Glorious Augusta can be the stage for another Matsuyama drama

A field of 89 will grace the most famous stretch of golfing real estate in the world from Thursday, with Augusta National once more set fair to watch the best in the world do battle

Hideki Matsuyama tried the Green Jacket on for size after his Masters triumph in 2021 and he could add to his collection at Augusta this week (David J. Phillip/AP)

THE unlikely combination of having possibly the worst case of man flu in history and a housemate who ventures home to help with the lambing on the family farm has meant I’ve had a fair bit of time to kill of late.

For most people that might mean catching up on box-sets, doing jigsaws, or just sleeping, but for this particular weirdo, much of that time has been spent watching old Masters videos on YouTube.

The idea was to refresh the memory and hopefully get a few pointers with this week’s renewal in mind, but largely it has been one big trip down memory lane, and for the life of me I can’t see Woosie or Sandy Lyle slipping on the Green Jacket again come Sunday night, if only because that pair have finally had the sense to sit one out.

In their absence, a field of 89 will grace the most famous stretch of golfing real estate in the world from Thursday, with Augusta National once more set fair to watch the best in the world do battle.

The emergence of LIV Golf means all of the elite only come together in the Majors these days, which is another reason to relish what unfolds over the next few days.

Theoretically, this should be the Major that is easiest to work out from a punting point of view, with a limited field padded out by old past champions, various amateur event winners, and debutants who history suggests have no chance.

That latter point may not be the case this time around, with US Open champion Wyndham Clark among the Augusta first-timers, along with Ryder Cup hero and world number nine Ludvig Aberg.

Either of that pair could go close, but I’ll let the trends put a line through them, and in truth it might be simple to whittle the whole field down to one name – Scottie Scheffler.

The world number one has been utterly dominant on the PGA Tour of late, winning at Bay Hill and Sawgrass with a putter that is finally behaving.

He should have won the Houston Open last time out as well, but in terms of the Masters it might suit well that he didn’t, and Scheffler is just 4/1 to back up his victory in 2022 and collect a second Green Jacket.

It is up to the individual whether he is worth backing, and it’s a virtual certainty that he is in the mix come the famous back nine on Sunday.

Masters history is full of repeat winners, and Scheffler will win another at some stage, but in recent times that trend has slowed down.

Bubba Watson won twice in 2012 and 2014, but in the decade since then only Tiger Woods in 2019 hasn’t been a first-time Masters champion.

That wouldn’t necessarily put me off Scheffler, and neither would it have me rushing out to back Rory McIlroy at the 10/1 on offer.

The Holywood man actually finds himself in the strange position of coming in under the radar a little, and he did have a perfect tune-up when a distant third to Akshay Bhatia in San Antonio on Sunday night.

McIlroy will tee it up for the 15th time at Augusta – the 10th in search of a career Grand Slam – and he will be boosted by improved iron play of late, a key commodity around an Augusta track that gets longer by the year but is still all about finding the right portion of the greens, and also scrambling well on the occasions when the putting surface is missed.

McIlroy can win, but I’d be happy to watch it without a bet, while defending champion Jon Rahm (12/1) will want to prove his move to LIV hasn’t harmed his Major claims.

The switch to the Saudi circuit doesn’t put me off, but the commitments involved with defending at Augusta do, while reigning champions have a dismal record in the last decade, at least since Jordan Spieth blew a five-shot lead late on in 2016.

Spieth’s name is bound to be mentioned as a bona fide course specialist over the coming days, but the person I believe can push Scheffler hardest is another former winner in Hideki Matsuyama.

The Japanese superstar put on an iron play clinic on his way to the 2021 title, and he has been right back at those levels since storming through the field to win the Genesis Invitational at Riviera with a closing 62 in February.

There is no better course for Masters pointers than Riviera given the crossover winners this century.

Rahm won both events last term, while Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Mike Weir have also won in Los Angeles and Georgia.

That link is significant, but it is also backed up by the way Matsuyama has played since that victory, with a 12th at Bay Hill followed by sixth at Sawgrass and then an ideal warm-up for seventh in San Antonio at the weekend.

His game is ideal for Augusta, and as well as that win three years ago, the 32-year-old has eight Masters top-20s in his last nine outings.

I’d be very surprised were he not on the premises come Sunday evening, and Matsuyama looks a rock-solid each-way bet at least at 18/1 with William Hill, while it might even be worth a small investment in the Scheffler/Matsuyama dual forecast at 50/1 (Betway).

Riviera form is one big reason for suggesting a bet on Joaquin Niemann, but it is far from the only one, with the Chilean having undoubtedly been one of the best players in the world in the last six months.

He led the field a merry dance at the Genesis in 2022 for what is still his biggest win, but his move to LIV threatened to derail his potential.

Niemann hasn’t let that happen, and a win in Australia on the DP World Tour before Christmas has been the catalyst for a stunning 2024, with LIV victories in Mexico and Saudi Arabia backed up with two more top 10s on that circuit, as well as a fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic, and a third in Oman.

The main drawback is that he is still to truly contend in a Major, but Niemann has improved with every Augusta outing and can step forward significantly again from last year’s share of 16th.

A long hitter and a great iron player, he could well go close here and might just be LIV’s best chance, ahead of Rahm and Brooks Koepka.

Shane Lowry has grown to love Augusta in recent years and could be factor in this week's Masters (Matt Slocum/AP)

Elsewhere, I can’t get away from Shane Lowry, who has come to love Augusta after a difficult start and has all the tools to make a big push for a second Major win after his 2019 Open success.

The Clara man is a player for the big occasion and is very close to the peak of his powers, as his run of form in Florida last month showed, finishing fourth in the Cognizant Classic, third at Bay Hill and 19th at Sawgrass.

He is third for approach play on the PGA Tour this term and fifth from tee-to-green, while his short game magic will always come in handy and Lowry might just be overpriced at 40/1 with William Hill.

Tony Finau is another who is a bit of a forgotten man, but I like his claims at 33/1 after finding his form last time out when joint-second in Houston.

Finau continues to flush it from tee-to-green but his putting issues had been holding him back, but that department is much-improved of late and the 2021 Riviera runner-up could add another Augusta high finish to his record, after a fifth in 2019 and 10th two years later.

Finally, Patrick Reed is worth a horses-for-courses bet at 66/1 with Betway.

The 2018 winner has added three Masters top-10s since that success including a fourth last term, and he appears to have found form after a slow start to 2024, with fourth in an Asian Tour event in Macau added to with a ninth in LIV Miami on Sunday night.

A brilliant putter and scrambler, Reed will fight all the way to the finish and could just get in the shake-up as Augusta gets ready to add another chapter to its storied history.


Hideki Matsuyama, e/w, 18/1 (William Hill, eight places);

Joaquin Niemann, e/w, 25/1 (Sky Bet, eight places); top LIV player, 6/1 (Sky Bet);

Shane Lowry, e/w, 40/1 (William Hill, eight places); first round leader, e/w, 45/1 (Sky Bet, six places);

Tony Finau, e/w, 33/1 (Bet365, eight places);

Patrick Reed, e/w, 66/1 (Betway, eight places);

Scottie Scheffler/Matsuyama dual forecast, 50/1 (Betway)