Next week is Masters week and all eyes will be on Augusta  National Golf Club to see if Bubba Watson can defend his crown and secure his third title on the prestigious golf course in Georgia. The US Masters is not just the biggest event in golf and the first major of the year, it is also one of the highlights on the world’s sporting calendar.

After winning two out of the last three Masters tournaments, Watson has shown that he is currently the man to beat on this course but he will have a field of the highest quality out to prevent him from donning his third green jacket.

The action starts on Wednesday April 8 with the traditional par-3 tournament; a fun but competitive warm-up to the main event that starts for real early on Thursday morning. After two days play, the players with the lowest 50 scores plus ties, or any golfer within 10 strokes of the lead will advance to the weekend and compete for the championship crown, while the rest of the field are cut from the tournament.

An estimated TV audience of around 100 million are expected to tune in for the event.

The course

The course at Augusta is instantly recognizable for its perfectly manicured holes and spectacular parkland setting. But don’t let the picturesque setting fool you, Augusta is one of the toughest golf courses in the world.

Each hole is named after a plant or flower that grows on the course with White Dogwood, Golden Bell and Azalea making up the 11th, 12th and 13th holes otherwise known as ‘Amen Corner’. This particular stretch is widely regarded as the most challenging section of the course although the fourth hole holds the accolade for being the most difficult single hole on the course.

The contenders

Of course, golf has a habit of producing a few surprises but there are a couple of names that everyone will be looking out for this year. For many, Rory McIlroy will be the favourite and the Irishman will tee-off next week as the No. 1 player in the world. Victory in Augusta would finally bury the memory of his 2011 appearance, when he threw away a four shot lead on day four, but the ghosts of that event could also play on his mind should he find himself in contention again this year.

When talking about Masters contenders it is natural to mention Tiger Woods but it is still unclear if the 14-time major winner will compete in the event that he has won four times. After suffering from bad form and injury, the enigmatic American has not hit a competitive golf ball since February 5 and has now dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since 1996. PGA rules mean that he can leave it until the day before the tournament before making a decision on whether to play or not. If Woods does show up, it is hard to imagine him mounting any kind of challenge considering his current predicament.

One man who could mount a Masters challenge is Australian Adam Scott. The 2013 champion has a good record round the course but after switching to a short putter, the world No. 4 missed his first cut in 45 events at the recent Valspar Championship. During that event the 34-year-old missed four putts inside five feet and may decide to revert back to the long putter for one final time at Augusta before the new rule change banning their use comes into force in January 2016.

Reigning champ Bubba Watson loves playing here and goes into this year’s event on the back of some solid form. The world No. 3 will certainly be many peoples favourite and will enjoy the backing of a crowd that loves to watch his legendary displays of eccentricity.

Two of America’s great young hopes could also be in contention this year. The first is Texan Jordan Speith who many experts are predicting will be one of the games dominant forces in the coming years. The 21-year-old was second in what was his first appearance at Augusta last year, and has recorded 4 top ten finishes in his last five events including victory at the Valspar Championship and second place in the Texas Open.

The second American youngster to look out for is Patrick Reed who also hails from Texas. He may not have endeared himself to some sections of the golfing world with his brash and cocky attitude but the 24-year-old seems to have the game to back it up. Reed did not make much of an impact in his first four Major appearances last year but he certainly made his mark with a win in the 2014 Cadillac World Golf Championship event in Florida. Since then, he has been a consistent top 30 finisher and recently secured his fourth PGA tour win with victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January.

Those looking for a European contender other than Rory McIlroy may want to consider the Swedish player Henrik Stenson. His last four events have all resulted in top five finishes and he is one of the form players heading into this tournament. In his seven Master appearances, he has never finished outside of the top 40 and last year’s 14th place was his best result yet. On the negative side, he was struck down with flu this week but it is expected that he will recover in time to tee-off next week.

Other players worth considering are current FEDEXCUP leader and Texas Open champion Jimmy Walker, who has broken into the world’s top ten for the first ever time; and 38-year-old American Ryan Palmer who seems to be hitting a sweet spot of form just at the right time. Palmer is currently playing the best golf of his career and has risen to No. 25 in the world.


Okay, it’s time to be bold and make some predictions for this year’s tournament. Bubba Watson will be in the mix but his current lack of driving accuracy and his below average record of hitting greens in regulation will rule him out of a third green jacket. However, his strong scoring average and unrivaled scrambling ability will put him in contention for a top three finish.

Ryan Palmer’s game is currently strong in every department apart from some occasional wayward tee shots. Despite this lack of driving accuracy, the 38-year-old is certainly worth a bet at 125/1.

Rory McIlroy has not played much golf this season but has finished in 9th and 11th since missing the cut at the Honda Classic. His talent is undeniable but there are still questions surrounding his ability to put four championship-winning rounds together at Augusta. It always seems like this event comes around too early for the Irishman and at 6/1, his price is way too short.

Jordan Speith has a game that defies his age and it is only his driving that occasionally lets him down. If he can start to hit more greens in regulation, he will be a Major championship contender this year.

When you look at current form and statistics, one name stands out and that is Henrik Stenson. When it comes to scoring averages, greens in regulation, putting, tee to green and scrambling, no one has a better all round game at the moment. His only weak point is his driving distance but his accuracy more than compensates and at Augusta, that counts for a lot. A price of 20/1 at Betfair represents great value.

Top five:

  1. Henrik Stenson 20/1
  2. Ryan Palmer 125/1
  3. Bubba Watson 12/1
  4. Jordan Speith 12/1
  5. Rory McIlroy 6/1

(Prices correct at time of writing)

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