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Masters Preview + Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 04/04/2011

If you have gotten your fill of Jim Nantz during the Final Four, brace yourselves as you will be hearing him more than you probably want to this week. Nantz will be broadcasting his 26th Masters and even with his annoying stories, he doesn't weaken one of the greatest weeks as there is something so special about this tournament. A true golf fan waits all winter for this week and even the casual fans tune in on the weekend. With the horrible weather still present in the northeast, at least we know spring is close.



Famed Augusta National plays host to its 75th Masters. Back in the day, hitting the ball a mile would be the greatest asset a player could have. And even though the yardage has increased from 6,985 yards in 2001 to 7,435 yards today, bombing it is no longer the edge. Ball striking, hitting greens and putting are the biggest factors in succeeding. Only three times in the last decade has the winner finished outside the top 22 in driving accuracy, and only twice have they finished out of the top 10 in greens in regulation.



Unless you have seen Augusta National in person, you cannot appreciate the enormous elevation changes which means getting a flat lie is a rarity. Basically, it is a 'second shot' course which means the approaches are important just to get into position. Hitting an approach shot to the wrong place in some cases means not even being able to go after the pin, whether it be a chip shot or putt. That brings big scores into play so the thought process of shots is just as important as the physical part of the game.



Even though the course is much longer, it does not take the small hitters out of play. Just look at recent winners Trevor Immelman, Mike Weir and Zach Johnson. Because the course has been tightened, it actually brings every player to an almost even playing field and that is what the goal has been since redesigns started taking place. The setup has made the goal pretty simple actually - hit fairways and then hit the correct side of the green and there is a good chance of being on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday.



How do we pick a winner? Past history plays a big part as you will see names near the top that you rarely see in other events as successful players here are usually successful every year. The Europeans are dominating the World Rankings but can they win here? A European hasn't won the event since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999. We can also rule out first time participants as a Masters rookie has not won here since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. That is 19 players we can cross off the list.



Last year's champion Phil Mickelson (+500) was looking like a longshot to repeat at Augusta, that is up until last week. He shot a 63 on Saturday and followed that up with a Sunday 65 to hold off Scott Verplank and Chris Kirk and win the Shell Houston Open. Winning the previous week does not mean he cannot win this week as Mickelson himself has pulled off the back-to-back feat, winning the 2006 BellSouth Classic and then winning his second Masters the following week.



Tiger Woods (+700) is now ranked seventh in the OWGR but he is the second favorite this week behind Mickelson. He has not won since the BWM Championship in September, 2009 but he has shown fleeting glimpses that his driving, iron play and short game are returning to their former level. Despite missing six months leading up to last year's Masters, Woods still finished fourth and we cannot discount the fact he has won at Augusta four times.



The average age of a Masters winner is 32 years old and there has been only 17 champions that win in their 20's, most recently, Immelman in 2008. Martin Kaymer (+2000) is only 26 years old but he has won five times since the start of 2010 and is the number one ranked player in the world. But then why is he not among the favorites this week? MC in 2010, MC in 2009 and MC in 2008. He has shot a 76 in one round each of those years so he needs to avoid that.



Dustin Johnson (+2000) is a very popular pick this week and despite that, he is still seeing some good odds. His meltdown at the U.S. Open last year and his bunker gaffe at the PGA Championship has many wondering if his mental game is good enough to win here. His two finishes are T30 and T38 at Augusta so while he hasn't been in the hunt, he has done well. He is one of the longest hitters here and that will be an edge as long as he keeps control of it.



Hunter Mahan (+2500) has rebounded incredibly from his debacle at the Ryder Cup. He has not missed a cut this season and he has four top ten finishes in eight stroke play events as well as a T9 in the Accenture Match Play Championship. He has not won yet this year but that may be a good thing as it adds even more fuel to the fire. After missing the Masters cut in 2008, Mahan has finished T10 in 2009 and T8 last year so he has turned Augusta into his liking.



Anthony Kim (+3000) may finally be recovered from his thumb injury that took a long time for him to get back into form. A Friday 64 brought him to the top of the leaderboard in Houston where was the defending champion. He faded on Sunday with a 73 but his confidence is at a season high right now. Known for being everywhere off the tee, that was the case again last week but it didn't hurt nor did it hurt his T20 in 2009 or his solo third last year at Augusta.



Steve Stricker (+4000) finished T4 in Houston last week and that is a big momentum boost heading into the Masters. He has played sparingly this year as he has only six events under his belt but he has three top tens. After missing the cut at Augusta in 2007 and 2008, he finished T6 in 2009 and T30 last year. That finish a year ago could have been better as he had six bogeys in a nine-hole span between Saturday and Sunday. He had only nine bogeys in the other 63 holes.



For a longshot this week we will go with Ryan Moore (+8000). After withdrawing from his season opener Bob Hope, Moore has made every cut and possesses a T4 at the Northern Trust and a T5 in the Accenture Match Play Championship. His last tournament was the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he finished T12 and his Masters experience while limited, it strong. Way back in 2003, he finished T45 and last year in his only other appearance he finished T14.



The Masters Win Bets



Dustin Johnson (+2000)

Hunter Mahan (+2500)

Anthony Kim (+3000)

Steve Stricker (+4000)

Ryan Moore (+8000)



The Masters Matchup Bets (All from sportsbook.com) – All for 2 Units



Aaron Baddeley -115 over Rickie Fowler



Baddeley won at the Northern Trust and is coming off a T4 in Houston last week. His last start at Augusta was in 2009 and that resulted in a solid T17. Fowler is a Masters rookie and while he has the game, the inexperience will cost him this week.



Alvaro Quiros -115 over Angel Cabrera



Quiros is one of the longest hitters in the world which will help him here. He missed the cut here last year but that experience will help. Cabrera won in 2009 but he is going threw some painful health issues right now.



Bubba Watson -115 over Graeme McDowell



Watson is already a winner this year and he has had some decent success at Augusta, including a T20 in 2008. McDowell has emerged as one of the best players in the world but even he said Augusta sets up horribly for him.



Sean O'Hair +105 over Zach Johnson



Johnson is a former champion but he has not been playing too well with his best finish being a T20 at the Transitions. He has not cracked the top 20 at Augusta since his win. O'Hair is struggling but owns a T10 here in 2009 and a T14 in 2008.



Trevor Immelman -115 over Vijay Singh



Singh was playing well to start the season but he has only one top 25 in his last four starts. He missed the cut at the Masters last year. Immelman knows how to win here and he has not misses a cut in his last five events as he is finally healthy again.



Tiger Woods -125 over Nick Watney



This price would have been -200 even last year and while Watney is playing some of the best gold of anyone, we cannot discount Woods at this price. He finished fourth here last year after a six-month layoff and the magic is overdue for a reemergence.

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