Masters Predictions: Conservative/Aggressive Plays for Every Type of Bettor

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Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, waits on the driving range during a practice round in preparation for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Monday, April 8, 2024, in Augusta, Ga.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelGolf Apr 08, 2024, 12:47 PM

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Merry Christmas, everyone!

If you’re puzzled as to what that means here in the second week of April, well, you might be in the wrong place. For the rest of us, Masters week is a holiday unlike any other – a sure sign that spring has finally sprung and golf’s major championship season is in full bloom.

For the first time in nine months, all of the world’s best players — PGA Tour, LIV Golf and otherwise — will congregate in the same place, an annual pilgrimage to the sport’s mecca here at Augusta National.

Scottie Scheffler is the rightful favorite this week when it comes to golf betting at +400 after two wins and a runner-up in his last three starts. Let’s start our prognostications here, though less with a winner and more with an alternative to Scheffler’s gravitational pull. Let’s call it the Taylor Swift Anti-Hero strategy.

Look, you like Scottie; I like Scottie; everyone likes Scottie. Consider this, however: A full unit wagered on Scheffler at +400 wouldn’t yield as much return on investment as the average of a one-third unit play on each of the next three players on the board: Rory McIlroy (+1000), Jon Rahm (+1200) and Xander Schauffele (+1600), though I might argue that Brooks Koepka (+2000) would be my third-favorite in a Scheffler hedge over Schauffele.

Again, this is simply an option — another way of thinking — if you’re looking to find a non-Scheffler outright play.

If I try to accomplish anything in my weekly preview columns, it’s less about advising some no-doubt-about-it-lock-of-the-week and more about offering up a different way of strategizing and formulating your betting card for the week.

That leads to another idea I’ll be presenting in this preview and beyond.

Think about it: If you head into your favorite golf superstore in search of a new driver, you don’t just grab whatever is there and play the same one as everybody else. Instead, you’d get fitted for the right brand, with a shaft and loft that works best for your swing.

Customization is the wave of the present — and for good reason, as there’s no point in employing the same car, laptop, kitschy t-shirt slogan or golf club as someone whose habits and tastes aren’t the same as yours.

In this piece, I’ll be listing my favorite plays from both a conservative and aggressive perspective, because you’re not the same bettor as everyone else.

Maybe you’re the type who absolutely, positively needs an ROI in the black each week; you’ll want to go the conservative route. Perhaps you’d rather make some riskier plays with greater potential rewards; you’ll enjoy the aggressive approach.

Without further ado, let’s get to those selections for the best week of the year.

Masters Outright Winner Picks

Conservative: Hideki Matsuyama (+2000)

Obviously, Scheffler is the ultimate conservative play, although I could argue that betting any golfer in a full-field event at 4/1 odds might oxymoronically be so conservative that it’s aggressive. Either way, I’ll save Scottie for another play soon enough and go with Matsuyama here instead.

I’ve traditionally been a Hideki-fader, largely because his neck issue tends to appear without notice, and his short game is less consistent than some other top-level players. Lately, though, he’s done a nice job of convincing me that he’s ready to be one of the world’s best once again, winning at Riviera – a course which owns some nice corollary traits to Augusta National – and finishing top-12 in three starts since.

During those four events, he’s not just gaining strokes with his driver and irons, he’s gaining them in droves, averaging more than a half-stroke better per round than the field in each category. That’s enough to get me interested in the 2021 champion, who offers a solid alternative to the Scheffler/McIlroy/Rahm trio at the top of the board.

Aggressive: Shane Lowry (+4000)

For those looking even further down the board, there are plenty of options – and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lowry isn’t even the most popular option at this 40/1 price, as Matt Fitzpatrick, Sahith Theegala, Tony Finau and Cameron Young could all generate some interest.

I’ve had the 2019 Open Championship winner in mind for another big one for a little while now, however, as he’s only recently started getting results that are equal to his performance. My fellow betting industry folks call it “positive regression,” a term which is both explanatory and contradictory, but think of it as an MLB pitcher with a 6-12 record and a 2.70 ERA. At some point, those strong performances will theoretically lead to better results.

Lowry now owns a pair of top-fives in his last three PGA Tour starts, which offers a nice intersection of form and history when we pair it with his T-3 at Augusta two years ago, one of four consecutive top-25 results here.

Prior to 2019, the 25/1 to 50/1 range was a nice sweet spot for this event, with five of the seven champions before that coming from those numbers. If you’re fading the faves, this feels like a nice place to start the card and Lowry has the makings of a player who can contend again.

Masters Top 5 Picks

Conservative: Scottie Scheffler (-125)

This just in: He can’t win ‘em all. Scheffler has now finished top-five in five of his eight starts this year — and T-6 in another at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he was tracking toward a top-five until weather shortened the event to three rounds.

These numbers show his actual top-five percentage (62.5) exceeds his implied probability (55.6), suggesting there’s value on him in this market. It feels like a nice bankroll play, giving us an investment in Scottie while allowing some more aggressive plays up and down the board.

Aggressive: Ludvig Åberg (+450)

You’ll hear this fun fact plenty throughout the upcoming week, especially if a Masters rookie is climbing this leaderboard: Other than the early years of this tournament, the only first-timer to win was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Not only has Åberg not played the Masters before, he’s never played any major championship, which is hard to believe for a player who’s already won on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, while also being part of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team last year.

If someone is going to break a trend that’s been threatened by the likes of Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris over the past decade, it could be the young Swede, whom some people — yours truly included — believe is a generational talent. Full disclosure: I’ll have a Ludvig outright ticket this week, which means I certainly believe he’s got what it takes to finish top-five.

Masters Top 10 Picks

Conservative: Jordan Spieth (+160)

I know… great insight, right? It doesn’t take an expert to understand that the human roller coaster known as Spieth transforms into a different player upon driving down Magnolia Lane — or maybe there’s a more explanatory correlation than we realize.

The 2015 champion is the ultimate right-brained player, relying on creativity over paint-by-number golf, while Augusta National is the ultimate course for right-brainers who tend to visualize shots and work the ball both ways.

Spieth’s six career top-10s here (in 10 starts) have all been top-fives, so perhaps this conservative play is even a little too cautious, but it’s difficult to envision his name not being on the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.

Aggressive: Sahith Theegala (+320)

A final-round 67 was one of the day’s best scores last year, elevating Theegala to a ninth-place finish in his Masters debut. It makes sense that Augusta National should fit his game, as Theegala is essentially golf’s version of a four-tool player. However, he ranks in the bottom half of PGA Tour players in driving accuracy. He can spray it a little on this track without penalty, relying on his scoring clubs to get the job done. A repeat top-10 performance shouldn’t be asking too much.

Masters Top 20 Picks

Conservative: Will Zalatoris (-110)

There’s a lot to love about top-20 props in general for a limited-field tournament such as this one, which includes just 89 players. Even if we don’t dismiss the older past champions and half-dozen amateurs, there’s still a mathematical 22.5 percent chance of any player finishing top-20; remove those guys and that number inches closer to 30 percent.

At just shorter than even-money, I’ll take a chance on Zalatoris to finish inside the top two-ninths of this field, considering his limited Masters record already shows a runner-up and T-6 in two starts.

Perhaps this play is way too conservative, but much like the Scheffler top-five, this one and others at a similar top-20 number should be solid bankroll-builders, allowing a little more risk in other spots.

Aggressive: Harris English (+275)

In doing a little studying up on this Georgia product, I don’t know if it was more surprising that he’s made only four previous Masters starts or that he’s never finished inside the top-20.

That’s gotta change soon for a guy who’s proven to have a lofty floor this year, with five top-20s in eight starts (and a T-21 that just barely missed). English’s short game has been impeccable this year, gaining strokes both around the greens and on them in each of his last five starts, but if you’d prefer a less aggressive alternative, try Corey Conners (+170), who’s finished top-10 in three of his last four Masters starts.

Masters First-Round Leader Picks

Conservative: Patrick Cantlay (+3300)

Despite a solid record at Augusta National, Cantlay is largely being overlooked by the masses, due to a record which shows four of his seven results this year outside the top-30. That’s understandable, but it hasn’t all been bad.

Cantlay ranks first in R1 scoring average; 24th in R2; 113th in R3; and 181st in R4. Going progressively backwards is no way to win tournaments at this level, but he doesn’t have to be a full fade, offering some nice single-round value for Thursday.

Aggressive: Jason Day (+5000)

I often feel like major championship FRL bets are a nice place to target the old-guy sentimental stories, though I’ll readily admit that referring to the 36-year-old Day as “old” makes me feel downright ancient by comparison. Even so, he checks the box as a potentially cool story on the opening day, with a strong track record here and a R1 scoring average of 68.75, including five sub-70 scores in eight starts, good for 16th on the PGA Tour this season.

Masters Group Betting

Group C: Will Zalatoris (+320)

I’ve already extolled the virtues of Zalatoris above, but any head-to-head/group bet is as much in support of one player as it is fading others. With two top-six finishes here at Augusta, Willy Z. isn’t exactly in a Group of Death, having to defeat Viktor Hovland (+320), Patrick Cantlay (+350), Cameron Smith (+400) and Justin Thomas (+400), each of whom has some ongoing issues with his game.

Masters Dual Forecast Picks

Scottie Scheffler / Hideki Matsuyama (+3300)

I’d prefer a (much) bigger number for a 1-2 position bet such as this one, but just in case I’m one off on my Matsuyama prediction, I like this one as a small CYA play. These are (obviously) tough bets to hit, but for those who are all-in on Scheffler this week yet skittish about the +400 odds, trying to double him up with another player might help that prediction make more sense.

Masters Tournament Specials

Winner not to be in the final group in the last round (+188)

I’ll admit that I’m not a massive fan of most special offerings, as I’d rather rely on data, analytics, and even the ol’ eyeball test over what often comes down to luck. I do believe, though, that there’s some equity in rooting for chaos with this one, essentially hoping a handful of players are clustered near the top of the board on Saturday evening and one of ‘em emerges from somewhere outside the last pairing to win.

In a wildly unpredictable golf season where seemingly anything can happen, I’m a fan of backing more craziness in this one.

Odds to Win The Masters

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About the Author

Jason Sobel

Read More @JasonSobelGolf

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.