When Tiger Woods steadily climbed the leaderboard earlier this month at the Valspar Championship, pulling to within one shot of the lead on Sunday afternoon, not only were the legion of fans that descended on Innisbrook Resort giddy, but as it turns out, so were the sports books.
After Woods tied for second with Patrick Reed behind winner Paul Casey, Vegas immediately installed Woods as the favorite for next week’s Masters. Maybe a little premature?
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Tiger Woods won’t be able to drive with irons at Augusta National and expect to win a fifth green jacket.
But when Rory McIlroy instituted his scorched-earth policy a week later and burned down Bay Hill with a closing 64 and a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, all eyes turned away from Woods – briefly – and focused on McIlroy.
So, who is the favorite at Augusta? According to the odds posted by Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the bettors like more than a few familiar names to win next week:
Why Woods (10-1 odds) will win: Above all else, Woods still can putt. He always was one of the best putters on the planet, and that skill, so far, has not gone away. Putting is critical on Augusta National’s huge, sloping greens. And, no one knows how to plot his way around Augusta better than Woods, a four-time winner of the green jacket.
Why he won’t win: Woods and his driver still are not on speaking terms, especially under the heat. With a chance to win at Valspar, he timidly took an iron off the tee at the 18th. In the hunt at Bay Hill, Woods found that his driver double-crossed him, and he hit it out-of-bounds on the par-5 16th in the final round. Augusta is a driver’s course. You can’t 3-wood and 2-iron your way around it and win the Masters.
Why McIlroy (10-1) will win: More than anyone, Augusta owes one to McIlroy. Starting the final round in 2011, he held a four-shot lead and wound up shooting 80. If McIlroy plays like he did at Bay Hill, no one will touch him and he will complete the career Grand Slam.
Why he won’t win: Maybe it was a Bay Hill hangover, but McIlroy looked listless as he lost two matches at the WGC Dell Match Play and went home early. He is as mercurial as any great player ever has been. There’s Rory the Great and Rory the Mediocre. It depends on which one shows up.
Why Dustin Johnson (10-1) will win: He’s still the No. 1 player in the world, and he and McIlroy are the two longest, straightest drivers in golf. Johnson has the uncommon physical tools that are perfect for Augusta National. It’s a par 68 for him.
Why he won’t win: Johnson is accustomed to hitting wedges into most par 4s, but that won’t be the case at Augusta. His iron game will be tested, and he’s not always the best with medium irons in his hands.
Why Justin Thomas (10-1) will win: Thomas doesn’t appear to have a weakness. He drives it long and straight, is a serious iron player, has a good short game and is a solid putter. Given all that, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t win.
Why he won’t win: The intangible at Augusta National is what goes on between the ears. The Masters requires infinite patience, knowing intuitively when to go at a flag and when to play away from it. Thomas, who will be playing only his third Masters, might not have played Augusta National enough under the heat to be able to make the proper decisions.
Why Jordan Spieth (12-1) will win: Spieth is the best long putter in the game, and that is critical at Augusta, which requires all kinds of imagination on the greens. Spieth is blessed with that.
Why he won’t win: Spieth has been out of sorts in 2018. He can’t find the golf course with his driver, and his short putting has abandoned him. If he doesn’t find an answer – and soon – he might go home Friday evening of Masters week.
Why Justin Rose (12-1) will win: Rose has been approaching top form in 2018. He tied for eighth at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, tied for fifth at Valspar and was third at Bay Hill. He was runner-up to Sergio Garcia at last year’s Masters, so he knows how to play Augusta National.
Why he won’t win: Rose is not the greatest putter in the world. If you use a big, funky grip on your putter and putt with the claw or saw grip, you have issues. No one wins the Masters who doesn’t putt well.
Why Phil Mickelson (16-1) will win: Because it’s in the stars, in the cards, it’s fate, it’s kismet. Besides, wouldn’t it be really cool if Mickelson, at age 47, could pull off another Masters?
Why he won’t win: You must focus relentlessly for 72 holes at the Masters, and that’s not always easy for a 47-year-old. Besides, Mickelson and his driver aren’t getting along. If he drives it crookedly, even his magical short game won’t get him completely out of trouble.
Why somebody else will win: There’s Bubba Watson (14-1) who is playing great golf coming into the Masters and already has two green jackets. There’s Jon Rahm (18-1), Garcia (25-1), Tommy Fleetwood (30-1) or Alex Noren (40-1).
At the end of the day, there are a number good bets to win the Masters. The problem is picking the right one.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter:@mikepurkeygolf