Under the new sponsorship of bookmakers Sportsbet, the Masters is the first leg of the Australian triple-crown, with the Open and PGA Championships to follow. Long-term readers of this column will know this is a time of the year that I particularly relish, as should any serious student of the formbook.
 
The rollcall of winners during this event’s 30-year existence reveals a list of top-class champions. Back in the days when the organisers were able to attract overseas stars such as Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara and Bernhard Langer, the visitors often went home with the title. When they didn’t, Aussie legends such as Greg Norman and Craig Parry tended to dominate with nine Masters titles between them.
 
This century, its been harder for Australian events to compete with the lucrative winter alternatives available to the global players; so while the Masters is now co-sanctioned with the European Tour, the travelling contingent is pretty moderate. The trends have remained, with six of the eight winners this century from amongst the select group of top international class Australasians, and the other two were world-class visitors in the form of Justin Rose and Colin Montgomerie. None of them started at bigger than 33/1, and four were priced in single figures.
 
Narrowing the shortlist is much easier this time too, because the field is the weakest I can remember. Only three of the world’s top-50, and just ten of the top-150, line up at Huntingdale. Top class Australians including defending champion Aaron Baddeley, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Nick O’Hern and Matthew Goggin have all opted out, while Richard Green and Brendan Jones are on World Cup duty in China.
 
Our task is aided further by the fact that virtually all of the field have several years’ worth of Huntingdale form. Many who would come into the argument on their wider form have always struggled here. A hard and fast, old-fashioned championship course, this Melbourne sand-belt venue presents a very tough test that always seems to separate the best from the rest. Only 11 of the 47 players to have landed a top-5 place this century were outsiders starting at over 100/1, and only four players have made the top-3 at over 50/1 in the same period. No more than 20 players come into that price category, and many of them look up against it.

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