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With one day to go until the year's first major, there's little left in the preparation department.
Sure, some players could get in a little extra practice this afternoon with the traditional Par-3 Contest scrubbed for the second straight year. But by now the media obligations have been met, the practice rounds have been played and it's time to focus on the task at hand.
We've already gone over some picks to win the tournament as well as some prop bets to keep an eye on. Now it's time to dive into the world of head-to-head matchups, which as the name implies pit two players against each other for the entire 72-hole event. Here are a few matchups that have caught my eye, starting with the reigning Players champ:
Head-to-Head Matchups (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)
Justin Thomas (-115) over Bryson DeChambeau: There's a lot to like this week about Thomas, who is less than a month removed from a stirring weekend performance at TPC Sawgrass that netted him the title at the PGA Tour's flagship event. The rope hook driver that he hit so beautifully on No. 16 in the final two rounds should work wonders on, say, Nos. 2 and 13 this week. He shook off a poor performance in the Match Play, marking it down to a rocky relationship with Austin Country Club, and now can set his sights on a layout where he finished fourth in November. That was his first top-10 finish in the Masters, but it's worth noting that he has improved his result with every appearance: T-39, T-22, T-17, T-12, fourth. A promising sign if ever there was one.
DeChambeau, on the other hand, is still in search of his first top-20 finish at this event. Last year's attempt to overpower Augusta National didn't go as planned, and his "par 68" comments may have drawn the ire of the golf gods. Like Thomas, he won a marquee Tour event in March (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and should feast tee-to-green on the firm and fast conditions in play. But that's where the fun begins for DeChambeau, as he ranks 70th out of 78 players in SG: Putting since making his Masters debut in 2016. The lack of green-reading books at this event potentially hampers him, but there's no denying that he's out of his comfort zone on the glossy surfaces. I like my chances with Thomas, who I feel is more well-rounded and could prove a threat to win this week.
Patrick Cantlay (-115) over Xander Schauffele: I've already staked my spot on the Cantlay bandwagon, as I think his odds in the low 20s represent some value for a guy who has been trending in the right direction all year and played lights-out in Austin despite not winning his group. If there's a weak spot it's his iron play, which is a troubling weak spot to have at a place like this, but recent finishes of T-9 and T-17 indicate he knows what it takes to compete in Augusta.
Schauffele, meanwhile, hasn't quite been the same since letting the Phoenix Open slip through his fingers more than two months ago. The same tournament that jump-started Jordan Spieth's meteoric rise seems to have stalled out Schauffele, who had compiled six top-5 finishes in his last eight starts when leaving TPC Scottsdale but hasn't cracked the top 10 since. He has played well here before, notably a runner-up behind Tiger Woods in 2019, and has a strong record of results across the majors. But right now it just seems like things aren't clicking, and I think it's an opportunity to side with a different top-10 player who is flying a little under the radar at the moment.
Rory McIlroy (-120) over Brooks Koepka: Speaking of under the radar! McIlroy is barely on the first page of storylines as he tries once again to round out the final leg of the career Grand Slam. That's in large part due to his inability to keep the ball on the map in his last two starts, missing the cut in wild fashion at TPC Sawgrass before bowing out in group play in Austin. It's a troubling note upon which to stroll down Magnolia Lane, and this course has gotten the better of him between the ears even when things have been clicking. But his ability to rescue a result from peril at this course is nearly unparalleled: consider that last year he opened with 75, appeared in line to miss the cut, and ended up T-5.
Koepka is maybe the only player in the field who is a bigger question mark this week than McIlroy. Once thought to be shelved for months, he is opting to give it a go just weeks after surgery on his right knee. Now, that's not without limitations: he's going to struggle walking one of the hilliest courses on Tour, and he can't bend his knee when marking his ball or lining up putts on the greens. Koepka claims that he's swinging essentially pain-free, and this is another opportunity for him to lean into the notion that he's an athlete, not a golfer. But making his first start in six weeks with his body less than 100 percent is enough of a reason for me to try to fade him. McIlroy likely won't win this week, but his record here makes him a great option to use in matchups and I think it's a chance right now to buy low on a player who likely won't hover in the +1800 range to win many other majors in the near future.
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