Teeing Off: The Coral Golf Blog
The year’s first major gets underway this week as the best players in the world compete to land the famous Green Jacket. Tiger Woods is missing due to back surgery and Rory McIlroy is the slight favourite ahead of defending champion Adam Scott. However McIlroy has yet to finish better than 15th at the Masters while only three players have defended their title which shows the size of the task facing Scott. The 7,435-yard course played as the toughest par 72 on the PGA Tour last season and a sharp short game is required to excel around Augusta’s devilish greens.
Jason Day looks a major champion in waiting and the confident Australian’s best chance looks likely to come at Augusta. Day has already established an extremely impressive record at this tournament in just three visits. Debutants tend to struggle around the demanding layout but he looked at home on his debut as he finished in a tie for second three years ago. Day also contended 12 months ago and arguably should have won before ending up third.
The 26-year-old landed the World Cup of Golf back in Australia last year and this appears to have elevated his game and confidence to a new level. Day followed this up with the biggest title of his career winning the WGC Matchplay Championship in February. He has not competed since due to a thumb injury but insists he is fully fit and has been practicing at Augusta since last week. Day looks ready to capture his first major and is well worth backing at Coral’s 16/1 top price each way.
Phil Mickelson boasts the beat Masters record in the field and the American star can put up a strong challenge for his fourth Green Jacket this weekend. Lefty’s last win here came four years ago and the five-time major champion has described this week as his favourite tournament on the calendar. It’s not hard to see why with such superb form at Augusta where he has finished in the top ten no fewer than 14 times.
The 43-year-old surprisingly struggled last year in Georgia but was unhappy at not competing the week before because the schedule did not suit him. Mickelson’s best major performances have tended to follow a warm-up tournament so his best finish of the season on Sunday, when 12th in Houston, bodes well. After a quiet start to 2014, Mickelson will be determined to add to his major haul and should be in vying for victory at 12/1 each way on Sunday.
Bubba Watson has been in a rich vein of form this year which has set him up for another title tilt. The mercurial talent claimed his first win since the 2012 Masters in February when he landed the Northern Trust Open. The powerful American was also runner-up at the WGC Cadillac Championship and the Phoenix Open, having been a constant feature at the top of leaderboards in recent months.
Watson’s all-round performance this season is hard to fault. The 35-year-old leads the PGA Tour in driving distance and is fourth in par four birdies or better. But his improvement on the greens has been the biggest reason by his resurgence as Watson is first in putting from 15 to 25 feet. A return to the scene of his emotional win from two years ago should bring out the best in a player capable of brilliance. Watson is an ideal fit for Augusta National and in his current form must be a major contender at 25/1 each way.
Charl Schwartzel is another former Masters champion and the South African is quietly rounding into form. His best result in America this season came when fifth at the Northern Trust Open but also managed a top ten at Doral and produced a solid top 20 in Houston on Sunday. His putter has been warming up nicely and hitting 70 per cent of the greens in regulation last week was a significant improvement on recent efforts.
Schwartzel has made the cut in all four starts at Augusta and will have fond memories of his brilliant victory, when he birdied the final four holes, three years ago. His form in 2011 was very similar to this year and the knowledge that he has won the Masters could give him the edge if he gets in contention this weekend. Throw in the positive vibes of recently becoming a father, a factor which frequently helps propel golfers to immediate success, and Schwartzel can go close at 33/1 each way.
Hideki Matsuyama has already demonstrated his natural ability on the big stage after a string of impressive performances. The Japanese golfer finished inside the top 20 of all three majors he competed in last year. This included a tie for tenth at the US Open and joint sixth at the Open Championship.
The 22-year-old also has the advantage of playing at Augusta twice as an amateur. Matsuyama made the cut both times and produced a remarkably mature performance, which featured a four-under-par 68, to post a top 30 finish three years ago. He is a much better player now as a professional, with a best effort of fourth this year in Phoenix, so Matsuyama looks a decent priced outsider at 66/1 each way.
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