The biggest and best names in golf are getting ready to face off at this year’s Masters Tournament for the first Major of 2021 and the chance to claim a coveted Green Jacket. Who are the favourites, where is the value and what might unfold at the Augusta National Golf Club? Inform your predictions with expert insight from Sophie Walker.
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Dates: April 8-11, 2021
Venue: Augusta National Golf Club (Georgia, US)
Defending champion: Dustin Johnson
Bet: Masters 2021 odds
2021 Masters: Background and build-up
As per every year since 1934, the venue is the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, US – although this time there will be no spectators present. The course is comprised of four par 3, 10 par 4, and four par 5 holes across a total of 7,475 yards, for an average of 415.28 yards per hole.
Factors the course is renowned for include uneven fairways, swirling winds, and difficult water hazards, as well as the ‘Amen Corner’ of holes 11, 12, and 13, which is frequently rated as capable of being able to make or break a round.
The Masters returns to its usual April date this year. After taking place in November in 2020, we have only had to wait five months for the most prestigious event in men’s golf to come around again. Unlike any other major, it has a field half the size of the Open championships, and it’s played around the same course every year, resulting in plenty of information to aid your predictions. The Masters is magical and I am here to talk you through who’s game best suits this Bobby Jones and Alistair MacKenzie-designed course.
The Masters tournament began in 1934 and the only rookie to ever win post-1935 is Fuzzy Zoellar. Experience is key around Augusta, partly due to the nerves but mainly due to understanding how to play each hole and access the tight hole locations. If you ever get the chance to check out a player’s yardage book, you’ll see they are filled with information, which is updated yearly just like a diary.
History suggests that players perform their best between their sixth and 12th appearance in the tournament - highlighted last year when Dustin Johnson won on his ninth attempt. It’s also seen as a bad omen for players to win the Par 3 Championship the day before the event starts (a third of the winners of this event have missed the cut at Augusta); however, this year the Par 3 is cancelled.
The 2021 Masters invitees
With only 84 invitees, The Masters has the smallest major field in world golf. Breaking this down, there are only six amateurs and many past champions. Augusta honours its past champions; they will always be invited to play. This is why you will see Sandy Lyle and Larry Mize teeing up in April.
There has never been an amateur Masters winner, with the best finish in recent times coming from Ryan Moore, finishing T13 in 2005. On the flip side, the oldest ever major winner is Jack Nicklaus at 46 years of age. There are 11 players in The Masters 2021 field over 46, and significantly, only one of them is in the world's top 40 - Lee Westwood.
Since the world rankings began in 1986 there have only been two champions ranked outside the top 40 in the world - Angel Cabrera and Zach Johnson. Jordan Spieth is currently outside the top 50 in the world. This leads me to say that Westwood and Spieth would be heart-over-head bets and that you are looking for a winner you can already disregard over half of the field.
What type of golfer suits Augusta National?
Augusta National is an approach shot golf course - think about the famous shots of Masters past: Bubba Watson on the 10th hole in 2012; Phil Mickelson from the pine straw on 13 during the final round in 2010. Players need to take advantage of the reachable par 5’s and it isn’t just about finding the green, it is about hitting the ball into the right portions of the green.
Augusta is a ball strikers course rather than a good putters course, so I am looking at players with a positive number in Strokes Gained Approach and off the tee. The last seven winners were all ranked inside the top 11 of the PGA Tour’s Scoring Average statistic during their year of victory.
The enormity of winning the green jacket cannot be forgotten either; this is the biggest event in golf so players need to be good under pressure. This is not the place to end a winning drought - 10 out of the last 12 champions have won another event in the 12 months leading up to their Masters victory.
Bryson De Chambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Webb Simpson, Viktor Hovland, and Xander Schauffele all fit the aforementioned criteria of a Masters winner, however, the final two players do lack the course experience, at only 23 and 27 years old respectively.
2021 Masters predictions: Where is the value?
At the beginning of the year, I tipped JT to have a stand out season. There is no way that this guy will finish his career with only one major to his name - his PGA Championship victory came back in 2017 and he needs to start kicking on if he wants to win another. However, he’s entering The Masters on the back of a mighty impressive weekend at The Players, where he took the win over Lee Westwood by a shot.
He also is very much trending in his Masters form, having placed T39 in 2016, T22 in 2017, T17 in 2018, T12 in 2019, and T4 in 2020. The off-the-field distractions seem to have subsided, his driver is behaving, and he averages the most birdies per round on PGA Tour this year at 5.18.
Cantley has four top-10 finishes and a win this season. He ranks 10th in the world - above Rory McIlroy - and has odds that are double his for the green jacket. The 28-year-old’s swing is a favourite of mine, I watched him make an eagle live on 15 during the 2019 Masters to take the lead, but unfortunately for him, he bogeyed 16 and 17. However, this guy has led The Masters after 69 holes in the past, so he has been so close.
Stats-wise, he also stands up; he is ranked inside the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (1.338), Strokes Gained: Around the Green (.508), Birdie Average (4.68), and has a Scoring Average of 69.32. Patrick would make a decent side bet for first round leader, as he has the lowest opening round average on the PGA Tour (68.10).
A surprise player who fits all of my profiling criteria. This will be Webb’s 10th Masters appearance, and while he took some time to get the hang of Augusta National, he has posted a T10 and T5 finish in his last two outings. The guy is a killer, and when he gets a sniff at winning he usually takes it - as shown last year at the Waste Management Open, where he ripped the title from underneath Tony Finau’s nose. However, Webb has only one major to his name and may not be a fashionable choice, hence why he’s at such high odds.
The Canadian’s only PGA Tour victory was at the Valero Texas Open, where he was the first ever Monday qualifier to go on to take the victory. This season, he has shown excellent form with a third-place finish at The Arnold Palmer Invitational and seventh at The Players Championships. He is 12th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (1.243) and had a T10 in The Masters five months ago. He really is playing well and is worth keeping an eye on.
The South African came second at the 2012 Masters, losing to a Bubba Watson special (a hooked wedge from the pine straw on the first playoff hole). He has made eight out of 12 cuts around Augusta and this season is inside the top 11 for Strokes Gained: Total (1.577). He also has the short game for those tricky Augusta greens; he ranks inside the top 10 for Strokes Gained: Around the Green (.472) and Strokes Gained: Putting (1.037). Louis’ swing is poetry in motion and he will be eager to join his fellow countrymen, Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman, in winning The Masters.
The last two European players to win the green jacket were Danny Willet and Sergio Garcia, and both of these were Omega Dubai Desert Classic champions in the months running up to The Masters. Which leads me to Paul Casey, a consistent player who won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier in 2021. With four top-10 finishes on the PGA this year and course form (he’s posted three top six finishes at The Masters), Paul could be an outsider to watch this year.
This could offer some insight as to why the Masters has recently witnessed more success for outsiders than favourites, or more specifically, highly-ranked players. Of the last 10 Masters champions, seven were outside the top 10 of the world rankings at the time of the tournament, and the world number one (presently Dustin Johnson) has not earned the Green Jacket since Tiger Woods in 2002.
Naturally, a player is not automatically more likely to win in this scenario simply because they have longer odds. However, the victories for Patrick Reed in 2018 (who closed at 41.000), Sergio Garcia the year before (31.000) and most notably, Danny Willett in 2016 (101.000) underline that there is a definite incentive to identify value in the market when it comes to Masters betting.