Picks and tips: Xander tops Masters favorites

Will Gray
·6 min read

The most anticipated week on the golf calendar is finally upon us.

After months of reshuffled schedules and competitive uncertainty, it's officially Masters week. Yes, the springtime azaleas have been replaced by some fall foliage at Augusta National, but the course itself still appears every bit as familiar as players and fans would expect.

Tiger Woods is back to defend after a memorable fifth Masters victory last year, and he'll face 91 other players looking to have him slip the green jacket over their shoulders on Sunday.

The field has all the starpower you would expect, despite the fact that the participant list was frozen in mid-March when the pandemic struck. Bettors seem to expect a first-time champion this week, as each of the top 10 betting favorites at PointsBet Sportsbook are in search of their first Masters title.

A couple of them highlight my picks this week, while some veterans also feature among the group I expect to contend. Here's a look at who has caught my eye heading into the year's final major:

To Win (odds via PointsBet)

Xander Schauffele (+1600): He ticks every box that you would want from a potential winner. Schauffele has done everything but win since the Tour returned this summer, with close calls at Colonial and the CJ Cup to go along with his performance at East Lake where only the handicap system denied him $15 million. In 17 starts since February, he has finished outside the top 25 exactly once. He was a runner-up at this event last year and has been amazingly consistent in the majors, with seven top-10 finishes in 13 career starts. The body of work is sound, as he is 12th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and 13th in SG: Putting. His credentials are stout enough that you frame the thought of majors as when, not if. The breakthrough could come this week.

Tyrrell Hatton (+3000): Even after a T-7 finish in Houston it feels like the Englishman isn't quite getting his due. Like Schauffele, Hatton has been one of the best players in the world since the break. But he has some hardware to back it up, having won at Bay Hill just before the pandemic hiatus and returning with another marquee victory at the BMW PGA Championship. Hatton was one of the best iron players on Tour last season and hasn't exactly lost his step in recent weeks, with four top-10s in his last six starts including a T-3 finish at Shadow Creek. Hatton missed the cut at Winged Foot and hasn't finished better than T-44 in three prior Masters starts, both serving as fair knocks against him. But the price still just seems a little too high for a player who is now ranked inside the top 10 in the world and playing some of the best golf of his career.

Bubba Watson (+3500): While everyone has their eyes glued to betting favorite Bryson DeChambeau's every move, don't forget about the guy that broke the Augusta National mold almost a decade ago. Watson's two Masters wins were viewed as unconventional, both for his style of play and for some of the angles of attack he chose across the course. He failed to repeat those dramatics in the years that followed at this event, and his game slipped as he made some ill-advised tinkers to his equipment. But he's now back on solid footing and playing well, with four top-20s in his last five starts. That includes back-to-back top-10 finishes at the CJ Cup and Zozo where his ball-striking showed marked improvement: Watson led the field tee-to-green at Shadow Creek and was fifth at Sherwood. He has rekindled some of his old ANGC magic in recent years, finishing T-5 in 2018 and T-12 last year, so don't be surprised if he makes a run at a third green jacket that would put him into the pantheon of all-time greats at this event.

Top-10/Top-20 Finish (odds via PointsBet)

Zach Johnson (+300 top-20 finish): When the tournament first shifted to November, some pundits argued that this year's event might closely resemble the chilly 2007 edition, when Johnson surprised the field. While the temps won't quite reach the forecast levels, there are still some agronomic nuances in play that could favor an elite wedge player like Johnson, who also happens to be picking up his form at the right time. The veteran essentially fell off a cliff two years ago but has slowly battled back, and his recent results include a promising T-8 at the U.S. Open on a course that many expected would be too big for him to handle. Johnson has racked up four top-25 finishes in his last six starts, and as a past champ he likely has a leg up on much of the field in terms of playing the course in the fall. His Masters record outside of his 2007 win is rather sparse, but the unique variables in play this week make him worth some consideration for a solid showing.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (+425 top-10 finish): Fitzpatrick has never missed a Masters cut as a pro, making the weekend four straight years including a T-7 finish in 2016. The former U.S. Amateur champ has been chomping at the bit for a breakthrough win, with top-10 finishes in a quartet of high-profile events since the break: the Memorial (third), WGC-FedEx St. Jude (T-6), BMW Championship (T-6) and BMW PGA (T-7). Those finishes clearly show that Fitzpatrick can hang with the best in the world, and are a big reason why he was a popular pick at each of the first two majors this year. Those didn't go as planned, with missed cuts at both Harding Park and Winged Foot, but this week presents an opportunity for redemption on a course where his deft short game and solid iron play could deliver a big result.

Ian Poulter (+750 top-10 finish): The Englishman was one of the first players to give fans and social media followers a glimpse at the course in its autumnal glory this week, and he just might be one of the contenders come Sunday. Poulter is a Masters veteran, making his 15th career start. He's finished worse than T-33 just three times, with three top-10s to go with a T-12 showing last year. Poulter has quietly cobbled together some strong recent results, finishing T-12 or better in each of his last three worldwide starts. He makes no qualms about the importance he places on big events, especially this one, and while the wins are few and far between, this is an enticing price for the Postman to deliver another high finish.

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