Hanson to be Euro star
Ben Coley previews the Masters specials markets and fancies Peter Hanson to prove best of the European challengers.
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Of all the specials markets available ahead of the Masters, the one which particularly catches my eye is the Top European betting.
First and foremost, we've a big field and some big prices, with 29 runners and four places available for each-way players with several firms.
Secondly, we've a short priced but beatable favourite. There is no doubt that Rory McIlroy's runner-up finish in the Valero Texas Open provided a timely boost and that his ball-striking was exceptional, but I still find it hard to believe he's going to be at his absolute best.
- 1pt e.w. Peter Hanson to be Top European Player at 22/1 (bet365 1/4 1,2,3,4) - third last year, in-form and rates clear value
- 1.5pts Padraig Harrington to be Top Irish Player at 6/1 (Ladbrokes) - nice preparation and McIlroy and McDowell look worth taking on
- 1.5pts double Adam Scott to be Top Australian Player and KJ Choi to be Top Asian Player at 2.34/1 (Ladbrokes) - making the cut could do the job
Time may prove me wrong and of course his PGA Championship win last season came immediately after a return to form at Firestone, but the bottom line is as a punter you have to be prepared to take on Rory who, don't forget, has only produced the goods at Augusta once and even then fell to a personal best of 15th.
Justin Rose, who has three times held the lead at Augusta after round one, is a worthy second favourite, while for all his failure to win one it's hard to argue with the strength of Lee Westwood's major performances over the past few years.
However, neither stand out as great value and instead I'm drawn to the 22/1 offered by bet365 about Peter Hanson.
The Swede nearly made my outright preview for a number of reasons, chiefly his third-placed finish here last year when he did pretty well considering he led into Sunday.
Since then, Hanson has added a pair of titles plus a seventh-placed finish in the PGA Championship, meaning he now has a top-seven finish in all three majors played in the USA.
A remarkably consistent player, Hanson has no obvious flaws and his silky-smooth putting stroke and exceptional driving make him a force here - indeed, last year's visit was only his second making his performance all the more impressive.
Hanson has enjoyed a consistent 2013 so far, with six top-25 finishes from seven starts across the globe, and top-10 finishes in all four World Golf Championship events further underline that he's become comfortable on the biggest stage.
For me, he's just about the fourth most likely European here behind the three mentioned. Luke Donald obviously warrants respect but he needs to rediscover his putting touch, while Sergio Garcia withdrew from his last event due to a niggling shoulder injury and has a bit to prove.
Ian Poulter has bemoaned his ball-striking for some time, Thorbjorn Olesen isn't 100 per cent following a minor car accident, Graeme McDowell was moderate at Bay Hill and has a patchy record here while Martin Kaymer still has to figure out Augusta.
With all of that in mind, Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson look more likely dangers but all things considered, Hanson looks definite each-way value.
Harrington does get my vote to be the Top Irish Player at a generous 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
The three-time major champion has prepared well for Augusta, registering top-10 finishes in Malaysia and Texas, and fared best of the Irish contingent last year when tied for eighth.
In all probability, Alan Dunbar and Darren Clarke aren't going to be factors here and 6/1 for Harrington to beat McDowell and McIlroy again is definitely on the generous side. He has a solid Augusta record and arrives full of confidence.
Finally, although quite obvious a double on Adam Scott to be Top Australian and KJ Choi to be Top Asian looks very solid.
Scott has developed a phenomenally consistent record in major tournaments, with four top-10 finishes in his last eight and an active streak of six consecutive top-25s.
At Augusta, he's been in the top 35 for nine of his 11 appearances, again remarkably consistent, and in the last three years has gone 18-2-8.
Quite simply, a repeat of any of those three efforts will see off John Senden and Marc Leishman, and the presence of Jason Day means we can have 8/11 about Scott in what effectively looks a match.
Day has flattered to deceive somewhat this season and for all that he made a brilliant debut here and has performed in more than one major, I'm not sure he's in quite the same form as he was two years ago.
Choi isn't quite as consistent as Scott, but two top-10 finishes in his last three trips to Augusta coupled with a sixth-placed finish in Texas last week suggest he should go well again.
His opposition comes chiefly from YE Yang, who has done little of note this year and who has only one top 10 to show from his visits to Augusta.
Ryo Ishikawa faces a battle to make the cut on all recent form and the same can be said for Hiroyuki Fujita, Thaworn Wiratchant and 14-year-old Tianlang Guan.
Should Choi make the weekend, that may well be enough and at bigger than 9/4, a double with Scott looks a straightforward way to profit.