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Masters Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 04/06/2010

“Hello friends.”

Jim Nantz will greet you with this roughly 30 times this coming weekend and while it makes me cringe every time it comes across the airwaves, it is a small sacrifice because it means the Masters is here. This is truly one of the greatest weeks every year 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. This year it is a little bit different for pretty obvious reasons.

Famed Augusta National plays host to its 74th 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 at the Masters. 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.

Even though the course is much longer, it does not take the small hitters out of play. Just look at recent winners 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.

Even though he snap-hooked his first drive on number one into a bunker on the ninth fairway, Tiger Woods (+350) is happy to be back. You could tell by his demeanor at his Monday press conference and he said that he is simply having fun again. Depending on how he plays will determine how much fun he actually has as well as how much fun his competitors will have. Woods has not put on a Green Jacket since 2005 and the four-time champion would agree that a win this year would be his greatest ever.

Even though he has not played a competitive round in five months, Woods is the odds on favorite and that comes as no surprise. In his last 15 events in 2009, he finished 1st or 2nd in nine of those and while it took him a while to come back from his seven-month layoff due to knee surgery, it is different this time around. Coming back from this layoff is more mental and as we have seen throughout his career, that aspect of his game is greater than any other player. If he wins, I would not be surprised at all.

Ernie Els (+1200) is the only two-time winner on tour this year but that matters none this week. Els finished T44 last week in Houston and he would have been better off taking the week off to try and recharge instead of trying to win a third straight event. That could make fatigue be a factor again this week and the fact that he hasn't made the weekend at Augusta since 2006 certainly doesn’t help matters.

Phil Mickelson (+1000) is the second favorite despite a pretty average start to the 2010 season. He has not missed a cut in seven events this season and he has four top 25 finishes but he has cracked the top ten only once. He strung together six consecutive birdies on the back nine on Sunday last week at Redstone so that positive momentum could help. He's finished inside the top 15 every year except two since 1995 at Augusta.

Paul Casey (+3000) was set to defend at Houston last week but was a late scratch due to a shoulder injury. Turns out he slept on it wrong so he should be just fine this week. He has played exceptional this year without winning and his Masters track record is solid. He was 10th in 2007 after an opening round 79, 11th in 2008 after starting the final round in fourth and 20th last year. Casey admitted that he felt tired going into last year's Masters.

Last year’s champion Angel Cabrera (+6000) is way down the list mostly due to his very average start in 2010. He has made six of seven cuts but has not had a top ten since the opening SBS Championship and has not finished better than a T33 in his last five events. The two champions prior to him, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson, both finished T20 in defending so recent history is not on his side.

One longshot that I like is Chad Campbell (+10,000). He was part of that three-way playoff last year and Campbell admits he loves Augusta. Prior to last year’s runner-up, he finished third in 2006 and 17th in 2005. His success can be attributed to being able to hit greens as those three solid finishes were due to placing 11th, 4th and 16th in G.I.R. respectively and he is 20th on tour in that category this year. His long odds are a joke.

Other names to keep an eye on are Steve Stricker (+2000), Lee Westwood (+2000) and Tim Clark (+7500). Stricker and Westwood both said this is the best they have ever felt coming into the Masters and both get a decent price. Clark has never won on the PGA Tour but he has been close. His finishes at Augusta are T13, MC, T13, 2nd, T39, MC and T13 so it is safe to say he likes it here.

Tournament Win Bets (all for ¼ Unit)

Phil Mickelson +1000

Steve Stricker +2000

Paul Casey +3000

Tim Clark +7500

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