5 picks for the Masters

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It's impossible to thumb through my Twitter feed for more than a couple of seconds this week before stumbling on yet another 'top picks for the Masters' article. And the world probably doesn't need another one! However, given the amazing success of my tips for last year's Open (hopefully you are still spending the each way winnings from Kuchar at 50/1 and Leishman at 45/1) I feel it would be remiss of me not to add to your Twitter clutter. So here goes!

The Masters should be the easiest of all the Majors to pick the winner. This year there are only 87 participants and it's easy to whittle that number down quite quickly when you take away all those who qualify by virtue of their past champion status, amateurs, first time participants and winners of various global 'grow the game' initiatives.

Augusta is also not the kind of place where you can just turn up and find your game. Realistically, we are looking for players who are sharp at the moment and, since experience counts for a huge amount here, it does no harm at all to have a good knowledge of the course.

At the head of the betting this week are McIlroy (10/1) and Spieth (12/1). McIlroy was clearly dialled in at Bay Hill recently but, outside of that week, his iron play hasn't been good enough this year - he's languishing in 93rd place in the PGA Tour for strokes gained approaching the green. Of course, when he gets it going, he's one of the very best in the world, but he definitely puts the pressure on himself at Augusta and that could go either way. 10/1 isn't value.

Watching Jordan Spieth putt this year has not been for the faint-hearted - he is an amazing 185th on the PGA Tour for strokes gained putting. He found something last week at Houston for sure, but there must be demons in his head. While his course pedigree is pretty special, he simply doesn't fit the form category.

I'm sure it isn't hyperbole to say that Tiger Woods will get more attention this week than any other golfer has, at any tournament, for the last decade. What he has achieved in the last few weeks is beyond what even the most devoted fan could have hoped for. While he is capable of golf that no other player today is, I think there are too many questions about his driving and mental fortitude to say he represents value at fifth favourite. Another to avoid.

So, with that in mind, here are my 5 To Watch this week. (And just for the record, if it is a McIlroy/Spieth/Woods playoff on Sunday night, you won't find many people happier than me!)

Ian Poulter - 66/1
What a difference a week makes. Poulter's journey to this year's Masters has been better-documented than most and there has to be a concern that he has used up too much adrenaline over the last two weeks. However, Poulter is possibly the world's most streaky player. So, if he can keep the putter going this week, 66/1 may look generous. Also, he has decent form here. He's made cuts in 10 of the 11 times he's played here, including a 6th place finish in 2015. Can you imagine the joy for European golf fans if there's a Poulter chest thump on Sunday night as he takes down Patrick Reed? Dare we dream?!

Has a chest ever been thumped with such fervour as Poults'?!

Sergio Garcia - 33/1
Many years ago, in the world before the internet, a book came out every year, full of stats and betting selections, written by professional golf tipster Keith Elliott. He had all kinds of hypotheses for how to find a winner, including the nappy factor! Basically, he said that a golfer performed better than normal in the weeks after the birth of a child and were worth a punt! There was something in it for sure, but unfortunately not enough European pros were having babies at the time to allow me to give up a life of working to profit from this insight.

Sergio has had a quiet season so far as he has been getting ready for the arrival of little Azalea. But when he has teed it up, he has been steady. When it comes to strokes gained he's 11th off the tee and 1st for approaching the green.

His putting needs some attention but there is something in the view of Chris from No Laying Up, that you don't need to be an amazing putter to win around Augusta. Rather, you need to know where to put the ball on the green to give the easiest putt and have the skill to put it there. Sergio definitely has that skill and the last year has shown how much he is in love with Augusta. 33/1 definitely represents value.

Phil Mickelson - 18/1
While I think it is too early to call Woods' comeback for a bet, I have no such doubts about Phil. It seems that the stars are aligning perfectly for him to win at Augusta. Everything is screaming that this will be his week. He's on great form (a first, second and third already this season); he's hitting it beautifully (second on the PGA Tour for strokes gained); he's incredibly experienced at Augusta (no player in the field under 500/1 has played more often); and he's still left handed (the 13th is a lot easier to play as a wee cut off the tee than a soaring draw). 

Confidence is key at Augusta (it's why I'm opposing Spieth, McIlroy and Woods this week) and I suspect that no-one in the world has more than Mickelson at the moment. This place was made for him.

Bubba Watson - 18/1
Bubba may be chasing Phil hard in the confidence stakes going into this week. Two wins in the last 6 weeks is pretty incredible given the 2017 he endured with his fluorescent balls. He benefits too from his love of the course and its appeal to the left-handed golfer

 Still the best moment ever in the Butler Cabin

Still the best moment ever in the Butler Cabin

I'm not sure how many fans' or players' hearts will leap if they see Bubba's name climbing up the leaderboard over the next few days. If you are looking for evidence that he doesn't get much love from his fellow pros then exhibit A would be the anonymous survey of PGA pros where he topped the list of names (by some distance) of 'players you wouldn't help in a fight'. Exhibit B would be his failure to be selected for the 2016 Ryder Cup, despite missing out by 1 spot for automatic qualification and being 7th in the World Rankings at the time. From a European fan's point of view, a dramatic drop-off in form now he is locked in for the 2018 team would be awesome, but I suspect he will have a good showing here first.

Justin Rose - 16/1
This is the least original selection of the week. I have barely seen a preview that didn't mention him, which makes the 16/1 still available all the more notable. His global form of late is fairly formidable, his iron play as pure as ever and he will only have gained knowledge and support from his performance here last year. He's finished second in 2 of the last 3 years and never missed a cut here. Johnson and Thomas may be lower odds but, over four rounds this week, I'll take Justin.