I feel like a child on Christmas Eve, just waiting anxiously in anticipation of what is to come. This is going to be a great Masters because it’s going to answer a lot of big golf questions. How is Tiger’s health, and can he contend? Is Scottie Scheffler the best player since the 2000 version of Tiger Woods? Can Rory McIlroy get out of his own way often enough for a chance to capture the Grand Slam? How will the first event of 2024 with both PGA Tour and LIV players go? As a fan, I’m happy to see all the best players in one spot: the best course and best event on Earth.

Let’s dig in.

So, what exactly does it take to contend at Augusta? First and foremost, you must be elite with your irons. Subpar approach shots get punished severely. Missing in the wrong spot means a very difficult two-putt for par, or a treacherous up and down from one of the many shaved green surrounds. Players who are able to strike their irons well and/or miss in the right spots will be rewarded with makeable birdies or easy pars.

Off the tee, distance is much more important than accuracy. Distance allows a player to attack all four of the par 5s and pick off a few birdies on par 4s while holding on for dear life around the rest of the course.

Augusta National is one of the more difficult courses on and around the green. With the speed and slope of the greens, players will oftentimes be forced to putt defensively. The best chance of making putts is actually having a good approach game so you can putt from the correct side of the hole. In terms of chipping and pitching, players will have plenty of options on how to play their shots whether it be with a wedge, a bump and run or even putting through the shaved runoffs. Either way, getting up and down consistently over four days is a tall task. You can’t fake your way around Augusta with inferior ball-striking. It eventually catches up with you.

Let’s take a look at a few of the 2024 Masters favorites (not named Scheffler) who have a great chance to contend down the stretch on Sunday.

Jordan Spieth 23/1

We are getting a discounted price on Spieth here based on how he has played over the last few months. During an interview after the first round at the Valero, Spieth emphasized the fact that he is playing really well and just not scoring great. This includes driving the “living piss” out of the ball, as Jordan put it. He led the field in round two in strokes gained off the tee. If Spieth can bring that driving prowess to Augusta he will be very dangerous. Year in and year out we see Jordan excel with his approach play at ANGC. It’s a course that forces him to be creative on every shot, whether that be from an uneven lie in the fairway or trying to work the ball to a certain pin location. Augusta is the best course on Tour for Jordan’s skillset. He is a master (pun intended) of getting up and down from anywhere. The creative element of Spieth’s game carries over to the greens at Augusta as well, as they have the most break of any greens the pros play annually. Jordan is able to use his feel to judge the break on these difficult greens. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has finished in the top four in six of his ten appearances at the Masters. Spieth will have a good chance to do that again this year.

Joaquin Niemann 31/1

Niemann is going to go under the radar this week, but he’s arguably playing some of the best golf in the world by someone whose name isn’t Scottie Scheffler. He is a top five player in the world right now (yes I know that’s a bold statement).  Prior to LIV Miami this weekend, he has finished top four in five of his last six events. The haters will say these are just LIV results, but let me tell you, Niemann’s game has improved dramatically over the last year. He has all the shots needed to contend on any course against anyone. He received a special exemption into this event and for good reason. I get that he doesn’t have the best record here as a pro, with finishes of 16th, 35th and 40th. But he is in great form and his game fits this course very well. He bombs it off the tee, is above average with his irons, and eats par 5s for breakfast. Niemann will finish top 10 this week and have a chance to capture his first major. 

Tony Finau 47/1

Finau struck the ball wonderfully at the Houston Open, gaining an insane 14.4 strokes tee-to-green. If he had any semblance of a putter he would have been victorious, and his odds would be a lot shorter than what they currently are. Finau recently made some equipment setup changes with his driver, changes that have seen his numbers return closer to his 2022 and 2023 form when he was elite off the tee. Finau has six top-40 finishes in six starts at the Masters, including three in the top ten. If he can maintain that elite ball-striking from Houston, then he makes for a great option to win at +4700 or for a top-10 or top-20 wager.

Check back for a Longshots article and Best Bets article.