This week the 2015 Masters golf tournament gets under way on the manicured greens and fairways of Augusta National. In addition to being the first major of the golf season, it is also one of the most coveted and traditional with its own quirks and foibles which makes it one of the highlights of the golfing year.
This year, 98 golfers will tee off on Thursday with dreams of becoming the 2015 Masters champion but by Sunday night, just one of those golfers will be presented with the famous Green Jacket, signifying honorary membership at Augusta National, alongside the beautiful silver trophy.
Last year on ISPM, we proved to be a dab hand when it came to predicting the winners of the golf’s major tournaments, landing three out of four winners and also correctly predicting that the European team would win the Ryder Cup.
So once again, we’ll preview the action at Augusta this year and round off the article with a look at the golfers we feel will be in contention come the back nine on Sunday evening.
Augusta National – The Course
The good news for this year’s field is that after extensive renovations in 1999 and 2006 in particular, the course at Augusta has undergone very little in the way of alterations over the past few years and once again, the course looks to be in immaculate condition.
While golfers won’t have to deal with any massive refurbishments or changes to the course, that doesn’t mean that this year’s tournament will pose any less of a test. Augusta is renowned amongst players for being one of the toughest courses they play each year and while wind conditions and the softness of the greens can make the course much easier, if the weather is very dry and the wind blows strongly, it can become a huge test of a players ability to even break par.
This is clearly demonstrated by some of the winning scores in previous years. In 2007, Zach Johnson won the Masters with a score of +1, yet three years later on ostensibly the same course but in much better conditions, Phil Mickelson won with a score of -16.
Weather conditions this year are predicted to be good for players, which means that it looks like another score around the -10 mark could be good enough to win, though if there is a little rain overnight, that score may drop even lower.
The Masters – Traditions
One of the most pleasing aspects of the Masters for players is the traditions that are part and parcel of the tournament. After two days for practice rounds in the week, players are invited to participate in a Par 3 tournament on the eve of the Masters tournament, with the Champions Dinner held later that evening where the current Masters champion selects the menu to serve to previous Masters Champions and a very select few other guests.
Then on Thursday, the tournament gets under way with three Masters legends hitting the ceremonial first tee shot to open the tournament. This year, as they did last year, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus will be the three legends of the game to take the honorary tee-shots to get the action under way.
Traditions continue throughout the tournament with caddies asked to wear white overalls and spectators referred to as patrons. Then on Sunday, when the winner is decided, they will receive their Green Jacket from last years winner, two-time champion Bubba Watson. However if Bubba were to win again, he would likely receive his third Masters jacket from the Captain of Augusta National.
The biggest positive for Augusta and certainly the television networks that beam the event live across the globe, this week was confirmation from Tiger Woods that he would be competing in the event – His first after a lengthy spell out due to a back injury.
Woods absence from the Masters last year did impact viewing figures quite considerably, especially in the US and so his return is a welcome boost for TV companies and the prestige of the event.
However, in terms of competitiveness, it seems unlikely that Woods will be in any shape to really compete at Augusta. While reports suggest he has been playing well as he rehabilitated, Augusta is as tough a first test for a golfer returning from injury as can be and given Woods shocking form earlier in the season, it is hard to see him as a genuine contender here.
The other big name in the field is of course Rory McIlroy as the Irishman seeks to wrap up a career grand slam by landing the only major to elude him thus far. McIlroy would also complete the third leg of a Rory slam as he won the last two majors of the 2014 season and victory here would only see him need to win the US Open to hold all four majors at the same time.
While the Irishman isn’t quite at the very top of his game, his form has been steadily improving after a somewhat erratic few weeks early in the spring period and he will be hoping to hit top form this weekend.
Other players in with a shout include two-time winner Bubba Watson, Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day who both have excellent recent records at Augusta, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and expect to see a strong showing from America with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson leading the charge.
European hopes lie with the likes of McIlroy, Poulter, Rose, Westwood, Jiminez, Kaymer and Sergio Garcia. Although last year’s runner up, Jonas Blixt, as well as the returning to form Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey may feel they have a chance to perform well here. Although no European has won at Augusta since Jose Maria Olazabal’s second Masters triumph back in 1999.
The Masters Tips
So who is going to win the Masters this weekened? Well, to give you an idea of how far Tiger Woods has fallen out of favour with the bookies, the American is now a 50/1 shot to win the event. Woods tenacity however make him a danger and while I can’t see him winning, with each way paying out on the top five, you could consider Woods a potential each way bet if you feel he can bounce back from injury, though personally, it is not a bet I would make.
And where would I place this bet – or in the case mentioned above, not place it – I would advise Bet365. New customers are treated to free Bet365 Sports bets.
For the outright winner, Rory McIlroy is the 11/2 favourite and it is hard to go against the Irishman here, however I am going to do that because I think that Jordan Spieth at 10/1 offers great value and is also bang in form heading into Augusta. Spieth finished second last year tied with Blixt and he is sure to win a Major one day. I feel that could be this week.
If you are looking for an outsider who could finish in the top five and earn you a decent payout, then I think at 80/1 Martin Kaymer is exceptionally good value. The German knows how to turn it on in the Majors and while he has been relatively quiet this season, he is capable of stringing four high quality rounds together on a difficult course in order to climb into the top five places.