For many fans of golf, mid April signifies the most important golfing event of the year as the world’s finest players assemble in Atlanta, Georgia to take on the majesty of Augusta National in the 2014 Masters.
The first Major of the season will start with a strong field, but one notable omission. Tiger Woods will be recuperating after surgery on his back to rectify a problem with a pinched nerve and while Woods’ absence will be felt, there will still be an incredibly strong field in attendance at Augusta, including three players who could potentially replace Woods as the new world number one golfer.
Before we take a look at this year’s field and which golfers we think stand a great chance of success at Augusta, let’s learn a little about The Masters and how the 2014 event may be different to any that have gone before it.
The Masters – a brief history
The first Masters tournament was contested in 1934, when Horton Smith won the first event and a first prize of $1,500. Since then, the competition has been contested every year apart from in 1943, 1944 and 1945 due to World War II.
The first non-American player to win the event was Gary Player in 1961. Player won the event twice more in 1974 and 1978, before Seve Ballesteros became the next overseas player to win the event in 1980 and again in 1983.
Other non-American winners include Bernhard Langer in 1985, Sandy Lyle in 1988, Nick Faldo (1989, 1990 and 1996), Ian Woosnam (1991), Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, 1999), Vijay Singh (2000), Mike Weir (2003), Trevor Immelman (2008), Angel Cabrera (2009), Charl Schwartzel (2011) and last year Adam Scott (2013).
American Jack Nicklaus has won the coveted Green Jacket on six occasions, the most of any player, with Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer both on four wins.
Perhaps more than any other competition the Masters is built on tradition. The Champions Dinner is held every Tuesday with only past champions and other board members invited and on Wednesday, a par-3 contest is held on Augusta’s nine hole course, the winner of which has never gone on to win the Masters tournament which starts the following day.
The winner of the Masters receives not just the Masters trophy, but a green jacket, which is a symbol of their acceptance into the “Masters Club”, which guarantees them a place at the Champions Dinner every year, but also permanent membership of Augusta National.
Augusta – the course
Augusta’s most famous holes are the 11th, 12th and 13th, which make up Amen Corner.
The name, often erroneously ascribed to players saying a prayer to get through this section of the course unscathed, actually came about in 1958, when a writer Herbert Warren Wind of Sports Illustrated nicknamed the holes “Amen Corner” due to the incredible way Arnold Palmer played the holes on his way to victory.
All the holes on the course are named after the trees and shrubs that surround it.
This year however there will be one notable forest denizen missing from the course. The famous Eisenhower Tree, a feature of the 17th hole, was removed from the course earlier this year after it suffered damage during an ice storm.
The tree was nicknamed after former President Eisenhower, who campaigned to have the tree removed after hitting it so often with his tee shot. The club refused the President’s request and since 1956, the tree was named thus.
The 2014 Masters will therefore be the first without this famous card-wrecker at the 17th, though there are rumours that Augusta are planning to have a replacement installed in time for the 2015 event. So any reprieve for golfers, may only be temporary.
The Masters 2014 – the contenders
Given the nature of the Masters event and the fact that there is such a large field, picking a winner from the event is not an exact science. As such, I would strongly advise anybody who fancies a flutter on the outcome, backing the Each Way market with many bookmakers offering payouts down to the top five finishers in the event.
With Tiger Woods absent, the current favourites to lift the Masters in 2014 are Adam Scott (the 2013 Champion) and Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who are both rated at 9/1 shots with Bet365. Not a Bet365 customer? No worries – merely create an account and you’ll also qualify for $100 in free Bet365 sports bets, no deposit required.
Phil Mickelson, who is chasing his fourth victory is a 12/1 shot, with Australian Jason Day an 18/1 shot.
Next up are two in form players, Matt Kuchar who is a 20/1 shot and Sergio Garcia who is 22/1. Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and 2012 Champion Bubba Watson are all ranked 25/1 shots and at that price, I think my first choice for an each way punt would be Bubba Watson.
Watson finished 50th last year after winning in 2012 and his prodigious length off the tee can be a huge advantage around Augusta nowadays. If he keeps the ball in a straight line from the tee, he has the game to really challenge the top players and at 25/1 for a top five place, he is great each way value.
Looking through the rest of the field, there is some other players I think have a chance, the British challenge should be strong with McIlroy leading the way but don’t rule out the likes of Justin Rose (30/1), Lee Westwood (40/1), Luke Donald (45/1), Ian Poulter (50/1) and my next each way choice Graeme McDowell (55/1).
The Northern Irishman is a major winner but doesn’t have a great record at Augusta, missing the cut in three of the last four years. He’s finished at best tied 12th (in 2012) but he is in good form and with the pressure off him, he could surprise a few at Augusta this year if he can play consistently.
My final pick is a player who I tipped to do well in the Accenture World Matchplay and proved me right, reaching the final at an 80/1 price. So I’m backing Frenchman Victor Dubuisson to make a real impact here. At 100/1, he is a great price for a player who is bang in form and who has the all round game to get around Augusta fluently, even on a first appearance.
The action tees off early on Thursday morning at Augusta, with the three legends of the game, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer hitting the ceremonial first tee shots on the 50th Anniversary of Palmer’s fourth and final green jacket.
Who will be the next player to follow him into the Augusta history books in 2014?