perfect game for Augusta, with his straight, long driving placing him in the position to launch high irons onto the lightning quick greens. Putting and temperament have been weaknesses, but Brad Faxon seems to have guided the former and meditation and a zen outlook have aided the latter. I think Rory is primed to complete the career Grand Slam.
Spain and Japan
Jon Rahm is the next selection for €8 each way at 16/1 (Betfair 1/5 the odds 10 places). The Spaniard has a golfing intelligence which I like and a brute force allied with a creative touch. He was 4th last year at Augusta, he has posted 6 top 10 finishes in stroke play events in 2019 and was the 54 hole leader at the Players Championship. He plays with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds, which is interesting, as he defeated Woods in the singles at the Ryder Cup late last year. So there will be good memories to draw upon. Rahm has won a DP Tour Championship and I think the 24 year old is the next star of the game.
Hideki Matsuyama is the final selection for €7 each way at 25/1 (Betfair 1/5 the odds 10 places). It's easy to forget with the dominance of short memories that the best golfer to ever come out of Japan was the world's leading amateur and once reached number 2 in the professional rankings. His major finishes include a second place at the U.S. Open and his Masters legacy has generated three finishes inside the top 11. A beautiful ball striker, he has won at a similar course to Augusta (Muirfield Village) and holds 4 victories on the PGA Tour to his name. If he gets the putter rolling, watch out.
Good luck if you are having a sensible wager and more importantly, enjoy one of the best weeks of sporting television all year. A Sunday at the Masters beats any Hollywood offering for edge of the seat drama, plot lines, heroes and value for money.