News & Opinion

Psst! Masters winner might show stripes

Our long national golfing nightmare is over. After nearly eight major-less months, the Masters Tournament is here. Almost.

March has been a great undercard. It featured Francesco Molinari’s charge at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy’s survival test at TPC Sawgrass and Paul Casey’s successful defense of his Valspar Championship title. Those were good shows.

Now it’s time for azaleas, Magnolia Lane, Amen Corner, pre-recorded bird chirping, artificially colored ponds, the cathedral of pines and all the other things that create the aura of the Masters.

It’s also time for your Masters pool … but only in states where gambling is legal, of course.

I made my annual call to my friend the Anonymous Gambler, who bets a little golf because, he concedes, dog racing is dying and he gets bored waiting for the next football season. Here are his comments, edited for public consumption (odds from Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook):

Dustin Johnson: “I know he’s the No. 1 player in the world and he may hit wedge or 9-iron to every par 4 and most par 5s, but I saw him waving at putts last week at Innisbrook. He wins that Valspar tournament if he makes anything inside 12 feet.

“Look, the Masters is graduate school for putting and short-game play. The D.J. putter-blade wave isn’t going to get it done. I’m not saying it’s impossible for him to win a green jacket; I’m just saying it goes against the odds, although Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh won Masters despite not being greensmiths, either.

“In the right year, D.J. could wedge Augusta National to death and have nothing but 12-foot uphill putts and win by three. I don’t like him at 10-1 odds to win. His recent putting display put me off.”

Rory McIlroy: “Rory is the betting favorite at 8-1. Those are tempting, but Rory’s game reminds me too much of Johnson’s. I don’t think he can handle the fast, sweeping Daytona turns of Augusta National’s greens over 72 holes. Rory’s putting is iffy; his wedge play looks a little better.

“You can count on him for a top-10—his last five Masters finishes are eighth, fourth, 10th, seventh and fifth. He’s one putt per round, maybe two, from winning three Masters. Rory has been a cash machine. His worst finish in his last six starts is sixth. But I’m not laying anything on him to win; top four, probably. I’m not a believer.”

Francesco Molinari: “He’s the flavor of the month, like Italian ice. That’d be a good nickname if newspapers still gave athletes nicknames, like Red and Lefty and Sparky. He’s an amazing ballstriker, like Rory and Dustin, who beats courses to death with his iron play. Molinari dramatically improved as a putter last year, though. His best finish in seven Masters is 19th, so even though he’s looked solid on the greens – he ranks 24th in strokes gained putting – I’m interested to see whether his new stroke holds up on the world’s fastest, sloppiest greens. His 30-1 odds give me pause. I’m considering.”

Justin Rose: “He was No. 1 in the world for a while, and I believe he’ll reclaim it. I like his game, and his game likes Augusta. He’s shot a lot of low early rounds, and he had a near-miss [in 2017] when Garcia beat him in a playoff. He finished second in two of the last four Masters, and I was surprised at his record – besides snagging a U.S. Open, he’s repeatedly been close in all four majors and could easily have a career Grand Slam. I’d like him better at odds higher than 12-1, but you’ve gotta pay the asking price. I’ll be on him several ways at the Masters: to win and to post a low round of the day.”

Justin Thomas: “I can’t think of any reason not to like this kid. I know he’s not really a kid – he’s almost 26 – but he plays with the joy of a kid. He’s got the passion. Something has been off-kilter with him all month – at times his putting, his driving, his iron play. He four-putted at Riviera and lost to J.B. Holmes from the lead in the final round. He’s not hitting on all cylinders, and hasn’t done better than 17th in three Masters appearances. His odds are 14-1. He’s got grit; I like that. I may ride him in the Masters.”

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At 14-1 odds to win the Masters, Tiger Woods could be a good bet to win a 5th green jacket, according to the Anonymous Gambler.

Tiger Woods: “He’s not the Tiger Woods of old; he’s an old Tiger Woods. I read that line in some golf mag and thought I’d steal it. He hasn’t looked any too swift this year. Even though he keeps saying he’s close, I don’t see it. Yet there was something about his Tour Championship win in Atlanta. A great champion should get an encore bow. Another Masters, like Nicklaus in ’86, would be it. In the early 2000s, I would’ve mortgaged my house to play Woods at 14-1, his current odds. He could be a low-round-of-the-day guy, too. All I can tell you is, I’ve got a funny feeling. Tiger? Yes.”

Rickie Fowler: “I’m making an about-turn here on the scale of a Mueller-report-no-collusion reversal. That Players Championship he won back [in 2015] showed me something, but last year’s Masters when he made a run at Patrick Reed was impressive. He’s ready to win in Augusta. I also like how he made a final-round triple but rebounded to win in Phoenix. He was a feared putter and chipper in college, and those have become weapons again for him. He ranks seventh in strokes gained putting. If the Masters is a kind of putting contest, he’s a contender. At 18-1, not bad.”

Patrick Reed: “How is the defending Masters champion going off at 40-1? Hey, nobody thought he was going to win last year, either. Reed is just ornery enough – make that plenty ornery enough – to win back-to-back Masters to spite the world. Forget stats with him. He plays on emotion and guts. I’d just hate to be his public-relations person; that’s mission impossible. Give me plenty of Reed.”

Brooks Koepka: “He’s the most intriguing player in golf. He’s just getting started, really, and his last 17 majors, he’s had eight top-10s, including three wins. Koepka is a real big-game hunter, if you know what I mean. Check out his progression in three Masters: 33-21-11. I’m no math major, but I know what the next number is supposed to be in that pattern. It starts with a 1 and ends with a period. At 18-1 odds, he’s not a tremendous buy. I just can’t ignore that talent. A third victory in the last four majors would be the stuff of Tiger.”

Bubba Watson: “This guy has kind of a nutty swing, a nutty personality and a nutty approach, but he’s a winner. Bubba has a rotation of courses he plays well: Hartford, Riviera and Augusta National. At 25-1, Bubba is worth a little action.”

Louis Oosthuizen: “This is my top-secret play. Oosthuizen looks to have gotten his you-know-what together, from what I saw at Valspar. When he’s making putts, he can win anytime, anywhere. He had that runaway at St. Andrews and a playoff loss to Bubba at Augusta [in 2012]. He’s 50-1, a nice round number. Just don’t pass it on. Shh.”

One swing: “Jordan Spieth (20-1) can always win in Augusta because of his putter, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t find a new coach by the end of the year because something’s still wrong.… Phil Mickelson (30-1) remains a Jekyll-and-Hyde player who’s on-again, off-again, and I’m tired of trying to guess.… Jason Day (25-1) worked extremely hard in the off-season and has played well almost every week. He’s sneaking into the Masters under the radar, but I’ve got him on my to-do list…. Matt Kuchar (50-1) is great at finishing third, so plan accordingly.… I like the original approach of Bryson DeChambeau (20-1); it gives him an edge. I’m just not sure he’s ready for Augusta’s greens yet.… Jon Rahm (16-1) could bust out and start winning majors any time now, but I like him better at the PGA or British Open.… Ditto, Tommy Fleetwood (20-1), and I’d include the U.S. Open.… My favorite sleeper pick is Keith Mitchell (150-1), the guy who came out of left field to win the Honda Classic and looked tougher than a nail gun in doing it.… Eddie Pepperell (150-1) conceded after the final round at Carnoustie last year that he played with a bad hangover. I respect that. This bet’s for you, Eddie.”

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle