Thursday, April 10, 2008

US MASTERS GOLF ...........


I want to take an early look at the US Masters golf tournament, taking place in Augusta, Georgia, starting April 10th.

This is a favourite tournament of mine and one, where I have enjoyed great success in the past.

It is the only major played on the same course every year and with a limited field, including a number of "old timers" and players that can no longer compete, let alone win, the number of potential champions are limited. With the very peculiar demands of Augusta, bringing out the best of the best, we get very few "lucky" winners here and the same names tend to do well, year after year.

Let me begin by saying, that I am very excited by the event this year and feel that there is terrific value to be had in my selection.

There are no guarantees in gambling, but it is a very long time, maybe seven years, since I have been so confident about a bet, everything feels right, including the odds, which are very juicy !

My choice is Retief Goosen, the South African superstar has had a rough old time of it over the last two years, but has returned to form with a vengence in recent weeks, he loves it at Augusta, where he is a winner waiting to happen and we could even argue, that he is "owed" a championship.

Goosen had eye surgery several years ago and developed complications resulting from this recently, he waited and waited for these to clear and his game suffered. Blurred vision was the final straw and he had further laser treatment earlier this year, the immediate improvement, has been remarkable.

In the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Goosen made a steady start, before closing with a weekend 68-68, a total beaten by only four players in the field and he finished in a promising 14th place.

Last week he went to the WGC CA Championship event, to take his place in what was probably the toughest field seen on tour, so far this year. After an opening 71, he played the business end of the tournament in 69-64-68, a total only bettered by Vijay Singh. Retief went very close, almost forced a play-off with all the way winner Geoff Ogilvy, eventually finishing in a tie for second, just a single stroke off the pace.

Under pressure, which he has not really faced for almost a year, Goosen showed all the composure that you would expect, from a two time US Open winner.

In similar conditions to what he is likely to face next week, Goosen bogeyed just one of his last 33 holes, producing 12 birdies. To put that in perspective, on a very demanding course, world number one, Tiger Woods bogeyed three in his final round alone and had "just" eight birdies in his final 38 holes. No golfer in the field made fewer errors and only Vijay more birdies, over the weekend.

On the back of two big finishes, he was bound to be a little tired, yet following a delayed, Monday finish to the WGC event, Goosen was contracted to play in the Tavistock Cup, a team event over the very next two days.

He then went directly to the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, for an early Thursday start, "Goose" was in one of the first groups out and shot a weary, but passable 73. This was a gruelling schedule for any golfer, let alone one that has not been in contention for a year or more. On Friday, he made a lethargic start and, after nine holes of his second round, with the toughest section of the course still to play, he needed three birdies to make the cut. So , what did he do ? What all great champions do, he rolled his sleeves up, hit every green in regulation and got the three strokes required, to play over the weekend.

This might have been his best performance of recent weeks and a sure sign that "the Goose" is back where he belongs.

He is not playing in the Shell Houston Open this coming week and will be resting, ahead of an early trip to Georgia to begin his preparations, this is ideal. Apart from anything else, I have been worried silly that he would win a tournament before The Masters !

What about his record at the Augusta National, well, since 2002, he has finished 2-T13-T13-T3-T3-T2, so, four top three finishes in six appearances, including in each of the last three years.

In 2007, he came into the event on the back of finishing 51st-18th and 58th in three strokeplay tournaments, this time round, he is playing at a much higher level and has recorded a 14th and 2nd place, in infinitely stronger events.Just as importantly, he is confident, fit, healthy and can see !

How he plays this weekend in New Orleans has little meaning, he has played competitive golf for eleven consecutive days, which is a lot. I would not mind if he "worked on his game" and finished with two par rounds, actually, as I type, he is one under after ten holes on Saturday, so, system going well.

I was going to leave it at that, but have decided to update this on Sunday afternoon (30/03). After looking at Retief's stats, he is obviously feeling in good shape, as he has decided to "open up" with the driver, finding an extra 20 metres, out hitting almost everyone on the course and still finding the fairway. This is a certain sign that he feels 100% comfortable with his game and fitness.

I find it hard to even think of a way that Goosen will not be competitive in the Masters, with a little luck, he could don the famous "green jacket" .

Conditions will not make me any less confident, he proved in the WGC event that he can handle and excel on rain sodden fairways and greens. However, if, as normal, we get lightening fast greens at Augusta, very few will be able to handle them as well as "our" man.

At 33-1 outright and especially at 20-1 each way, in the without Tiger Woods market, I think that Goosen is an absolutely sensational wager.

This is far and away the biggest bet I have ever suggested and, win or lose, make no apologies for doing so, this just feels right.

With the place terms, we will have a very nice return if Goosen is in the top six (including Tiger), remember, this is something he has done, with ease, in 67% of his appearances since 2002.

10 points each way Retief Goosen without Woods 21.0 1/4 odds a place 12345.... anything above 17.0 is certainly backable.

Good Luck.

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