By Alf Musketa
In this 2008 Masters Handicapping Preview I'll analyze some of the players I think can win this year and look at some of the sleepers or long-shots as well.
Few changes have been made to Augusta National. Several trees removed from hole No. 11 is the biggest change. Greens No. 7 and 9 have been enlarged to add new pin locations and pine straw added to holes 15 and 17. Tiger Woods on his web site tigerwoods.com has said he will not visit Augusta until Monday, "no need to, not many changes this year."
OK, let's speculate if Tiger Woods can win the Masters and then the Grand Slam? Maybe.
What scares me is that two and half weeks ago at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral, he played his worst of the season, had four harsh lip outs, actually 11 putts lipped out in all, missed two putts inside three feet, which you never see and he finished two shots from getting into a playoff with Geoff Ogilvy.
In other words, he could have won again, kept the PGA Tour streak alive at six and headed into the Masters having won nine events world wide....with his "B" game. We cannot envision him coming to Augusta without his "A" game. He has had coach Hank Haney with in at Isleworth all this week.
The current odds for Tiger Woods to win, at Sportsbook.com are 7 to 5. Worth a gamble? At the pace he is winning in 2008, why not. Sure, several players will be in the hunt the first two days, but if Tiger gets the lead or a share of the lead by Saturday afternoon, this tournament is over.
There are other ways to make money betting on Tiger. I recommend playing the "Field" prop early and then once Tiger is close to the lead bet him to win. Or simply wait for him to post a good round and lay a small price then.
In tournament matchups, unfortunately, Tiger has risen to the -350 to -400 range against anyone including Phil Mickelson. I like to play Tiger in a matchup at -225 or less, if he has some ground to make up on an opponent, great, or in round by matchups the price is not nearly as steep.
Phil Mickelson 8/1
When Phil won his last Masters two years ago ( and FYI Tiger has not won the Masters since 2005) he was razor sharp winning the Bell South Classic at -28 under par. This week as of this writing he is 8 shots off the lead, but we like what we see from Phil. The short game is sharp, but his putting could use some work and if not for a couple of errant shots he would be -8 instead of -4. Dave Pelz is working for Phil, has gone ahead to Augusta and is gauging greens with the Pelz meter that shows greens speeds and most notably the roll out speeds. If anyone can challenge Tiger it is Phil, just like he did beating him head to head at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Adam Scott 25/1
Scott fired a flawless course record of 63 on Thursday at Redstone GC. His putting set-up and the work with coach Butch Harmon looks so much better. At 25/1 he is worth a look and many sportsbooks have Top 5 props where you get 1/4 of the odds price....lets say at 6 or 6.25/1 to finish in the Top five, Scott can do it.
Padraig Harrington 25/1
Padraig skipped the rich WGC event to play two lesser events and progress his game to peak in three weeks for the Masters. Padraig ranks No.#1 on tour in Putts per Round at 26.67. He won a major, the British Open, his first major, now he has a taste and is focusing on them.
Geoff Ogilvy 30/1
Ogilvy won the star-studded WGC-CA event and it really was the best field of the season. But, what we noticed most, was that he was paired with Tiger for the first two rounds and beat him both days and led the tournament wire to wire. He is sneaky long and a solid putter.
Steve Stricker 60/1
How is the No. #4 ranked player in the World 60 to 1? Stricker has the game to win at the Masters. Yes, he is not long off the tee and we have seen lately that length is good but the shorter hitters are finding ways to try and tame Augusta by spinning and hitting their wedges close, ala last year's winner Zach Johnson and 2003 winner Mike Weir. Stricker is a fabulous putter and make birdies in bunches at 60/1 you almost have to label him a sleeper.
Hunter Mahan 80/1
I had another chance to watch Mahan play up close, live and in person at the WGC Matchplay event......and this guy is just one fine driver of the golf ball. Long and straight and always near the top of the Total Driving category. The tee shot at Augusta is crucial on the par fives to have any chance of breaking par.
Aaron Baddeley 80/1
Badds has in my opinion the best swing in the game today. His work of the"Stack and Tilt" swing is paying dividends. He rarely misses a fairway or green and we love his "Point and Shoot" putting style. He is looking to improve greatly on his T52 finish of last season.
Sean O'Hair 125/1
O'Hair won the PODS Championship near Tampa Bay FL, and he has what I would call a good game for Augusta. Drives the ball long, hits his irons very high, which is key at the Masters to combat and hold the super fast greens and he is a deadly putter when it counts. He will win a major some day.
Players to stay away from this year at the Masters:
Ernie Els ........The Big Easy should be re-nick named the Big Baby. This guy plays all over the world and schedules many of his PGA Tour events to avoid conflict or playing when Tiger Woods tees it up. He has been fighting a virus the past month and has pulled out of two tournaments most notably the Shell Houston Open. So, coming into the Masters he has not played since March 23rd and there he was seen working on the range with swing coach Butch Harmon for the first time. Not a good sign.
JB Holmes........he should have beaten Tiger in the first round of the WGC Matchplay event and let him get away late , he was brilliant at the Tavistock Cup, but this is his first time at the Masters and first-timers do not fair well, plus he hits a consistent cut/fade and fights to hit a draw which you need on many holes at Augusta.
Michael Campbell......the 2005 US Open winner has made one cut in the past 13 months!....and in six trips to the Masters he has never made the cut.
Re: Masters Preview
PGA Masters Preview
I am not sure about everyone out there, but the Masters is my favorite tournament to watch. Don’t get me wrong – all major golf is great, but the Masters just sends me in another orbit when springtime comes around. My wife is warned ahead of time that no couple showers, weddings or other social requirements will be met during this time. I will be glued to every minute of coverage this year (ESPN weekdays, CBS weekends) even though my DVR will be humming away recording each missed three foot putt. How many of you could draw each hole of Augusta National on a piece of paper? Yes, that is where this event is for me. It’s the Super Bowl, the World Series and Final Four all wrapped up in one for me, and I will succumb to post-Masters depression on Monday, April 14th.
Defending Champ – Zach Johnson
FedEx Cup Points – 27,500
Purse – $7.0 million ($1.15 million to winner)
Course – Augusta National, probably the second most famous course in all of golf, only behind St. Andrews Old Course.
Weather Factor – 40 percent chance of rain on Friday afternoon, minute chance of rain other days.
It goes without saying that Tiger, Phil and Vijay are prohibitive favorites, even in a field of this caliber. We are going to focus on invitees that are slightly under-the-radar that can compete for the title
We don’t see Leonard slipping on the green jacket on Sunday afternoon based on some previous hiccups while in position to win majors (ie the Van De Velde British Open playoff and the PGA a few years back), but Leonard has pulled himself from the ashes of a dead career to sit in the top ten in 2008 FedEx Cup points and earnings. He is not super-long so he will have to rely on the Zach Johnson method to place high – wedging it close and knocking in legitimate birdie opportunities. Any three putting will put him back in the pack, but if he is on his game he can definitely fall into a top 10 slot. Keep in mind that he has made cuts in all nine events he has played this year and in four events he finished in the top 10.
Ogilvy was a nice pick for us last week (second place at Shell Houston Open) and that was coming off a rewarding win at the WGC-CA Championships that featured a major-title strength field. Ogilvy started off rough, missing three cuts, but has righted the ship and is currently sitting at over $2.1 million in earnings in 2008. His 69.88 scoring average is good enough for 11th on the PGA tour, which currently equals his world golf ranking. What some might forget is that Ogilvy has a major championship in the bag (who could forget Mickelson hitting the beer tent on the 18th hole at the 2006 US Open), so he won’t be in uncharted territory if in contention on Sunday at Amen Corner.
The media has clung onto the statement that Choi wants to be the first Korean to bring home a major championship title. It’s time for Choi to put his money where his mouth is, as he is playing fairly strong leading up to this event. Choi won on the Hawaiian swing (Sony Open) and has hovered near or at top ten finishes in nearly half of the rest of his starts, with only one missed cut (at the Buick Invitational). Choi knows that being ranked in the top 10 in the world golf rankings makes for a very nice living, but only major champions have their named etched into golf fans mind’s forever.
Did you realize that Fred Couples has not missed a cut in 23 straight trips to Augusta? That alone would be worthy of a potential courtesy start, but after last weeks rousing finish at the Shell Houston Open the warning flag went out to the rest of the field that Boom Boom was back. The only real weakness for Couples is his “back” – the body part that has held him back from the mid 1990s. It appears he is feeling fine now, and will be looking to pull a Nicklaus circa 1986 this year. It will be very unlikely that he’ll missed the cut, at least!
Scott would have been on our favorites board had it not been for the virus that forced his very strange 63-76 withdrawal at the Shell Houston Open last week. He was the winner of the 2007 Shell Open and that 63 start (while feeling under the weather) served notice that he was primed and ready to go for Augusta. His performance in the Masters this week is still up-in-the-air, but no one besides Tiger has more talent in this field. Keep track of Scott – he obviously won’t withdraw unless on his deathbed – and if you don’t hear rumblings of him “sucking it up” to tee off on Thursday consider him a deadly sleeper pick this week.
Keep ‘Em In The Clubhouse
Some feel that Furyk simply does not hit the ball long enough to put himself in a position to compete at Augusta. That might be true, but what is undeniable is that the Furyk of the past five years is missing. He is still making money, but has only made two top tens in nine events on tour. This is great for the average guy, but for Furyk this is a definite slip from his previous form. You can analyze the stats all you want, but the only one that matters is the 70.47 scoring average he has, nearly one stroke worse than last year.
Goosen will probably shot me in the foot for saying this, but he has not been a factor at all this year. Great players have a habit of popping up when great events take place, but Goosen has been a cut-machine this spring and despite the past history of strong top five showings he is not a quality start this week
Masters Past-the-Prime Champions
Larry Mize, Ian Woosnam, Tom Watson…..great players that had their moment in the sun. I love the Masters lifetime exemption that goes to the winner, but no one over 50 still playing has a legit shot at the title.
Re: Masters Preview
The PGA heads to Augusta
One of golf's premier events is up this week as the PGA Tour heads to Augusta for The Masters. Tiger Woods is among the favorites, with a red hot Geoff Ogilvy close behind.
My favorite week of TV is even better this year. ESPN is broadcasting the Par-3 Tournament! I feel like a Knights Templar! They are letting us into the War Room! I will taste the inner circle from my couch! I will dine with sultans and celebrities! This could be the greatest week of my life.
Well probably not. But I get excited about The Masters. The course, the competition, the relative lack of commercials, the rite of spring. And now, on top of all that flowering goodness, they are letting us watch the Par-3. Three o'clock on a Wednesday never looked so good.
Enough. I have a lot to say about the picks. Happy viewing!
Take Tiger Woods (10-11), 1/6 unit: The only question is whether or not 'Tiger Rules' are in effect. To put the full unit and a half on him or not? Like everyone else who even passively follows golf, I will be surprised if he does not win.
Not shocked, though. I mean, this is a major tournament, with one of the best fields of the year. There are a couple of past champions who are also playing well this year, if not to Wood's standards (Mickelson has a win, Singh has two seconds and a third), as well as several players who have had strong Augusta appearances also playing well this year (Els has a win, Furyk has a second,Goosen finished T2 a few weeks ago at Doral and K.J.Choi has a win).
Aw, who am I kidding. I will be shocked if he does not win. But not shocked and awed.
Take Geoff Ogilvy (20-1), 1/6 unit: He is a popular pick (after Tiger, of course) this week. Because in his last two tournaments he has finished 1 and T2; because he has already won a major, and did it with a clutch chip late on Sunday; because he held off Goosen, Singh, Furyk and, to a lesser extent, Woods,in that win at Doral a few weeks ago; because he won at Doral by making a lot of pars and not making mistakes (which is the way to play major tournaments); and because in his two appearances at Augusta the last two years he has finished inside the top 25 both times.
Take Adam Scott (33-1), 1/6 unit: You've heard the story: Scott shot a feverish, course-record 63 in the first round of the Shell Houston Open last week (he really did have a fever) and followed with a 76 before withdrawing because he was still ill, throat ulcers being the main problem.
You may have also heard that Scott's registration number at Augusta this week is 61 and that he shot a 61 at the Qatar Masters earlier this year. THIS IS NOT AN OMEN, THIS IS A MMEANINGLESS COINCIDENCE.
Adam Scott is not going to shoot 61 or 63 any day this week. In fact, he is never shot a round in the 60s in six trips to Augusta. On the flip side,though, he has only missed one cut, his best finish was a T9 in 2002, and his illness may clear up just in time for Thursday's opening round. You know how it is when you are sick, feverish, all those nasty flu-like symptoms. When you turn the corner you feel stronger than you did before you were sick. It sounds like Scott's illness may be a bit mor e severe than the flu but the fact is he is in Augusta resting up and expects to play Thursday. At 33-1, he is an intriguing pick. Sort of a poor man's Tiger Woods who happens to be a millionaire, his putting stats and GIR suggest he is more of an all or nothing player than Woods. That is, when he hits greens – and he hits a lot of them – he is a strong putter. When he doesn't hit greens, he's not so strong.
By contrast, there is hardly any difference between Tiger's Putting Average and his Putts Per Round; he is near the top in both categories. Of course, iron play and short game affect both measures. But we do not need stats to tell us that Woods is more clutch than Scott. We will see.