We're once again back amidst the azaleas.
It's been less than five months since Dustin Johnson slipped into his first green jacket, but as the golf calendar gets closer to its normal cadence it's time once again for the Masters. Much has happened since the 2020 edition of this event, including the renaissance of Jordan Spieth. But there are a few familiar names near the top of the odds board that remains headlined by the world No. 1 and defending champ.
Here's a look at some of the players and wagers that I have circled this week, as Augusta National once again takes center stage for the golf event that evokes tradition and nostalgia like no other:
To win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)
Jon Rahm (+1300): Is it possible to back Rahm this week without citing the "nappy factor"? Yes, the Spaniard became a new father over the weekend, as his wife gave birth to the couple's first son a few days early and eliminated the very real possibility that the Spaniard would have to leave a major to be present for the birth of his child. Some will note the bump in results that new dads often get, whether it's superstitious or psychological. Danny Willett is a notable example, having won the 2016 Masters just days after the birth of his first child. But that same line of thinking hasn't exactly applied to Rory McIlroy over the last few months.
Instead I like Rahm for his body of work, both this year and at this venue, and can now breathe a sigh of relief that a player I've had circled for weeks is no longer a flight risk. Yes, Rahm has yet to win in 2021, but he's been unbelievably solid in the process. He's second on Tour this season in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green behind only Bryson DeChambeau, but he's miles ahead of DeChambeau on this course in particular when it comes to work on and around the greens. Rahm's quarterfinal appearance at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play further cemented his recent form and marked his seventh top-10 finish in his last nine starts dating back to November. He has every attribute you could ask for from a potential winner: long and straight off the tee, can work the ball both ways, and can flight his irons. If there's a weak spot it's with the putter, but he has rolled it well in Augusta while cobbling together three straight top-10 finishes. He's close.
Throw in the intangibles of this event that seem to elevate Spanish champions - Seve Ballesteros, José Maria Olazábal and Sergio Garcia have all won - and it's an enticing combination. Rahm is clearly the best player in the world without a major title to his name, and that asterisk won't last much longer.
Patrick Cantlay (+2300): Not all first-round exits are created equal. Cantlay was edged out by Brian Harman two weeks ago in Austin, but not before playing lights-out during the group stage and reinforcing that his missed cut at TPC Sawgrass was more an outlier than a harbinger of some potential regression. Cantlay came close at this event two years ago, nipping at Tiger Woods' heels down the stretch before fading to a T-9 finish. He was T-17 in his return last fall, two weeks after a win at the Zozo, showing that he can handle the challenges of Augusta National but still perhaps needed some polish to become a major champion.
The shine on his game has been evident for months, as he nearly won in both Palm Springs and Pebble Beach before again contending at Riviera. It was enough to get me on board for his chances at The Players, but he was out of sorts from the start and never even sniffed the weekend. Despite that rough week, he's still sixth on Tour this season in SG: Tee-to-Green and eighth in SG: Total.
I'm willing to give him another chance this week, because the body of work is that good. Cantlay has beaten elite fields before, and he won recently at Muirfield Village on a course that bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to Augusta (for that matter, so did Rahm). He's a player that is seemingly in the mix more often than not, and it's only a matter of time before the pieces fall into place for him on a big stage. His quiet demeanor and no-frills approach may cause him to garner fewer headlines than some of his peers, but that could change in a hurry in the coming days.
Adam Scott (+8000): This is an eye-popping price on a former champ who isn't exactly in a slump. Scott has been pretty quiet since returning from the pandemic, but he still has flashed some game: a T-10 finish on a major test in Torrey Pines, and a T-13 finish at the Honda in his most recent start. Importantly, that week he was fourth in the field in SG: Approach at PGA National. If those irons are once again dialed in during a week when conditions are expected to be difficult, Scott could be a threat.
The Aussie is now eight years removed from his watershed win at this event, and he has been on the fringe of contention a few times since: a T-9 finish in firm conditions in 2017, plus top-20s in both 2014 and 2018. Now a few months shy of his 41st birthday, he's no longer in a position where he's pressing for career accolades but still should be in position to be able to capitalize on an opportunity should he work into the mix over the weekend.
And that seems entirely possible, given that Scott hasn't missed a cut in more than a year. The chances to win in that stretch have been few and far between, but this is a situation where the market seems to be undervaluing his chances to rise to the occasion on a course he knows and loves with a game that seemed all sorts of solid just a couple weeks ago.
Top Finishes (odds via PointsBet)
Tony Finau (+265 top-10 finish): Let's not overthink things. Finau is as consistent as they come in the biggest events, and over the last 11 major championships he has been in the top 10 a total of seven times. That includes the 2019 Masters, when he played alongside Tiger Woods in the final group.
Finau has been a little out of sorts in recent weeks, missing the cut at both The Players and Valero, which is part of the reason his win price has drifted out to +4000. Given his long history of near-misses, I'm not going to bite at that price and am willing to miss out on being a part of a watershed win while avoiding another opportunity to be burned if he plays well. Instead I'll look to back him for a top-10, as the ROI on this bet on him in the majors is off the charts and now the price might be a little juicier given his recent rough patch.
Matt Wallace (+400 top-20 finish): Spieth wasn't the only player to find something last week in San Antonio. The Englishman had a lights-out week with his irons, leading the field in SG: Approach while moving to fourth in the category for the entire PGA Tour season. A third-place showing at the Valero got him back into the OWGR top 50 and came on the heels of a top-20 result at Bay Hill a few weeks prior.
Wallace has been close before in majors, notably a T-3 finish at the PGA two years ago at Bethpage, and he has three top-20s in his last eight major starts. He's certainly streaky and doesn't hide his emotions, but his confidence is also off the charts and he's got an appetite for the big events. Last year he was on the fringe of the top 20 before a Sunday 77, and if his iron play carries over from last week he should be able to improve on that result significantly.
Bernhard Langer (+320 top-40 finish): The old guard still has some game, especially around this place. Augusta National rewards its past champs with familiarity, and there's no better recent beneficiary of that sentiment than Langer. The two-time Masters champ slipped into his first green jacket 36 years ago but hasn't slowed down since, finishing inside the top 40 in four of the last six years. That includes last fall, when at age 63 he was paired with Bryson DeChambeau in the final round and beat him by two shots.
If conditions remain as firm and fast as forecast, the importance of local knowledge will go up exponentially. It also means that Langer's distance gap will be somewhat negated, as he'll be able to get more roll on some of his tee shots and play into familiar sections of the course. As long as his game holds steady over the first two days to enable a made cut, he's got a great chance at cracking the top 40 once again this week. And at this price, it's almost an auto-click.
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