Arguably the biggest tournament rolls onto our screens to kick start Major Season – The US Masters at Augusta National.
There’s something incredibly unique about Augusta National in Georgia. Drenched in traditions such as sexism, racial segregation and elitism, it also boasts the fact that it’s the only course that permanently hosts a Major. That and despite the fact that Tiger is now out of the world’s top 100, you’d still think… maybe, just maybe.
While the Open, the US Open and the US PGA Championship are all played on courses that are basically the same year after year, they’re not actually the same, so building up a store of knowledge about a particular course takes much longer. But Augusta in April is a fixture in the calendar.
Providing you’ve not picked up an injury, dropped down the world rankings or suddenly become David Duval, it’s a fixed entry in the itinerary. The same every year. The same challenges, the same spray painted grass, the same pointless cries of ‘get in the hole’ and the newly added ‘mashed potatoes’.
As such, showing you can master the course should make you a Masters contender. Makes sense obviously. Even if he’s not in the best of form, a golfer who has done well at Augusta is worth taking note of. Likewise, other players may be able to hover up the unnecessarily over-sized trophies on the PGA or European tours all year long, but when it comes to those Georgia greens, they just can’t get it right. The Paddy Power Blog has had a look at some of this year’s ‘horses for courses’ and split them up into three categories. Drum roll please…
#1 Proven horses for courses
Tiger Woods with 14 majors, 79 PGA Tour wins and 341 ex-girlfriends, has declared himself “tournament ready” after he had taken time out to put some WD40 on the parts of the Tiger Machine that had slowed down. Whether or not he’s confident enough to pack his Sunday red shirt for Augusta remains to be seen. His record at the Masters though is phenomenal. That chip.
But with Tiger’s sex golf drive being an unknown quantity this year, these are the main guys that have done well at Augusta in the past. Phil Mickelson gets the dubious honour of being the most successful player. He’s no longer considered one of the favourites as his fairly middling season to date are slight causes for concern, but his record at Augusta National should off-set some of those concerns.
Bubba Watson has two wins from just six US Masters appearances. That’s pretty impressive. Hard to know which Bubba will turn up though, as he either wins it or finishes outside the top 25. But two Masters wins and seven PGA Tour wins make him one to watch again this year.
To get a bit more helpful, we’ve cast the net wider and found some other options. Justin Rose is chief among them, having never missed a cut in nine visits to Augusta and not being too far off the pace. A man who finished level with Justin Rose in 14th spot last year is Adam Scott. He had shown something of a fondness for these fairways and defending his jacket isn’t out of the question.
We’re not suggesting Fred Couples can win it, but his Augusta record is impressive. He’s also a cheeky 200/1, so why not? He’s missed just two cuts in 30 Masters tournaments (both due to an injury related slump in the late naughties), he’s come back strongly with a sixth, tied 15th and tied 12th. Last year he was tied for 20th but his knowledge of Augusta makes him an interesting bet for a place at a big price.
Matt Kuchar has played eight times, and only missed the cut once. Since 2012, the man is MR. Consistency, finishing tied for third, eighth and fifth. Could we see him in the last pairing come Sunday? Out of all our Horses for Courses, Jason Day has the least amount of trips around Augusta. He’s only played three times but unlike Tiger Woods in a confession box, he found his three trips to be no sweat. Day finishes in the top six 66 percent of the time… everytime.
#2 Not the right horses for this course
On the flipside, there are some players who take to Augusta like a golf ball to water. Whatever it is about the course, they just can’t get it right.
Steve Stricker is the definition of this category. He’s Mr Boringly Consistent on the tour normally, but at the Masters, he’s more Mr Consistent Disappointment. Out of 13 attempts in the Masters, he’s managed to either miss the cut or just make the top 50 nine times, a terrible record for a player who has been a permanent resident near the top of the world rankings for a number of years. His tied 10th in 2001 and tied sixth in 2009 hint that there might be some Augusta ability there, but generally he’s been more disappointing than that time Smarties took away the blue one.
Martin Kaymer is more in and out than a professional hokey-cokey-er, but at the Masters, he’s normally just out. Last year he finished tied for 35th and alongside a tie for 44th the year before, that counts as progress alongside his four missed cuts in the previous years.
Another major winner with a surprisingly poor Augusta record is Northern Amer-irishman, Graeme McDowell. He either loves the craic in Georgia or he gets a serious case of stage fright as he’s had the weekend free on five of his seven visits to Augusta, giving him the perfect opportunity to confuse locals with his mongrel of an accent.
A whole host of one major men make up the other members of this category, some with more hope of adding to their tallies than others. If you think any of Web Simpson, Paul Lawrie, Louis Oosthuizen or Lucas Glover can add another major prize to their CV, you might be proven right, but probably not at the Masters. Collectively, they’ve rarely figured in the Augusta shake-up. People with memories of Oosthuizen’s second place finish in 2012 may query his entry on the list, but his previous three missed cuts at the Masters are an indication that was more of a flash in the pan rather than a changing of the pan. His missed cut in 2013 certainly justifies our use of a pan analogy.
#3 The inbetweeners for courses
This is the most contentious of categories. It’s players who’ve shown flickers of Augusta form, but also mixed it up with some less successful visits. Rory McIlroy whose Augusta form is about as consistent as a yoyo, heads the list. The way he stormed through the first three rounds of the 2011 edition suggested he had the course in his pocket, but imploded when squeaky bum time rolled around. Last year he finished tied for 8th, but never really set the course alight on any day. Despite coming out saying that he feels confident this year, based on his course form, it has to be considered doubtful.
Everyone else could be broadly described as ‘you wouldn’t be surprised if they went close, but equally there’s a decent chance they’ll screw it up’. That pretty much describes Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia’s major hunts to date. They’ve done well at Augusta in the past, but they’ve also got some blotches on their copybook. Yes they’re about as mentally tough as toddler with low self-esteem, but they’re supremely talented and you would expect to get a good run for your money from them. If you’re looking for some sort of answer as to the wisdom of that view, the history books will just shrug and stare blankly at you – a bit like us.
Saying a former winner doesn’t play Augusta particularly well feels about as ill-advised as praising Thatcher’s legacy in any town north of about Luton, but you could certainly say that about 2008 winner, Trevor Immelman. He may have a Green Jacket hanging up in the clubhouse with his name on it, but he’s also got a patchy record. He’s finished in the Top 50 category or missed the cut in seven of his 12 Masters Tournaments, including last year, and he’s only done ‘meh’ well in the others he didn’t win. He’s not quite the course expert some may assume, but he’s got a Green Jacket so he probably doesn’t care.
Another man with a tasty green blazer hanging in his wardrobe is Angel Cabrera. Yet he missed the cut last year. According to our statisticals, he’s the only man to have ticked each of the boxes with a win, a top 6, 10, 25 and 50 finishes, sprinkled with a few missed cuts here and there. Sounds like a recipe for the classic “I haven’t a notion how I’ll do this year lads, but sure we’ll give it a lash”. One thing for sure is that we’ll be praying that at some stage this week he’ll say “I love it when a plan comes together” to the cameras before lighting up his cigar.
Ian Poulter is a strange case and that’s not just a jibe at his fashion sense. After missing the cut in 2013, Ian was back to his fantastically average best, managing to . Still though, he’s clearly as comfortable with the course as he is with wearing a ridiculous pair of trousers. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see he’s rarely actually dominated the course. He does have two Top 10 finishes to his name, but he’s also got a more muddling record of three Top 25 and three Top 50 finishes to his credit. The fact he’ll be around for the weekend should be as nailed on as the chances of him wearing something gaudy over the four days, but the likelihood for actually challenging for the title is less certain.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) April 6, 2015