Ben Coley looks ahead to the final round of the Masters, where Dustin Johnson is in command and should prove extremely hard to catch.
No recommended bets
Throughout the men's majors which have taken place in 2020, there has been a trajectory which Dustin Johnson will look to continue on Sunday. The PGA Championship was probably done the moment Collin Morikawa's drive came to rest inside 10 feet at the 16th hole in the final round. The US Open appeared over from about the 11th, as Bryson DeChambeau powered to a six-stroke victory. Johnson, four clear entering the final round of Augusta, could undermine its maxim, that the Masters doesn't begin until the back-nine on Sunday, by rendering it incidental.
Of course it would help the laconic American were he to take a more circumspect view and recognise that there is work still to do. That shouldn't be an issue for the man who would've won the 2010 PGA Championship had he not grounded his club in a bunker, just a couple of months after he'd shot 82 when seemingly in command of the US Open. Whichever way you dress it, this fabulous player, the most consistent winner of his generation, has not quite matched tour-level exploits in major championships. He is one of a select few golfers for whom one major just is not enough. To some degree then, he still has questions to answer.
It seems unlikely he will fail to do so, given what we know. We know that the nearest proven challenger is six shots back, that man being Justin Thomas, who became sloppy and careless having played so beautifully for two-and-a-half rounds. Thomas has himself to blame for not being in the final group and will probably fire at will in the final round, which makes him a prime candidate to shoot the low score of the day needed keep alive his fading hopes - for a time at least. It also means we run the risk of watching him plummet down the leaderboard, but he's swinging well enough to put Saturday's mishaps behind him and end up inside the top five.
We know, for sure, that Johnson is the best golfer in the world. It looked wrong that he wasn't favourite on Monday, and it looks plain daft now. Regrettably the price change which followed last week's runner-up finish in Houston - 12/1 to 9/1 - was enough to put idiots like me onto others at slightly bigger prices. This isn't to bemoan the sequence of events really, simply to say that the best player in the sport is the one who holds all the aces, and he also came here with a bank of strong Augusta form behind him.
We know that those closest are pretty much new to this, too. The admirable Cameron Smith has in fairness managed a couple of top-five finishes in majors, including here, but he's yet to really contend and did well to cling on towards the end of round three thanks to a dynamite short-game. So too did Masters debutant Abraham Ancer, but he's yet to win a PGA Tour event. Sungjae Im has, but he is in this position for the first time and while he may relish the role of predator, the one he performed to win the Honda Classic, we may see this experience pay off further down the line.
This is all a roundabout way of saying I can't find holes in the favourite, except to say that this is the Masters, and winning a Green Jacket should never be considered a simple task - particularly now there's some breeze in the forecast. Greg Norman's collapse in 1996 will be referenced and so too might that of Jordan Spieth in 2016, along with talk of Johnson's issues at Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, Chambers Bay and Royal St George's. All of course came with the added pressure spectators bring and, with respect, against more experienced opponents. I think he'll be fine with the wind and win - probably by more than four.
Johnson's record with a clear 54-hole lead is six from 11 but the more pertinent fact here is that he's three-from-four when leading by four or more, including when pulling away to win by 11 as recently as August. His sole failure came three years ago in China when he collapsed spectacularly, but he's an even better player now, and the way he's driving the ball gives the rest very little hope.
Sky Bet go 6/1 that he wins by six or more, which looks fair, but truth be told there's nothing in the outright markets I want to recommend. Many will turn to 'without Johnson' to provide an interest but it's very difficult to weigh-up, especially in a scenario where he does pull a long way clear, and I'll sit back and hope the four outright selections - each of whom is T15 or better - can fill some of the places.
Perhaps Smith will benefit from being in the penultimate group rather than the final one, but he was the most ragged of the trio who are tied for second and in blunt terms I think he's marginally the least capable of them. Given that he's just about favourite, he therefore can't be put forward at the prices and preference would be for Im, who was unflappable at the Presidents Cup and looks the man most likely to either stun the leader, or else just take a distant second.
But with Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama within four of second place, there's every chance a Sunday reshuffling sees the places dominated by the best players, with the very best of them set to collect an overdue, deserved and in many ways welcome Green Jacket. Johnson has no excuses here and I don't think they'll get close to him.
Other options include McIlroy to win his three-ball at 6/4, which looks reasonable given the way he's played across rounds two and three. He's driving the ball exceptionally and can account for Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood with what some would consider a classic McIlroy performance, that being a top-five finish having given the leader and probable winner a 10-shot start in the first round.
I wouldn't talk anyone out of that wager and McIlroy is similarly interesting at odds-against in the top GB and Ireland market. This will again require outscoring Fleetwood, and holding onto two- and three-shot leads over Paul Casey and Shane Lowry respectively. Hand on heart, I'm surprised McIlroy isn't a shade of odds-on rather than the 13/10 you can find with a couple of firms.
Speaking of Lowry, he might get the better of Tiger Woods and Scottie Scheffler. Woods complained of tiredness after a busy Saturday and didn't look to be moving well towards the end of the round. An early start on Sunday means he has a short turnaround to cope with and Lowry has outscored him in both the second and third rounds, the pair having played together from the start.
Scheffler complicates matters, however, and prices around the 21/10 mark for Lowry are left alone for that reason. It's around 13/2 that he and McIlroy both win their three-balls and that's the advice for those seeking an interest in a final round which may lack it, if Johnson's front-nine is anything close to that which he produced on Saturday.
If Dustin Johnson does power clear and win by half a dozen, we will not have had the Augusta drama which we're used to, but we will have had a Masters, and for that we can be thankful. And there's another one in April.