Conor Mills | Freelance Automotive and Travel Journalist

Freelance Automotive and Travel Journalist

Preview: 2010 US Masters

Posted by Admin On April - 1 - 2010

Eye on the Tiger at the US Masters 2010
After a self-imposed break from the game, Tiger Woods will be desperate to let his golf do the talking when he tees off in Augusta in the first week of April. Asides from the obvious threat of Mickelsen and Els, he’ll also face stiff competition from a throng of British golfing talent, writes Conor Mills.

The spring has finally arrived and with it comes the year’s first golfing major. The US Masters is the most exclusive tournament in golf and the highlight of the yearly calendar. Players dream of one day making the famous trip down Magnolia drive, but it’s the event’s unique and long-standing traditions as well as all the legendary tales that surround the Masters that make it such a special occasion.

Most of the press leading up to this year’s event has been circulated around whether or not a certain Mr Woods will make an appearance. But now we know Woods will be competing in Augusta, after making a seemingly miraculous recovery from his sexual illness and his desire to take a break from the sport, the shamed star will be relishing the opportunity to let his golf do the talking.

Regardless of whether Woods storms to victory though, or wilts under the pressure his return will bring, the US Masters is always a weekend to remember. And with such a strong list of English contenders taking part this year, 2010 may just prove to be more memorable than most. Could the 13-year hiatus, since Nick Faldo last won the tournament back in 1996, finally be coming to an end?

The pride of Britain
The result saw Poulter climb to number five in the world, the highest position he has ever reached. But more importantly, the result means Poulter will arrive at Augusta with particularly high expectations this year, and when you look at his Masters history, which has seen him finish no lower than 33rd in his five Augusta outings, there is every reason to expect a strong performance from the Englishman.

Poulter can be backed at the high street chains at around 40/1 so represents excellent value before a ball has been hit. An important point worth noting is that Poulter is also currently ranked in the top ten in greens in regulation. In recent years this has shown to be the single most important statistic to look at in Augusta as the lightening fast, undulating greens make up-and-downs extremely difficult, making it imperative for players to hit greens. Poulter also currently occupies the top spot in the European Tour Race to Dubai standings.

Poulter is sandwiched between two other Englishmen in the World’s top ten; Lee Westwood sits in 4th while Paul Casey is in 6th. Both players have had extremely positive starts to the season with Casey 2nd behind Poulter in the European rankings, while Westwood is also in the top ten and was top of the pack last season.

Westwood’s Masters record isn’t the best but he did narrowly miss out on the top ten two years ago and made it to the weekend, finishing 43rd last year. Westwood can be backed at 28/1 with most bookies, while odds of 22/5 are on offer for the Englishman to place with extrabet.

Paul Casey on the other hand loves Augusta. With the exception of his poor performance in 2005 when he didn’t make the cut, Casey has always done well and especially at the back end of the tournament, finishing with two top ten and two top twenty spots. In light of this, punters should not be afraid of backing Casey after the cut even if he’s a few shots off the lead. He’s also the second favourite at 19/5 on Betfair to finish highest in the GB and Ireland field, behind Padraig Harrington.

The Briton with perhaps the highest hopes of success in Augusta though, will be 20-year-old Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman has been a sensation since he turned pro just a few years ago and managed to finish a very respectable 20th in his first Masters appearance last year. McIlroy is currently ranked 9th in the world having only been professional for a little over two years and can be backed from anything between 20 and 35/1 for Masters glory.

The billion dollar question

As expected, Woods will head into Augusta as favourite at around 4/1 ahead of Phil Mickelsen, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and Steve Stricker. And strong cases can be put forward for both backing and laying him.

On the one hand we know Woods would never enter a tournament such as the Masters with any intention other than winning it. He has also overcome adversity in the past when he sensationally won the 2008 US Open whilst virtually playing on one leg thanks to the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Yet on the other hand, the mental strain he’ll be under in Augusta will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced before. He’s by no means the first sportsman to have had his private life splashed all over the papers, as members of the England football team will testify, but the pressure on a golfer is arguably more severe than in any other sport. While John Terry wouldn’t have time to think about anything other than his game during 90 minutes of football, Woods will have to block out any negative thoughts every time he walks down the fairway; something he could potentially have to do 72 times over the course of four days.

The sensible option would be to wait and see how Woods performs in the first round, as unless he shoots a sub-70 score and is well ahead of the pack, he’ll be unlikely to come in much more in the betting. It’s also important to note that even if he does storm into the lead, the round one leader has only gone on to win the tournament once in the last twenty years. Plenty of bookies are also offering ‘without Woods’ markets, in which many players are only a fraction shorter than they are in the ‘with Woods’ markets, so the canny punter should keep an eye open on these as well.

The Outsiders
Currently positioned within the world’s top twenty, Villegas is another young player who has performed consistently well since turning pro and is a best-priced at 40/1 – possibly worth an each way bet.

He is a player who has always looked like he has the game to win a major, and his long, powerful hitting is perfectly suited to Augusta. Villegas finished 13th in last year’s event and also managed good finishes in the other three majors, giving him one of the best averages across all four events on the tour.

Another excellent player who is always a very solid finisher and who is worth looking out for is Geoff Ogilvy. Ogilvy has already won a major and with three WGC events under his belt, he has proved he has the game and the nerve to close out big tournaments. He also has a very good Augusta record finishing no lower than 39th in his four appearances and is available at around 35/1.

The green, green grass of the greens
With its tight fairways and undulating, lightning-fast greens, accuracy is the key at Augusta. This has been the case since the course was ‘Tiger-proofed’ in 1997 after Woods ran away with the tournament.

As a result the statistic that is worth paying most attention too, apart from recent form, is greens in regulation. If players aren’t finding the putting surfaces it is one of the hardest courses to make it up-and-down.

It is also worth checking the weather forecast though, as substantial rain at the Masters is not uncommon and if this does happen, the shorter hitters will be brought into the game, creating a bigger chance of an unknown coming away with the green jacket.

Publication: Gambling Exclusive

Original print version: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3