Masters Betting Preview

At 28/1, American Dustin Johnson offers good value. See why in our betting preview for the first major of 2011.

After it all went quiet for a couple of years, the roars returned to Augusta National in 2010.

And that’s why the good folk at The Masters are likely to set up a course that creates more of the same in 2011.

Full credit to Zach Johnson for winning in 2007 but to do so without going for a par five in two and being crowned champion with an over par score (the first time that had happened since the 1950s) was freakish.

And it didn’t get much better the year after. Another war of attrition (just five players broke par for the week) saw Trevor Immelman get out in front and no-one was able to get near him. It meant the South African could coast home with a three over 75 in the final round without ever fearing the threat of a back nine charge from a rival.

That all changed with a cracking Masters in 2009 when Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell all shot 12-under to go into a three-man play-off. And the excitement continued last year when Phil Mickelson’s 16-under was three too good for his rivals.

It’s fair to say then that big hitting is back on the menu and attacking the par fives is key. Plodding around near par just won’t cut it.

So… step forward Dustin Johnson – the young American who could have won two majors last year.

There are plenty of signs that Augusta National can offer him redemption.

The monster hitter has had just two starts in The Masters but made the cut both times, finishing 38th on debut in 2009 and 30th last year.

This is almost a home game for the man from South Carolina and he said before his debut: “It’s always been a dream for me to get to go there, and I’m very excited about that, especially only being about 45 minutes from where I grew up.”

His proximity means he’s played the course more than we think and, indeed, Masters debutant Jhonattan Vegas wrote in a recent diary piece: “I played Monday, then on Tuesday I was able to play with Dustin Johnson and Charley Hoffman. We played a quick practice round and that was super fun because Dustin has been there quite a few times and told me a few little things you have to know about the course. It’s always good to hang around with people who can teach you about Augusta.”

So far from being a pupil, DJ is now a Masters mentor!

Of course, Johnson has already shown his liking for the majors. He’s never missed a cut in seven major starts on American soil while last year he had genuine shots at winning the US Open and the PGA Championship and was also tied 14th in The Open at St Andrews.

On his Masters debut in 2009 DJ absolutely destroyed the par fives, playing them in 14-under (only Greg Norman, who shot -15 in 1995 has ever gone lower).

He’s topped the Driving Distance stats on both his Masters starts and his big hitting is a huge plus.

Although his form this season has been a little patchy, there have been highs – a third at Torrey Pines (a recent major championship host) and runner-up in an elite field at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

Also worth pointing out is that at Doral he ranked 1st Scrambling – a part of his game that is clearly improving and another big asset for success at Augusta National.

Johnson looks to have a massive future and at 28/1 he’s well worth a punt.

Nick Watney has been the big market mover over the last few months – his Masters price crashing from 50/1 at the start of the year to 16/1.

You have to say it’s deserved though.

Watney has been the player of the season so far with a superb win in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral backed up by a host of top 10s.

His stats are compelling too.

He’s always been excellent from tee to green but was viewed as a moderate putter.

In 2011 he sits third in Putting Average and has shown he can hole clutch putts at vital times.

The American was already on the Augusta radar due to his impressive finishes on his first three visits – 11th on debut in 2008, 19th in 2009 and 7th last year when he closed with a 65.

When he walkedoff the course that day, Butch Harmon made the claim that we were looking at a future major winner with The Masters the most likely place for Watney to bag one.

The 29-year-old almost proved the first part of Harmon’s statement just three majors later when he took a three-shot lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

It all went wrong during a Sunday 81 but it was money in the bank for Watney, who will know more about handling the pressure next time.

Quite simply he loves Augusta National – “I think it’s just a magical place. I love the golf course” – and he’ll arrive there this year in the form of his life.

If he fails to challenge it would be a major surprise.

For a big outsider, why not pick an American who lives in Georgia and has banked two PGA Tour wins in the last six months.

The intriguing news is that the player in question – Jonathan Byrd – is 175/1.

Despite being a three-time Tour winner (2002, 2004, 2007), the 33-year-old was in danger of losing his card before he dramatically hit the jackpot in Vegas by winning the Justin Timberlake PGA Tour event held there with a hole-in-one in the play-off.

Buoyed by that win, Byrd that kicked off 2011 by capturing the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii to give himself PGA Tour victory number five.

Although his form took a dip after that he looks to be playing himself right into form again in time for The Masters.

In his two warm-up events on the Florida Swing he shot a pair of 68s on the weekend to finish tied 10th in the WGC event at Doral while he was 10th with a round to go at the Transitions Championship before finishing tied 20th.

As a Georgia resident, he absolutely can’t wait to get back into The Masters, a tournament he hasn’t played since 2008.

At the 2009 Verizon Heritage he revealed that huge desire to get back to Augusta National, saying: “Every year I tell my wife I’m not going to watch it, just because I’m so envious and mad I’m not in. But you can’t not watch it. It’s just great TV. I can’t turn it off.”

True, he’s missed two cuts out of three at Augusta National but he did finish eighth on debut in 2003 and he looks to have the game to play well there.

Another positive is his good record in Georgia. Byrd’s first Tour win – the 2002 Buick Challenge – came in Georgia while his last three appearances in the BellSouth Classic have been top 10s and those came on a Sugarloaf course often set up along similar lines to Augusta National.

Add in the fact that he plays well on undulating courses (the elevation changes at the Plantation Course where he won the Hyundai are amazing) and he looks a real value bet.

Without doubt, Augusta National falls into the bracket of ‘horses for courses’ so former champion Angel Cabrera also looks interesting at a three-figure price.

As well as his memorable win there two years ago, ‘El Pato’ has always shown an aptitude