2012 US Masters Preview and Tips
One of the highlights of the sporting calendar, the US Masters is, for many, the golf tournament to win. Hosted by the stunning Augusta National course since 1934, it is one of the most widely watched and competitive events on tour.
While a European Tour player won the Masters last year – Charl Schwartzl taking the title – a European hasn’t won the tournament since 1999. But, with Europeans occupying the top three spots in the world rankings, is that barren run about to come to an end?
The European challenge
Over the last year, Rory McIlroy has risen to the top of the world rankings after some sensational performances, most notably at the 2011 US Open. He’s won the Honda Classic in 2012 already and finished third at the recent WGC Cadillac Championships and so it’s no surprise that the Northern Irishman is the clear 4/1 favourite for this year’s Masters.
Before you rush to back McIlroy, though, it’s worth remembering what happened at Augusta last year. McIlroy headed the leaderboard from the very early stages and went into the final round four shots ahead of the chasing pack. Of course, he then shot a final round 80 and ended up finishing outside the top ten. However, he’s clearly a better player than he was then and his tournament wins over the last 12 months should help McIlroy avoid a similar fate in 2012.
Luke Donald is back at the top of the world rankings after his recent PGA Tour win. After an average start to the year by his standards, Donald won the recent Transitions Championship on the first play-off hole and is coming into form at precisely the right time. He finished T4 at the Masters in 2011 and looks great each way value at 14/1.
Briefly the world’s number one player, surely it is only a matter of time before Lee Westwood wins his first Major? Westwood has finished in the top ten in 6 of the last 9 majors he’s played in, including a second place finish at the Masters in 2010. He was T11 last year after a disappointing weekend but would be an extremely popular winner at 16/1.
Recent PGA Tour winner Justin Rose is one to watch at 33/1 while it would be great to see former world number three Paul Casey go well at 80/1. Alvaro Quiros was T5 after two rounds last year and can also be backed at 80/1.
The Rest of the World
Tiger Woods appears to have recovered from the Achilles injury which caused him to withdraw from the Transitions Championship and the four time Masters winner the 13/2 second favourite. There were signs that Woods was approaching some good form a few weeks ago and he did finish in the top ten at Augusta in 2011 even without being in good shape at the time.
Phil Mickelson is a three time Masters winner and, at 8/1, will always be a danger on this course. The 2010 champion never troubled the top of the leaderboard last year, but you can’t rule out the popular leftie.
Could it be the time for one of the young breed of Americans to make the breakthrough? US golfers have won 10 of the last 17 Masters tournaments and the likes of Hunter Mahan (33/1), Nick Watney (33/1), Bo van Pelt (80/1) and Ryan Palmer (150/1) have finished in the top 10 over the last couple of years.
Last year’s winner Charl Schwartzl is 28/1 to become the first man since Nick Faldo to retain the Masters title. And, it was the Australians who provided the sternest challenge to Schwartzl in 2011. Jason Day can be backed at 33/1 while the talented Adam Scott is 28/1 to win his first Major.
This year’s Masters promises to be one of the most open and intriguing contests in years. I really fancy a European to triumph at Augusta for the first time since Jose-Maria Olazabal in 1999 and Luke Donald looks like the man most likely at 14/1. I expect Rory McIlroy to go well at 4/1 (although those odds are a bit skinny for my liking) and I like the chances of Adam Scott (28/1) and Webb Simpson (40/1).
For an outside bet, it may be worth considering Italian teenager Matteo Manassero. The 18 year old finished second in Andalucia last weekend and with two European Tour wins has shown he can mix it with the big boys. The talented Italian is 100/1 for the Masters and I expect Manassero to make an impact on a Major tournament sooner rather than later.