Spaniards to surge in round one

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: April 9 2014, 18:27 BST

Ben Coley fancies Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano to get off to a good start and win his first-round three-ball at the Masters.

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano: Looks banker material
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano: Looks banker material

The first place I have to begin with a preview of Thursday's first-round three-balls is with my first-round leader tips, which are headed by Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Of course, just because I think the evergreen Spaniard offers value in that market doesn't guarantee that he'll make appeal in his three-ball, but as the outsider against Bill Haas and Matteo Manassero he does look worth a small bet.

Haas played well here last year and I felt that might act as the springboard to greater things, the type of which he's surely capable of. However, glimpses of promise have been fleeting and his major record does not reflect the quality he possesses.

In truth, Haas is a late-blooming type and his record will surely improve - particularly if he can brush up on the par-fives here - but on all known form he's readily opposed as a favourite here.

Manassero was 36th here as an amateur and is gradually getting to grips with golf in the US. However, there's no denying his game isn't suited to this monster layout and while the same can be said of Jimenez, the experienced 50-year-old is more likely to find a way to score.

Jason Dufner makes some appeal to upstage defending champion Adam Scott, in a three-ball completed by promising amateur Matt Fitzpatrick. That being said, he doesn't look a gift at the price and if anything it's the US Amateur champion who has been slightly underestimated at double-figure prices.

Rory McIlroy is a favourite to note at 5/4, given his propensity to start quickly and the fact that both playing partners - Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth - will be playing in their first Masters.

Reed famously named himself as a top-five player after winning at Doral earlier this year but what was particularly noteworthy about his comments was the fact that Rory was not mentioned as one of the other four. It would not surprise me at all were McIlroy to remind Reed who the top dog of this match is and he's tempting.

However, at the same price a better bet is Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano who is a strong fancy to beat Sang-moon Bae and Derek Ernst.

Ernst was one thing in his favour, and that's the fact that he won at Quail Hollow last year and that championship layout often proves a pointer where Augusta is concerned.

However, nothing he's done since backs up that form and his last six rounds read 70-77-80-78-77-73 - he could struggle to beat any of those numbers on this most unforgiving of stages.

Bae is also a one-time PGA Tour winner but he's backed it up since, most notably at Riviera earlier this season as well as in the Valspar Championship a month later.

However, he's missed the cut on both starts since, carding nothing better than an opening 72 at Houston, and his one start at Augusta offers only small encouragement in the shape of a good 69 in round three.

Fernandez-Castano holds the edge in terms of both course form, having opened with a round of 68 before finishing 20th here last year, and current form, having shot 66 on day one of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last time.

In what looks a match on paper, Fernandez-Castano makes appeal at anything odds-against.

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  • Posted at 1535 BST on 09/04/2014.

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