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