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Masters preview: Betting, Fantasy picks at Augusta National

Preview – 79th Masters Tournament– Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, Georgia –

With the 79th playing of The Masters this week, the game’s best players assembled at Augusta National with several story lines adding to the interest.

From the return of four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods to competitive golf to Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy trying to complete the career Grand slam, the first major of the season for men’s professional could be one of the ages.

The event also features the sport’s best prize – a green jacket and an historic place in golf immortality. It’s difficult to gauge whether Tiger or Rory has the most pressure on them this week.

McIlroy, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, continues to be the outright betting favorite but he hasn’t contended on the PGA Tour yet this season. Rory did win on the European Tour in January at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Traditionally, a right-to-left ball flight along with accurate approach shots are keys to winning at Augusta. High-ball hitters are also typically rewarded. But to tame the Alister Mackenzie/Bobby Jones design, players better have their putting sharp this week. Add in the prospects of rain conditions, a soft and long golf course could create some extra drama down the stretch Sunday.

Phil Mickelson is trying to tie Woods and Arnold Palmer with four green jackets. But, he has yet to record a Top 10 on the PGA Tour this season. He last won at Augusta in 2010.

ESPN has television coverage Thursday and Friday, while CBS Sports handles the weekend. “Live From” the Masters is featured all week on Golf Channel.

2014 Outcome:

  • Bubba Watson (8-under) outdueled Spieth on Sunday to en route to his second Green Jacket. A 25-to-1 betting pick heading into the week, Watson was in great form heading to the Masters. A birdie at the 13th opened the lead which stood up. Spieth and Jonas Blixt were T-2, while Miguel Angel Jimenez was alone in fourth place. Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler were T-5. Lee Westwood logged Top 10.
  • FANTASY: Mickelson is usually a lock at Augusta with double digit Top 10s at The Masters. Take a look at Spieth and Stenson, based on their momentum. Both have been Top 5 machines this season.  Jason Day, who is 5th in the world rankings, has Top 3s in two recent Masters. He also won at Torrey Pines in

February. Westwood has five straight Top 11s here. Lefties have won seven of the last nine Masters, so take both Mickelson and Bubba.

BETTORS: Rory is the betting favorite at 5 1/2-to-1 odds at www.skybet.com. The weight of career Grand Slam might be too much for him. Mickelson has 10 Top 5s at this event – third behind Woods (11) and Jack Nicklaus (15). Bubba, the 2012 and 2014 champ, at 11-1. Take Dustin Johnson at 16-1. The long hitter has contended all spring on tour winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship and losing in a playoff at Riviera. For better value odds, consider Patrick Reed (33-1) and Sergio Garcia (40-1). Reed won on tour in January and lost in a playoff in Florida last month. Take a flier on Paul Casey at 60-1.

The last four of the five Masters champions have come from behind on Sunday to win. Experience plays an important key at Augusta.

Other Masters News:

  • Woods, who has slipped to 111th in the world rankings, is playing the Par 3 Contest Wednesday for the first time since 2004. He last won at Augusta in 2005.
  • Ben Crenshaw tees it up for the 44th and final time at the Masters this week.
  • The last player to win The Masters in his first appearance at Augusta was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
  • Woods is paired with Jimmy Walker, the FedEx Cup standings leader this season and two-time winner in 2015, and Jamie Donaldson. The trio tees off at 1:48 p.m. local time Thursday.
  • With 99 players in the field, only the Top 50 players and ties will play the weekend at Augusta. Anyone inside 10 shots of the lead also makes the cut.