THE MASTERS: It’s springtime in Augusta, the azaleas are in bloom and the year’s first Major has arrived. It’s Christmas Eve for golf nerds like yours truly, and we get to open our presents over a 4-day span with the soothing voice of Jim Nantz as background noise. Or we could just mute the television and blast Dave Loggins’ Masters Song on repeat:

Well, it’s springtime in the valley on Magnolia Lane; it’s the Augusta National and the masters of the game.

Who will wear that green coat on Sunday afternoon? Who’ll walk the 18th fairway singing this tune?

Augusta, your dogwoods and pines, they play on my mind like a song.

Augusta, it’s you that I love, it’s you that I miss when I’m gone.

This tournament has a mystique that is simply unmatched in the game: the Open Championship might have more history, the U.S. Open may be a tougher test, but the Masters is the world’s greatest golf tournament, a spectacle of colors, class, and competition that is unlike any other. It’s the most difficult Major to qualify for and the only one that offers a lifetime exemption to its champion– once you earn a green jacket you can come back and play until your dentures fall out. It’s also the only Major that has been held on the same course since its inception, and what a course it is: no matter who ends up winning this week, we know the star of the show will be Augusta National.

Designed by the great Bobby Jones and Scottish architect Alister Mackenzie for the express purpose of hosting this tournament, Augusta National has undergone many renovations over the years and has been lengthened considerably, but its basic character remains intact: it’s a rolling, tree-lined layout with ample space off the tee and minimal rough. There are plenty of risk/reward opportunities, especially on the back nine, and the undulating, freaky-fast greens constitute the course’s primary defense. Imagination and a superb touch around the greens are more important at Augusta than most places, and great putters are at a distinct advantage. This is a week where you’d rather have an artful escape artist with a tremendous short game and putting touch than a fairways-and-greens machine who struggles with the flat stick.

That being said, the last two editions have been won by players who could rightly be called “fairways-and-greens machines”: Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm. Rahm (14.5) is the defending champ and has found the top-10 in all five of his starts on the LIV tour this season, but Scheffler is the undisputed best player in the world and comes into this week on the heels of two victories and a runner-up in his last three starts. He heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 6.1, which is the shortest price we’ve seen for a Masters favorite since Tiger in 2013. Frankly, it’s warranted: Scheffler’s tee-to-green game is so dominant right now that he’s winning even when he’s not putting well. If the flat stick cooperates, I’m not sure anyone can beat him. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Scottie Scheffler (6.1)- In all the years I’ve been doing this I’m not sure I’ve ever tipped the favorite to win a Major; it just takes a bit of the fun out of it, you know? There’s much more glory in being right about someone like Danny Willett, as we were in 2016, than picking the best player in the world to do something everyone expects him to do (I’ll probably be linking to that Willett shout til kingdom come). But being right and making money outweigh the vanity part of all this, I suppose, and I have a strong feeling that Scheffler is going to don his second green jacket come Sunday afternoon. His ball-striking has been otherworldly, but what’s not often talked about is his feel around the greens– there’s simply nobody better with a wedge in their hands. Despite his well-documented issues with the putter, Scheffler is 5th on Tour in strokes gained around the green and 2nd in scrambling from <30 yards. A missed 5-footer on the 72nd hole in Houston two weeks ago was the only thing that stopped him from three straight wins, and with the rhythm he’s in right now and his record at Augusta– top-20 finishes in all four of his appearances and a victory in 2022– it’s difficult to imagine a Sunday leaderboard without Scheffler near the top. If he putts like he usually does, we could be in for a great tournament. If he putts well, he could win by 10.

Tony Finau (48.0)- Finau has quietly put together a really strong start to the season, finding the top 20 in 4 of his last 7 starts and finishing runner-up in Houston two weeks ago, where he closed with a 66 to make things interesting before ultimately missing out on a playoff by a single stroke. Length off the tee always provides a significant advantage at Augusta National and Finau is one of the longest guys on Tour, but it’s his improvement around the greens that has catapulted him to top-25 in the world and given him a legitimate chance to win Majors. His Masters record includes three top-10s in six career appearances and a 5th-place finish in 2019, so he obviously has a great feel for the course and knows full well that he can succeed here. If Finau can control both his emotions and his distances with the short irons this week he might be able to make some serious memories. He’s a tremendous value at nearly 50/1.

Corey Conners (94.0)- A top-25 in San Antonio last week might be just what the doctor ordered for Conners, as it indicates that he’s in good form while not taxing him emotionally the way his two Texas Open victories have. He’s struggled at the Masters the week after winning in San Antonio, missing the cut last year and finishing T46 in 2019, but the three other times he’s teed it up at Augusta as a professional he’s found the top-10 (’20-’22). He likes to play a draw, and right-to-left is definitely the preferred shot-shape out this week, and his tremendous iron play (2nd on Tour in GIR percentage, 4th in strokes gained on approach) ensures that he always has plenty of birdie looks. Conners is a world-class player who has been on a cusp of a big-time breakthrough win for a few years now, and he seems well-positioned to give it a run this week. He’s certainly worth a bet at a price like 94.0.


DAQMAN Mon: Yarmouth NAP
DAQSTATS Mon: Yarmouth NAP
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