News & Opinion

Looking for Masters winner? Here's your ticket

Justin Thomas at 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
If Justin Thomas can maintain his putting prowess, he could win the 1st of a couple of Masters, the Anonymous Gambler predicts.

Our undercover oddsmaker puts his money on Justin Thomas, but Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth look like good bets, too

Here’s a sentence no one has written before: Another Masters, already?

Yes, it’s an incomplete sentence, but I’m an incomplete person. I write about sports and have the wrinkled clothes to prove it.

We just had a unique Masters played in November and now, here we go again in April. Back-to-back majors will be Masters Tournaments.

On such an auspicious occasion, I called my friend in Las Vegas, the Anonymous Gambler. He prefers to remain anonymous and keep a low profile because casinos love frequent bettors but frown on frequent winners. It’s a lot like how your insurance company is your best friend until you file a claim. Then, it’s war.

Golf isn’t the AG’s favorite sport to bet, but dog racing is almost extinct, so he needs something to do until football returns.

Here are the Anonymous Gambler’s pre-Masters comments, edited by a writer of incomplete sentences (with odds from FanDuel.com):

The Masters. “I miss Tiger Woods. I mean it. I miss the old Tiger Woods, the one who piled up all those majors like he was stacking firewood or something. You could count on him to perform. I had hardwood floors in my home because of his 2008 U.S. Open win. I got a nice SUV because of that encore win in Augusta two years ago. I didn’t really believe he would do it, and I even promised myself this was the last time I ever was going to play [bet] Tiger. Then those other guys hit into the water at 12, and Tiger steered it to the finish line. The Masters won’t be the same without Tiger, just like it wasn’t the same without Jack Nicklaus. For a while. I hope Tiger gets well.”

April in Augusta. “Your readers, if you have any, should forget everything that happened in November. Those were not normal Masters conditions. Soft fairways, soft greens. Bryson DeChambeau lost a ball in the mud. The CBS chuckleheads called it ‘organic matter,’ probably under pain of death, but it was mud. Barring a rogue hurricane, there will be no substantial organic matter next week. That said, Dustin Johnson’s winning score of 20 under was exceptional, a record that will stand for a long time, or until everybody on tour is driving it 400 yards. Which I guess is about eight more years. I’ll be shocked if Lex Luthor or whoever runs the Masters doesn’t respond to the 20-under score and set up the course on a razor’s edge just, to remind everyone what a real toon-a-mint looks like.”

Dustin Johnson: “A few years ago, I said I didn’t see D.J. winning a Masters because he couldn’t handle the fast, sloping greens. Those November putting surfaces weren’t standard-issue Augusta greens; they were slower. So, I still think it’s going to be a challenge for him, but his long game is so good, he may wedge this place to death again. The firmer they get the greens, the better it is for D.J. His iron shots drop out of orbit. Was it my imagination, or did he flinch on a few putts at the Players? I like D.J. He’s No. 1 in the world for a reason, but like Obi-Wan Kenobi said in the ‘Star Wars’ movie, ‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ I don’t see a repeat, but his long game makes him a potential top-5 finisher anytime, anywhere. Not a great payday at 8.5-1.”

Rory McIlroy: “That voice in the wilderness the last eight years saying Rory is never going to win a Masters was me. I thought he was smart, but when you’re longer than everybody but two guys on tour and you decide to chase distance because one other mutant is outhitting you, sheesh. Rory just switched to the best instructor in golf, Pete Cowen, but I don’t know if he can lay the groundwork fast enough for Augusta. There are too many ghosts of bad shots lurking. I’m off him at 14-1. At 100-1, I’d still be off.”

Bryson DeChambeau: “He’s the elephant under the big top. His 9-1 odds aren’t great, but if he has a good start, they’ll drop quickly. His length draws all the attention, but he showed at Bay Hill and the Players that his short game is among the best. His putting isn’t elegant, as stiff as a 13-year-old’s first dance with a girl, but he does all right. DeChambeau ranks 16th in putting from 10-15 feet and third in birdie conversion rate. He has a complete game. I think the Masters got in his head in November. Will he have his mind right in April? I wager he might… but I’m leaning toward him as a top-5 finisher, not the champion.”

Justin Thomas: “He should be the favorite. He was 10-1 last week when I dropped a few pesos on him. He has all the shots. The putter comes and goes, but it looks as if it is here now. That 64-68 finish at the Players was ridiculous. Before the Match Play, Thomas was No. 1 in putting average, No. 3 in one-putt percentage (I love that one) and No. 21 in three-putt avoidance, a huge key to slipping on a green jacket. He’s got grit. I mean, he’s come back from being canceled. I think he wins a pair of Masters in his career, maybe starting this time.”

Patrick Cantlay: “He is one of the guys forgotten in the wake of Tiger’s 2019 win. He had a chance going to the back nine, made a couple of mistakes, Tiger won and nobody paid attention to the pack who lost. It’s just a matter of time before Cantlay starts taking down major titles, and at 22-1 to win, he is an attractive play. I’m on him.”

Patrick Reed: “I can’t think of a less-popular Masters champion in recent years. Maybe Angel Cabrera? Reed keeps playing the me-against-the-world card, which I imagine is how he justifies pushing the rules envelope. He strikes me as an immature spoiled brat who grew up with feeling entitled and a with great short game. At 27-1 odds, he may win again, but I don’t want to have to root for him for the sake of my money. I’m out.”

Jordan Spieth: “This guy is never going to challenge Fred Funk’s driving-accuracy stats. That’s OK. Why can’t we have an American version of Seve Ballesteros? His short game is back, and so is his putting. His iron play and driving seem improved (except for that Match Play drive that bounced onto another green while Cantlay was putting there). Spieth knows how to win at Augusta, a track that gives him room to scatter shoot. Spieth is trending up, and I’m on board. I just wish I’d rolled on him before the end of last year, when his price was way better (maybe 80-1?) than the current 12-1. It’s a hunch, but he may be my main play.”

Si Woo Kim: “You want a value play? That’s sportsbook-talk for darkhorse. Kim is my guy. He’s only 25 and already has won three times on the tour, including the Players. He lost a pair of playoffs, too, so he was that close to having five wins by age 25. Kim is a work in progress. He’s still young. The main reason he is a 100-1 longshot is his Masters record: Missed cut, T-24, T-21, T-34. He won the American Express in January, which no one remembers, and he was ninth at the Players. He’s no better than 10th in any statistical category I could find, yet he’s already won $13 million on tour in 5½ seasons. I’m not in love with this pick, but if he were obvious, he wouldn’t be going off at 100-1.”

Billy Horschel: “When I saw a newly confident Horschel charge into the Match Play, I cashed in some bitcoin to play him at 180-1 to win, figuring his odds would drop if he did anything on the weekend. After his victory, he slipped to 80-1 and is not nearly as attractive. I’m not sure he’s the horse for this course, but I couldn’t pass up 180-1 on a former FedEx Cup champ trending up. I know I’m breaking horse racing’s golden rule: play the horse, not the odds. But every bettor loves a longshot.”

Cameron Smith: “He’s got a real workingman’s game: pitches like Tom Watson, putts like Brad Faxon. That’s how he shared second in November. If nobody is hitting greens at Augusta because they’re firmer than titanium and it turns into an up-and-down contest, Smith could be the man, although I wish his 37-1 price to win were higher. Now that I think about it, he reminds me a little of Jose Maria Olazabal.”

One swing: Scottie Scheffler, who fell from 50-1 last week to 41-1 after his Match Play runner-up finish, is a big-hitter with Masters potential. He made a run at last year’s PGA, if you’ll recall. My concerns: His sloppy footwork leads to “fore left!” shots, and he ranked 167th in proximity to the hole and 104th in putting from 3 feet before last week. You get a lot of second putts from 3 feet and beyond at Augusta, and they’re not straight. Check back in a year or two, though… Tyrrell Hatton (33-1) hasn’t done better than 44th in four Masters, but he’s got six Euro Tour wins plus last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, and he ranked 17th in proximity to the hole and fourth in three-putt avoidance before the Match Play… I’d forgotten Sungjae Im (37-1) tied for second last November. I like his slow-motion backswing and ability to grind. He’s like the kid with perfect attendance from middle school through high school. That’s a kind of talent. Even if I dismiss last November, he was T-17 at the Players and T-8 at Honda. I can’t ignore him at that price… Jon Rahm (12-1) said at the Match Play that his wife probably will be giving birth during Masters week and he won’t play, so don’t bet on him. When a player says, ‘No,’ I listen… I never tire of watching Norway’s Viktor Hovland (27-1). He’s always smiling, as if he knows something I don’t… PGA champ Collin Morikawa (22-1) has the iron game for Augusta but maybe not the putting touch. He’s not on my list… If I thought Matt Jones could repeat his performance from the Honda Classic, where he won by five, I’d jump on him at 120-1. But I’m pretty sure he’s still Matt Jones, 40-year-old journeyman… Would love to see Lee Westwood (31-1) make another run, but I don’t think even the Lucky Charms leprechaun has enough magic for that… Nobody has been on more leaderboards this year than Corey Conners (65-1, down from 80-1 last week). He’s coming off a third at API and seventh at the Players. He’s got five top-10s among nine top-25 finishes in 14 stroke-play starts but no wins. He’s a top-10 play, and if he doesn’t work out, it’s your fault for listening to me.”

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