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Masters Tips & Predictions: Xander to shine amongst the azaleas

Xander Schauffele features amongst our Masters Tips & Predictions.
Xander Schauffele features amongst our Masters Tips & Predictions.

After a break of a couple of weeks, our golf tipster Russell Palmer is back for his final preview of the year, with all eyes on the Masters from Augusta on Thursday...

It's the Masters, but not as we know it!

The long wait is nearly over. In any normal year the Masters from Augusta would take pride of place in the sporting calendar in Georgian spring time, with the rhododendron and azalea in full bloom, temperature's rising and warm sunny evenings, this year's tournament will have a very different feel.

The forecast this week looks decidedly mixed. Georgia is still pretty warm at this time of year but a good deal wetter and according to the forecast we could see plenty of brollies up through the four days. The main take from that is that the course will play even longer than usual and my starting point when looking at the field this year was driving distance.

All of the top guys can bomb it and it's the king of the bombers Bryson DeChambeau who lines up as your 8/1 favourite following his demolition job at Whistling Straits in September where he landed his maiden major victory winning the US Open.

Whilst his talent is unquestionable and I'm a fan, I'm not looking forward to the inevitable narrative which will be pedalled out all week about whether his distance is destroying the game. The mob at Sky Sports could barely hide their disappointment of him winning the US Open and I'm not at all looking forward to them picking holes in Bryson should he contend this week. 

Although this isn't a reason not to back him, I do feel that out of the market leaders he's the one with the least value. We don't know how he'll play with the expectation that he's going to tear apart Augusta National and he's not played competitively for a month and whilst he looked unbeatable earlier in the summer as well, he really dropped his form before coming back to win his first major. His best finish in three attempts at Augusta 21st on debut in 2016, so when there's so much course form within the field this is also a bit of a negative.

There's a good case to be made for the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas, the top three in the world are a cut above the rest in my opinion but the bookies have them all short enough.

I've looked closely at the stats for this one before looking at form. Driving distance is a given, especially as I said the rain will slow down the fairways. With four par 5's I've also taken into account the par 5 scoring. Fred Couples famously said Augusta is a 'second shot course', whether it's a par 4 or par 5 which are all reachable for the longer hitters, shots gained approaching the green are an important metric. Our winner will also need to be good at scrambling on this undulating track with big drop off areas on the greens.

Having crunched the numbers I whittled the field down to four players who ranked in the top 25 for all four of these metrics on the PGA Tour last season (2020 season finished with the Tour Championship 10 weeks ago). I'm making the bold decision to leave Thomas off my team with his four finishes at the Masters of 12-17-22-39 he's yet to really contend on Masters Sunday (yes I am aware that his finishes have been progressively getting better!). At 121 he'd have been the shortest of the quartet so he's been benched for these three...   

Golf odds
The Masters at a glance

First up is the ultra consistent Xander Schauffele who can be backed at 14/1 this week with Paddy Power paying down to a massive 10 places.

The American is a stats follower's dream and although he's not a dead cert when in contention, he's found his way to the winner's circle five times by the age of 27, most recently with the Tour Championship in September.

The 27-year-old ranked in the top twenty for all four of the key metrics mentioned above and whilst he's not recognised as being one of the longest on Tour, he's sneaking long ranking 18th for driving distance and averaging 305 yards. An excellent ball striker, Schauffele also ranks 18th for shots gained approaching the green and first in the field for scrambling. He's also the best in the field at par 5 scoring based on last season's stats and had three top tens in his last six starts (including that win in Atlanta).

Debutants famously struggle at Augusta and although this is only his third attempt at the course, he's made the cut both times finishing second to Tiger Woods in 2019.

If you haven't worked it out by now I'm finding it fiendishly difficult to nail my colours to one of the market leaders, so I've pitched for the one who is the biggest price of the sextet (Rory McIlory also 14/1 of the leaders I've not mentioned). Here's hoping he's the next debut major winner off the rank.

Masters odds

Like Schauffele, my second (and third) selection ticks the boxes of the metrics I'm looking at plus has a little course form in the bank.

Hideki Matsuyama is another terrific ball-striker who providing has a good week with the putter looks a solid each-way play at 28/1 with William Hill betting down to nine places.

The Japanese player has a good record at Augusta with two top ten finished and missing the cut just the once in his eight appearances at the course.

He's been competitive all summer only let down by his putter on more than one occasion, but warmed up nicely with a second place finish in Houston last week, shooting a fourth round seven under par 63.

Like my first pick, Matsuyama averages over 300 yards off the tee, plus he ranks 4th in the field for shots gained approaching the green and 9th in the field for scrambling. Add to that a top ten ranking for par 5 scoring and I think we have a really reliable interest for all four days in Hideki.

Last up is a player I've liked for this all summer and one for whom I'm desperate to go well this week.

As stated, I'm already pretty bored of the DeChambeau spoiling the game narrative I'm equally bored of the Tony Finau can't putt line which gets trotted out multiple times per round.

It's definitely a weakness (I'm careful not to call it his achilles heel after he famously went over on his ankle celebrating a hole-out in the par 3 in comp below - he went on to finish 10th that week!), it's not like he's a bad putter! He ranks comfortably inside the PGA Tour top 100 for shots gained putting, he can just get a bit twitchy over the short ones and given he's such a good ball striker he doesn't always capitalise on the excellent position his iron play consistently puts him in.

Anyway, rant over!

Finau is the 8th longest driver in this week's field averaging nearly 310 yards and has the finesse to rank 12th for shots gained approaching the green and 22nd in the field for scrambling.

He doesn't win enough for sure, but arrives at the course with two top tens in his last six outings and to a course where he's finished 10th, with that ankle and fifth last year.

I'm taking the 33/1 about his chances this week with Bet Victor who are best price but only going six places. Next best is Bet365 who'll pay down to eight places but at 30/1.

I'll be back with some more content this week and I hope you enjoy the Masters as much as I hope to do. I didn't have time to check whether the shrubs at the course flower in November, but we'll soon find out.

As ever, good luck with your bets if you're following and please gamble responsibly.

Follow me at Twitter @rustyboy75.

Post-lockdown form:

Winners

  • Tyrrell Hatton - BMW PGA Championship - advised at 16/1
  • John Catlin - Irish Open - advised at 40/1
  • Jon Rahm - BMW Championship - advised at 14/1
  • Dustin Johnson - Northern Trust - advised at 20/1
  • Justin Thomas - WGC FedEx St Jude - advised at 12/1
  • Webb Simpson - RBC Heritage - advised at 30/1

Placed

  • Laurie Canter - 2nd Italian Open - advised at 45/1
  • Kristoffer Ventura - T6 Sanderson Farms Championship - advised at 80/1
  • Xander Schauffele - 5th US Open - advised at 16/1
  • Kristoffer Ventura - T7 Safeway Open - advised at 80/1
  • Laurie Canter - 2nd Portugal Masters - advised at 66/1
  • Si Woo Kim - T3 Wyndham Championship - advised at 40/1
  • Jason Day - T4 USPGA Championship - advised at 40/1
  • Phil Mickelson - 2nd WGC FedEx St Jude - advised at 110/1
  • Viktor Hovland - 3rd Workday Charity Open - advised at 25/1
  • Kevin Streelman - T7 Workday Charity Open - advised at 60/1
  • Tyrrell Hatton - T4 Rocket Mortgage Classic - advised at 16/1
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