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Dustin Johnson: The Burning Questions Heading into 2015

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It’s been nearly five months since this happened. And then this. And then this. Oh, we can’t forget about that. Or this (unverified rumor, to be clear). And of course this.

Yep, a strange few months for Dustin Johnson and golf.

That initial period of hectic rumor-mongering is over though, and the American’s stay on his leave of absence (or whatever you believe it to be) is nearing its conclusion.

How do we unravel this power-hitting puzzle? Here is a breakdown of the most tantalizing questions about Johnson, maybe golf’s greatest enigma, heading into 2015.

When will Johnson return to competition?

For those of you who haven’t followed the 30-year-old’s whereabouts following his shocking July announcement, Tim Rosaforte has provided us the answer…or at least a well-educated guess.

The veteran golf scribe spoke with members of Johnson’s team (manager, coach and trainer) and was able to obtain that the American is planning to return to golf tentatively at the Farmers Insurance Open, which starts Feb. 5.

Tentative is the operative word. Schedules can change, and these reports also state Johnson iterating that he will wait until his fiance Paulina Gretzky gives birth to the couples’ first child before he competes again. We do not know the due date, so his return date could easily be pushed back.

When he returns, how will Johnson address the questions about his sabbatical?

Johnson has never been an expansive guy in interviews, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in today’s hypersensitive media age. Those are just the facts.

I assume he will start out with a statement of his own, and when it comes to media questions, I expect vague answers. Of course, he will likely get direct questions about whether he was suspended, prior drug use, etc.

Before Johnson’s leave of absence, his agent had once answered questions about whether his client had ever been suspended by the PGA Tour with a swift “no.”  That response hasn’t changed, nor will it to queries on any of the topics in question.

If you expect real, meaty answers here, disappointment will ensue.

Will the players welcome him back?

Dustin Johnson Phil Mickelson

Gary Van Sickle already covered this one, and I agree with his assessment. There have never been any reports of players disliking Johnson, and the PGA Tour pros tend not to be too judgmental about a colleague’s problems. I’m doubtful Johnson will receive many cold shoulders in his return.

Does Johnson appear ready to return to competition?

Well, he’s keeping his whereabouts a secret, and is by proxy seen by few people. Because of that, our only source material here is the members of team Johnson that I noted above. Clearly this is a biased group whose encouraging words must be taken with several grains of salt.

That being said, even adjusting for this healthy skepticism, the reports on Johnson’s offseason are positive.

Apparently he put up his sticks for eight weeks and then furiously got to work. According to his people, Johnson is committing to his physique like never before, completing a heavy amount of biking along with strenuous two-a-day workouts. And his practice sessions have been quite focused and pristine as well.

His course-record-setting round of 61 at Sherwood Country Club, if true, is a good touch, too. Butch Harmon, who once called out Johnson as a guy who was outworked by everybody else in the top 10, says he’s cautiously optimistic about Johnson.

Trust what you want to trust, but it doesn’t appear Johnson is lollygagging in his absence.

If Johnson slips up significantly in 2015, will sponsors treat him like a landmine as they did for Tiger in 2010?

Dustin Johnson Tiger Woods

If you remember, the 2010 season wasn’t a fond one for Woods. Three sponsors — Gatorade, Accenture and AT&T — kicked him to the curb outright within months of the scandal’s beginning. Three more would drop or mutually split with Woods by the end of 2011.

But the circumstances around Woods were just too singular for Johnson to be hit with the same exodus.

That being said, I’d keep an eye on Johnson and TaylorMade.

The two have been together since the American’s pro debut, but company CEO Ben Sharpe admitted last month that TaylorMade and Johnson have had exactly zero contact since the news of Johnson’s “leave of absence” broke.

Sharpe’s quotes don’t convey any annoyance, but being mum with a long-term main sponsor that stood by you in turbulent times isn’t exactly a recipe for a satisfied employer.

TaylorMade’s contract with Johnson ends at the close of 2015. With the deadline looming so near, wouldn’t a particularly poor on-course season or a clear lack of personal growth from Johnson at least tempt the equipment giant into axing its long-bombing bad boy?

I’m not saying a split here is probable or even that likely. It’s just something to think about considering the context of Johnson’s absence, his lack of communication and the specter of his expiring contract.

What should we expect from Johnson on-course in 2015?

Dustin Johnson WGC

Year-to-year, however, the 30-year-old is remarkably similar in performance. In his six full PGA Tour seasons following his rookie year, Johnson has averaged 1.1 wins, 6.7 top-10s and 10.2 top-25s per year, with a 82 percent made cut rate.

And basically every single year, his numbers cling close to those averages. His wins have fluctuated between 1 and 2 per season, his top-10s between 5 and 9, his top-25s between 8 and 12 and his made cut rate between 73 and 89 percent.

Those are remarkably small ranges.

My point? I know the story of a catastrophic downfall in performance or a rise to superstardom in the wake of scandal are sexy angles, but Johnson’s on-course results will probably fall somewhere in that mitigated range.

Yes, the scouting reports on Johnson’s offseason progress are excellent. But again, these comments come courtesy of a PR filter, and how often do you hear healthy athletes say, “Yeah, I only feel so-so about this upcoming season”?

On the other side, a long break from golf is least likely to hinder a guy like Johnson, a total feel player who already has one extended professional vacation on record (that 11-week hiatus in 2012).

Sorry to be boring here, but I expect a quintessential Dustin Johnson season in 2015.

Is This a Professional Crossroads Year for Dustin Johnson?

It’s tempting to label this season as one where the back half of Johnson’s career is firmly at stake, with any failures sabotaging a strong ending. His lack of major championships looms large, but remember: HE’S ONLY 30 YEARS OLD.

Although we can’t always accurately predict the effects of aging on any one golfer, the average pro tends to have a near decade of prime years from age 30 on. According to the norm, we are really at the front end of Johnson’s prime.

You can see why I’m skeptical about this “crossroads” thing then. A bad season for a 30-year-old is just that: A bad season. It’s difficult to envision a downward spiral when Johnson’s physical talent is near the peak and likely not set to decline for a couple of presidential election cycles.

Short of Johnson suddenly gaining 10 years in age in the next month, crossroads is an inaccurate way to describe his professional status in 2015.

Will Johnson finally win a major championship this season?

Johnson near miss

I actually like his odds here. As I already mentioned, I don’t think Johnson will really be hindered at all by his extended absence. His chances at a major won’t be dinged then by a drop in performance.

And the set of courses at the final three majors of 2015 suits him extremely well.

For the U.S. Open, Chambers Bay is expected to be a track with wide landing areas on the drive, and at 7,585 yards, it is a long one too. It seems that big hitters and great approach players, both of which describe Johnson, are especially encouraged to excel there. And those same profiles mesh with players most attractive to St. Andrews for the British Open and Whistling Straits for the PGA (if you don’t trust me, the 21st century major champion winners at these venues are Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, all of whom fit the longer hitter-approach player profile).

The caveat for some is that a major championship is the next step in Johnson’s evolution as a golfer, and he isn’t ready for that leap. But we’re misplacing the “next step” concept. Not to diminish the difficulty of winning a major, but all that entails is getting hot at a big event with a great field. The 30-year-old already did that twice in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and another time in winning a World Golf Championships last year. He’s actually done it at majors too, with the victory crown barely eluding him. Those crunch time major championship moments are likely to turn in his favor at least once at some point.

Johnson’s real next step is consistently putting together multiple-win, double digit top-10 seasons. As lovely as it is to put up his current averages year-after-year, he seems to be stuck on those numbers.

All in all then, I’m optimistic that Johnson finally bags that elusive major in 2015. Such a victory doesn’t imply that his season will be above his norm or that the American has finally transformed into the golfer we believe his talent merits.

If he wins one of the Big Four, he remains the same old Dustin. And the old Dustin should triumph at a major in 2015.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Batman

    Jan 7, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Kind of ironic to use “burning” in the headline.

    Just remember, in PGA Tour lingo… “Out with injury” = “serving suspension for positive drug test(s)”

  2. tom

    Jan 7, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I know you have to fill pages so you have eyeballs returning to your website, but seriously? i read the first paragraph, hit Ctrl + End and filled out this comment field…

    who cares who DJ is banging or what he’s doing in his life. the only thing that matters to this community is how far he’s hitting it and is it still in play. oh yeah, and when is he confirmed to return. yawn…

  3. Jeff Smith

    Jan 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    This is why golf in this day and age sucks. …… and who cares!

  4. Denis

    Jan 6, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Why do we need transparency? He is an adult and can do whatever he chooses as long as it is legal and doesn’t hurt other people.

  5. chris franklin

    Jan 6, 2015 at 6:11 am

    The only burning question that I can see is why the PGA Tour didn’t have the guts to throw him out completely for flaunting their code of ethics and behaviour?
    Johnson appears to be a man with no moral scruples and is not fit to represent anyone or anything,if he can’t be honest about his situation how can he be honest about anything?
    His tour card should be revoked and a ban imposed.

  6. Pingback: Dustin Johnson Questions Answered! - The Golf Shop Online Blog - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  7. Barry S.

    Jan 6, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Looking forward to Dustin coming back strong. He’s very popular and sells lots of tickets for Tim Finchem.

  8. Matthew Carter

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Transparency evidently isn’t part of the PGA process.
    MLB/NBA/NHL/NFL …..Straight forward on suspentions including the “Root” cause of the suspension.

  9. farmer

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Did DJ just like to party too much or does he have an addiction problem? That is the question. Quitting the party circuit that surrounds tour stops will be relatively easy, dealing with addiction is a whole different level of difficulty. For his sake, I hope it’s just that he liked the parties.

  10. Mccance79

    Jan 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I am a Big DJ fan… but why are golf journalist so afraid to say WHY he has taken this time away from golf? I am NOT a Tiger fan and everyone was first to say why he took his time off!! Gentlemen he had a substance abuse problem and had failed 3 drug test!! Taking a look at golf from the outside lets get tight to the root of the issue and ask the hard hitting questions so that we can control the media and not leave it to a low level outlet like tmz

    • Pat

      Jan 5, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      I suspect Tiger was suspended for his repeated painkiller and sedative use as well as steroids and hgh. The only reason why the USGA is so hesitant about putting the truth out there is because Tiger is their cash cow, and if they relay to the public that he has a drug problem, sponsors would pull out, their image would be tainted and less money will go into the pockets of the executives. There is no transparency in golf which is very sad.

    • Prut

      Jan 5, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      It’d be my guess he did not get sidelined for drug use, but for banging other players’ wives. He crossed the line there.

    • Jonny B

      Jan 5, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      This is the first I’ve heard of Tiger being suspended. Please elaborate…

  11. kevorkan

    Jan 5, 2015 at 10:33 am

    l erreure est humaine donnez lui la chance de prouver son talent en 2015

  12. Steve

    Jan 5, 2015 at 10:01 am

    I should there will lines waiting for his return

  13. Roy

    Jan 5, 2015 at 9:41 am

    They will accept him with open arms and wide open legs

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: The 8 best prop bets for the 2024 Masters

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We’ve finally reached The Masters and excitement is at an all-time high. The world of golf has been fractured for the better part of two years, but for a week at Augusta National, all of the outside noise will disappear. All of the best players in the world will be together seeking to make history.

In addition to betting on The Masters champion. This is one of the few weeks of the year where there are so many more markets to explore, with value to be had in plenty of different categories.

Throughout this article, I’ll discuss all of my favorite props and players for the 2024 Masters.

Placement Bets:

Tony Finau Top 5 +750 (DraftKings):

I badly wanted to include Tony Finau in my outright betting selections, but I simply ran out of room on my card. Additionally, it’s slightly difficult to see him hitting the putts necessary to win the Masters on back nine on Sunday. However, I do strongly believe he will play great golf this week at Augusta National.

In his past 24 rounds, Finau ranks 4th in Strokes Gained: Approach is always amongst the best drivers of the golf ball in the game. Back in 2019, Finau had a great chance to win The Masters. I expect him to be hanging around over the weekend once again in 2024.

Gary Woodland Top 20 +550 (DraftKings), Gary Woodland to make the cut -110 (DraftKings):

Last season, Gary Woodland had his best ever finish at The Masters in his eleven tries. The 39-year-old finished T14 and played incredibly steady across all four rounds.

In Woodland’s most recent start at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, he struck the ball incredibly well. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach (+8.8) and Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (+10.0).

Gary has been working with Butch Harmon and absolutely flushing the ball both in tournaments and during practice.

Woodland appears to be healthy once again and in a great place physically and mentally. If he can build off his impressive performance at Augusta last year, he can place inside the top ten in 2024.

Additionally, the make the cut number on Woodland seems generous considering the number of players who miss the cut will be relatively small this week. Woodland is striking it well enough to make the cut even if he’s hindered by a balky putter once again.

Thorbjorn Olesen Top 20 +400 (FanDuel):

The Thunder Bear, Thorbjorn Olesen, made his Masters debut in 2013 and finished an incredibly impressive T6 for the week. In the two additional starts he’s made at Augusta National since then, the Dane has continued to be incredibly solid, finishing T44 and T21.

This week, Olesen heads into the week playing some good golf. He gained 3.8 strokes on approach and 5.52 strokes around the green at last week’s Valero Texas Open on his way to a strong T14 finish. Back in January, he won the Ras Al Khaimah Championship on the DP World Tour.

Olesen has the skill set to be successful at Augusta and seems primed for a good performance this week.

Top Nationalities:

Sergio Garcia Top Spanish Player +280 (DraftKings):

I believe Sergio Garcia can get into contention this week with the way he’s striking the ball in addition to his good vibes with a refurbished version of the Scotty Cameron that he used at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah.

I am slightly concerned about the emotional letdown he may face after losing in a playoff at LIV Miami, but I believe a veteran and former Masters champion should be able to regroup and focus on an event far more meaningful.

This is essentially a tournament head-to-head with Jon Rahm at +280. While Rahm deserves to be respected this week, the history of the lack of success of defending champions at The Masters is difficult to ignore.

Joaquin Niemann Top South American Player -230 (FanDuel):

While I hate paying this much juice, I don’t see a world in which Joaquin Niemann isn’t the top South American this week at The Masters. Joaco comes in playing better golf than anyone in the world not named Scottie Scheffler and has a serious chance to win the green jacket.

He only needs to beat two players: Emiliano Grillo and Camilo Villegas.

Tournament Head-to-Heads:

Justin Thomas -110 over Collin Morikawa

JT isn’t having his best season but is playing a lot better than he is getting credit for at the moment. In the past three months, there are only six players on the PGA Tour who have averaged 1.7 Strokes Gained: Tee to Green or better. Justin Thomas (+1.7) is one of the six and is currently tied with Rory McIlroy (+1.7).

Morikawa, on the other hand, has been extremely poor with his irons, which is incredibly uncharacteristic for him. I can’t help but feel like something is completely off with the two-time major champion.

Tony Finau -110 over Wyndham Clark

I explained in the placement section why I’m so high on Tony Finau this week. With how well he’s striking the ball, it seems as if his floor is extremely high. I’m not sure if he can make the putts to win a green jacket but I believe he will be in the mix similarly to 2019 when Tiger Woods emerged from a crowded pack of contenders.

Clark is a debutant, and while some debutants have had success at The Masters, it certainly poses a challenge. I also don’t believe Augusta National suits Clark as well as some of the other major championship venues.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Masters betting preview: Niemann to play star role at Augusta National

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It’s been over nine months since we saw Brian Harman parlay a dominant performance at Royal Liverpool into a claret jug. After another major offseason filled with a feud between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, talks of a merger, and a multitude of questions regarding the future of the game, the golf world is desperate for all of the best players in the world to come together again for a major championship. 

We return to Augusta National with excitement at a fever pitch. Scottie Scheffler has separated himself as the best player in the world heading into the Masters. At the moment, the 27-year-old seems to be an unstoppable force. However, questions about Scheffler’s up-and-down putter once again resurfaced as he missed multiple short putts at the Texas Children’s Houston Open including a 5’11” putt to force a playoff with Stephan Jaeger. 

Additionally, a handful of the PGA Tour’s top players such as Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Will Zalatoris, Patrick Cantlay, Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Spieth make their way to Augusta National with their current form in question.

Plenty of LIV golfers may be up to the task of conquering Augusta, but with so much time in between the last two majors, it’s not always easy to decipher how their games will stack up against Scheffler and co.

Last year, some important changes were made at Augusta National. The par-5 13th (Azalea) was lengthened by 35 yards and now measures 545 yards. Last year, Azalea played as the toughest of the four par 5s, and players averaged 4.74 for the week, which was down from 4.85 in 2022. However, eagles, birdies and bogeys were all up, so the lengthening achieved less pars, which equals more excitement. 

Without further ado, let’s get into the course breakdown and analyze some important statistics for Augusta National.

Augusta National is now a 7,510-yard par-72 with lightning-fast Bentgrass greens. The course’s primary defenses are the contoured greens, swirling crosswinds, the topography of the course, which creates uneven lies and the small landing areas that golfers will need to hit to avoid tight run-off areas around the greens.

Past Winners at the Masters 

  • 2023: Jon Rahm (-12)
  • 2022: Scottie Scheffler (-10)
  • 2021: Hideki Matsuyama (-10)
  • 2020: Dustin Johnson (-20)
  • 2019: Tiger Woods (-13)
  • 2018: Patrick Reed (-15)
  • 2017: Sergio Garcia (-9)
  • 2016: Danny Willett (-5)
  • 2015: Jordan Spieth (-18)
  • 2014: Bubba Watson (-8)
  • 2013: Adam Scott (-9)
  • 2012: Bubba Watson (-10)
  • 2011: Charl Schwartzel (-14)
  • 2010: Phil Mickelson (-16)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Augusta National

Let’s take a look at the six most important metrics at Augusta National and determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds. This should give us a good starting point for building out a betting card.

Strokes Gained: Approach

Approach is historically the most important statistic at Augusta National. The sloping, speedy greens and run-off areas create small landing spots that can be difficult to hit.

 Last year, Jon Rahm ranked 6th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach. Overall, five of the past seven winners at Augusta have ranked in the top 6 in the category. Distance helps, but Augusta National is a second-shot golf course.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.30)
  2. Corey Conners (+0.99)
  3. Shane Lowry (+0.88)
  4. Tony Finau (+0.85)
  5. Austin Eckroat (+0.85)

Course History

More so than any other course on TOUR, familiarity with Augusta National is crucial. Only one player has ever won the Masters on their first try — Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Meanwhile, there are 17 golfers in history who have multiple green jackets.

In most cases, the Masters champion has shown some good form at Augusta in the past. Prior to Scottie Scheffler’s 2022 victory, he finished T19 and T18 in his first two trips to the course. Prior to 2023, Rahm had finished in the top-10 of four of his six starts at The Masters. 

Total Strokes Gained: Total at Augusta National in past 36 rounds (per round, minimum eight rounds):

  1. Will Zalatoris (+2.91) 
  2. Jon Rahm (+2.28) 
  3. Jordan Spieth (+2.22) 
  4. Scottie Scheffler (+2.22)
  5. Dustin Johnson (+2.01)
  6. Rory McIlroy (+2.00) 
  7. Hideki Matsuyama (+1.90)
  8. Justin Rose (+1.85)
  9. Rickie Fowler (+1.72)
  10. Russell Henley (+1.60) 

Par 4 Scoring Average

Since plenty of players can reach the par 5s at Augusta in two, par-4 scoring becomes more important. The golfer who separates themselves on the par 4s will be able to gain ground on the field.

Par 4 Scoring Average in past 24 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+3.88) 
  2. Chris Kirk (+3.92) 
  3. Jordan Spieth (+3.93) 
  4. Peter Malnati (+3.93)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+3.93)

Strokes Gained: Around the Green

Golfers with a solid short game tend to fare well at Augusta National. The run-off areas are treacherous, and players will often be scrambling to get up and down.

The majority of players who have won at Augusta National have a great short game and have shown consistent ability to get up and down from tough spots.

Total Strokes Gained: Around the Green in past 24 rounds:

  1. Hideki Matsuyama (+0.71)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+0.66)
  3. Patrick Reed (+0.61)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+0.53)
  5. Lucas Glover (+0.51)

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Augusta National is most definitely a second shot golf course. Golfers can get away with a missed fairway here and there, however, it’s important that the misses with driver aren’t too wide of the target or there is serious trouble to be had.

Total Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in past 24 rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+1.04)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+0.85)
  3. Scottie Scheffler (+0.84)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+0.71)
  5. Ludvig Aberg (+0.68)

Strokes Gained Putting: Fast Bentgrass

The USGA calculates that, on average, the greens at Augusta National are the fastest greens in the country. Three-putting is fairly common at Augusta and golfers must be able to combat the speed of the greens with effective lag putting.

Total Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bentgrass in past 24 rounds:

  1. Justin Rose (+1.43)
  2. Sahith Theegala (+0.97) 
  3. Min Woo Lee (+0.88) 
  4. Cameron Smith (+0.70) 
  5. Patrick Reed (+0.70)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the six key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (25%); Course History (16%); Par 4 Scoring Average (10%); SG: Putting on Fast Bentgrass (16%); SG: OTT (16%). and SG: ARG (16%).

Last year, Jon Rahm ranked first in this model

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Hideki Matsuyama
  4. Tony Finau 
  5. Justin Thomas
  6. Shane Lowry
  7. Will Zalatoris
  8. Corey Conners
  9. Si Woo Kim
  10. Rory McIlroy
  11. Stephan Jaeger
  12. Jordan Spieth
  13. Chris Kirk
  14. Keegan Bradley
  15. Wyndham Clark
  16. Sahith Theegala
  17. Russell Henley
  18. Collin Morikawa
  19. Matt Fitzpatrick
  20. Patrick Reed

My 2023 Pick:

Jon Rahm (+950) (FanDuel)
A few months ago, I never thought that I’d be able to say that Rahm would be going slightly under the radar heading into the 2023 Masters. It’s not that Rahm has done anything wrong, but both Scheffler and McIlroy have undoubtedly surpassed him as the scorching hot, super-elite, top of the market betting favorite category.

Since his win at Riviera, the Spaniard has finished 39th at Bay Hill, withdrew at The Players Championship, and failed to get out of the group stage at the WGC Dell Match Play. On the other hand, Scheffler won The PLAYERS Championship and McIlroy finished third at the WGC Dell Match Play.

Rahm has made six starts at The Masters and has come in the top-10 in four of them. The 28-year-old has incredible power off the tee, a requirement at Augusta which always plays longer than the scorecard indicates. He’s also incredible around the greens and ranks third in the field in Strokes Gained: Short Game, which is a combination of around the green play and putting, in his past 24 rounds.

As we’ve seen over the years at The Masters, having the ability to chip and putt your way out of difficult situations is a fundamental aspect of getting it done at Augusta National.

While Scheffler has made a strong case to be viewed as the world’s best player, I still believe that title belongs to Rahm. This will be the year Rahmbo joins the ranks of Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal, and Sergio Garcia as natives of Spain to don a green jacket.

2024 The Masters Picks

Brooks Koepka +2500 (DraftKings)

In order to win the 2024 Masters, a player will have to go toe-to-toe with Scottie Scheffler, who’s hitting the ball as anyone in golf over the last two seasons. When building a betting card this week, it’s important for me to choose players that I believe can stare Scheffler down on the weekend at Augusta National. Brooks Koepka fits that bill.

Koepka’s lackluster performance at LIV Miami is concerning, but he’s the type of player who can turn it on quickly during the week of a major championship. Although I’d have preferred, he played well last week, I’ll take the odds discount we got as a result of his most recent results.

Prior to LIV Miami, Koepka appeared to be in solid form. He finished in the top twelve in four of five starts on LIV this season. When it comes to the five-time major champion, it’s well known that he has another gear for major championships. Everything he’s done both in the off-season and during the LIV season is to gear up for the year’s first major at Augusta National.

In his past five starts at Augusta National, the 33-year-old has three top-7 finishes, including two runners-up. The two years when he played poorly (2019 and 2020) were when he was nowhere near 100% healthy. All signs point to Brooks being in a great place physically as we enter major season.

Last year, Koepka was the 36 and 54-hole leader prior to letting the green jacket slip away to Jon Rahm. He used the result as a springboard to win his 5th major at Oak Hill at the PGA Championship.

Brooks enters the week looking to get one step closer to achieving the career grand slam and golf fans would be foolish to rule him out.

Joaquin Niemann +2800 (BetRivers)

Full disclosure, I bet Niemann the second he was invited to The Masters back in February at +8000. Although the odds have shortened dramatically since then, I can’t pretend that the Chilean isn’t one of the players who has a real chance to win the 2024 Masters.

While I was speaking with Niemann back in March, he told me how much he loves Augusta National.

“Yeah, it’s a place that I love. I’ve been playing good golf. Especially last year, I wasn’t playing my best golf, and I had a good week there and made triple on 11 that kind of killed me a little bit.

I feel like I’m getting more ready and more prepared every time. My game is getting better too. I know that I’m playing good enough to be in that situation that I can have a chance to win the Masters and it’s all about how I react to that situation.

So yeah, I’m going to prepare myself to be ready for that situation if it happens and I can fight for the title on the Sunday which would be awesome.”

As Niemann alluded to, the Chilean was able to have his best career finishes at The Masters (T16) despite not being in the best form. This year, Niemann comes into the week playing better golf than anyone in the world with the exception of Scottie Scheffler. The 25-year-old has won three times since December and has shown the world why he was regarded as one of the games future stars since he was a teenager.

Historically speaking, Joaco’s win at Riviera a few years back seems to be an indicator of potential success at Augusta National. Fourteen players have won at both historic courses including Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson and Ben Hogan.

Niemann has all the shots to be successful at Augusta National. His low stingers will come in handy on plenty of holes down the stretch and he can work it both ways, playing the high draw or the low fade. He also putts best on Bentgrass greens and likes them fast. Whether PGA Tour or LIV, talent will always reign supreme, and I’ll always bet on that talent.

Cameron Smith (+4000) (FanDuel)

Cameron Smith is another player who we should get an odds discount on based off of the results at LIV Miami. Smith was forced to withdraw prior to the second round due to food poisoning. In my opinion, the number has drifted to a place where I’d consider it a “bet the number” play on the talent.

Smith is a contender for the green jacket anytime he tees it up at Augusta National. The Australian absolutely loves the golf course and has four top-10 finishes in his last six trips to the golf course. In both 2020 and 2022, Smith had a real chance of winning The Masters and came up just short, finishing T2 and T3 in those two tries. In his past 36 rounds, he ranks 4th in Strokes Gained: Total per round at Augusta.

In order to be successful at Augusta National, players must be creative around the greens and be shot makers who have plenty of ways to get around the golf course. Cam has all the shots required to be successful at the course at his touch around the greens will continue to serve him well in his hopes for a green jacket.

Smith is arguably the best putter in the world and has the capability to win a golf tournament on and around the greens. He’s already taken down Rory McIlroy at the home of golf on his way to a claret jug and is one of the few players who can stare down any of the world’s top golfers on the back nine at Augusta National.

Justin Thomas +4000 (FanDuel)

With how he’s been playing since his 2022 PGA Championship win, you may be shocked to see the name “Justin Thomas” in this preview. However, JT has drifted to a place on the odds board where I believe it’s worth taking a shot on the talent of a two-time major champion in his prime.

It’s not all bad for Thomas this season. He finished T6 at the signature Pebble Beach event, T12 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and T12 at the signature Arnold Palmer Invitational. In his last 24 rounds, JT ranks 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 14th in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and 29th in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bentgrass greens.

Despite missing the cut last season, Thomas has played pretty well at Augusta National. He ranks 13th in Strokes Gained: Total in his past 36 rounds at the course. He finished T4 in 2020, T21 in 2021 and T8 in 2022.

I believe the 2024 edition of The Masters is completely wide open. The past few years has been frustrating for Thomas fans, but I believe his peak form may be a bit closer than people realize.

Sergio Garcia +12000 (FanDuel)

Earlier this season, Garcia dueled with Joaquin Niemann before finally losing on the fourth playoff hole late into the night. Despite the loss, the 44-year-old seemed to gain confidence in his game. The results that followed weren’t spectacular, but in terms of his ball striking he’s shown some flashes of vintage Sergio.

At LIV Miami last week, Garcia played well on a massive golf course, losing in a playoff to Dean Burmester. He continued pumped the ball into the fairway and hit massive iron shot after massive iron shot. He also used a refurbished Scotty Cameron that he used in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. The putter served him incredibly well until he missed a short putt on the 18th hole to win the event. Overall, he gained 7.1 strokes putting at Doral.

Sergio Garcia is once again headed to Augusta National with a chip on his shoulder. Of course, having a chip on the shoulder is nothing new for the fiery Spaniard, but this year, the 2017 Masters Champion will arrive at Augusta with his game clicking on all cylinders.

Sergio winning a second green jacket is seemingly an almost impossible feat, but magical things tend to happen on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.

Adam Scott +11000 (FanDuel)

Betting Adam Scott over the past handful of years has been a Masters staple for me, and like many traditions, has been a hard one for me to let go of.

Last week, Scott finished T14 at the Valero Texas Open in a windy and difficult week. I believe the wind will be a major factor this week at Augusta National, and the more difficult the tournament plays, the more I favor Scott. Scott also ranks 5th in his past 24 rounds on Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bentgrass and has the short game these days that could help him contend in a major.

Since his win in 2013, Scott’s history at The Masters has been spotty. He has some poor finishes alongside a T9 in 2017 and a T18 in 2019. He’s been playing some solid golf this season, finishing T8 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and T19 at the Genesis Invitational.

(All photos in piece belong to LIV Golf)

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The 22 players who can win the Masters

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Since 2013, I have created a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that have strongly predictive outcomes to success at Augusta. The list of players that can win at Augusta is usually filtered down to 20-24 players and in that time I have correctly shortlisted every Masters champion.

This includes last year’s winner, Jon Rahm. Even though Rahm essentially walked away with the green jack and did not make it very close, there were some close calls on top of the leaderboard as I had filtered out Phil Mickelson (t-2nd) and Patrick Reed (t-4th) as the LIV Tour is still behind on providing advanced analytics for their tour. Russell Henley was also filtered out and finished t-4th, five strokes from Rahm’s winning score of 276.

If you’re watching at home, the “critical holes” that will likely determine the top finishers will be holes No. 7, 8, 11 and 13. The 11th hole is projected to be the most critical of holes as over the past five Masters the top players have gained nearly a 1.5 strokes for the tournament on that hole alone.

Just like last year’s column I will get the LIV Tour players I’ve filtered out of the way. Since LIV Tour does not provide ShotLink or Trackman data, it’s more of a guessing game as to how certain LIV Tour golfers are playing. I did utilize recent performance as well as performance at Mayakoba and Doral as they were two former PGA Tour courses that have some semblance of crossover to playing Augusta.

Phil Mickelson
Thorbjorn Olesen
Charl Schwartzel
Cameron Smith
Bubba Watson

Admittedly Cameron Smith and Phil Mickelson are hard to leave out, but both have not played well as of late.

Next, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won three times by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller was the last to win in 1979. Prior to Zoeller though, it was Horton Smith in the inaugural event in 1934 followed by Gene Sarazen in 1935

Ludvig Aberg
Akshay Bhatia
Wyndham Clark
Eric Cole
Santiago de la Fuente (a)
Nick Dunlap
Austin Eckroat
Stewart Hagestad (a)
Ryo Hisatsune
Lee Hodges
Nicolai Hojgaard
Stephan Jaeger
Jake Knapp
Christo Lamprecht (a)
Peter Malnati
Denny McCarthy
Grayson Murray
Matthieu Pavon
Adam Schenk
Neal Shipley (a)
Jasper Stubbs (a)

Out of the first time invitees the data likes Ludvig Aberg and Eric Cole to play the best at Augusta National.

I also filter out old Masters champions that I do not believe can get into contention anymore.

Fred Couples
Jose Maria Olazabal
Vijay Singh
Mike Weir
Tiger Woods

Recency has a strong predictive value for player performance and missing the cut in the event in the prior week greatly reduces the likelihood of winning the following week compared to players that miss the cut, take a week off, and then play the following week. Therefore I filter out all players that missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open last week.

Byeong Hun An
Harris English
Rickie Fowler
Ryan Fox
Zach Johnson
Tom Kim
Erik van Rooyen
Camilo Villegas

I will also filter out the players that have never made the cut at the Masters:

Kurt Kitayama
Adrian Meronk

A Tradition Unlike Any Other…

Augusta National has traditionally favored longer hitters and even moreso in the past 20 years of the event. Of course there has been exceptions as in 2007 the short hitting Zach Johnson ended up winning the event.

Critics of my filtering system point out Johnson’s victory as a case for short hitters being able to win at Augusta, but they neglect the fact that Johnson’s victory came in historically low temperatures in the 40’s with wind gusts reaching 35 mph. That made the par-5’s almost unreachable in two shots and the course stressed wedge play and short game around the green where Zach had a sizable advantage.
It is projected to rain early on Thursday and then the weather is supposed to be sunny and warm for the rest of the week. It depends on how quickly the course dries up, but if it does dry out fairly quickly that will give the longer hitters the advantage as they will be able to reach certain par-5’s in two shots that the shorter hitters cannot reach if they don’t hit a quality tee shot and there may be par-5’s that some of the long hitters can reach in two shots with a short iron. Therefore I will filter out the following players due to a lack of distance off the tee:

Corey Conners
Lucas Glover
Emiliano Grillo
Brian Harman
Si Woo Kim
Chris Kirk
Shane Lowry
Colin Morikawa
JT Poston
Justin Rose
Sepp Straka

Out of these players the data likes Lowry and Morikawa the most. Both have good history at Augusta and they both just narrowly missed the distance benchmark set in the filter and both are excellent long iron players.

Last year I created a new formula to better determine ball height as Augusta has historically not taken too kindly to a low ball flight. Out of the 5 players filtered out for low ball flight using the new formula the best finish was only t-29th by Si Woo Kim. This year I’ve filtered out the following players.

Matthew Fitzpatrick
Sungjae Im
Luke List
Joaquin Niemann
Justin Thomas

Every year I filter out the poor performers on approach shots from 175-225 yards as Augusta National puts a lot of stress on those shots. Last year I filtered out nine players and three of them missed the cut with only Jordan Spieth finishing in the top-15 (t-4th) as the rest of the players were never a threat.

Here are the golfers I’m filtering out due to poor play from 175-225 yards:

Patrick Cantlay
Cameron Davis
Jason Day
Tommy Fleetwood
Russell Henley
Max Homa
Rory McIlroy
Jordan Spieth
Nick Taylor

Rory had a nice outing at the Valero Texas Open and hit his irons better there, but appears to be struggling with a leftward miss. Other than that, Rory still has the game to win his first green jacket. Henley is usually one of the better iron players on Tour, but he has struggled this season from 175-225 yards and is a short hitter anyway.

I will also filter out Danny Willett as he is coming off injury and making his comeback at the Masters.

That leaves the 22 players that can win the Masters:

Keegan Bradley (150/1)
Sam Burns (60/1)
Bryson DeChambeau (25/1)
Tony Finau (50/1)
Sergio Garcia (100/1)
Adam Hadwin (175/1)
Tyrrell Hatton (80/1)
Viktor Hovland (35/1)
Dustin Johnson (40/1)
Brooks Koepka (16/1)
Min Woo Lee (70/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (20/1)
Taylor Moore (300/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Patrick Reed (80/1)
Xander Schauffele (18/1)
Scottie Scheffler (4/1)
Adam Scott (100/1)
Sahith Theegala (50/1)
Gary Woodland (250/1)
Cameron Young (50/1)
Will Zalatoris (35/1)

Here’s my personal top-10 picks:

Keegan Bradley (150/1)
Sam Burns (60/1)
Bryson DeChambeau (35/1)
Tony Finau (50/1)
Viktor Hovland (35/1)
Dustin Johnson (40/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (20/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Xander Schauffele (18/1)
Scottie Scheffler (4/1)

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