Back Stewart Cink 3u @ 2.9 (vs Harman, Higgs) (Starts 14.06)
Let’s start with an old Augusta favourite. Stewart Cink has registered 13 top-30 finishes in the Masters, including a solid 12th this year. To be fair, the 48 year-old hadn’t been showing the same form, until last time when seventh at the Valspar, ranking first for greens in regulation.
Brian Harman was also tied 12th last year and would have stronger claims were it not for the rain-soaked course. He averages 15 yards less off the tee than Cink. The third man, Harry Higgs, is out of form and looks very much up against on debut.
DeChambeau must be opposed
Back Paul Casey 3u @ 3.1 (vs Dechambeau, Smith) (Starts 15.23)
In his first outing since winning the Players Championship, Cameron Smith understandably starts a strong favourite here, but he’s the shortest hitter of the three.
However I wouldn’t read too much into that metric in this group because the biggest hitter has an ordinary Augusta record and has really struggled since recently returning from injury. DeChambeau’s presence could mean value about the other two.
I’ve backed Paul Casey off a cliff in this major and suspect that, despite being perfectly suited to the test, he’ll ruin his chance with one poor round. Nevertheless he really should be in his element with the course playing long, given his ball-striking and scrambling skills.
Tiger unlikely to be competitive
Back Joaquin Niemann 4u @ 2.7 (vs Woods, Oosthuizen) (Starts 15.34)
It would be wrong to not mention Tiger Woods’ fairytale comeback as presumably we will all be watching avidly. This isn’t a romantic bet by any means but on price grounds, I must take him on. Yes, he’s a genius who has won a major with a broken leg. Yes, 2019 was unbelievable and unforgettable. But surely, after just a few rounds of practice, he can’t be competitive.
This group may not take that much winning, given question marks over both opponents. Oosty hasn’t been in great form and, despite reaching one play-off, his Augusta record is merely ordinary. Niemann struggled on two previous visits but he’s stepped up a level lately and hasn’t hit worse than 70 in an opening round in 11 tournaments (eight were sub-70). He gets the nod.
Van Rooyen to dominate weak group
Back Erik Van Rooyen 4u @ 2.5 (vs Glover, Champ) (Starts 16.29)
Next another consistently strong starter. Van Rooyen has only missed one of his last ten cuts, including seven sub-70 opening rounds. This is virtually his debut, having withdrawn injured after his opening round in 2020. He took quickly to the Open Championship and, now contending in big US events, the South African is on my radar in majors.
He may well prove a class apart here. Cameron Champ played really well on his two previous visits to finish top-26 but his PGA Tour form is terrible of late, making just one top-50 since August. Lucas Glover’s best score in eight previous opening rounds at Augusta was just 74.
Rely on Rose at Augusta once again
Back Justin Rose 4u @ 2.44 (vs Woodland, Kanaya) (Starts 16.29)
Whilst not quite the force of old, Justin Rose retains a competitive standard and his Augusta record is simply too good to ignore. In 16 visits, he’s recorded 13 top-25 finishes, twice finishing runner-up. He’s bettered 70 on the opening day seven times, including the last two years.
Those numbers are surely preferable to Woodland, whose best finish in nine visits was 24th, has only bettered 70 twice in 27 rounds (both 69). Japanese star Takumi Kanaya was 58th on his sole visit and is rightly a big outsider.
Powerful Pieters rates a lively outsider
Back Thomas Pieters 4u @ 2.8 (vs Garcia, Varner) (Starts 16.29)
Finally, one of my outright picks. Thomas Pieters was marked down by many of us as a future champion after a superb fourth on his 2017 debut. The Belgian’s power game is absolutely perfect for Augusta. His career then went wrong but he’s back after multiple wins on the European Tour and he showed some promising stuff at the World Matchplay.
I’m not particularly enamoured by either of these opponents. Of course Garcia is a former champion but his overall record in this major is pretty poor and he’s missed the last three cuts, running up big numbers. Varner is likeable and on the up, but is making his debut.
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