40 horses. 30 fences. 4 miles and 2 furlongs. The most thrilling and spectacular horse race of the year. Here’s a run through of the contenders in the 2016 Crabbie’s Grand National.
It’s arrived. Augusta has arrived. The first Major of the year has arrived. All the sights and sounds of perhaps the world’s greatest golf course have arrived. Most importantly, all of the best players in the sport have arrived, playing exceptional golf at that.
This week promises to be one of the most competitive and thrilling edition of the Masters in recent times. World number 1, Jason Day, is trying to win a second consecutive Major on the back of two straight victories. Jordan Spieth is trying to become the only the third back-to-back Masters winner since 1967. Rory McIlroy is aiming to complete his career Grand Slam with a victory this week, which would put him in a rarefied clique of six players in the history of golf. 2013 Champion, Adam Scott, has returned to his best this season, being victorious twice and finishing runner-up twice. Augusta specialists, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, are attempting to add to their extensive Green Jacket collection, bidding for their third and fourth victory respectively. It’s all set up to be a cracker.
So, who is the best bet to be sat in Butlers Cabin come Sunday night? Here’s four selections for the 2015 Masters.
RORY MCILROY – 5pts WIN @ 17/2 (BetVictor)
Rory’s standing as the best player in the world is on rocky foundations. Since his last Major victory in the PGA Championship at Valhalla back in 2014 , Jordan Spieth has won both the Masters and US Open and a FedEx Cup in addition to three other PGA tournaments. Furthermore, Jason Day has broken his Major maiden at the 2015 PGA whilst accumulating a remarkable six other victories. The Northern Irishman is down to 3rd in the world rankings and languishing without a PGA Tour victory since May 2015.
It appears as if McIlroy has been usurped by the revelations of Spieth and Day, but according to the man himself it has only made him more determined. Ever since winning the European Tour’s end of season ‘Tour Championship’ back in November, Rory has been completely focused on winning the Masters. In an interview immediately after sinking the winning putt, he outlined how the ‘goal of the year is to try and get ready for the Masters’. He repeated those sentiments in January at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, outlining how he planned to play more tournaments this Spring, in an effort to be ‘in good form and eliminate any sort of rust or anything I need to work on my game’.
RICKIE FOWLER – 2pts WIN @ 16/1 (Various)
It was not so long ago that Fowler was voted as the ‘most overrated golfer’ by his fellow players. Since earning that acrimonious label, he has gone from strength to strength. His performance in the 2014 Majors earmarked him as a player capable on the big stage, finishing four Top 5 finishes, including coming in runner up at the US Open and the Open.
It must have been disappointing for Fowler not to break his maiden tag in the Majors that year. But he didn’t dwell on it in 2015, winning a total of three tournaments. The first of which was the Players Championship (the unofficial fifth Major), with the latter being the Deutsche Bank Championship, which forms part of the FedEx Cup playoff series. These victories show Fowler is more than capable of winning in the highest quality fields. He displayed great nerve in birdieing the vaunted 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass three times that Sunday, showing he can handle himself in the hottest of pressure situations, of which he will have a few if he is in contention on the final day at Augusta.
Fowler’s game this season has displayed all the characteristics of a players completely suited to the long fairways and challenging greens of Augusta National. He averages 301.8 yards with the driver, so he won’t get left behind on the lush, into-the-grain fairways. His iron play has been outstanding in recent months, with Fowler topping 70% in GIR, second only to Bubba Watson in this category. This quality will be vital this week, as being able to put the ball in the right position on approach shots is what leads to the best rounds in the Masters. Players have spoken aplenty this week about how good approach shots can turn into bogeys if they land in the wrong place, so Fowler’s control with his irons will be invaluable on this golf course.
MATT KUCHAR – 1pt E/W @ 66/1 (Various)
When you think of the Masters, the name Matt Kuchar does not normally come to mind. He is not the longest driver of the ball in the world and is yet to win one of golf’s four Major Championships. However, Kuchar’s record around Augusta is stellar, making the cut each of the last five years and registering three Top 10 finishes in that time. He was also awarded Low Amateur at the 1998 Masters as a fresh-faced Georgia Tech student.
The 37 year old American is also in great nick, consistently churning out Top 5 and Top 10 finishes this season. That includes a T8 finish at the Northern Trust Open played at Riviera CC, which is described as similar in layout to the tree-lined fairways and sloping greens of Augusta.
Kuchar excels around the challenging greens on this golf course, his short game and putting are the strongest parts of his overall game, which makes him more adept in this tournament than many others. This strength is going to come into its own this week, as players are already describing the greens as some of the quickest they have ever seen in Masters week. A price of 66/1 severely underestimates a quality performer in Kuchar, who has shown the ability to contend before at the first Major. After Jordan Spieth nailed 28 total birdies last year, Augusta officials are determined to make this year’s event much more of a challenge, which will only play in the hands of ‘Kuuuch’.
CAMERON SMITH – 0.5pt E/W @ 500/1 (Various)
Tipping a 500/1 poke for the Masters sounds like insanity, especially when one sees that the selection is closer to Sandy Lyle than Jason Day in the betting markets. But this is one player who is ridiculously overpriced for his talent and form. Cameron Smith is a former Australian Amateur Champion back in 2012 and has been on the fast-track to the top of the game ever since.
This is his first full season on the PGA Tour, it seems he is relishing the chance by cashing in two Top 20 finishes in the last two months, only missing two cuts in this calendar year. The first came on the vaunted Championship course of Pebble Beach, where he played his way into a tie for 11th that week. Smith then followed it up last week at the Shell Houston Open by finishing T19, showcasing that he is coming in to form at just the right time and able to perform on the toughest golf courses in the world.
Smith is having his first crack at the Masters this week, that doesn’t bode well with the discouraging record of debutants, as only Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 has won as a debutant. However he is fully adept at making an impression on his first start in Majors. In his first US Open last year he tied for Fourth around the tricky Chambers Bay. Smith then followed that up by finishing T25 at the PGA Championship last Summer. If he takes to the Masters in a similar fashion, he could make a mockery of his starting price. It truly is an insult to the young Australian that he is ranked alongside the likes of old-timers, Bernhard Langer and Vijay Singh.
Doral’s ‘Blue Monster’ is what awaits perhaps the best quality field to play in 2016 this week. The Cadillac Championship is the first World Golf Championship of the calendar year, following on this season from the WGC HSBC Champions in November. That tournament produced a somewhat surprise winner in Russell Knox who recorded a first career victory in Shanghai. That week is notable for Rory McIlroy’s food poisoning and Dustin Johnson hitting one of the greatest drives in the modern era of Golf.
Throughout the season, a clear narrative has developed. It goes that Don Poli is an animal possessing endless stamina who will relish battling up Cleeve Hill when all others have cried enough and that Vautour, on the other hand, is a flashy horse who does not possess the required stamina for an attritional test such as the Gold Cup. In my opinion, this theory is a victim of recency bias.
The traditional ‘West Coast Swing’ has ended after taking in the glorious sights of Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Riviera CC and TPC Scottsdale in recent weeks, we’ve certainly seen some excellent performances such as Brandt Snedeker’s brilliant final round comeback and Hideki Matsuyama superbly outgunning Rickie Fowler in a tense finish in Phoenix. However, the PGA Tour moves across the USA to Florida this week, with attention turning to the PGA National course in Palm Beach Gardens.
This tournament has seen a marked improvement in quality since moving to the current course and that is evident again this week with 11 of the Top 20 OWGR players in the world taking part. With the likes of Rory Mcilroy, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson set to tee up, we are bound to see one of the classier fields of the season as most high-ranked players get in a prep for next week’s World Golf Championship event at Doral.
So, who will win this week? Here are three speculative darts.
After the bombshell news earlier in the week that reigning champion Faugheen will miss this year’s Cheltenham Festival through a suspensory ligament injury, the market for the Champion Hurdle has been blown wide open.
BHA Handicapper, Phil Smith, has done his worst (or best in some cases) and the trainers can do no more, the weights for the 2016 Crabbie’s Grand National have been announced. The who’s who of National Hunt racing were there to examine the allotted weights given to their horses, we take a look at some of the most interesting contenders.