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It’s that time of year folks. It’s time for the Takeaway to take a trip down Magnolia Lane….

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It’s that time of year folks. It’s time for the Takeaway to take a trip down Magnolia Lane….

It’s the week of the 2017 Masters, and the real golf season begins in earnest. The build up has focused on many aspects, from the return of Tiger, to the resurrection story of Speith, Dustin Johnson’s visceral form, Rory’s return from injury and whether we will have a repetition of the scenes we experienced on the back nine of the Sunday of last year. Golf is a fantastic sport to lend itself to high drama, as we have seen over the years, and naturally Augusta has it in spades. Hark back to last year’s event. Did anyone predict what would unfold to Jordan? That Danny Willets life would change by simply picking up the pieces and walking the tightrope ever so well to the line?

What makes this more unique over the other Majors, is that it never changes location, so everyone, even the most passive of fan, has an idea of each hole, including the epic thrill ride of Amen corner. With that in mind, what do we know about Augusta for the week ahead, if you are to make money. Starting with the course itself, it is important to know the playing conditions for the players. Recent rainstorms have softened up both fairways and greens, and as we know, this tends to favour the longer hitters. Take 2012 for example, when Bubba used this to his advantage.

A wet week and a harsh winter allowed him to quasi-overpower the course and win his first green jacket, after the dramatics of his play off. They expect a breezy weekend in Georgia, so solid strikers should benefit, especially guys that are natural shot shapers. Right to left especially. Much is made of the greens, with severe slopes and breakneck pace. Many remark that the key to victory is good putting, but what specifically do they mean by that? Usually, with the greens playing fast and firm, it is incredibly difficult to gain proximity to a hole with a mid to longer iron, so the lagged putt across the undulations becomes key, not to ratchet up huge scores.

The mainstay of Jordans recent dominance (he hasn’t finished outside the top two in all his Masters outings) has been his hotness with the flat stick. Even with recent rain, there should still be some roll to the greens, but it will, to a certain extent, bunch the top and bottom caliber of putting performances. Speaking of Jordan, the other key factor in attaining a green jacket (as we naturally assume that decent length off the tee is a prerequisite) is iron play. A fair few of the PGA Tour stops can be categorized as driver-wedge-putter ad nauseum. Not this old belle. As stated, a good iron player can negate strokes given up by bad putting, by the proximity of their ball to the hole or picking safe spots on the greens to seek refuge on, leaving more straightforward putts. With these in mind, here are my three picks for this years Masters…

Rory McIlroy

What? A guy that has played fourteen competitive rounds in 2017, coming back from a rib injury, that has negative experiences on this course in particular and can’t put four solid rounds together? You will hear that no favourites have won since 2005 (Tiger, naturally). Much of the focus has been on Dustins imperious form, winning three of the last four on tour, and Jordans return to the scene of the crime.

Rory has a relatively free run at it, as the ghosts of 2011 seem to be subsiding. He has strong form in winning wet Majors, like the US Open at Congressional, where he blitzed the field. Though still prone to erratic shots, it is his putting that is the single biggest mark against him, but it has improved considerably. When he is on, he is unstoppable, but can struggle to grind out results, starting slowly and leaving himself too much to do. He is currently 8/1 outright, so worth a punt straight up.

Phil Mickelson

Augusta sets up well for left-handers, as they can shape shots right to left that land softly. Case in point is again Bubba Watson, Mike Weir and everyones favourite lefty, Phil Mickelson. Three green jackets would suggest that he knows his way around the course. Though coming back from the weirdest of injuries (I hope you’re not eating-his naval was falling out up to two hundred times a day), and advancing in years, he looks in good form recently. At 25/1, he is relatively underpriced, given that Tiger has a more recent victory, but if he gets his driving right, he will set himself up well for a high placing. Of course, having a great short game like his allows you to get out of trouble, but with a paltry shots gained off the tee, and hitting only half the fairways this year, he won’t be able to take advantage of scoreable opportunities.

John Rahm

The next great Spaniard, and possibly the best raw talent in the game. The last rookie to win a Masters was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. With ball striking and a great all round game like his, he is my outside pick and is drifting in, from 35/1 to 25/1. He seems to take it all in his stride, and though the enormity of the competition could be too much this time around, I feel he is a decent tip to place well. Like Phil, he can have sloppy driving habits, even if the ball goes a mile, but is one of the best on tour this season for shots gained in approach, and average proximity to the hole.

He has a great scrambling and putting average, but at time can get hot headed and fall foul of three putting. I still have him as my dark horse though Other notable outside bets I feel at decent prices are Rafa Cabrello-Bello at 100/1, Bill Haas at 90/1 and Matt Kuchar at 66/1. If you have your suggestions, let me know. The Caddy Guy is offering a €50 voucher for the person who can guess the winner and winning score, or nearest to it. Enjoy folks!