Roebuck’s Masters Preview: Long overdue Major win for Garcia

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A confusing build up to this year’s Masters has left punters with one certainty heading into Augusta: Tiger Woods won’t be winning a 15th Major title.

The world number one’s bad back finally ruled him out last week after much speculation, and while Woods doesn’t quite make the market the way he used to, the ripples in the outright betting were felt throughout the following day’s trading.

It was always probable Rory McIlroy would shade Adam Scott for favouritism, and tweaked, shortened odds of 10/1 won’t have persuaded too many to look elsewhere, especially after his fast finish in Houston on Sunday. However, the Ulsterman’s sub 70% greens in regulation numbers should be a concern to potential backers.

Scott’s claims, which are valued at 12/1, are as strong as McIlroy’s in terms of recent form, and both really should have won this year. Still, there is a nagging doubt about the pair, especially at the prices. Remember, since Woods’ last victory as favourite in 2005, there have been four triple-figure odds winners while the average price of the champion has been 87/1.

As per usual, though, those that have played well at Augusta in the past – as McIlroy and defending champion Scott obviously have – should prosper once more. This, after all, is the ultimate horses for courses tournament.

It’s also an event where a good percentage of runners can be ruled out. Occasionally, a former champion still active on the Seniors Tour can go close but they don’t win. Likewise debutants, and this year there are 24 of them. The handful of amateurs and older, much less competitive, previous winners also have little chance of success. So, suddenly, punters are selecting from around 50 players rather than the 156 of a regular tour event, and that is surely in our favour.

Does the Masters throw up first time Major winners? You bet it does, with the last three champions, Scott, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel, falling into that category. And it might just pay to side with a golfer long overdue grand slam success – 20/1-shot Sergio Garcia.

The Spaniard has won twice, finished second once and racked up four other top 10s in his last nine starts, rising to six in the world rankings. Garcia has bundles of Augusta form with four top dozen efforts on his CV – two in his last two visits. He’s ranked in the top ten of greens in regulation in two of his last three appearances on tour, whilst his putting, long his Achilles heel, has been much better recently, so much so that he ranked second for putting average in Houston last week on similarly fast greens to what he’ll encounter at the Masters.

More importantly than all of that good form, however, is perhaps his attitude. Remember two years ago he sulked through an interview after a third round 75 at Augusta exclaiming he wasn’t good enough to win a major. Last week in Texas he said after a Friday 65 that he was in a ‘happy place at the moment”. Let’s hope he retains those feelings this week.

Odds makers have been treading carefully with Brandt Snedeker’s price, currently at 33/1, despite rib and knee injuries over the past year. But he’d be half the odds for Masters glory if he’d shown a little more form this term. However, he went into my Augusta notebook after his best putting round of the year – that included 11 one-putts and five sunk measuring 13 feet or more – that helped him to a first top ten of the year, last time out at Bay Hill. His game is ideally suited to this week’s track, with course form figures of 15-19-6 in the last three years.

Lastly, Gary Woodland’s work with Butch Harmon, and more recently his son Claude, looks to be paying off with the big hitter now finding plenty of greens in regulation. Woodland was 24th on debut at Augusta in 2011 and was inside the top 20 at halfway before a painful cyst ruptured in his wrist meant his withdrawal a year later. A good week with the putter could see him land 66/1 each way bets at least.

My Masters trio – Garcia, Snedeker and Woodland.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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