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2018 Masters Who Will Slip On The Green Jacket?

2018 Masters - Who Will Slip On The Green Jacket?

In case you missed the other content on the website during Masters Week, we first covered memorable gambling moments from Augusta National on Monday, and then did a deep dive on popular prop bets for the tournament on Tuesday.

But now it’s time for the million dollar question – who will slip on the green jacket on Sunday and get to serve whatever they want next year at the Champions Dinner?

When handicapping this event, normally I have a pretty easy time weeding out the contenders and the pretenders to place my bets on who will win The Masters. But I can honestly say that this year was the toughest time I had doing so. I truly cannot remember a Masters where this many top stars are heading into the event at the apex of their game. As someone who covers golf, having a multitude of juicy storylines from potential winners makes writing about it that much easier. Here are just a few potential outcomes that’ll write for themselves:

  • Tiger Woods defies modern medical science by going from unable to swing a driver to winning The Masters in six months.
  • Phil Mickelson captures his 4th Green Jacket, putting him in elite company only Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have achieved before him.
  • Jordan Spieth conquers his demons at the 12th hole and overcomes a shaky putter to become a two-time Masters Champion
  • McIlroy completes the “Rory Slam” and finally captures the elusive Green Jacket
  • Justin Rose has his vengeance! His long-awaited quest to put on the Green Jacket is complete.

And I haven’t even mentioned massive stars like Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson or Jason Day, all of whom would be tremendous stories if they were to win this weekend.

Can we take a moment to appreciate how hard Jim Nantz is probably working right now? Not only does he have to study up on the family tree of 30 guys who could realistically win the Masters this weekend, but he also has the pressure of coming up with witty anecdotes for each one! He probably looks like this right about now:

When you’re looking to place your bets on a winner this week, you’re going to make some very tough choices with such a deep, talented field. By looking back at the traits of what types of golfers fair well at Augusta National, though, it can give you clues on who to lay your capital on:

  • Quality Drivers: Since the Tiger-Proofing of the golf course, Augusta National has favored players who position themselves well off the tee. Though longer hitters do have a slight advantage, it’s those who generally rank highly in stat categories such as Strokes Gained Tee to Green or Strokes Gained Off the Tee that performs the best at Augusta National.
  • World Class Iron and Wedge Players: Augusta National will always weed out those who are hitting their irons on point and those who aren’t. And it’s not just the ability to be able to put the ball on the green that’s important – it’s the ability to put your approach in the correct location on the green. On some holes, having a putt from 30 feet is more favorable than someone who sticks their approach to 8 feet. If the approach is on the wrong side of the hole you’ll have almost no chance to drain the putt, and you could run it far past to put yourself in danger of three-putting for bogey. And if a golfer does miss a green, the ability to get up and down from tight lies can be the difference between a top finish or a missed cut.
  • The Ability to Score on the Par 5’s: With significant advances in technology, the Par 5’s at Augusta National present great scoring opportunities for most golfers. Unless mother nature throws a monkey wrench into the equation, all of them are reachable in 2 for just about everyone. And when the weather takes a turn for the worse, the ability to capitalize on these holes are paramount to keep someone at the top of the leaderboard. Especially on holes 13 and 15, if a golfer fails to make birdie and settles for par or bogey they’ll be putting themselves significantly behind the 8 ball and diminish their chances of winning.

As you look at your betting tickets and try and identify the winner, see how they’re fairing in these relevant stat categories on the season. If you notice a golfer is struggling in one or more of those areas, that might prevent you from putting your money down on a lame horse.

You could go for the home run and put down a bet on one or two guys, but the best strategy when trying to nail a tournament winner is to spread out your bets – put down a few bets on 3 or 4 of the favorites at 30/1 or under, place a couple on some longer shots in the 40-70/1 range, and then finally throw a hail mary or two on guys 80/1 or worse. Then you can allocate how much you bet on each golfer given the price to make sure you come out with a nice profit.

Unfortunately given the form most of the favorites are in, the time for any value on them is long gone. But you can still walk away from the Masters with a nice profit if you allocate your bets wisely.

Using the scattershot strategy above, here’s who I like to win or exceed expectations this weekend:

Favorites Under 30/1

Dustin Johnson – 12/1: This time last year, the spotlight was firmly on Dustin Johnson as he was coming off a stretch where he won the Genesis Open, the WGC Mexico Championship and the WGC Match Play in a span of five weeks. The perception coming into the event was that he was finally off the schnide of being the best player to never win a major, and he was going to bring Augusta National to its knees.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans. Maybe it was the ghost of Arnold Palmer who gave Dustin Johnson a nudge to send him falling down the stairs of his rental home. Or maybe Jordan Speith, driven to madness by his collapse the previous year, sent Michael Greller to do his dirty work to be the Tonya Harding to Dustin Johnson’s Nancy Kerrigan. Regardless, when Dustin Johnson took the spill down the stairs his ailing back wouldn’t allow him to start, and that seemed to set him back for the rest of the year.

Fast forward to this year and while Dustin Johnson is still the world number one, I’ve barely heard any buzz surrounding him as a pick to win the Green Jacket. It’s possible that Dustin Johnson’s no-show at the WGC Match Play turned off a lot of backers. He truly was terrible in the event, ranking 2nd to last in Strokes Gained for the weekend and looked completely checked out by Thursday afternoon.

So why am I not worried? Because Dustin Johnson isn’t either. I say this as a compliment that Dustin Johnson simply doesn’t care about bad things that happen to him on the golf course. He shrugs it off and gets over adversity quickly. A golfer could have all the talent in the world, but if they lack the ability to put a bad shot or tournament behind them they’ll turn into their own worst enemy. Dustin Johnson is elite at two things – ungodly athletic ability and the acceptance to move on from setbacks.

Besides this, statistically, he’s played the best of any golfer in the field in terms of attributes needed to do well at The Masters. In 2018 he ranks 4th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 1st in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 1st in both Par 4 scoring and Par 5 Birdie or Better %. The fact he’s only the fourth favorite and is barely even mentioned as a legitimate threat to win the Masters is astounding, but no one should be surprised when he’s the winner come Sunday evening.

Justin Thomas – 12/1: There’s only a handful of golfers on the PGA Tour who are able to take the stick and shift to a 5th gear. Thomas is one of those guys. He’s the total package, and the last 9 months have shown that when he’s firing on all cylinders he’s incredibly tough to beat.

Despite his small frame, his an all-world driver of the golf ball. He’s an elite ball striker with his irons, and no pin is unreachable for him no matter how tucked it might be. He’s a great scrambler, especially out of the rough, and can get up and down from almost anywhere. And he has the ability to get molten hot with his putter and drain birdie after birdie to demoralize his opponent.

There’s only one small problem being a Justin Thomas backer this weekend – can he fight off the nerves? He’s had trouble staying out of his own head over the last year at a few key moments. He admitted after the U.S. Open last year that he was so amped up after his 3rd round 63 that he let it carry over to the next day, which negatively impacted his game. And then two weeks ago he was rolling through the WGC Match Play, but once he started thinking about his opportunity to become the World’s #1 Golfer he choked big time and fizzled out.

But I think (hope) that admitting these issues served as a teaching moment for him to try and stay in the moment and not get ahead of himself. We’ve seen him be able to get in the zone when he won the PGA Championship last August, as he turned into the Terminator on the Back 9 and looked laser-focused on his way to his first major. And I think having the spotlight shined on guys like Tiger, Phil, Spieth, and Justin Rose this week will keep the pressure off of him until at least Sunday. At the end of the day, I’m backing raw talent and hope the mental side of his game shows up too.

Paul Casey – 25/1: Before you roll your eyes at me, just know that I’m doing it too. Paul Casey seems to be everyone’s under the radar pick du jour to take home the Green Jacket this weekend. And like other sports, it always seems like the trendy darkhorse is the one to cost everyone the most money (anyone who picked Arizona to the Final Four this year is nodding violently right now).

On paper, Casey hits all the marks – in 2018 he ranks 2nd in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 8th in Strokes Gained on Approach, 11th in Strokes Gained Around the Green and 19th in Par 5 Birdie or Better %. He has three consecutive Top 6 finishes at the Masters, so his backers certainly know that he’s capable of getting in the mix. One of the biggest knocks on him was his inability to win on U.S. soil or close the deal when in contention, and he was able to silence those critics when he fired off a 65 on Sunday to win at the Valspar last month.

If we’re being serious here, 25/1 on Paul Casey isn’t a great value. He just doesn’t have the next gear that guys like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Tiger, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson or Jordan Spieth have. And there’s a handful of other guys like Jon Rahm, Jason Day, and Justin Rose who if he’s mano-y-mano for the Green Jacket with if both are hitting their respective ceilings he’ll come out on the losing end of that battle.

But let’s face it – at this point in the game, no one is a good value.

We’ve seen winners emerge like Danny Willett, or Charl Schwartzel, or Zach Johnson – guys who hang around the top of the leaderboard and limit their mistakes while leaders around them falter to the wayside.  That’s how I’d envision Paul Casey winning this Sunday – one or two guys around make critical mistakes and he moves to the top of the leaderboard with a final round 68 to steal a Green Jacket.

Darkhorse Winners: 35/1 – 70/1

Alex Noren – 45/1: Like many European golfers, the stigma on them is that they tend to dominate over in Europe, but when they come to the United States they’re a non-factor. This accurately summed up Alex Noren’s experience the last few seasons when he teed it up in America. Noren had a phenomenal run on the European Tour between 2015 and 2017, winning six times at flagship events like the Scottish Open, European Masters, and the British Masters.

But at majors or PGA Tour events he played in he was a relative afterthought. Noren missed the cut at three of five majors before finishing Top 10 at the Open Championship in 2017. And if he posted enough events to qualify to rank in statistics, he would have been measured as one of the worst ball strikers on the PGA Tour.

But he seems to have turned a corner and so far in 2018 he’s silenced a lot of doubters about his ability to hold his own against the best the PGA Tour has to offer. If it wasn’t for J.B. Holmes committing 8 delays of game penalties on the 18th green at Torrey Pines, he very well might have won the tournament. Instead, he lost in a playoff to Jason Day. A few weeks later he scored a Top 5 at the Honda Classic, then added a 3rd place finish at the WGC Match Play a month later. And he’s remarkably improved his ball striking statistics in PGA Tour events in 2018, ranking 16th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 11th in Strokes Gained on Approach and 6th in Par 5 Birdie or Better %.

Several critical tee shots at Augusta National require a right to left ball flight, and as a natural fader that doesn’t quite suit his eye. But there also are keyholes where a left to right ball flight into the green is paramount, and that’s where Noren should excel this weekend. Like Casey, as long as he hangs around the top of the leaderboard and avoids big numbers, he could back his way into a surprise Green Jacket.

Adam Scott – 66/1: Let me give you a word problem to solve:

In 2018, Adam ranks 7th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 27th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 15th in Strokes Gained on Approach and 18th in Strokes Gained Around the Green. Where does he rank on the PGA Tour in Par 4 Scoring Average and Par 5 Birdie or Better %?

A: 6th and 18th

B: 45th and 23rd

C: 156th and 79th

If you guessed B…to the pit of misery for you.

The correct answer is actually C. Somehow, someway Adam Scott is ranked a putrid 156th in Par 4 Scoring and 79th in Par 5 Birdie or Better % despite elite all-around ball-striking statistics. This is positively dumbfounding.

Why is he struggling so bad? Like most years, Adam Scott’s Strokes Gained-Putting statistics are abhorrent, as he ranks 199th out of 212 golfers on the PGA Tour. Normally he’s able to at least score in spite of his deficiencies on the green because he’s such a great ball striker. But this year not only is he converting just 44% of his Par 5’s into birdies or better, but he’s only scoring a birdie on Par 4’s at a 15% clip.

Yuck.

So why do I think he can turn it around at The Masters, supposedly the course with the toughest greens in the world? Recent history has shown that you don’t have to rank highly in Strokes Gained-Putting heading into the event to win at Augusta. Guys like Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, and even the aforementioned Adam Scott have all had tremendous success at Augusta despite consistently ranking 100+ in Strokes Gained-Putting by season’s end. Successfully navigating the greens at Augusta is more about experience with the speed and slopes of it, and the difficulty of the greens tends to level out the playing field for everyone.

Adam Scott’s ball-striking stats are just too good to score this bad. I’m expecting a regression to the mean based on this and his stellar track record at Augusta, which includes a win in 2013 and 5 other Top 20’s in his last 8 starts at The Masters. And at 66/1, he’s certainly a bargain who could vastly exceed his expectations.

Honorable Mention Darkhorses: Hideki Matsuyama 35/1, Tommy Fleetwood 50/1, Bryson DeChambeau 70/1

Longshots – 80/1+

Kevin Chappell – 100/1: At these odds, you’re looking to hit on a surprise Top 10 or Top 20 prop, and god forbid if they win that’s just the cherry on top. But Chappell is a guy I really like that’s hovering in this range on the odds sheet. He’s 2/2 in making cuts at The Masters and finished Top 10 at the event last year. More importantly, however, is that his ball striking performance in 2018 fits the profile of a golfer who should fare well at Augusta National – 8th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 3rd in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 25th in Strokes Gained on Approach and 35th in Par 5 Birdie or Better %.

At most books, you can nab him at 9/1 for a Top 10 finish and 4/1 at a Top 20 finish. If you don’t have the stones to bet him at 100/1 to win The Masters, shooting instead at these props is a very viable option this weekend.

Si-Woo Kim – 250/1: This is an all or nothing pick by hitching your wagon to Si-Woo, and there’s a very viable chance he drives you off the cliff and doesn’t make the weekend. But there is a lot of upside in Si-Woo and at these odds, why the hell not?

Si-Woo has a huge variance on the PGA Tour in terms of performance. He can go three tournaments in a row with a missed cut, and then out of nowhere card an unexpected Top 10 finish. His lack of consistency is attributed to his inability to stay healthy. He’s suffered from chronic back injuries over the last two seasons that’s set him back anytime he’s started to catch fire.

When he’s healthy, though, he’s one of the best ball strikers on the PGA Tour. While he’s still madly inconsistent, he has performed quite well this year in several categories that lead to success at Augusta National – 56th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 32nd in Strokes Gained on Approach and 48th in Strokes Gained Around the Green.

Si-Woo has shown the ability to rise to the occasion in strong fields. Not only did he capture his first PGA Tour title at the age of 21 at the Wyndham in 2016, he followed that up 9 months later and won the Player’s Championship with a final round 69. He also played very well at the U.S. Open last year where he hung around the Top 10 all weekend before a final round 75 knocked him down to a T13 finish.

Despite all of this, I can confidently state that he will not be the one who wins the Green Jacket on Sunday. But could I see bettors cashing in a winning ticket on an 8/1 Top 20 finish or a 33/1 “Highest Non-American or European” prop? Absolutely. Backing him comes at a high risk-high reward, but that’s what makes gambling on golf fun, right?

Honorable Mention Longshots: Tony Finau 100/1, Rafael Cabrera Bello 100/1, Cameron Smith 150/1

Golf analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com, providing insight on news and betting tips for the PGA Tour, as well as commentary and banter on the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSchirmer

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