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The Masters Golf Preview and Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 04/02/2012

The 2012 golf season kicks in this week for some as the first major of the season is upon us. This is a special week for players, fans and everyone in-between as the anticipation leading up to the Masters is over. This is considered by many as the unofficial start of spring and while avid golf fans live for this weekend, even non-golf enthusiasts know about this epic tournament and what it means. Its beautiful simplicity is what makes it the greatest golf tournament in the world.

Famed Augusta National plays host to its 76th 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 11 years 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.

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. 47 Americans are in the field this week but only one U.S. player has won in the last four years, Phil Mickelson in 2010. While the Europeans have dominated the OWGR lately, a European hasn't won 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.

No Australian has ever won the Masters but last year was the best overall showing ever as Jason Day, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy all placed in the top four with Day and Scott sharing runner-up. Day (+4,000) is not playing great but does have three T20's in his last three starts. Scott (+2,500) last played the Cadillac with a T13 and Ogilvy (+8,000) is the longshot of the bunch as his best finish this year is a T16.

Rory McIlroy (+500) and Alvaro Quiros (+15,000) shared the lead after Thursday last year, both shooting 65. Coming out of the gates strong is always good but there has not been an outright wire-to-wire winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976. Trevor Immelman (+10,000) had a share of the lead in 2008 with Justin Rose and he went on to win by three shots over Tiger Woods. Finally healthy again, Immelman finished T15 here last year.

The defending champion is Charl Schwartzel (+4,000) who birdied the final four holes on Sunday to win by two strokes over Jason Day and Adam Scott. His first Masters was in 2010 where he finished T30 after an opening round 69 so last year's win was no fluke. He has two top five finishes this year at the Honda and the Cadillac but he has missed the cut in his last two events including last week at the Shell.

The favorite is Tiger Woods (+350) which should come as no surprise as he has won here four times but he hasn't worn the green jacket since 2005 when he defeated Chris DiMarco on the first playoff hole. Woods won in his last start at Bay Hill by five shots over Graeme McDowell and it was the first sign that the dominating performances from Woods may finally be returning.

Phil Mickelson (+800) is a three-time winner of the Masters and he seems to be in the hunt nearly every year. He has seven top three finishes, 13 top tens and his worst finish was a T46 back in 1991. He is coming off a disappointing T27 last year which came right after winning the Shell Houston Open. At the Shell this year, he was in the hunt but an average weekend left him with a T4 finish.

While Woods looks tempting, we will go with Rory McIlroy (+500) as our short-price out as the value with Woods in non-existent. Everyone certainly remembers his Sunday meltdown last year at Augusta but it is a safe bet to say he has forgotten it. He has three top threes in three events on the PGA Tour this year and he is no doubt at the top of his game. It would be a great comeback story.

Hunter Mahan (+2,000) is coming off a win last week at the Shell which vaulted him to fourth in the world. He is the first two-time winner on tour this year as he also won the Accenture Match Play. History is not on his side as only twice has any player won the previous week and then won the Masters. History is made to be broken though as he finished T10 in 2009 and T8 in 2010 despite missing the cut here last year.

Justin Rose (+2,500) as mentioned shared the lead in 2008 after Thursday and he is in great form to capture his first major. He won the Cadillac Championship last month and has four top 15 finishes so far this year. In that 2008 Masters, he ended up T36 as he followed that 68 with a Friday 78. He didn't get the invite in 2010 but sandwiched around that is a T20 in 2009 and a T11 last year.

Of that Australian trio from before, we are throwing Adam Scott (+2,500) into the mix. He has seen limited action this year in the states but it is hard to overlook how his game has come around over the past year. It started last August with a win at the Bridgestone Invitational, Steve Williams' first event carrying his bag and he certainly knows something about Augusta. He has missed the cut only twice at the Masters in 10 starts.

Sergio Garcia (+5,000) once had the title of best player never to win a major but he lost it after some tough times. He has regained some of his old form and if his putter is consistent, he could finally break through. His best finish this year is a T4 at the Northern Trust Open and while his recent Masters results are average (best finish T35 since 2005), El Nino certainly has the game to compete and win.

We used Bo Van Pelt (+8,000) two weeks ago at Bay Hill but he was forced to withdraw. He has been as consistent as they come when he plays as he has four top tens this year already. He has played at Augusta only twice and after missing the cut in 2005, he responded with a T8 last year and it could have better if not for an opening round 73. He is a darkhorse with exceptional value this week.

Recommended Tournament Win Six Pack at the Masters (all for One Unit)

Rory McIlroy (+500)

Hunter Mahan (+2,000)

Justin Rose (+2,500)

Adam Scott (+2,500)

Sergio Garcia (+5,000)

Bo Van Pelt (+8,000)

Record to date after 12 events: +11.1 Units

Sony Open -5 Units

Humana Challenge -6 Units

Farmers Insurance Open +22 Units

Waste Management Phoenix Open -5 Units

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am -5 Units

Northern Trust Open -5 Units

Accenture Match Play +7.1 Units

Honda Classic -5 Units

WGC-Cadillac Championship -5 Units

Transitions Championship +6 Units

Arnold Palmer Invitational -4 Units

Shell Houston Open +16 Units

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