The Masters 2021 betting preview

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Heading into 2020, The Masters was coming off a dream year that saw Tiger Woods claim his fifth green jacket, 15th major title, and first major championship since the 2008 US Open. The win marked a comeback story for the ages and set Augusta National up for an incredible encore in April 2020. Unfortunately, the sporting world was turned upside down when the global pandemic hit early in the year. The worldwide crisis saw several sporting events moved or canceled, with The Masters ultimately choosing to postpone their tournament until November 9th.  

With the PGA now back in full swing as of June 11th—and planning to host an event every week until the new Masters date in early November—the time is right to start looking ahead to the golf futures market and to start making some bold predictions for who might end up on top at the year’s final major.

How to bet on the 2020 Masters

What is a futures bet?

Since we’re still many months away from the start of the tournament, any bet we place on the field will technically be labelled as a futures bet. A futures bet is simply a bet on an event that is set to finish sometime in the non-immediate future. A great example of a common futures bet people often make is betting their favorite team to win the Super Bowl before the season begins. Once Super Bowl week rolls around, betting on the specific teams involved is – of course – no longer considered a future bet, but any bet placed prior to that time would technically be considered one. For golf purposes, betting on a player the week of the actual Masters tournament would no longer be considered a future proposition either, but betting him prior to that week would.

When to place futures bets on golf?

You can make a ton of different bets on a golf tournament – from three-balls to hole-in-one props to make-the-cut bets – but in golf futures the main bets we have access to year-round represent the outright market. Put more simply, we can wager on who we think is going to win a certain golf tournament. Since future markets in golf majors like the Masters often move with performance throughout the season, our objective for any golf future we’re placing should be to identify players whose odds have a good chance of dropping between when we make our bet and when the actual tournament begins. Lines in major championships can move for various reasons but generally it’s a player’s performance that will dictate whether the line goes higher or lower.

A great example of a player garnering big movement in odds due to performance was Tiger Woods back in 2018. He began the 2018 season coming off of back surgery and was available at anywhere from +4000 to +2500 to win The Masters in January of that year. However, after a couple of made cuts and a great week at the Honda Classic, his odds quickly dropped down to the +1600 to +1400 range. Anyone betting Tiger in the futures market prior to the Honda Classic that year got a great value, as most people were getting a much worse price to bet on him the week of the actual event.

Geoff Ulrich previews the 2020 Masters

Indicators of a potential Masters winner

While we’re looking for good bargains in our futures bets, we also want to keep an eye on any potential indicators that have worked well in helping identify past winners. No single stat or piece of info is going to tell us who the winner will be beforehand, but certain trends at an event like the Masters – which is played at Augusta National each and every year – can be worth keeping an eye on to help us pare down selections. Here are a few factors to consider when trying to help decide between players:

Experience matters

No player has won at Augusta on their first attempt since Fuzzy Zoeller back in 1979. Additionally, seven of the last 10 winners at Augusta had played in the event at least three times prior.

Nine of the last 10 winners – with the exception of Danny Willet in 2016 – had posted at least a top-30 at The Masters in a season prior to winning the event.

Focus on exceptional ball-striking

Five of the last eight Masters winners ranked 9th or better in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green in the year of their victory. Note that Willett and Tiger did not play in enough tournaments to be ranked, so this trend could be even stronger than it appears.

Players have shown above average to elite recent form

Each of the past five winners had recorded AT LEAST a Top-5 finish on the year already, prior to winning the Masters, while three of the past five had already picked up a win within the same calendar year.

Pedigree factor

Each of the last five winners of the Masters had been ranked inside the top-25 of the OWGR at the time of their win.

While trends and stats like the ones above are helpful, I wouldn’t recommend using them to cancel out players who you otherwise think are good bets or values. It’s not a big deal if a player doesn’t meet all the criteria or trends – and there are more than just the ones I listed above – especially if their odds carry perceived value on a sportsbook. That said, the trends can be useful in helping us pare down selections, knowing many of the golfers we’re targeting will likely meet at least some of these criteria anyways.

Apr 14, 2019; Augusta, GA, USA; Tiger Woods celebrates with the green jacket and trophy after winning The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The Masters betting overview

Augusta National

  • Par: 72, 7,475 yards
  • Greens: Bentgrass
  • Design: Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. (1933)
  • Course Record: 63 (Nick Price, Greg Norman)
  • Most wins: Jack Nicklaus; six
  • Defending Champion: Dustin Johnson

Augusta National is the only course that hosts a major championship each and every season and, therefore, we have a lot of course data at our disposal. The venue plays as a traditional Par 72 – measuring in at a lengthy 7,475 yards last season – and features some of the fastest Bentgrass greens on Tour, which are made even more difficult by the slope and elevation changes throughout the course.

While it’s been well documented how newcomers have often struggled at this venue, the flip side is that certain veterans have excelled here over their careers as well. Matt Kuchar might be the best example, as the 41-year-old has now played Augusta National 11 times over his career and has only suffered one missed cut, which came in his 2002 debut. Since 2012 he’s recorded four top-10’s at the event and has been a near-annual mainstay in the top-20. South African Louis Oosthuizen has a similar story, as the former Open Champion finished runner-up here in 2012 and parlayed that experience into three more top-20 finishes between 2015-2019. 

While the course has numerous quirks and intricacies that make it difficult for even the best pros to master, the venue can be broken down more simply by grouping as such:

The scoring holes

The Par-5s at Augusta all play relatively easy and present the best scoring chances for players during the week. Last year, the four par 5s played as the four easiest holes on the course, with the Par-5 13th – which plays just 510 yards – as the easiest, yielding a 4.65 scoring average.

The short Par-4 3rd hole, which plays anywhere between 300-350 yards, has a tricky green but played as the fifth easiest hole on the venue in 2019 (and easiest Par 4). 

The short Par-3 16th, which is well known for its dramatic Sunday pin position and often yields at least one hole-in-one a season, played as the sixth easiest hole in 2019 and easiest Par-3 on the course.

Amen corner

This is the well known nickname given to holes 11, 12 and 13 at Augusta, for both their difficulty and the fact exciting things generally happen around these holes. The 13th, as mentioned above, is a pure scoring hole that yields plenty of eagles and birdies, but the 11th and 12th are its polar opposite.

In 2019 the long Par-4 11th played as the single most difficult hole on the course, yielding a scoring average of just 4.37. This long Par-4, which measures in at just over 500 yards, starts off with one of the more difficult tee shots on the course and includes a small dogleg into a semi-island green. Approaches that land short can often bounce into the hazard due to the generous sloping around the greens. 

The 12th, Golden Bell, is a diabolical short, 155-yard Par-3 with a narrow green that Jack Nicklaus called “the hardest tournament hole in golf”. It has recently led to the self-destruction of final round leaders in both 2016 and 2019. 

The Teeth of the Course

Augusta contains five Par-4s that measure in at over 450 yards in length and only one that plays shorter than 440 yards. These are the teeth of the course, along with a couple of tough Par 3s, where players must navigate in order to set up their chances at birdie or better on the scoring holes. 

With so much on the line, it’s also no shock that two of the tougher holes over the years have been the long Par-4 17th and the finishing Par-4 18th, which has an incredibly narrow driving chute. These two played as the 4th and 8th toughest holes on the venue last season.

Does Augusta favour one style of golfer?

From a player perspective, we’ve seen almost every different style of play find success here at one time or another. Bombers like Tiger (in his prime) and Bubba Watson have done well simply by destroying the Par 5s, which are all on the short to very short side by modern standards. 

Comparatively, short game specialists and great bentgrass putters – like Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed – have simply been able to outmaneuver the competition on the greens with their flatsticks. Both Reed and Spieth rank inside the top-10 in Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass greens over the last 100 rounds played.

Finally, before we start analyzing the sportsbook odds to make some bold calls and actual bets, it’s worth mentioning that this season will be unique with the event taking place in the Fall. Even if the course conditions vary only slightly this year, that could be enough to tip the scales in favor of the slightly less experienced players. At this point though, we have to assume Augusta will still be Augusta, and most of its nuances will remain intact. Still, the date change is something to keep in mind before you approach the virtual betting window.  

2021 Masters betting discussion and picks

From an odds perspective, here is where the last six-winners of this event generally went off, from an outright perspective, pre-event for the year of their win:

  • 2020- Dustin Johnson +850
  • 2019- Tiger Woods +1400
  • 2018- Patrick Reed +4000
  • 2017- Sergio Garcia +4000
  • 2016- Danny Willett +5000
  • 2015- Jordan Spieth +1100

As you can see we have a pretty wide range of players here in terms of style, age, and odds. Jordan Spieth was a co-favorite or favorite at most sportsbooks pre-event in 2015 but Reed, Willett, and Sergio hit a trifecta of mid-to-long range outright wins for bettors. Tiger certainly paid off for people who ate the “Tiger juice” as his odds typically get deflated in outright betting markets due to the number of people betting on him each week. 

Last year, Dustin Johnson won at the smallest odds we’ve a winner take into a Masters (and win) in quite some time but his win likely shouldn’t make us reevaluate too much. Dustin was on a roll of form that we haven’t seen since perhaps Jason Day in 2015-2016 (or even Tiger in his prime) but in this day and age, the top players tend to come back to earth quick and there’s multiple players capable of going on a Dustin-like run in the sport right now. 

As far as age goes, Spieth was the youngest of the past five winners to get it done at Augusta National as he was just 21-years-old at the time of his win. Willett had the least course history/experience of the group as he had only played at Augusta once before, landing a T38 finish. Reed was 28 at the time of his win which means three of the past six winners have been in their 20’s, with the other three being over the age of 35 (Dustin, Sergio and Tiger). It’s an interesting dichotomy as it feels like younger, more fearless players with mature games have been able to blitz Augusta at times, but experienced vets with elite tee to green games have also flourished. 

While Dustin certainly belongs in the bag of “big hitters” to win at Augusta, his game has matured to the point where we shouldn’t classify him as a pure bomber. On that note, it’s worth noting that only he and Sergio ranked inside the top-30 in Driving Distance for the year of their win here. Last year’s runner-ups–SungJae Im and Cameron Smith–ranked 69th and 73rd in driving distance in 2020 which gives us more clue that perhaps we should celebrate driving distance as an asset, but not overweight it here. 

2021 Masters betting favorites

*odds taken from 

Dustin Johnson +685

Johnson has dominated Augusta over the latter part of his career, landing T4 or better finishes here in three of his last four visits. He set the scoring record here in 2020 while going 11-under on the Par 5’s.

DJ is the deserved favorite and he’d have to go through a long stretch of poor play (or an injury) to see his odds dip considerably from this spot. 

Tiger Woods +3900

There’s a ton of question marks in 2021 with the five-time Masters champion, who only managed a T38 in his title defense at Augusta last season. He also didn’t record a top-20 after the Covid restart last year. 

An early season win or anything resembling a competitive week by Tiger in 2021 would see his odds drop considerably from this spot so if you’re interested he’s not a terrible futures target.

Justin Thomas +1025

Thomas managed to post his best finish ever at Augusta last November, landing a T4. This will be his sixth career start at Augusta in 2021 and he has improved his finishing position here every year.

Thomas ranked first in Strokes Gained: Approach on Tour last year and has become one of the most consistent players on the PGA. His odds don’t seem likely to inflate much off from where he is now and if they do, you should probably bet him. 

Jon Rahm +1025

Rahm comes into the year ranked 2nd in the OWGR and has been one of the only players to truly challenge DJ (and win) when he’s been at his best.

He’s finished T9 or better at Augusta in his last three starts there. His time for winning a major is coming soon and his only drawback here is that he does carry less experience playing this event than the other top players

Rory McIlroy +925

Rory ended a mostly disappointing 2020 season by putting in a solid T5 effort at Augusta in November. The result was a bit of smoke and mirrors though as he was never in contention.

His odds don’t seem likely to get much shorter unless he wins multiple times this spring, making him a good fade for futures.

Bryson DeChambeau +900

DeChambeau hasn’t finished higher than T21 (in 2016) in any of his first four Masters appearances. 

There’s no doubt that Bryson and his monstrous power will figure out how to pummel Augusta into submission eventually but waiting and hoping his odds inflate the week of is the play here, he’s not a great futures target at the moment. 

Brooks Koepka +1350

Koepka’s undoubtedly the most intriguing of all the big names in terms of making a futures investment. 

A win or run of good play could see him go off as the favorite or co-favorite here considering he’s now finished T11-T2-T7 in his last three Masters

Favorite futures bets

Patrick Cantlay +2500

Here’s a quote from my Sentry Tournament of Champions preview which pretty much sums up my thoughts on Cantlay right now for betting purposes:

His sort of limbo-ish ranking, right between the elites and obvious second-tier players, often puts him some interesting spots for betting purposes too and this week it certainly feels like he offers us good value when considering the outright betting market.”

The American hasn’t risen to the point where we should worry about him overtaking Dustin Johnson as the world’s best golfer anytime soon, but it does feel like his odds here are a bit disrespectful when compared with some of his peers. After-all, Cantlay currently has more wins over the past eight months than Patrick Reed (+2500), Xander Schauffele (+1600) and Brooks Koepka (+1400) combined. The 28-year-old will be playing Augusta for the fifth-time this year and fits in the basket of experience level and age that often sees players start competing regularly at this event. 

In his past two Masters we’ve seen Cantlay post rounds of 64, 68 and 66, while also putting together a finishing stretch on the back nine in 2019 that briefly saw him take the lead late on Sunday. 

The odds and experience look correct here but the stats also bear out that 2021 could be a career-year for Cantlay. His ball-striking has always shown flashes of elite play–although perhaps not as consistently as other top players–but his short game and putting took a large step up late in 2020. He comes into 2021 having gained strokes now around the greens in seven straight starts and will certainly be steeled early in 2021 by the knowledge that he stared down putts late at the Zozo Championship with both Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas breathing down his neck. 

While Cantlay admittedly doesn’t carry the brute force that those two latter players do, we’ve seen finesse players like Jordan Spieth (in his prime) and Patrick Reed be able to find higher gears at Augusta and it certainly feels like Cantlay’s form and all-around ability may allow him to do the same one day. At solid odds compared to the field, he feels like a worthwhile futures investment here as any early season win would surely see his odds, perhaps even cut in half. 

Jason Day +4000

From a golf betting perspective, Jason Day is the ultimate Siren, and I fully admit to heading his call more times than not. While the injury issues can be frustrating, his past run as world number one–when he dominated big events for a year or so–and the fact he’s available at bigger odds than the rest of the world’s best players on a regular basis, make him a tempting value target for most at the big events. 

The truth is though, Day really does offer more realistic upside than pretty much anyone else at his price. Yes, there’s some tantalizing names in his range, like Tommy Fleetwood (who I’d rather bet the Open), Matthew Wolff (who I’d rather bet the US Open) and SungJae Im (who seems pretty solid at these odds to be honest) but none of them have Day’s experience at Augusta. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him in direct contention at this particular venue but a T5 here in 2019 showcases just exactly how good he is at getting himself near the front, even when his body/form isn’t 100%. Over his career Day has missed the cut here just once, but accumulated four top-10’s and is coming off a 2020 season that saw him post his best ever finish in a major–T4 at the PGA Championship–since the 2016 PGA.

For all of Day’s health woes, he held up well to a gruelling schedule in 2020, WD’ing only once in 17-events played after the Covid restart and ended his year with six top-10’s in his last 13 starts–including two in his last three. There’s an obvious theme here with Day, and that’s of a player who looks prepped to try and do what it takes to get back on top in 2021. We saw some glimpses of the old elite Day in 2020 and if he flashes more form early in 2021–or even finds a win somewhere–this number will disappear overnight. It makes him a decent early investment for value hunters. 

Cameron Champ +6600

You’re likely going to see Champ’s name in multiple futures previews for the majors this year. The 25-year-old just has so much to offer in terms of overall talent and is still being priced with names that don’t realistically have anywhere near as good a shot at taking a big leap up in class in 2021. Champ didn’t win in 2020 (officially) but he’s now accumulated two wins since coming on Tour–both in the Fall swing–and is coming off a late summer/Fall that saw him post his two best career finishes in majors since joining the Tour. 

Champ no doubt needs some seasoning but as we’ve with other players who offer elite ball-striking and power off the tee, the move in areas like putting and around the green play can come quick. This is a player who offers Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau like power/consistency off the tee and has already shown he can light up greens when his confidence with the flatstick is high. You’ve got to think that as his career progresses too we’ll see more good stuff on the greens, particularly at big events where he’s already proven he can hang with the best deep into events. The +6600 here looks more than fair given the T19 he posted here last Fall, a result which included him going 10-under on the Par 5’s. Don’t be bashful to take the big numbers with Champ at majors this year and start at Augusta. 

Early Fades

Rory McIlroy +900

Even if Rory wins an early season event, will his current odds even move that much? Sportsbooks seem to have simply priced in an eventual Masters win for Rory at some point and have no interest in giving us any good number to gobble up in case he catches fire early in the season. If you fancy him, simply waiting till the week of the event, when his odds may actually dip due to other players catching heat seems like the smart play. 

Hideki Matsuyama and Tony Finau +3000

Two more players who are great tantalizers and terrible closers. The +3000 or better odds on offer look tantalizing to grab this early the year but will either of these two really have much worse odds in April–even if they finally win again. Afterall, we’re talking about two major virgins here who have proven more times than not that they’re fantastic at putting up stats but terrible at bringing home trophies. I’d rather see one of these guys win a regular PGA event and take a worse number here the week of, than bet them at bigger odds and hope they somehow break their cold streak at the biggest event of the year.

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