Main Bet: Xander Schauffele each-way @ 23.022/1

The beautiful and beguiling Augusta National is golf’s ultimate horses-for-courses layout in the eyes of many.

So it’s surprising given the limited field each year – just 89 tee it up this time – that we’ve witnessed 15 different winners in the last 16 editions.

Playing that angle this year does little to whittle down the list of serious contenders as 12 of the top 14 in the Betfair Sportsbook have never won the famous green jacket.

As usual, I’ve started my series of Masters previews with a look at the 10-year-trends. This year, I tweaked it by introducing a scoring system that produced the following list based on a set of 11 statistical categories: Age, World Ranking, Past Appearances, Best Masters Finish, Low Masters Round, Defending Champion, Recent Form, Green Jacket, Recent Major Form, Driving Distance and Strokes Gained Around The Green.

87 Rory McIlroy
85 Justin Thomas
84 Xander Schauffele
82 Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith
78 Louis Oosthuizen
75 Dustin Johnson
72 Jon Rahm
71 Paul Casey
67 Jordan Spieth

The ideal candidate would be in their 30s, in the top 20 in the world rankings, have played in at least three Masters, have a top 10 in the event, have shot a 67 or lower at least once, and not be the defending champion or a former Masters winner. They would have a top 15 in a strokeplay event in March or April, have posted a top six in a major in one of the two previous two seasons, have ranked in the top 25 in Driving Distance and, finally, have ranked in the top 25 for Strokes Gained: Around The Green.

McIlroy ticked every box although Twitter pointed out his mental fragilities at the Masters which don’t ever seem to have cleared up since he took a four-shot lead into the final round in 2011 but crashed to a closing 80 and finished 10 back.

However, I’m happy to have 18/1 Rory running for me from that preview despite those concerns and his missed cut in Texas.

Does that mean I simply go to Justin Thomas as my first bet here? I think he has a massive chance but 12/1 isn’t a price for an each-way preview such as this.

And so I arrive at the player third in that list, Xander Schauffele. At 22/1 he’s my number one pick.

He’s actually nudged up a point since the trends preview was written after his Around The Green ranking moved from 52nd to 49th despite him not playing in the Texas Open. That puts him tied second with Thomas on 85pts.

To fill in how he arrived at that score, Schauffele is 28, ranked World No. 10, has played in four Masters with a best of tied second and a low score of 65, was tied 12th at last month’s Valspar on his latest strokeplay start, has a third and a fifth in the 2020/2021 majors, is 25th in Driving Distance and 49th Around The Greens.

Schauffele is one of those who took to the majors like a duck to water. He was tied fifth in his very first one (the 2017 US Open) and has now racked up nine top 10s in 18 appearances. Six of those are top fives.

Specifically at the US Masters, he was joint runner-up on his second appearance in 2019, tied 17th in 2020 and tied third last year.

Three years ago, he was tied for the lead when walking off the 16th green before Tiger came past him and last time he made four four birdies on the spin from 12-15 to get to within two of runaway leader Matsuyama before finding water at 16.

In other words, he’s tasted the heat of battle on the back nine of a Masters Sunday. Those experiences can only help him going forward.

One other obvious positive has to be his brilliant record in Georgia. In his last six starts there he’s made the top three on five occasions. That takes in the Californian’s second and third at Augusta and form of 3-1-2 at the Tour Championship, an event he also won in 2017.

Technically he didn’t win the 2020 season ender so the ‘1’ refers to him shooting the low score of 265, three better than anyone else in the strokes handicapping system.

If there’s a criticism about Schauffele it’s that he doesn’t win enough and it’s a fair point to some extent.

But, given the importance he attached to it, winning Olympic gold last summer was a fine achievement. And it’s hard to be too critical of a guy who has such a superb record in golf’s four biggest events.

In terms of being the next cab off the rank in the queue for majors, Schauffele must be very near the front. And 22/1 with 10 each-way places seems a very playable price given his 50% strike-rate of bagging top 10s in majors.

Next Best: Daniel Berger each-way at 41.040/1

The best bet I can see in that second tier of prices (33s to 50s) is Daniel Berger at 40/1.

Players from the southern states have a fine record at Augusta – think Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reid (all recent winners) – so the Floridian would fit that angle.

Berger was a promising 10th on his Masters debut in 2016 and followed that with 27th and 32nd the next two years.

He didn’t qualify in 2019 and 2020 so that means he’s played the event just once since becoming the improved version we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons.

He marked his first Masters appearance for three years with a missed cut and was way down the field in the PGA Championship (tied 75th). But in the final two majors of 2021, he took tied seventh in the US Open and tied eighth in the Open Championship to suggest he was finding a level of comfort in the big events.

A two-time winner of the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic, Berger is showing strength in all the Strokes Gained categories this year, ranking fourth in the Overall list.

Breaking it down, he’s 23rd for SG: Approach and ninth in SG: Around The Green and that obvious proficiency in both could take him a long way at Augusta National where dialled in irons and short-game wizardry are needed.

Also first in Sand Saves, Berger backers won’t be flinching when he finds a bunker and I also like his position of second in Bogey Avoidance. All the hype around Augusta focuses on birdies and eagles and yet so often the winner has made the fewest mistakes. Schauffele is seventh for Bogey Avoidance incidentally.

In his last two strokeplay starts, Berger was the 54-hole leader at the Honda Classic before a disappointing final round left him fourth and he backed that up with tied 13th in The Players Championship. His work around the greens at both PGA National and Sawgrass was excellent.

Does he hit it far enough for a Masters winner? Well, Berger is higher up the Driving Distance charts than 2018 Augusta champ Patrick Reed and, like his fellow American, he has other tools and a certain brashness that can overcome not thrashing it miles.

Having been reacquainted with Augusta last year after somehow not qualifying in 2020 (a quirk due to the timing), Berger should feel more like one of the gang this time and, at much bigger odds than players he had the better of in the last two majors, the 40/1 is a play.

Final Bet: Robert MacIntyre each-way @ 81.080/1

With 10 each-way places available, I want to find an outsider who may be able to creep into the playout slots and Robert MacIntyre looks as good a candidate as any.

His biggest plus is that he made his Augusta debut last year and finished tied 12th despite shooting a 2-over opener.

Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise given that he’s a left-hander.

Southpaws have a brilliant recent record at the course with Phil Mickelson (three), Bubba Watson (two) and Mike Weir (one) sharing six wins between them in the last 20 years.

MacIntyre certainly felt the benefits of being a leftie last year and said mid-tournament: “Yeah, I prefer a place where the scores don’t go daft, where you have to strike it and it doesn’t become a putting competition.

“This is right up my street. You’ve got to shape the shots, you’ve got to think. If you’re out of position, you’ve got to think even more. I love the golf course, and my game’s in decent shape for it.”

After middle rounds of 70-70 and a closing 72 he’d done enough to earn a top-15 finish and automatically qualify for this year’s event.

Speaking at the time, the delighted Scot said: “I’ve played some great golf over the last week, and I feel like my game suits this golf course. The way I play golf suits the way this golf course wants you to play golf. I’m just over the moon to finish the way I finished.

“The first tee shot, the first hole of the first round I was really nervous. Then I got into the golf tournament, Friday, Saturday, wasn’t nervous at all. Today I started getting edgy because it meant so much.”

Having to hole a putt on 18 to earn his return is a great way to forge positive mental associations and MacIntyre’s game looks in good enough shape to give it another good run.

He finished tied 13th and tied ninth in the two DP World Tour events at Ras al Khaimah and followed that with an excellent tied 15th in the Genesis Invitational, shooting 67 at Riviera on both Friday and Saturday.

After mixing with the elite in the WGC-Dell Match Play (he beat Sergio Garcia 4&2 but lost to Collin Morikawa and Jason Kokrak), MacIntyre shot three rounds of 69 in last week’s Valero Texas Open.

A Saturday 76 meant the man from Oban had to settle for tied 35th but he came home in 4-under 32 on Sunday to give himself a nice send-off for the trip to Augusta.

The other big plus is that it’s pretty obvious that his tied 12th in last year’s Masters wasn’t just a one-off golden week.

As with Schauffele, MacIntyre has immediately taken to the majors. He’s made the cut in all seven he’s contested and that includes tied sixth (2019) and tied eighth (2021) in his two starts at The Open.

All in all, a top 10 finish is very much within his capabilities.

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