Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

The professional golf world is aflame. But there’s still a shining beacon awaiting fans in the distance. No matter where they play or how much (insane) money they’ll get to do it, fans know that the world’s best golfers will congregate next April in Augusta, GA, for the 2024 Masters.

With odds out on every major sports book in America, it’s never too early to start making early picks and predictions. Here’s an early preview and picks for the 2024 Masters.

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Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

Past Champions

  • 2023: Jon Rahm
  • 2022: Scottie Scheffler
  • 2021: Hideki Matsuyama
  • 2020: Dustin Johnson
  • 2019: Tiger Woods

LIV Golfers Expected In Field

  • Jon Rahm
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Patrick Reed
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Bubba Watson
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Bryson DeChambeau
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Cameron Smith

Given the rampant rumors of top players being courted to leave the PGA Tour and join LIV, expect this list to grow between now and Masters Week.

The Golf Course

Here are some key facts about Augusta National Golf Club:

Opened: 1933

Architects: Bobby Jones & Alister MacKenzie

Other Notable Contributing Architects: 

  • Perry Maxwell (1937)
  • Robert Trent Jones (1946-1953)
  • George Cobb (1954-1978)
  • George Fazio (1974)
  • Jay Morrish (1982-1984)
  • Jack Nicklaus (1980’s+)
  • Tom Fazio (1998-present)

Par: 72

Yards: 7,545 Yards (per 2023 Scorecard)

Agronomy:

  • Greens: Bentgrass
  • Collars: Bentgrass
  • Approaches: Ryegrass Overseed
  • Fairways: Ryegrass Overseed
  • Second Cut: Ryegrass Overseed (1.375″)

Most hardcore golf fanatics are intimately familiar with Augusta National. It’s probably one of the few golf courses most fans can easily recall specific memories of the holes. But for those who’d like a visual reminder of what Golf Utopia looks like, particularly as the air turns colder in certain parts of the country, watch a few of these videos below:

 

However, every year Augusta National makes subtle tweaks to the golf course that can alter the way it changes. Some years have had major changes to the holes. But in other years, not so much.

And for the 2024 Masters, it doesn’t appear as though anything significant will happen to the golf course. At least nothing that’s being publicized. While certainly a green or two might get recontoured or softened a bit, it doesn’t seem like gamblers need to account for a major change to Augusta National.

The only true talking points about the golf course probably revolve around the much-publicized changes to Holes 11, 13, and 15 and the impacts it has had on the tournament. For those who’d like a refresher about the exact changes to these holes, check out past preview columns here and here. A full discussion will be saved for this space in the official 2024 Masters preview in April. But to give you a sneak peek of what impact it has had…not much.

Betting Strategies

Here’s a refresher on the types of golfers that typically do well at Augusta National, what is needed to succeed within the Masters, and other trends to consider before making a pick to win the 2024 Masters well in advance.

Tournament Experience

One of the favorite talking points of golf pundits ahead of each Masters is how experience at Augusta National is key. There are so many little tricks and nuances to the golf course that can give a golfer a significant edge over the field. In fact, DataGolf ranks Augusta National as the #1 golf course that’s the most predictive in terms of past tournament experience.

In addition, DataGolf did a study a few years ago evaluating the strokes gained per round based on certain Masters appearances. Here’s what they found:

Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

This chart reveals a few key tournaments that one has a better chance of making the leap. There is a significant jump in performance at one’s 3rd Masters, one’s 7th Masters and one’s 9th Masters. In 2023, Jon Rahm continued this trend when he won the Masters in his 7th appearance, fulfilling this trend.

Here are notable golfers who are expected to play the 2024 Masters who are making either their 3rd, 7th or 9th Masters:

3rd Masters Appearance:

  • Cameron Young
  • Will Zalatoris
  • Min Woo Lee
  • Sam Burns

7th Masters Appearance

  • Xander Schauffele
  • Tony Finau
  • Corey Conners

9th Masters Appearance

  • Brooks Koepka
  • Justin Thomas
  • Shane Lowry

Predictive Skillsets

Here are golfer skillsets that are the most predictive towards success at Augusta National (per DataGolf):

Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

This skillset chart is one of the least helpful predictive charts in golf. This chart suggests that there is a higher-than-average correlation between success at Augusta National with longer hitters, great iron players, good scramblers, and good putters. AKA, you have to be good at pretty much everything in order to be good at Augusta National.

The only predictive area where there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation to success at Augusta National is through driving accuracy. This is likely due to the wide fairways at Augusta National that usually breed higher than average driving accuracy rates. In addition, the rough isn’t thick at Augusta National. It’s one of the least penal golf courses for drives that find the rough off the tee.

In-Tournament Success

Here are the areas that are correlated the most to the variance in Total Strokes Gained at the Masters (from the 2023 tournament, per DataGolf):

Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

What this chart says is that, like most tournaments played on the PGA Tour and in major championships, iron play had the strongest correlation towards Total Strokes Gained on the week. To put that in plain terms – good iron play was rewarded the most against the field at the 2023 Masters. And vice versa. And at the 2023 Masters, this correlation was slightly stronger than the average PGA Tour venue.

This chart also suggests a much higher correlation of how one drove the ball on the week towards Total Strokes Gained than the average PGA Tour venue. And buried within the Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee metric at the 2023 Masters, both the longest and straightest players off the tee separated themselves from the field more than in a typical PGA Tour event.

One might ask themselves why driving accuracy is not a good predictive measurement towards success at Augusta National, but within the tournament itself, it was not only significantly important but even more important than how far a player drove it.

The answer is simpler than one might think. The ability to predict how well one drives it on any given day (i.e., how many fairways they hit) is difficult to do. Just like putting, there’s way too much variance with the driver to predict how often a ball will find the short grass day to day. However, length is constant, which makes it a better predictive metric.

However, any golfer will tell you that if they drove the ball well in any given day, it’s probably because they hit a lot of fairways. And as DataGolf shows in its Course Stats page, there is a fractional penalty for inaccurate tee shots at every golf course played. Therefore, finding more fairways is ultimately a better driver of how well (or poorly) one does in Strokes Gained-Off-the-Tee in any given tournament. It’s just trying to figure out who will do that is a fool’s errand.

In addition, there is a much larger than average correlation to success around the green at the Masters towards higher (or lower) strokes gained on the field than the typical PGA Tour average. Given all the complexities of each green and the demand to chip off of tight lies, precision around the green is a must. Those who don’t have confidence in crisp contact on their chip shots will be in for a long four (or two) days.

Lastly, putting isn’t as effective at separating oneself on the leaderboard at the Masters as the typical PGA Tour event. The greens at the Masters are lightning quick and are significantly undulated. Players aren’t jarring long putts for birdies at high rates during the tournament. It’s not likely someone will get a molten hot putter that’s so much better than the field at the Masters. Therefore, putting generally won’t make as much of an impact at Augusta as the typical PGA Tour event.

Approach Shot Proximity

Here’s the approach shot distribution chart from the 2023 Masters (per DataGolf):

Early 2024 Masters Picks and Preview

About 75% of all approach shots at Augusta National come from over 150 yards. Other than from approach shots from 200-225 yards, this is significantly above the PGA Tour average. Iron play is the most important contributor towards the variance in Total Strokes Gained within the tournament, but specifically mid to long iron play is key to doing well at Augusta National.

Early 2024 Masters Picks

For those looking to place bets today, here are my early picks to win the 2024 Masters  (with best price available courtesy of Oddschecker):

Snap Pick – Scottie Scheffler +950

Given Scottie Scheffler’s profile, it’s no wonder he’s not only a former winner of the Masters but will be a threat to slip on the Green Jacket for multiple years to come. His game perfectly fits what the last few Masters have commanded one to do in order to optimize gaining the most strokes on the field.

Scottie Scheffler is one of the best drivers in the world in both distance and accuracy. The last two Masters have shown a higher-than-average correlation in both distance and accuracy off the tee toward Masters Success.

Scottie Scheffler is one of the best iron players in the world, particularly from over 150 yards. The ability to hit precise iron shots from mid to long range into the greens at Augusta National is a must.

Scottie Scheffler is one of the best players around the green in professional golf. He’s finished inside the Top 30 in Strokes Gained – Around-the-Green on the PGA Tour over the last three seasons. The ability to combine precision and imagination around the green at Augusta National is key to winning the tournament.

And finally, Scottie Scheffler has his fair share of problems with the putter. But putting at the Masters has a far lower correlation towards total Strokes Gained than the typical PGA Tour venue. And while it’s fair to criticize Scottie Scheffler around the green, a lot of that is because he misses more putts than he should from very makeable birdie ranges. The perception that he’s a terrible putter might be a tad overblown.

It’s hard to know how exactly Augusta National will play 5 months out. But the player with the best combination of skillsets to handle any sort of Augusta National is Scottie Scheffler. He’s an easy snap pick to win the 2024 Masters.

Value Pick – Xander Schauffele 28/1

Do I necessarily think 28/1 for Xander Schauffele is a good price to win a major championship? Not particularly. But I don’t set the lines.

However, why I’m including him here is that at 28/1, it’s usually a lot lower than where the line on Xander Schauffele has closed ahead of a major championship. It seems despite overwhelming evidence that Xander Schauffele falls short time and time again, bettors buy into his gaudy strokes, gained statistics, his near misses, and the hope and dream that he one day can be a major champion.

Here are the closing lines on Xander Schauffele over the last three years at major championships (per GolfOdds):

  • Masters: 25/1, 25/1, 20/1
  • PGA Championship: 16/1, 20/1, 14/1
  • U.S. Open: 16/1, 20/1, 12/1
  • Open Championship: 25/1, 18/1, 16/1

A readily available 28/1 future bet on Xander Schauffele to win the 2024 Masters is better than any price seen on Xander Schauffele, not just at the Masters but at any major over the last three seasons.

There is absolutely a debate about where Xander deserves to be priced this way. But if you are someone who still has a glass-half-full outlook on him, it is very easy to build an argument for why you should bet Xander Schauffele to win the 2024 Masters at this price today.

1. He’s proven to be able to get into the mix at the Masters. He was near the lead down in the final round in 2019, and he made a run at eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama at the 2021 Masters. In addition, this will be Xander Schauffele’s 7th Masters. As shown above, this start represents a level jump in expected performance.

2. Xander’s profile lends itself to annual success at Augusta National. However, he had a down year in 2023, when healthy Xander Schauffele is a very good driver. He also was the best player in the world from over 150 yards in 2023. And he’s pretty good around the green and has proven he can get the job done at Augusta National.

3. Assuming Xander Schauffele remains with the PGA Tour in 2024 (which is no longer a guarantee given Jon Rahm’s departure and Xander’s unfavorable views towards Commissioner Monahan), the schedule leading up to the Masters is very favorable for Xander Schauffele. There are several events where he is a threat to win and drive up his odds.

Here’s a list of tournaments that Xander could win and see his odds go up tremendously (with career total Strokes Gained per round at the event):

  • The Sentry: +1.6
  • Farmers Insurance Open: +1.0
  • WM Phoenix Open: +2.3
  • Genesis Invitational: +1.5

These are all tournaments that Xander Schauffele will be a popular pick to win because of his tremendous success at these venues. And if he does, his odds of winning the Masters will move up to 20/1 or better.

Is this a bet for me in particular? No. I’m too jaded after getting burned by him over and over. But taking into consideration where Xander is typically priced at, along with his success at Augusta National, and that success in his early schedule could see his odds rise, a 28/1 bet on Xander Schauffele today to win the 2024 Masters isn’t a bad pick to make.

Honorable Mention:

  • Justin Thomas – 32/1
  • Max Homa – 41/1
  • Will Zalatoris – 44/1
  • Matt Fitzpatrick – 50/1

Longshot Pick – Sahith Theegala 90/1

Sahith Theegala has a ton of talent. So far in his career, he’s been a pretty volatile player. But his game demonstrates a tremendous ceiling. And he finally won a PGA Tour event back at the Fortinet Championship. The floodgates might open for him soon. Given that, there’s potential that his 90/1 price to win the 2024 Masters is his floor.

But while holding a Masters ticket on Sahith Theegala at potentially double the odds of his closing line might look great up on your refrigerator, if he has zero chance to actually win the Masters, it doesn’t mean anything. But there is definitely a world where Sahith Theegala takes his current profile and improves on a few things over the next month to make him a viable threat at the Masters.

For starters, Theegala already has proven to be able to navigate his way around Augusta National. In his Masters debut in 2023, Theegala finished 9th and finished 18th in total ball-striking on the week. Early success at Augusta National is encouraging for his future prospects.

Second, Theegala has good results on golf courses that are viewed as correlated to Augusta National success. Last year he finished T6 at Riviera Country Club and T4 at Torrey Pines. Both golf courses demand similar skill sets needed to do well at Augusta National.

Third, Theegala put up amazing statistics around the green in 2023. Over his last 50 rounds, Sahith Theegala has gained approximately 0.4 strokes around the green. The ability to have the confidence and skill to get up and down at Augusta National is a vital key to success.

There are things, however, that Theegala must improve over the next few months to truly be a threat to win the Green Jacket. One is better consistency off the tee. While Theegala has plenty of length off the tee to contend at Augusta National, he needs to do a better job controlling it. Yes, Augusta National is very wide. But as Bryson DeChambeau proved in 2020, spraying it wildly all over the ballpark is a recipe for disaster. And Theegala can certainly do that at times.

Second, not only does his overall iron play need to get better across the board, but specifically, the long iron play needs to improve. But he did show improvement in this area in 2023. In 2023, in a full round of only shots over 150 yards, Theegala gained 0.43 strokes over the field. That’s up from his two-year baseline of 0.28 strokes per round. Continued improvement in this metric will make him a legitimate threat.

Given his success at early season venues like TPC Scottsdale, Innisbrook, Riviera, and Torrey Pines, Theegala might see his Masters odds improve significantly over the next few months. Picking him now at 90/1 to win the 2024 Masters could be the best price available on him.

Honorable Mention:

  • Adam Scott – 130/1
  • Si Woo Kim – 160/1
  • Keegan Bradley – 180/1
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