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US Masters 2022 First Round Leader & Specials Tips

Jordan Spieth features as one of five selections in these US Masters 2022 specials
Jordan Spieth features as one of five selections in these US Masters 2022 specials

Well it looks like the unthinkable is happening and Tiger Woods looks very likely to be showing up for his 10:34 starting time on the 1st tee on Thursday. Adding further excitement to an event that wasn’t lacking in that respect. 

Onto my specials selections this week, where I’ve taken a look at the First-Round-leader market, as well as a couple in the top category markets.

US Masters Specials Tips

FIRST-ROUND-LEADER

There are three things I really look for when trying to find the right player to be First-Round-Leader. Someone who has a proven record of shooting low rounds around that week’s course, whether there has proven to be a tee-time bias in past renewals, irrespective of weather and finally if there is indeed an extra weather bias at this year’s event.

When looking at the last nine years of Masters First-Round-Leaders, there’s been a noticeable trend of later starters being in or sharing the lead on a Thursday evening. 

Of those last nine renewals, nine of the thirteen players to either hold the lead solo, or hold a share of the lead after round one have had a tee-time after 12pm. This would primarily be because of the fact spring mornings in Augusta can often be a little chilly, meaning the ball doesn’t travel as far, with the temperatures warming up for the afternoon starters.

Full list of FRL start-times since 2013 below:

2021 – Justin Rose (12:48)

2020 – Paul Casey (7:54), Dylan Frittelli (12:10), Dustin Johnson (12:10)

2019 – Bryson DeChambeau (13:38), Brooks Koepka (14:00)

2018 – Jordan Spieth (13:49)

2017 – Charley Hoffman (13:08)

2016 – Jordan Spieth (9:48)

2015 – Jordan Spieth (13:15)

2014 – Bill Haas (10:08)

2013 – Sergio Garcia (12:57), Marc Leishman (9:28)

Only once in these last nine renewals has someone had a really early start-time on Thursday, with Paul Casey (7:54) in 2020. We also see that of those later starters, five of them were after 1pm, with Sergio Garcia (12:57) only three minutes shy of this starting time. Giving a clear advantage to players starting later in the day. 

However, it does look like the weather may play it’s part on Thursday and before the event, meaning this trend may not be quite as sure a thing as previous years.

There is predicted to be plenty of rain over the next two days, softening the course up. In addition to this the temperatures appear to be pretty constant throughout the day and there’s also a strong breeze on the cards from the start, with the gusts getting a little stronger as the day goes on.

With this in mind, I don’t want to stack my FRL bets entirely on one side of the draw and will be looking to have at least 1 early/1 late starter.

The above list also shows how quality experience of Augusta is often a factor in someone getting off to a fast start. Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth in particular, are amongst a group of players to possess the most rounds in the 60s at Augusta in the last decade. With Koepka, Garcia and Leishman certainly not lacking in such rounds themselves.

Golf Odds
First-Round-Leader - Jordan Spieth E/W (7 places)
28/1
Odds correct as of 2022-04-05 19:45 Odds subject to change.

After a faltering performance at Pebble Beach back in February, it’s fair to say we haven’t really seen the best of Jordan Spieth since, and as strange as it is to say about a player with such a superb record around Augusta, he wasn’t really on my radar this week at all. That was before he signed off with an excellent 67 in Texas last week, where he led the field both T2G and in approach.

In truth Spieth actually led the field T2G in Texas for the entire week, with that previously reliable putter once again causing his problems, but even though his approach play has still been solid enough since Pebble Beach, in that final round he did produce his 2nd best approach performance of the year, after the 3rd round at Pebble.

That incredible record of Spieth’s at Augusta saw him go 2-1-2 on his first three starts in the event, and it almost certainly should’ve been 2-1-1, if it wasn’t for that infamous collapse in 2016. Since then he’s continued to perform excellently at this event, going 11-3-21-46-3 on his next 5 starts and the hope is a return here will ignite his putter into life, at least in the first round.

Amongst all of those quality performances, Spieth has also amassed an incredible record of 1st round leads at The Masters, holding that honour in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Firing ten rounds in the 60s, which includes two 64s and three 66s. He simply loves the place.

It would probably have been foolish to ignore Spieth this week regardless of his performance in Texas, but that final round really did catch my attention. His record here speaks for itself and from a similar tee-time from which he held the FRL in 2018, Spieth can once again start his Masters journey in the perfect way.

First-Round-Leader - Corey Conners E/W (7 places)
45/1
Odds correct as of 2022-04-05 19:50 Odds subject to change.

Canada’s Corey Conners has been in good form of late and with an ever improving Masters record to boot, I fancy him to start well this week.

Conners started his year with an 11th place finish at the Sony Open. After a disappointing run in his next four events, where he missed three cuts and could only muster up a best finish of 38th, he’s bounced back well in the next quartet. Putting up finishes of 11th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 25th in THE PLAYERS Championship, an excellent 3rd in the WGC-Matchplay and was 35th in Texas last week.

Speaking of that performance in Texas, Conners signed off with a 67 on Sunday, where he produced his best approach performance of the year. This is very much his strength, with quality off-the-tee painting the perfect picture of this player, who is in the top echelon of ball-strikers in world golf.

The short-game is his Achilles Heel, but he’s been solid around-the-greens for most of this year and an in-and-out putter is not necessarily an issue, providing he can be in with it on Thursday.

He’s improved at Augusta on every visit. Since missing the cut on debut in 2015, he’s recorded finishes of 46th, 10th and 8th in the last three years. In that time producing four rounds in the 60s, including a superb 7-under 65 in 2020.

Conners has shown he can get hot around here, particularly on a receptive course. If able to carry over that excellent approach play from his final round on Sunday in Texas, he can end the first day near the top of the leaderboard.

First-Round-Leader - Tony Finau 50/1 E/W (8 places)
50/1
Odds correct as of 2022-04-05 19:55 Odds subject to change.

Tony Finau signed off on a 29th place finish at the Texas Open last week by carding his best round of the four days on Sunday, with a 69. I’m hoping he can carry that momentum through to the first round at Augusta this week.

Finau has been a little out of sorts since picking up that first PGA Tour title in five years at The Northern Trust last year, but there were a couple of things I liked about that 69 he shot on Sunday. Both off-the-tee and on the greens. With his driving performance there his best since that Northern Trust win and his putting performance the 2nd best round on the greens he’s produced this year.

He’s a bit of an Augusta specialist, making the cut on each of his four starts, with a quartet of finishes that reads 10-5-38-10. In this time he’s achieved 5 rounds in the 60s out of 16, which includes a pair of 66s and a superb 64 in 2019. Also showing his ability to get off to a fast start around here on debut in 2018, when an opening round 68 saw him sat T2 at the end of round one.

If he can run with the performance on Sunday in Texas, particularly the quality he found off-the-tee and with the putter, Finau can get off to another fast start at Augusta this week.

US Masters Odds
Top American – Max Homa 50/1 E/W (5 places)
50/1
Odds correct as of 2022-04-05 19:55 Odds subject to change.

I spoke in my outright preview that I still liked the Homa antepost selection, as he’d continued to play really well this year without quite managing to pick up a victory. So I felt the need to get him onside in another way.

I contemplated the top 10/top 20 markets but wasn’t too enthused by the price for top 20 and in terms of top 10, I think to achieve that kind of finish he’d have to essentially place in the Top American market, and with the 50/1 and 5 places on offer there, I felt it represented the better value.

The reasons for liking Homa here are simple. He’s an excellent ball-striker, ranking 27th off-the-tee and 36th in approach this season, with his short-game also looking in good shape. A small dip on the greens is nothing to be overly concerned about, such has been the quality of his putting of late.

This quality tee-to-green game has helped Homa to a strong start in 2022. Where he’s missed just one cut, at the Farmers Insurance Open, finishing no worse than 17th in his five other strokeplay starts on the PGA Tour this year, with a 10th at the Genesis Invitational his best finish.

He has missed the cut on two starts here but he has an incredibly attractive book of correlating form, with him regularly going well at these strong championship tests that possess many form-ties with Augusta.

He’s a winner at Riviera in the Genesis Invitational, as well as also picking up a victory at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo Championship. In addition to this he’s hit the top 10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial Tournament, with further top 10s at the Genesis.

He may not look an obvious winner, with those two missed cuts to his name but I remain convinced by the assets in his game and the other course form he possesses, that Homa is very much capable of putting on a show here in The Masters. Hopefully it’s a case of third time lucky this week!

Top Debutant – Harold Varner III E/W (4 places)
11/1
Odds correct as of 2022-04-05 20:00 Odds subject to change.

I think we’re blessed with a strong group of debutants this year, many who look to possess the game to handle the test that Augusta poses. Sam Burns heads the Top Debutant market and rightly so, this strong all-rounder picked up his 3rd PGA Tour title on his last start, a few weeks ago at the Valspar Championship and is set to be a major contender for the foreseeable future. 

I also like the game of Talor Gooch for Augusta, a strong iron player and possessing a great short game, with his first PGA Tour victory coming in this part of the world in the RSM Classic last year.

Though at a larger price and possessing a skillset not too dissimilar to Gooch, I’ve opted for the likeable Harold Varner III instead. Who has the short-game, distance off the tee and has recently shown enough positive signs with his irons, that tell me he can go well on his first crack around Augusta.

Harold has had a good start to 2022, picking up a 2nd international title with an incredible 92ft eagle putt on his final hole at the Saudi International back at the start of February. He’s also put up some solid performance back home in the states, the best of those a 6th place finish at Sawgrass a few weeks ago and most recently we saw him getting knocked out in the group stages of the Matchplay. However he did win 2 of his 3 matches in the group, only losing to Brooks Koepka who won all three and advanced to the knockout stages.

Earlier in the year, Varner was reliant on his short-game but there’s been a noticeable upturn in his ball-striking on his two most recent starts, gaining strokes in both approach and off-the-tee in his 6th place finish at THE PLAYERS and 57th place finish at the Valspar. Particularly impressive was that performance at Sawgrass, where he ranked 6th in the field tee-to-green and 7th in approach.

Strength tee-to-green has always been Varner’s bag and saw him rank 8th tee-to-green on tour in the 2019/20 season and 33rd in 2020/21. With approach being a particular standout, ranking top 30 in the last two seasons. He has too always possessed a good touch around-the-greens and though the driver has been a little on/off since the middle of last year, he possesses plenty of quality in that area too, as well as length. 

In addition to this he’s made noteworthy improvements with the putter these last two seasons, going from ranking no better than 120th on the greens from 2015-2020, he hit the top 100 last year and once again sits inside the top 100 this year.

He has a solid record in majors, having missed just one of four cuts in the PGA Championship and one in two at The Open. Two missed cuts in the US Open are not a concern, he was after-all in his debut season as a professional in the first of those in 2013.

In terms of his suitability to Augusta, he has an excellent record at Sawgrass in the PLAYERS Championship, a place where a quality short-game goes a long way, putting up finishes of 6th and 7th there over recent years. He’s hit the top 20 at both the Memorial Tournament and Genesis Invitational, whilst he also has a strong record at Bay Hill, making three of his last four cuts there.

This is a strong market, but I think with the quality short-game he possesses and the recent improvement in his ball-striking to more Varner-like levels, he is as well equipped to enjoy a good first spin around Augusta than many of the other debutants.

Golf Betting Tips
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