The pristine setting of Augusta National, the Green Jacket, both associated with one thing. The Masters is back, and the 2023 edition is shaping up to be an enthralling contest between the best golfers on the planet.
It’s easy to get excited when it comes to the Masters. Augusta National is one of the most beautiful courses on the planet, but don’t let its looks fool you. It’s a shot-makers course, and one of the most devilishly difficult on tour.
The opening major of the 2022-23 Golfing Calendar runs from Thursday 6th April through to Sunday 9th, and with 4 days of action to look forward to, there’s plenty for us to pick apart prior to first group teeing off at 13:00 BST.
The main contenders
You really need to have a solid understanding of Augusta to get around the it unscathed. Bryson DeChambeau described the course as ‘a par 67 for me’ back in 2020, insinuating that his ability to hit thumping drives and achieve longer distances than anyone else on the tour would be enough to see him through the week.
How wrong he was. Since making those comments, DeChambeau has broken 70 just once in ten rounds, and missed the cut last year having shot consecutive rounds of 76 and 80. This in itself evidences that power isn’t everything at the Masters, it’s the definition of a shot-makers course, where approach play, short game, and the creativity to play your way out of difficult situations are the areas that will see you make strides towards the Green Jacket.
But, what if you were to have both? The ability to prioritise power and length, whilst also being cute and controlled with an iron or wedge in hand? There are a number of names that can exhibit such skills, but heading into this year’s competition, there are 3 names that seem to stand out amongst the rest.
Scottie Scheffler – 11/2
Reigning Champion and world number 1 Scottie Scheffler spearheads a trio of players, all sat at the top of the World Rankings, that many people have as favourites for this week’s championship. The American comes into the Masters as the betting favourite at odds of 7/2, and it’s easy to see why.
It truly is difficult to bet against Scheffler in his current form. After 18th and 19th placed finishes in his first two appearances at Augusta National, the world number 1 went on to win the Green jacket in 2022. He carded four under par rounds, with a 67 on the Friday, and was three shots clear of second placed Rory McIlroy, and could well have been further clear if not for McIlroy’s stunning final round 64.
Scheffler is looking to join elite company this year. Only 3 players have won the Green jacket back-to-back at Augusta National, and a win for Scheffler would see him join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, and Tiger Woods in claiming such an accolade. He has every chance of doing so as well. The American hasn’t finished outside of the top 12 since October, and has won in 2 of his last 5 starts (The Players Championship, and the Phoenix Open). He backed that up with a 4th placed finish at the World Matchplay, and will be worth a watch here.
Rory McIlroy – 11/2
McIlroy perhaps doesn’t come into this one in quite the form that Scheffler does, but the world number 2 forms part of the triumvirate that many are expecting to dominate this week. Not only that, but Rory managed to get one up on rival Scheffler at the World Matchplay two weeks ago, beating the world number 1 in a consolation match for third place.
Last year will have been a real kick in the teeth for McIlroy, with his final round 64 placing him second, 3 shots behind Scheffler. He came agonisingly close, and a better start to the week may well have seen McIlory obtain the one major that continues to elude him, the one he needs to complete his career Grand Slam.
The world number 2 arguably has no better chance to win the Masters. A win in Dubai in January is accompanied by a second placed finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month. His underlying metrics are also superb, sitting over the last 36 rounds of all his years participants for both Driving Distance, and tee-to-green on Par 5’s. McIlroy truly knows what it takes to get round Augusta National. With career finishes in 8th-4th-10th-7th-5th-5th-2nd, there’s no reason as to why he can’t go one better this year.
Jon Rahm – 8/1
The third of three that many see as the stand out picks for the Green Jacket. Jon Rahm broke the proverbial seal back in 2021, winning the US open to pick up his first Major Championship. The Spaniard has failed to build on that success with regards to further majors however, but he has all the necessary skills to win this week at Augusta.
Rahm struggled for consistency this time last year, finishing 4 over par come the end of the week. It’s certainly a course that suits him, given his ability to both play for distance, and for position. The world number 3 has finished in the top 10 in 4 of his last 5 starts at Augusta National, with finishes in 5th, 7th, 9th, and 4th.
He’s had a scintillating start to 2023 however, with no other player on the PGA Tour able to match his number of wins so far this year. He has 3 wins to his name in 9 starts this season, with 6 top 10 finishes in total. He’s been somewhat out of sorts since an illness saw him pull out of the Players Championship, but Rahm certainly possesses everything that he needs to take the Green Jacket if he can exhibit his earlier form from 2023.
Of course, the three main contenders really do stand out above the rest, and it looks difficult on paper to bet against them. However, there are a couple of players that I’m keeping my eye on this weekend, and I think both have a fantastic chance of featuring in the top at the very least.
Tony Finau – 16/1
This is a generous price for a player who loves Augusta National. At 16/1, Finau represents some decent each-way value, and given the quality of his game, he’s certainly one to keep an eye on this weekend.
Tony Finau has won 3 events on the PGA Tour since the start of last year. Granted, not one of those wins has occurred in 2023 (the last was in November), but he’s still exhibited solid form over the last few months. He was seen as a player who simply couldn’t close out a win, but of course, that’s changed, and Finau is yet to finish outside the top 25 in any event this year. That’s 9 top 25’s in 9 starts, as well as 3 top 10’s.
The American has a great relationship with this course as well. He’s made the cut on all 5 of his Masters starts, with 3 finishes in the top 10 to boot. In 2019, he was part of the final pairing longside champion to be, Tiger Woods. He finished just 2 shots shy of the Green Jacket that year, and he certainly has the game to do it again. The softer ground should suit Finau’s length off the tee, and given that he ranks 4th for tee-to-green approach of the entire field over their last 36 rounds, there’s a real chance of a strong finish here.
Xander Schauffele – 18/1
Schauffele looks to be a real sleeper pick this weekend, and I wonder if he’s going into the Masters a little bit overlooked. The world number 7 has everything that he needs in his game to be at the very top, and has proven more than capable on multiple occasions around Augusta National.
It’s difficult to consider somebody with 2 top 3 finishes in their last 5 Masters starts as an outsider, but that’s exactly what Xander Schauffele is this week. 19/1 makes him a great shout for an each-way bet, his 3rd place finish in 2021, and 2nd place finish in 2019 evidencing his pedigree around this course. He had the Green Jacket in the palm of his hands before playing into the water on the 16th two years ago, and he’ll be looking to take that step into the upper echelons of the sport this weekend by going one better than 2nd.
He’s looking particularly healthy after back surgery earlier this year, and Schauffele comes into this with a 3rd at the American, 13th at Torrey Pines, 10th in Phoenix, and a 19th at the Players Championship. He rounded that off with an incredibly commendable 5th placed finish at the World Matchplay just two weeks ago.
Over his last 36 rounds, Xander Schauffele ranks 11th in the entire field for tee-to-green approach, and 5th for tee-to-green on Par 5’s. He has a history of doing well here, and given his form coming in, he’s certainly a player that I like the look of.
The masters: best bet
Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to look past the the deadly trio of Scheffler, McIlroy, and Rahm here. But, in a championship that is stacked with talent, a simple outright bet on one of the three doesn’t present the best value, and an each way bet on the star turns wouldn’t make much sense given the odds.
My best bet for the Masters is Xander Schauffele each way up to 10 places. The world number 7 absolutely has the game to win at Augusta, and previous finishes in 2nd and 3rd highlight just how much he loves this course.
What’ really swaying me in this direction is his 5th placed finish at the WGC Matchplay just two weeks ago. Such a strong finish against quality opposition cannot be understated, and it proves that Schauffele is in a great place heading into the Masters. He’s recovered incredibly well from his surgery earlier this year, and looks to be firing on all cylinders.
His stats from tee-to-green are right up there with the best, particularly on the Par 5’s, where there areplenty of shots to be made around Augusta.
The value is fantatsic as well. A £35 each way bet on Schuffele this weekend could net you £130 if he claims the Green Jacket, and £25 if he were to place top 10. With his history arround the course, and strong form of late, I wouldn’t put it past him.