THE MASTERS

Golf punters have generally suffered this year at the hands of huge-priced,

shock winners, of which the triumph of Spanish amateur Pablo

Martin-Benevides in Portugal on Sunday must rate the biggest. Thankfully,

normal service can be expected to resume this week with the first Major

championship of the year, the US Masters from Augusta.

As the only Major played at the same venue every year, course form trends at

Augusta are so strong that there are few if any more predictable tournaments

than the Masters. In the last 20 years, the closest we?ve had to upsets were

wins for Ben Crenshaw and Mark O?Meara. Both were available at very large

odds, but they were also both well-established top-class players in another

league to shock winners of other Majors such as Curtis, Hamilton, Micheel

and Lawrie. There are rarely massive fluctuations on the leaderboard

in-running. The last 16 winners have come from the final group on Sunday.

Before I get to the action Augusta, a quick word about our long-term bets.

Obviously this is a very big week as far as the various money lists are

concerned. In the European Tour?s Order of Merit race, I?m very confident

about Henrik Stenson?s chances of landing our 10/1 bet, though there is a

very long way to go. Stenson will need to perform well this week to maintain

a big advantage over the likes of Els, Goosen, Casey and Harrington who all

have strong claims of their own at Augusta.

Asides Stenson, we?ve also got a massive interest here in terms of our bets

on Tiger Woods to win 3 or more Majors in 2007. Since I placed the bet, it

has become apparent that Woods? participation in either of both of the US

and British Opens could be in jeopardy due to the birth of his first child.

In hindsight I?d rather not have that bet, but nothing is decided yet and he

may still play in all 4 Majors. If he does, he holds an outstanding chance

of landing a unique and historic Grand Slam. Whereas the Slam used to seem

like the one truly impossible sporting achievement, Tiger is not like other

human beings and this is well within his compass. He has after all held all

four Majors at once in 2001, a Grand Slam in all but name. And in doing so,

only David Duval and Bob May gave him any sort of fright. Since last summer,

when he landed the final two 2006 Majors, Tiger has again looked pretty much

invincible when it matters.

This time last year, all the talk was of the ?Big-5? who were all closely

matched and set to carve up the Majors between themselves in what would

become a classic, competitive era. Woods has since put all that talk to bed

and re-established himself as a player operating in his own super-human

sphere. If there?s anything resembling a ?showdown? here, it would be

between Tiger and defending champion PHIL MICKELSON, who has since

established himself as clearly the next best. Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and

Vijay Singh, the other ?big-5? players, have enjoyed sporadic success at

best since.

There is an obvious advantage at Augusta for the longer hitters that plays

right to Woods and Mickelson?s strengths and it is no wonder they?ve won six

of the last ten Masters between them. The rough is rarely penal and, with

control on the greens so important, being able to use a shorter iron for the

approach shot is a massive advantage. But despite this well-worn Masters

rule, Augusta is about a lot more than length. The dominance of the top

players is as much a consequence of the need for a world-class short game as

the need for length. The very best iron players also generally prosper here,

such as Jose-Maria Olazabal and Jim Furyk. Short and straight Tim Clark

finished second last year. Usually in recent years the greens have been

softened by rain, but if conditions are dry and greens at their fastest,

control will be of even greater importance.

While I?ll be cheering Woods on as far as the long-term bets are concerned,

I can?t justify a bet at very skinny odds. I?ll be faintly surprised if

Tiger doesn?t ease a little closer to Jack Nicklaus? record with Major win

number 13, but I?ll also be surprised if larger odds than 6/4 aren’t

available at some stage in-running. Compare that 6/4 to the 5/2 available at

Doral at fortnight ago. Like Augusta, Doral is a course that particularly

suits Woods? talents. But unlike Doral, where all his main rivals have

indifferent records, Woods is not the only golfing superstar usually seen to

best effect at Augusta.

Mickelson actually has a slightly more consistent Augusta record recently

than Woods. Though he has two green jackets to Tiger?s four, Lefty has won

two of the last three Masters. He also has four other Augusta top-3 finishes

to his name and has made the top-10 eight years in a row. Its become

customary for Mickelson to prepare exclusively for Majors so I wouldn?t read

anything into some recent disappointments. In February, he looked in

magnificent form, blitzing a top-class field at Pebble Beach and looking

certain to repeat at Riviera the following week before a not

uncharacteristic blip handed the title to Charles Howell. So while Woods

remains a firm favourite, at odds of 8/1 Mickelson is worth a sporting bet

to retain his title and spark a new round of rivalry for the game?s top

spot.

There are others with outstanding claims on their Augusta form. Vijay Singh,

winner in 2000, has made the top-8 five years in a row. Ernie Els, one of

the best players never to win the Masters, finished in the top-6 five years

in a row from 2000 – 2004. Retief Goosen has made the top-3 three times and

has been no worse than 13th in the last five years. But none of them is in

peak form or expected to finish ahead of Woods where they?ve failed in the

past, and as usual the best betting markets to play here are the ones that

exclude the favourite. Most firms are offering ?Betting without Woods?, but

of equal interest are Skybet and Tote?s ?Betting without the Big 4?,

Betfred?s ?Without the Big 5? and the usual plethora of nationality markets.

Rather than the game being dominated by five players, the battle is now on

amongst a big group of players under the age of 30 to establish themselves

as the main challengers to Woods. Week in, week out, there?s not much to

choose between Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Henrik Stenson, Charles Howell III,

Paul Casey, Trevor Immelman, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald. All look well

suited to Augusta, and Garcia, Donald and Immelman all have placed efforts

to their name there already.

The one from that group of young contenders I fancy most this week is the

current US Open champion, GEOFF OGILVY. That triumph at Winged Foot was the

pinnacle of a fine portfolio of high finishes built up in Majors and World

Golf Championships. Ogilvy is improving all the time, and looked right at

his best when 2nd and 3rd in the recent two World Golf Championships. His

first visit to Augusta resulted in a very respectable 16th place, impressive

for a debutant who has since shown bags of improvement. Overall, he looks to

have perfect game and temperament to challenge in Majors, and bound to be

there or thereabouts over the weekend. Take your pick of the best market to

support him in. I suggest the best value is Betfred?s ?Without the Big 5? at

16/1.

If Woods and Mickelson can somehow be beaten, there?s a very good chance we

could see the first European Major winner for 8 years. Garcia, Casey and

Donald all have claims, but our best bet in my view is PADRAIG HARRINGTON. A

great iron player who generally prospers on ?second-shot? courses,

Harrington also possesses the perfect short-game required for Major golf

courses, but has generally underperformed in them since an excellent 2002

campaign. Having finally landed the Order of Merit last autumn after several

near-misses, I think this could be the year the Irishman moves up another

level and establishes himself as a Major winner. Previously, he has been

known to peak too early, winning or contending in the weeks approaching a

Major. It could be significant that Harrington may have timed this year?s

run into form to perfection, with a series of solid but low-key efforts in

recent weeks.

In the top American without Woods market, AARON OBERHOLSER may represent a

spot of each-way value at 33/1. This market seems less competitive with

every year as the number of genuinely top-class Americans has decreased.

Mickelson naturally dominates the market, but below him there?s nobody to

particularly fear. Jim Furyk is a candidate as long as the recurrance of a

wrist injury doesn?t hamper him, while Charles Howell and Chris Dimarco are

also lively contenders. I?ve felt for a while that Oberholser had the game

to make his mark in a Major, and took the eye returning to form with two

sub-70 rounds to finish at the weekend. Like Ogilvy, Oberholser did well on

his Augusta debut last year, managing a highly respectable 14th. There could

be better to come.

In the top-European market, MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMINEZ could be overpriced at odds

of at least 25/1. There are obviously Europeans with stronger claims such as

the ones I?ve mentioned, but Jiminez doesn?t deserve to be four times the

price of the likes of Garcia. Three of Jiminez?s last five Masters have

resulted in top-11 finishes, solid course form by anyone?s standards and

while ?The Mechanic? has lost a little consistency in recent years at his

best he remains a class act. Again with four places available and barely

more than a dozen realistic contenders, this looks a good market to play.

As I mentioned above, this can be a very predictable tournament with strong

course records. Several players have tremendously consistent records, others

just never get the hang of Augusta. The list of players yet to prove

themselves at Augusta is impressive. Stuart Appleby?s best finish from 10

visits is 19th. Robert Allenby?s best is 22nd from 7. Former US Open

champion Michael Campbell has missed all six Masters cuts. Even regular

contenders like Adam Scott and David Toms have records that are patchy at

best. The field is already restricted, and once you strip it down its hard

to find more than 20 players for consideration. The result is the speciality

markets can seem something of a goldmine, with the top-10 much easier to

predict than in the usual Tour events.

The top-10 finish is my favourite golf market at the moment. It seems likely

that Woods, Mickelson and at least two more of the top players will make the

top-10 this week, but there are a number of decent-priced alternatives to

fill the other places. Take the example of KJ CHOI, available at a massive

15/2. From nine starts in 2007, the consistent Korean has finished in the

top-20 six times, including three top-10s. In itself this represents better

stats than the odds imply, but then factor in his 3rd place in the 2004

Masters and a solid 15th on his 2003 debut. Choi is usually seen at his best

on the toughest golf courses, in particular those that reward his superb

iron play which explains a good overall Majors record.

In the same market, ANGEL CABRERA looks interesting at 13/2. The talented

Argentinian has an impressive four top-15 finishes at Augusta. Cabrera?s

suitability to Augusta mainly stems from his massive distance with the

driver, but is also due to a subtle touch around the greens. From a

frequently light schedule, he often comes into form at this time of year and

has been noted over the past fortnight registering solid, never in

contention top-20 finishes.

Augusta also regularly brings out the best in former champions, seemingly

past their best but capable of rolling back the years on this unique layout.

Jack Nicklaus even managed to finish 6th in the 1998 renewal at the age of

58. Last year it was the turn of Fred Couples, who was bang in contention

until the putter let him down on Sunday?s back-nine. This time I?m banking

on twice champion BERNHARD LANGER to repeat his heroics of 2004 and feature

on the leaderboard. That year, the German legend was a serious final-day

contender, and while that level may be just beyond him now a top-10 finish

is a very realistic target. He?s made that mark in two of his last four US

Tour events, neither of which were remotely as favourable as to Langer as

Augusta.

Finally for a bit of fun in the ‘Top Debutant’ market, CAMILO VILLEGAS looks

worth a crack at around the 7/1 mark. Augusta is no place for debutants

generally, and only 8 of the 18 in this market have any hope of a high

finish in my view. Of those 8, Villegas is by far the best long-term

prospect and is expected to have many a memorable Masters appearance in

future. Furthermore, unlike all the other debutants, he tends to reserve his

best for the toughest golf courses, especially those that emphasise iron

play.

Good Luck!

ADVISED BETS

THE MASTERS

OUTRIGHT

4pts PHIL MICKELSON @ 8/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

BETTING WITHOUT TIGER WOODS

2pts ew GEOFF OGILVY @ 22/1 (GENERAL,OR 16/1 BETFRED IN ?W/O BIG 5?)

2pts ew PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 33/1 (BET365, BETDIRECT, STAN JAMES)

TOP US PLAYER WITHOUT TIGER WOODS

1.5pts ew AARON OBERHOLSER @ 33/1 (BOYLESPORTS, STAN JAMES)

TOP EUROPEAN

1.5pts ew MIGUEL ANGEL-JIMINEZ @ 25/1 (GENERAL, 33/1 WITH SPORTING ODDS)

TOP-10 FINISH

4pts ANGEL CABRERA @ 13/2 (BOYLESPORTS)

4pts KJ CHOI @ 15/2 (SKYBET)

2pts BERNHARD LANGER @ 11/1 (BET365, BOYLESPORTS)

TOP DEBUTANT

4pts CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 15/2 (BOYLESPORTS, SPORTING ODDS)

2006/2007 STATS: +0.5pts

2005/2006 STATS: +144pts

ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED

VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT

5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1

5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1

3pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN GRAND SLAM IN 2007@ 40/1

10pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN 3 MAJORS IN 2007 @ 8/1

US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS

2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1