The first round of The Masters is always a special day in the golfing calendar and it comes along on Thursday when the 91 players in the field tee it up under competition rules for the first time this week each with the aim of getting off to a fast start.
It is generally never a bad move to be up with the pace around Augusta National so the charge to get off to a good start in the first major of the year will be quite a strong one throughout the course of the opening round on Thursday.
First Round Leader
One of the better markets to bet on across the opening day of The Masters is the one for the first round leader. It is a market where the usual protagonists tend to show their hand. One of the reasons for that is the pins in the first round are generally quite similar year on year so those who have experience of the track will be familiar with where they are and how to get at them.
One player who seems to always hit the ground running here is Justin Rose. He hasn’t really been in any form coming into this tournament but he tends to look to peak for the majors these days and has a great record around here. He has led after the opening 18 holes on four previous occasions including 12 months ago when his form wasn’t a great deal better than it is now. He has also been second and fourth twice so he is no stranger to pinging the lids. While Rose’s form hasn’t been great he did register a top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open which apart from The Players Championship is by far the biggest event he has played this year. He missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass but he opened up with a 69 before the wind and rain caused havoc for round two. There’s no such problems here so I’ll take my chances that Rose can inspire himself to peak for the start of another big event on a course he plays so well.
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Thursday 3 Balls
The 91 players go out in 29 groups of three on Thursday and a couple of two balls as well and with the TV coverage being as restricted as it is for this tournament the marquee groups tend to go out towards the end of the schedule. The final group onto the golf course on Thursday will be Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Matt Fitzpatrick. They go out at 19.33 BST with Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele out at 19.22 BST. Those wanting to keep tabs on Tiger Woods he is out alongside Joaquin Niemann and Louis Oosthuizen at 16.04 BST. I like bets in two of the groups on Thursday.
Cameron Champ/Lucas Glover/Erik van Rooyen
Match tees off at 16.29 BST
The first three ball I like comes in the middle of the pack as the American powerhouse Cameron Champ goes out alongside the former US Open champion and an Erik van Rooyen who will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Gary Player and Trevor Immelman and join the list of South African winners here.
Lucas Glover has played this tournament on eight previous occasions and he is yet to shoot level par in the first round let alone break par. This course is too long for him and his short game isn’t really up to the level. Van Rooyen is technically here for the second time but after withdrawing after an opening 76 on his only previous visit you could argue that it is his debut which isn’t ideal. I’m not convinced his long game is consistent enough to deliver the goods here either. That leaves us with Cameron Champ who in two starts has opened up with rounds of 68 and 72 in what were creditable efforts overall. He does have the length to tame this beast and his touch around and on the greens are good enough to be competitive. He might only need to shoot level par to win this three ball and I like him to do that.
Matthew Fitzpatrick/Brooks Koepka/Rory McIlroy
Match tees off at 19.03 BST
The final group out onto the golf course sees the English player Matthew Fitzpatrick out alongside the former major champions Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, both of whom will be looking to win this title for the first time.
For McIlroy it would be the crowning of his personal Grand Slam and we’ve seen him have struggles here in the past under that pressure. He was bang average in Texas last week and while he carded good opening rounds at the Genesis and Arnold Palmer Invitational he faded fast after that, the conclusion being his game isn’t all there so under the pressure he comes here with I don’t expect it to flourish. He has only shot 70 or better in the first round twice since he should have won this in 2011 and you’ve got to think 70 is the bare minimum that wins this three ball. This will be the eighth time Fitzpatrick has played here and he has never broken 70. In fact his best opening round is 71 and in 26 rounds he has played on this course only two of them have been in the 60s. That leaves me thinking that Koepka is a good thing here. He always tries to peak for majors but it is noticeable that his form in the regular tour events this season has been much better. Koepka was third in Phoenix, T16 at The Honda Classic and made the quarter final of the WGC Match Play after finishing with a 65 at the Valspar Championship. That is all great form ahead of the opening major of the year, an event where prior to playing injured last season he was seventh and second in the two previous goes. He opened with 66 and 70 on those occasions and looks best equipped to win this three ball to me.
Back J.Rose First Round Leader (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-7)
Back C.Champ to beat L.Glover & E.van Rooyen for a 3/10 stake at 2.88 with William Hill
Back him here:
Back B.Koepka to beat M.Fitzpatrick & R.McIlroy for a 3/10 stake at 2.63 with Betfair
Back him here: