The Masters at Augusta National: Specials preview and best bets from Ben Coley

Viktor Hovland at Augusta National
Viktor Hovland at Augusta National

Golf expert Ben Coley has a strong fancy in the top amateur market at Augusta, plus an each-way play among the former champions.

Recommended bets

4pts Viktor Hovland to be top amateur at 7/4

1pt Hovland to be top Scandinavian at 20/1

3pts e.w. Adam Scott to be top former winner at 8/1 (1/4 1,2,3)

Top amateur

The market for top amateur is undoubtedly fraught with danger. Last year, Joaquin Niemann was a beaten favourite yet he'd go on to finish inside the top 10 in four of his next eight starts, all on the PGA Tour. He was the man to beat at Augusta, but the golf course beat him.

In 2017, mid-am winner Stewart Hagestad held off the highly-regarded Curtis Luck, while in 2014 it was Australia's Oliver Goss - whose career as a professional is already over - who got the better of Matthew Fitzpatrick, a player who has since finished seventh here, won various titles and played in the Ryder Cup.

The trouble is that we're talking about two or four rounds of golf, and without knowing just how the amateurs will deal with the occasion it's fair to say that just about anything can happen.

That said, there are good amateurs and then there are players who look like they simply can't miss - and the latter is true of Viktor Hovland.

The first Norwegian to play in the event, Hovland qualified for this with a 6&5 victory over Devon Bling in the final of the US Amateur last year, where he was dominant throughout, and I fancy him to emulate Bryson DeChambeau in taking to Augusta at the first time of asking.

A big-hitting, powerful athlete with a swing to die for, Hovland has been playing exceptional golf on the college circuit this year, duelling with the touted Matthew Wolff on an almost weekly basis.

Three weeks ago Hovland sat third with a round to play when defending his title in the Valspar Collegiate before the final round was washed out and with a sub-69 scoring average he's been relentless for several months in what looks a strong class.

Granted, he lost the Georgia Cup to Jovan Rebula, but that 18-hole sprint was lost after six holes when he was four down - that he took it to the 18th shows that he can fight as well as he can score.

Hovland can take revenge on the South African while confirming his superiority over Bling, and I really wouldn't be surprised if he emulated fellow Oklahoma player Casey Wittenberg in finishing right on the fringes of the top 10.

While there have been short-priced favourites overturned in this market, the likes of Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Moore, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay and DeChambeau demonstrate that world-class players in the making tend to find a way, and that's what we're talking about with Hovland.

The big threat according to world rankings is Takumi Kanaya but Hovland's more recent experience of playing PGA Tour events, including at Bay Hill where he again struck the ball beautifully, gives him an edge.

Hovland came out best when both played in the Australian Open late last year - albeit narrowly - and I expect him to do likewise here.

Read Ben Coley's in-depth preview of The Masters below
Read Ben Coley's in-depth preview of The Masters by clicking the image

Top Scandinavian

Without putting all eggs in one basket, having been close to siding with Hovland at prices ranging from 500/1 to 1000/1 in the outright market, there are other avenues I want to explore.

He's 16/1 for a top-20 finish and 50/1 for a top-10 - though if you're tempted by the latter, you really should be looking towards those outright prices with as many as 10 places quoted each-way.

The one I like most, though, is 20/1 that he's the top Scandinavian with just four rivals to beat.

Henrik Stenson is the right favourite and by far the most likely winner here, having been fifth - his best finish to date - in last year's renewal.

However, for all that his iron play looks to have turned a corner he's been way off the pace for most of 2019 and it's just possible that Augusta will expose the fact that his game still isn't where he wants it to be.

The same is true of Alex Noren, whose left-to-right ball-flight doesn't appear suited to this test, and that leaves Danish pair Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard.

The latter impressed at the Match Play and could take to this, but he's priced accordingly and was disappointing in Texas last week. It's hard to be confident ahead of his debut, even with an experienced caddie on the bag.

As for Olesen, he can fire from nowhere but he'll have to here, with form figures of 45-MC-41-40 in the US this year suggesting that he too isn't quite at his best.

Hovland was ahead of Olesen and only four shots behind Stenson at Bay Hill last month, a course where the latter thrives, and if he is the top amateur as expected he may well threaten an upset in this market, too.

Ben Coley provides a complete guide to the field ahead of The Masters
Ben Coley provides a complete guide to the field ahead of The Masters - click the image to read

Top former champion

Here's a market with a nice shape, with Tiger Woods a short-priced favourite and Jordan Spieth - without a top-30 finish in a stroke play event all season - right behind him at 3/1 generally.

Throw in the veterans and you have a 20-runner field with probably only 10 potential winners and while Woods might well be the one, I much prefer Adam Scott as an each-way play.

Unlike Bubba Watson and, more recently, Phil Mickelson, Scott's record here is really consistent. He's going for his 10th cut in succession and making the weekend would likely put him in excellent shape to at least hit the frame with three places on offer.

In this market he was third despite finishing down the field last year, second to Charl Schwartzel two years ago, fifth in 2016, fifth in 2015 and third in 2014, so since winning a Green Jacket in 2013 he's been among the best returning champions on a consistent basis.

This time he returns with the putter having been better than ever and on the back of a rock-solid 12th place at the PLAYERS, and, crucially, so many of those to have finished ahead of him are struggling.

That comment applies to Schwartzel, Spieth, Mickelson and Angel Cabrera, and with Patrick Reed having to defend, Sergio Garcia having demons to banish after the ignominy of last year and Danny Willett lacking confidence with the putter, I'll be disappointed if Scott isn't bang there.

At 8/1, he looks like the biggest threat to 2/1 chance Woods and with three places on offer is worth a bet.

Best of the rest

Each-way thieves should be looking at Paul Casey in the nine-runner top Englishman market.

Casey arrives in excellent form, considers Augusta National the most suitable course in the sport for his game and needs only to drive the ball a little better than he has here recently to be a serious contender for the title.

Whether or not he can go through with it remains to be seen but he should be shorter than Tommy Fleetwood here and closer to favourite Justin Rose, with the 4/1 generally available underestimating his chances.

Casey was runner-up to Rose last year and in 2017, third behind Willett and Lee Westwood in 2016 and second to Rose again in 2014. It's difficult to see him out of the frame and if Rose should stumble he's by far the man most likely to capitalise.

Elsewhere, the standout 4/9 about Hideki Matsuyama proving the best of four Japanese players is generous. It's tempting to throw him in with Jon Rahm at around 10/11 to beat Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello to top Spaniard honours, with Corey Conners, Rory McIlroy and Emiliano Grillo surely shoo-ins to win their respective markets at short prices.


Request-A-Bet

Sky Bet have priced up our Request-A-Bet: Bubba Watson to be top left-hander, Adam Scott to finish in the top 20, Viktor Hovland to make the cut and a winning score of 10-under or better (ties paid in full.

The bet is on offer at 11/1 for Sporting Life readers by clicking here.

Episode two of Not Another Golf Podcast is a Masters special
Episode two of Not Another Golf Podcast is a Masters special - click the image for details

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