The Masters Preview and Predictions

Hello friends.  It’s the buzziest time of the sports calendar and the peak of WASP Chancellor Jim Nantz, and after an interminable five months, The Masters is back in our lives.  Despite Tiger Woods’ devastating accident and injuries, golf remains in a healthy state.  The PGA Tour is appealing to its younger audience and trying to bring new viewers into the fold by wisely welcoming gambling with open arms, partnering with outfits like DraftKings and fighting for more access, along with integrating gambling right into its telecast and leaderboards. Even without the true “needle” of golf viewership, Tiger Woods, an array of superstars will keep the game afloat and hopefully the Tour’s strategic plans to grow the audience will come alongside and continue developing stars like Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, etc.  Jordan Spieth’s potential rebirth would also do wonders for the game.

All of this sets up the best week of golf, and it surely won’t disappoint. The Masters transcends golf and its reach pulls in more casual fans than any other event.  The more diehard enthusiasts have personal connections.  For me, I have vivid memories of creating lesson plans that were as hands off as possible, for me, on Masters Thursday and Friday, so I could front load instruction for my 10th graders and then “monitor” from my desk with multiple Masters tabs open.  One year a student brought me a Masters shirt that is ugly and doesn’t fit me at all, but it’s one of my favorite moments I ever had as a teacher.  I also have a good friend with a Masters connection.  After years of begging, he was able to score some practice round tickets for me, for the 2020 Masters. My mom introduced me to golf as a kid, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to take her.  She’s been battling stage IV ovarian cancer for nearly five years, and this was a true bucket list item for her.  Sadly, the pandemic pushed back those plans for at least another year, but I’m hopeful we can still make it happen.  All of this to say, The Masters is unique and unlike any other sporting event, and this year should be a special one.  Let’s dig into some of our favorite angles and storylines for the week.

Five Biggest Questions

Is Jordan Spieth back?

For the record, I am a noted Jordan Spieth hater.  That’s for another day though, and Jordan deserves his shine here.  As the great Kyle Porter noted, Spieth’s irons are rounding into form (four of the last six Masters winners led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach), and he’s playing consistent golf for the first time in two plus years. Spieth’s magic beans are always in his bag, and no one feels more at home at Augusta than Spieth.  There’s no value to be found on Spieth in the markets, but it’s still a sharp bet that he’ll be in the mix on the weekend.

Can Dustin Johnson repeat?

DJ coasted to victory in November with a record-breaking score, and in classic Dustin fashion, he’s been lulling everyone to sleep with a stretch of mixed results (for his standards).  Remember last summer when DJ shot 80/80 to miss the cut at The Memorial, then WD’d at the 3M, and then came back with multiple wins and top fives to run away with the FedEx Cup?   No one has repeated at Augusta since the GOAT did in 2002, but as the heavy favorite at 7/1, seeing DJ put the green jacket on himself Sunday evening would be a surprise to no one.

Will Bryson figure out Augusta?

The talks of Bryson DeChambeau breaking golf are not exaggerated.  His psychotic obsession with swing speed has paid off to the tune of one major and two other wins in the last calendar year.  Prior to November’s Masters, Bryson claimed the course played as a par 68 for him.  But much to the delight of Augusta members and purists, the course brought Bryson to his knees in November, as he scrambled to make the cut and finished a pedestrian T34. As the third favorite behind DJ and Rahm and in good form, Bryson should be in the mix as well.  And if the Big Golfer runs away with the tournament, it will be great for the game and terrible all at once, as Bryson truly may be breaking golf.

Is it Lee Westwood’s time?

I’ll admit that I was a longtime Westwood hater.  But it’s hard to dislike a guy who is refreshingly honest, pits his own girlfriend and son against each other for caddying rights and paydays, and skips out on significant tournaments to enjoy himself at the track or watching soccer.  Westwood has great course history here with three top 3 finishes and is in great form.  His major record is a tortured though successful one as he’s played in the second most majors ever, for someone who hasn’t won one.  It wouldn’t be the sexiest storyline but Westy in a late Sunday pairing would make for good theatre.

What’s Rory’s deal?

I’m not ready to press the panic button on Rory just yet.  He’s been feast or famine since November, either finishing top 20 or missing the weekend on each of his PGA events.  Add on the recent swing coach change and the critics are naturally out for a player of Rory’s caliber.  He’s still in top form off the tee (3rd for the season) but his irons are wobbly (81st at the moment). Peak Rory is basically unbeatable, but we haven’t seen that guy in a while.  Seeing McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam with a Masters win would make for a great weekend story, but the timing just doesn’t feel right for him this year.

The Betting Corner

Here are a few of our favorite values on winners for the week.

11/1-Justin Thomas

Of the favorites, Thomas represents the best value as he’s at better odds than DJ or Bryson, the same price as Rahm and is in the best form of the top 5-6 guys.  He’s coming off a Players Championship victory and has no weakness in his game at the moment.

22/1-Collin Morikawa

The guy is a killer and has proven it on the Major stage already.  He’s the best iron player in the world right now and can follow the proven Spieth at Augusta blueprint with immaculate approach play and solid off the tee play.  He was priced at 30/1 recently, so the sharps seem to like him.

40/1-Cameron Smith

Smith finished tied for 2nd in November and 5th in the 2019 Masters.  Good form along with that great course history makes him a solid value here.

65/1-Sergio Garcia

When Sergio is right, he’s a threat at Augusta, and his game has been clicking of late.  He’s always solid off the tee and his irons are locked in right now. If Sergio can avoid one of his patented blow-ups/spit-in-the-hole tantrums, he could make some noise.

Favorite Prop Bets

Will there be a hole-in-one?

YES (-175)

The funnel pin at 16 on Sunday will nearly guarantee this one, and there has been an ace in each of the last four Masters. Cash it.

Will there be a playoff to decide the winner?

YES (+300)

Since 2009, 4/12 Masters have ended in a playoff.  This is some nice value here for something happening at a 33% clip in recent memory.

What will be the most strokes recorded on any hole?

OVER 8.5 strokes (-120)

The odds are much more favorable (-1100) for under 8.5, but if you suck at golf like I do, you enjoy carnage.  We’ve seen guys like Sergio pull a Tin Cup and nearly empty their bag on hole 15, and the legacy guys like Larry Mize always make this prop a live one.

Top Debutant

Scottie Scheffler (+600)

Despite its greatness, nothing is more pretentious than Augusta, and its insistence on hammering the word “debutant” regarding first-time players is nauseating, but Scheffler’s game fits Augusta great and could finish strong if he can figure things out around the greens.

Best potential corny Jim Nantz one-liners as the final putt drops on 18

Some of his greatest hits include, “Everyone talked about the dog fight coming in, right? Huskies and Bulldogs. But one thing was very clear tonight, here in Houston. Connecticut wins best in show!” “Y.E. YES… Y. E. Yang has won the PGA Championship!” and “Yes you May!” as Bob May  nearly won the 2000 PGA Championship.

Justin Thomas-”This Just In, Thomas is a champion!”

Bryson DeChambeau-”Sweet Mary Shelley the Mad Scientist did it!”

Jon Rahm-”Rahmbo sinks it for the win and draws his First Blood at a major.”

Jordan Spieth-”Move over Michael, the real Heir Jordan conquered Augusta once more.”

Patrick Reed-”Shit. Not this guy again.”

Final Predictions

It’s a crime that Justin Thomas has only one major amongst his 14 PGA Tour wins.  He finished T4 in November and is in even better form coming into this week.  The Masters always produced a star-studded leaderboard, and I expect strong finishes from stars like Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, and Collin Morikawa and from some dark horses like Cameron Smith and Corey Conners, but I like JT to add a green jacket to his wardrobe Sunday evening.

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