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The Masters – Early Storylines and Odds Evaluation

2019 Masters - Early Storylines and Odds Evaluation

While the gambling world has its gaze firmly fixed on March Madness, The Masters is quietly sneaking up upon us. No sooner than bettors come down with a post-Final Four hangover, The Masters serves as salvation for those still with the itch (and the money) to continue their degenerate gambling ways.

With Masters week a short three weeks away, the time to form strategies and identify who to target to bet on is now. Here’s some storylines and golfers to keep an eye on as we head down Magnolia Lane towards August National.

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The Weather

Before you lay a single cent on a player or prop for the Masters, it is imperative to look at the weather forecast both leading up to and during The Masters. Augusta National plays wildly different depending on the type of conditions the golfers face, and it will dictate what type of scores to expect, where the cut line will be and who should fare well.

There are four weather factors that generally dictate how Augusta National will play:

  • Temperature – the colder it gets, the tougher Augusta plays. The golf course is lengthened as the ball doesn’t fly as far. In comparing recent Masters air temperatures to average daily scores, the magic number appears to be around 75 degrees. Anything north of this number usually led to better scores, while temperatures less than this led to higher ones. Granted, there are other mitigating factors on these days to consider, however the 75 degree marks is a good rule of thumb to live by.
  • Humidity – the more humid at the golf course, the easier it plays. The greens at Augusta National will be some of the fastest and toughest the golfer will face all year. Any sort of moisture the greens can absorb will be a tremendous help to them, as they’ll better able to control their pace particularly on nasty downhill putts. The golf ball also flies farther in humid conditions.
  • Wind – the more wind on the golf course, the harder it plays. That’s not a unique circumstance to Augusta National, as almost all golfers will be challenged in windy conditions. The wind does impact Augusta National more so than others, however, because of how firm and fast the greens are and how quickly wind can dry them out. Additionally, the direction the winds are out of plays a significant factor into what to expect in the tournament. Winds out of the west make the golf course much harder, as scoring holes like 13 and 15 become tougher and the wind will push the approach shot on the hardest hole on the golf course, Hole No. 11, towards the pond. More favorable scores are seen when winds are out of the north and east.
  • Precipitation – Any significant rainfall at the golf course serves as a tremendous help to the golfers. While all the greens have sub-air systems designed to suck out moisture, it only can do so much when there is rain during play. When the greens have moisture, it makes it much easier to hold approach shots and takes a bit of the teeth out of their speed. Rainfall also superficially widens up the fairways to make them more forgiving for longer bomb-and-gouge hitters.

A bettor can weigh these four factors before the tournament to decide how the golf course will play. For example, the 2015 Masters was hot and muggy with high humidity and a favorable wind out of the north and east. That led to a winning score of -18 and a cutline at +2. The following year, the winds were up out of the West for the first three days while temperatures struggled to climb into the 60’s. The winning score was -5 and the cut line was +6.

Having a firm understanding of what the weather conditions will be and how it will affect the golf course is vital to giving a better chance of making money on The Masters. This knowledge will be crucial for tournament props, in-round betting and narrowing down the list of contenders to slip on the green jacket at weekend’s end.

What’s Wrong with Jordan Spieth?

The most successful golfer at Augusta National over the last five years is unquestionably Jordan Spieth. His career scoring average at The Masters is 70 and he’s held at least a share of the lead in nine of 20 career rounds he’s played. That’s why despite some serious issues with his game he’s currently anywhere between 12/1 to 16/1 to win The Masters.

Jordan certainly isn’t playing like a guy that deserves to have these odds, even with his success there. Since the 2018 Masters, Spieth has only had one Top 10 finish. His lone Top 10 was a the 2018 Open Championship, a tournament that saw Spieth meltdown in the final round to blow his chance of retaining the Claret Jug.

So what’s wrong? From a statistical standpoint, almost everything about him stinks. Let’s go down the checklist of his performance this year (with ranks on the PGA Tour):

  • Strokes Gained – Tee-to-Green: 168th
  • Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee: 197th
  • Strokes Gained – Approach: 116th
  • Strokes Gained – Around the Green: 116th
  • Strokes Gained – Putting: 114th

Everyone wants to point to Spieth’s putting, however it’s how much he’s fallen off with his irons is the real issue. Spieth has never been the longest or most accurate hitter off the tee, but he made up for that by limiting the number of times he put himself in trouble. While he might find himself in the rough, he was a such a good iron player that as long as he had a clear look at the green, it was a safe bet for him to stuff it within 20 feet and have a good look for birdie. For five years, Spieth was a monster tee-to-green for this exact reason. But if Spieth isn’t hitting his irons crisp, then his deficiencies off the tee are severely exposed. That appears to be what has led to a downturn in his play over the last 8 months.

Spieth is only 25 years old, so it’s not likely he has just “lost it” like he was some grizzled veteran at the end of his career. Maybe all the focus both he and the media has put on his struggles putting has infected the best part of his game. Since he began to have trouble at the beginning of 2018, he would get peppered with questions on what was wrong and how he could turn it around, and in turn that led to him grinding on the practice greens trying to find something. Maybe all that pressure, both internal and external, has led him to forget what it feels like to flush a 7 iron to 3 feet over and over and over.

From a gambling perspective, he’s untouchable to bet on for the Masters at 16/1 given the state of his game. But something about Augusta National lights a fire underneath him that it’s never easy to count him out. Could I see myself betting him at 30/1 to win the Masters based on pedigree alone – absolutely! Unfortunately, the books are much wiser than this and likely won’t ever drop his odds below 20/1. Unless he goes any lower than that, it’s tough to back him.

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Value Odds

Here’s a few golfers that caught my eye as possible values to win The Masters (odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):

Tommy Fleetwood – 40/1: Fleetwood’s odds likely will rise this week with his strong showing at the Players Championship, but if you can find him at this number then it’s a good time to jump on. Fleetwood thrives on tougher firm and fast golf courses, and if the weather conditions are ripe for such a tournament then he stands a great chance to win his first major. He showed signs of things to come at Augusta last year by entering the final round in the Top 10, but a 74 on Sunday ruined his good showing. With a year under his belt there and an improvement in his putting, he could be a much more serious contender in 2019.

Matt Kuchar 50/1: Kuchar’s ball-striking took a bit of a downturn last year, prompting some to question if the days of him contending were over. But he’s played remarkable so far in 2019, winning twice and seeing much improved figures on his ball-striking, paricularly with his irons. Kuchar has four Top 10 finishes at Augusta in the last seven years and hasn’t missed a cut there since 2010. If the weather conditions are more cool and dry, then a player like him to grind out a win is exactly what I’d be looking for as a bettor.

Tony Finau 50/1: On the opposite end of the spectrum is Tony Finau, who would much prefer to see warm, humid and wet conditions at Augusta National so he can take full advantage of the best part of his game – his length with the driver and accuracy with his long irons. Softer conditions would widen the fairways for him and allow him a better chance to put his approach shots in close. There he can hit more greens and avoid testing the weaker aspect of his game – his scrambling. Bettors would like to see him win in an event with a stronger field (his lone win at the Puerto Rico Open was an opposite event to a WGC), but like Kuchar the weather conditions could dictate his performance and outcome.

Rafa Cabrera Bello & Matthew Fitzpatrick – 125/1: Both golfers have never won on American soil, but these two are very well suited to a grinding style of play at Augusta National with how solid and consistent they hit their irons. Both also have shown very well so far on the PGA Tour, with Bello and Fitzpatrick both in contention during tough scoring conditions at Bay Hill two weeks ago. Neither would be my bet if The Masters turned into a birdie bonanza, but if the tournament should resemble that of 2014, 2016 and 2017 then you could do a lot worse putting your money on a pair of 125/1 longshots.

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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