One of the highlights of the sporting calendar, the US Masters is, for many, the golf tournament to win. Now in its 77th year, and hosted by the stunning Augusta National course since 1934, it‘s the first chance for Tour players to win a Major in 2013.
Bubba Watson won the title last year, meaning that a European hasn’t won the tournament since 1999. But, with Europeans occupying five of the top ten spots in the world rankings, is that barren run about to come to an end?
The European challenge
Over the last couple of years, Rory McIlroy has risen to the top of the world rankings after some sensational performances, most notably at the 2011 US Open and the 2012 US PGA. The Northern Irishman is the 7/1 second favourite for this year’s tournament, although I wouldn’t be rushing to back him at those odds.
The 23 year old headed the Masters leaderboard from the very early stages two years ago and he went into the final round four shots ahead of the chasing pack. However a final round 80 undid all te previous good work and he finished outside the top ten. Last year he was one shot off the lead going into the weekend before fading and finishing T40.
He’s had a mediocre start to his 2013 campaign and so I think there’s better value elsewhere.
Luke Donald was never really in contention at last year’s Masters – he finished T32 – but can boast three top 10 finishes at this event and is one to watch at 22/1. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter both finished in the top ten last year and I fancy both of these Englishman to have another good year. Rose is a 22/1 chance while Poulter – back in the world’s top 10 – looks great each way value at 40/1.
Lee Westwood’s last three trips to the Masters have seen him finish second, T11 and T3 and he has given his backers plenty to cheer in recent years. Westwood was T5 on his return to action in Dubai a couple of weeks ago and would be an extremely popular winner at 22/1.
I still think Matteo Manassero is due to break through at a major tournament and the 19 year old showed what he can do by eagling the third extra play-off hole to beat Louis Oosthuizen at the 2012 Singapore Open. The young Italian is 100/1.
The Rest of the World
After 7 consecutive top 10 finishes at the Masters, Tiger Woods recorded his worst performance at Augusta since 1996 last year by finishing T40 and never really being in contention. Woods is the 5/1 favourite for this tournament – he has won it four times, of course – but he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi in January and lost in the first round of the WGC Matchplay to Charles Howell III.
You can never rule Woods out but I wouldn’t be racing to back him at short odds.
Phil Mickelson is a three time Masters winner and, at 10/1, will always be a danger on this course. The 2010 champion finished T3 last year and, if you’d backed him to 5 places each way you’d have got a return on your investment in five out of the last seven years.
American golfers have won eight out of the last twelve Masters tournaments and there are plenty of talented home-grown players to follow. Reigning champion Bubba Watson is 33/1 to become the first man since Tiger to retain the Masters title while world number four Brandt Snedeker is a 20/1 chance, having finished T3 at this event back in 2008.
Matt Kuchar is the new WGC Matchplay champion and looks superb value at 35/1, considering he finished T3 at the Masters last year.
I also like the chances of the two main South African contenders. Both Charl Schwartzl and Louis Oosthuizen have won already this season and both have finished in the top 2 at the Masters in the last two years. Schwartzl won the tournament in 2011 while Oosthuizen lost in a play-off 12 months ago. Both look great value at 25/1.
This year’s Masters promises to be one of the most open and intriguing contests in years. While there are plenty of worthy European contenders, I can’t look beyond the Americans and the South African pair this year.
Matt Kuchar looks a standout pick a 35/1, while Charl Schwartzl and Louis Oosthuizen have both performed at Augusta in recent years and can be backed at 25/1. 32 year old Adam Scott has finished T2 and T8 at Augusta in the last two years and the Australian could also be one to watch at 28/1.