Augusta National Golf Club reluctantly throws its doors open to the great unwashed this week, as it hosts the biggest golf tournament in the actual universe.
The US Masters 2017 has it all. Green Jackets being exchanged amid awkward pleasantries, the squeaky bum threat that is Amen Corner and Lee Westwood constantly missing two-foot putts. No other tournament comes close to the drama, excitement and punting opportunities.
Defending champ Danny Willett returns to see if he can put four solid rounds together for the first time since Jordan Spieth’s self-inflicted brain fart on the back nine last year, gifted him the title.
Paddy’s lost the run of himself and is paying 8 PLACES (1/5th the odds). So here are a half dozen, plus two more, you’re backing ahead of the first Major of the season that tees off on Thursday.
1. Rory McIlroy
So Rory, where did it all go wrong? Mc Attack remains a Green Jacket shy of a golfing Grand Slam as he looks to become just the sixth man in history to do it.
But his winning form has gone slightly AWOL just when he needs it most. Without a Major on the mantelpiece since his 2014 Open Championship victory.
Rory has wrestled with his own Spieth-like demons when throwing away a winning final-day lead in 2011, he’s admitted in interviews that winning a Masters is getting harder as plenty of young turks on the PGA Tour have come through.
And while his talent will always see him at the head of the betting for any tournament he plays, he’s been top 10 in the last three years with 8-4-10 finishes. Knows he need his ‘A’ game and more all four days to win this week.
2. Sergio Garcia
It really, really, really, could happen. Blur’s 1995 hit The Universal could have been written for the Spaniard, but as one of the longest-serving and high-profile players on Tour, he’s still without a Major.
However, there have been definite signs that the Spaniard isn’t done for yet. A play-off victory over Brooks Koepka at the Byron Nelson Challenge gave him his first win Stateside in four years, and two months ago he lifted the Dubai Desert Classic to end his European Tour drought.
He’s played the last 15 Masters but his T8 in 2013 remains the high water-mark at Augusta. Still under the dreaded 40-years-old mark (37) that tends to count against Masters winners (but has recently favoured Open Championship winners), but needs to get a wiggle on.
3. Hideki Matsuyama
The golden boy has turned to dust in the last couple of weeks, as the Japanese starlet’s three-tournie winning streak worldwide at the turn of the year seems a long time ago now.
That flush of early-season form bumped him up to No. 4 in the world rankings and on the plus side, he did regain his Phoenix Open crown when going back-to-back on the desert course in February.
Matsuyama finished a pretty luck-less T7 here last year in his fifth Masters, having banked a fifth place berth the year before.
If he can gets a little hotter with the putter and gets some normal luck-in-running, this tee-to-green mo’chine will be on the dance floor eyeing up putts when others are hacking it out of the trees at Amen Corner. A big chance if he bring his ‘A’ game.
4. Henrik Stenson
Things haven’t quite worked out for Henrik so far this year but that could easily change for the Swedish Terminator.
Last year’s Open Champion, Olympic Silver Medal winner and Race to Dubai champion (again!) could be forgiven for having the cigar out, but the world No. 5 still has some unfinished business at Augusta.
A closing-day 69 last season bumped him into the Top 25 finish on his 11th visit, but he has yet to better his 14th place finish to Bubba Watson three years ago.
Despite a dodgy back and some bad knees, he’s still managed three top 10 berths in five starts this season but did miss the cut at Houston last weekend.
If it all falls into place he won’t be far away.
5. Paul Casey
Augusta is unique among the Majors in that it tends to reward the ‘horses-for-courses’ approach. After a couple of years in the wilderness, Casey bounced back to finish 6th in 2015 before posting a T4 last season and seems to have pretty much nailed down how to get the maximum returns from the track.
So while those at the top of the market like DJ, McIlroy and former winner Jordan Spieth all look like win-only projects, there’s more juice in having proven performers like Casey, ( & former winners Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson) as each-way plays, to give you a better run for your money.
6 Dustin Johnson
It’s hard to argue that life isn’t fair for DJ.
The Major monkey is off his back with last year’s US Open win and his WGC triumph a fortnight ago, gave him three wins on the bounce this season already. What’s not to love about the one-time serial bottler?
Nothing really, except that the last player to win the Green Jacket when ranked as the World’s no. 1 golfer was one Mr. Tiger Woods back in 2002. And no player has won four tournaments on the bounce either since old Tiger. Will DJ ever catch a break?
If it’s the big mo’ you’re looking for – glance no further than DJ, who has finished sixth and fourth in his last two visits to Magnolia Lane and will surely press hard again this week for a second Major.
7. Tyrell Hatton
Now here’s one we didn’t see coming, but the English pro has been on fire Stateside since the year turned, with two top 5s and a top 10 in his three stroke-play events.
He’s shown he has the smarts to get his nose in front too, having won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the end of last year. Hatton quietly nicked a Top 10 spot in the PGA Championship last year, backing up a T5 at the Open Championship a month before.
Pops his Masters’ cherry this week, but on the downside you have to go back to the last century and Fuzzy Zoeller’s 1979 victory to find the last Augusta virgin to triumph.
While Augusta is as far from the ocean as Donald Trump is from being the voice of reason, the conditions in Georgia are set to turn soggy and windy. If they do, he could well out-run his odds, having emerged as a canny ‘links’ player.
8. Jon Rahm
Anyone who doesn’t quite fancy Sergio to be the first winning Spaniard since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 mightn’t have too far too look to find the next one.
The Basque Region’s John Rahm has delivered big-time since turning pro in 2016, and the former World No 1 in the amateur ranks has been burning it up Stateside in the paid ranks.
A Farmers Insurance Open win at the end of January has quickly been followed by two top 5 performances and a tenacious performance when going down to Dustin Johnson by one shot (was five down) in the WGC Championship a fortnight ago.
Despite having the build of a 30-year-old heavyweight, Rahm is just 22. However, he will need all his matador instincts to end a 40-year wait for another rookie to win at the US Masters but two closing rounds in the 60s delivered a T10 in Houston last weekend.