The 2018 edition of the Masters is on the horizon, and there’s more anticipation this year than we’ve seen in quite a few years. Much of that, of course, has to do with the fact that Tiger Woods is back and healthy. There has been plenty of skepticism regarding whether Woods would ever be a legitimate contender again, but he sure seems to be back in the mix.
While Woods will garner most of the headlines, we’d be doing a disservice to the rest of the field if we didn’t mention the fact that the tournament is loaded with promising young talent. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and a host of others are standing in the way of Woods and a 15th major title.
Let’s break down the field heading into the 82nd edition of the Masters.
All of the PGA’s big guns are coming out for the first major tournament of the year. Here’s how Vegas is listing those most likely to come out of the weekend with a fancy new green jacket:
- Jordan Spieth 10-1
- Justin Thomas 10-1
- Dustin Johnson 12-1
- Tiger Woods 12-1
- Rory McIlroy 12-1
- Justin Rose 12-1
- Bubba Watson 16-1
- Phil Mickelson 16-1
- Rickie Fowler 16-1
- Jason Day 18-1
These 10 guys are considered to be the odds-on favorites to win the 2018 Masters. It’s still rather jarring to see Tiger Woods’ name this high on the list at this stage of his career, but it’s hard to argue he doesn’t have a reasonable chance to win. We’ll talk more about him later.
As for the other 9, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas lead the pack at 10-1 apiece. Despite being just 24, Spieth has already won 3 majors, including the Masters in 2015. He plays with a savvy beyond his years, though we have seen the pressure get to him in the later rounds of a few majors over the last couple of years.
Honestly, Tiger’s presence should do wonders for Spieth from a pressure perspective. With 99 percent of the public’s focus centering on Tiger, Spieth and the rest of the presumed top dogs should be able to carry on without the intense spotlight, at least in the early rounds. Spieth is arguably the most talented golfer going these days, and he’s given us a few years’ worth of evidence to tell us why he should be the presumptive favorite.
This will be Spieth’s fifth trip to Augusta already. He’s looked a little shaky with the putting game, this is a course he has had little issue dominating in the past. In fact, last year’s tournament marked the first time in Spieth’s first 4 trips that he was not the leader after the first 3 rounds. That is a remarkable accomplishment, especially when you consider that he was just 2 back of the lead after 54 holes in 2017. He knows this course extremely well, and he’s comfortable with it.
He finished tied for 39th and finished +10 in his first Masters in 2016 and followed that up by finishing tied for 22nd (+2) last year. He did see marked improvement from 2016 to 2017, so here’s hoping 2018 is the year he finally plays up to his paper at this tourney.
The course suits Thomas’ game well, so it stands to reason that he should be in the conversation entering Sunday’s final round. Thomas is one of the longer strikers off the tee, and Augusta tends to favor those that can really smack it on the first shot. He’s more of an unknown than Spieth on this stage, but he does come into the Masters in better form. He missed the chance to go No. 1 in the world with a mediocre performance at the Dell Match Play in Austin 2 weeks ago, but a strong showing at Augusta will put him firmly on the map. I think Spieth has the slight edge between the 2 simply due to the fact that we know he’s comfortable with the course.
Rory McIlroy was the talk of the golf world a few years ago, but he’s fallen back to the pack a bit as some other golfers have risen up. With Spieth, Thomas and Dustin Johnson having become household names, McIlroy isn’t held in the same regard he once was. That said, he’s shown over the last few weeks that he has drastically improved his putting game, which could make things interesting this weekend.
Putting has always been Rory’s Achilles heel, but if he’s figured something out there then there’s no reason to believe he can’t contend at the Masters. He is another guy long off the tee, though he has never finished better than 4th at Augusta, which is the only major left he has yet to win. He’s not really being undervalued at 12-1, but he does come with excellent profit potential.
Let’s Talk About Tiger
Tiger has the same odds to win (12-1) as Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson. Considering it’s 2018 and Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major in almost a full decade, that’s pretty crazy.
That said, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t belong. Woods hasn’t yet picked up a win since the calendar flipped to 2018, but he’s been consistently among the leaders. This is easily the best golf he’s played in a number of years. He finished tied for second at the Valspar Championship, tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 12th at the Honda Classic.
If he had fared well in one tournament and fallen back to the pack in others, that would be one thing. But we’re seeing the kind of consistency out of Tiger that has been absent for the better part of the last 10 years. Now 42, he and Phil Mickelson (47) are easily the elder statesmen among those considered to be among the favorites.
The key with Woods is that he finally appears to be healthy. He was completely debilitated by a number of injuries over the last few years, most notably nagging back problems. He announced in April 2017 that he had undergone a successful procedure to alleviate constant pain in his back and one of his legs. It was effectively a spinal fusion surgery, and it appears to have helped him considerably.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 21 years since Tiger won his first Masters when he was 21-years-old. Obviously, he has the advantage of having played this course more frequently than just about every other player in the field. He is a 4-time Masters champ, though he hasn’t taken home a new green jacket since way back in 2005.
While Tiger has been playing great, he does look a little overpriced at 12-1 here. One would imagine the odds are this low because there has been a ton of money coming in on him. He’s worth a shot if you’re a risk tolerant bettor looking to make things a little more interesting this weekend, but I have a hard time picking him to win over someone like Spieth, Thomas or McIlroy.
What About Phil?
Ah yes, Phil Mickelson. It feels like only yesterday the narrative surrounding Phil was that he “can’t win the big one.” It did take quite a while, but Mickelson finally broke through with his first major title when he won the Masters in 2004. He’s won a pair of green jackets since then, while also having won the British Open and the PGA once apiece. The U.S. Open, a tournament in which he has finished second a whopping 6 times, remains the only major that has eluded him thus far.
Like Tiger, Phil knows Augusta inside and out. He came close to winning in 2015 when he finished tied for second, but over the last 2 years he’s missed the cut in ‘16 and finished 22nd last year. He also missed the cut in 2014, finished 54th in 2013 and tied for third in 2012. Frankly, it’s hard to know what to expect out of Mickelson considering his Masters form has been so wildly inconsistent from year to year.
Interestingly, Mickelson won his second green jacket 2 years after his first. He took home his third green jacket 4 years after his second. This tournament marks the 8-year mark since Phil won his third Masters. The math tells us that this will be another Phil year. Of course, those numbers don’t actually mean anything. It’s more of an interesting fun fact. If you’re a bettor that takes cosmic factors into account, maybe you’ll be interested.
Otherwise, I feel safe in saying this won’t be the year Phil wins No. 4. He could always rise up and find himself in contention, but the field looks exceedingly strong this year with a number of players in strong form. Maybe next year, Mickelson.
If you want to ride the narrative, then pick Tiger to win. If you think the yearly pace favors Phil, then go with Mickelson. Tiger or Phil making a run deep into the weekend would make for some compelling television, so you can bet those over at CBS are hopeful that at least one of them is in the mix.
For betting purposes, I’m more likely to lean with someone like Spieth or McIlroy. Spieth gets the slight nod from me simply due to past performance. We’ve seen McIlroy fall apart down the stretch at this tournament before when the lights got too bright. As I mentioned previously, I think the presence of Tiger really helps everybody else, and I think we’re going to see a leaderboard with a bunch of familiar names as a result.
Last year’s champ, Sergio Garcia, is way down there at +3300. It’s unlikely Sergio repeats, but he’s still worth a mention as an off-the-board flier bet. The profit potential there is obviously massive.
In the end, though, I’m siding with Spieth. I think he goes home with his second green jacket on Sunday evening.