Magic Johnson can win Green Jacket at Augusta
Our in-form golf tipster finds the value in the Augusta field
Sky Sports 1 & 4, from 7pm Thursday
Event starts at 1pm
*This article was written before news of Dustin Johnson's injury broke late on Wednesday night. Click here for latest news
Dustin Johnson 13-2
The Masters is the Major which provides punters with by far their best opportunity of making money. Early April is the time for the betting community to get stuck in before treating the other three Majors with more caution.
The US Open, Open Championship and USPGA are 156-runner events for which the venues change every season. Tee-times and weather have the potential to ruin wagers. The Masters, though, has a small field and is always at Augusta National, so there are reams of course form and established trends to draw upon. It is a much easier puzzle to solve.
The Masters is arguably the most appealing golf betting heat of the entire season. The list of credible title candidates is tiny and some bookmakers who are desperate to attract new customers are offering ludicrously generous each-way terms.
A quarter the odds the first five is more than fair for this line-up, but a mouthwatering eight places are available with four layers.
There are 94 players going to post, but that includes ten ageing former champions who have absolutely no hope. The likes of Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam should be a billion-to-one.
A line can be crossed through the old-timers straight away, while there are 19 debutants teeing up for an event where virgins are typically sacrificed at the Cathedral of Pines.
Making the cut is a tough mission for those who have never tackled this unique track before and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 is the last man to have triumphed on his first Augusta visit. Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters are high-quality newcomers this year, but it's so hard for debutants to win Green Jackets.
This Masters is made more straightforward by one man standing head and shoulders above the rest in terms of form. There was an open feel about the event last year – many of the elite had arrived in great nick – but 12 months later Dustin Johnson is a dominant force.
Johnson has finished sixth and fourth at Augusta in the last two years, and he returns to the famous track this week as a much more complete player.
The most significant change has been in status – he walks with the self-belief of a Major champion after his US Open heroics last summer – and Johnson has considerably tightened up technically. His driving is straighter than ever and his wedge-play has become a strength rather than a weakness.
Johnson has won six of his last 18 tournaments (33 per cent), which makes him a Masters 2-1 chance using rudimentary calculations, and he is gunning for four victories in a row.
The latest trophy came in the WGC-Match Play and defeated runner-up Rahm said afterwards: “He is the perfect, complete golfer.”
Johnson's coach, Butch Harmon, has gone even further and said: “He really has become the total package. Nothing rattles him. He's starting to remind me of Tiger Woods in the old days. He's starting to be that guy that, when he's on, he's almost impossible to beat.”
There is an aura these days about Johnson, who is loving every minute of being top of the rankings. The majesty of his golf is the talk of the locker room and he is intimidating opponents.
Even the weather gods are falling at his feet, storms having softened Augusta to make it even more of a powerhouses' paradise than normal. Short-hitters need not apply this week.
The last short-hitter to win the Masters was Zach Johnson when freak conditions (freezing temperatures and strong breezes) and a severe course set-up meant the blasters were unable to attack.
A score of one over par won (the joint-highest in Masters history). This week, with wide fairways, no rough, and balls stopping quickly on the 7,435-yard layout, power seems essential. Johnson can bully the par-fives and use them as the basis of his title tilt.
Many others big names are unattractive options. Jason Day has been struggling for form and focus as his mother suffers with illness, while Hideki Matsuyama has gone right off the boil in the last seven weeks.
Phil Mickelson does not seem to get the trip with a 47th birthday looming, unable to deliver competitive 72-hole totals, while Bubba Watson has completely lost the plot this season.
Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson were all abysmal in Houston last week and look short in the betting. Justin Rose's putting stroke is difficult to trust, while Sergio Garcia's temperament is equally suspect under weekend Major pressure.
Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler must be respected, but McIlroy has to deal with the strain of chasing a career Grand Slam, the scar tissue of his infamous 2011 meltdown, and the fact he has only 14 competitive rounds under his belt this year.
Fowler may have lost some confidence after squeezing three double-bogeys and five bogeys into the final three days in Houston. A serene first round was followed by a mixture of birdies and blunders.
Since 2010, nobody aged under 50 has made more double-bogeys or worse at Augusta than McIlroy (14). It is worth noting that 17 of the last 20 Masters winners made no double-bogeys. The other three had only one.
Johnson can be more bullish than anyone about avoiding trouble at Augusta. Withdrawing from Houston was a smart move as it freshened him up.
Only one of the last five Masters winners competed the week before. Anyone finishing ahead of the awesome Carolinan giant this week has a glorious chance of winning the Masters.
Justin Thomas 40-1
Paul Casey and Louis Oosthuizen were considered – both have the tools to tame Augusta – but Casey may not have the required bottle to get over the line in front and Oosthuizen is yet to win in the States. The biggest challenge to Johnson may come from Justin Thomas.
Three US Tour victories in the last six months have established Thomas in the elite and he can be expected to improve greatly on his share of 39th place on debut last year.
His game is perfect for Augusta – power on tap and iron shots which go into orbit – and he has an excellent support team helping the cause.
Caddie Jimmy Johnson has more than two decades of Masters experience, while Thomas has linked up with Jeff Knox (the father of his friend) for Augusta practice.
Knox holds the Augusta course record off the members' tees (61) and has a wealth of knowledge to pass on to Thomas. Expect big things from a supremely talented and confident 23-year-old.
Marc Leishman 66-1
Kevin Kisner is tempting at a three-figure price, but may not be a long enough driver to triumph. The preferred outsider is Marc Leishman, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month and has been producing solid golf all season.
Leishman described the Callaway Epic driver he put in his bag at the start of the year as a 'game-changer' and he has been exuding authority off the tee. This, coupled with dramatically improved putting this term, has put a big-occasion player right back on track.
Leishman, fourth in the Masters in 2013, was fifth in the Open in 2014, then a playoff loser when battling for the Claret Jug again the following year. He has also shown his mettle in the Presidents Cup, beating Matt Kuchar and Spieth in his two singles matches.
Leishman's wife is over what was a serious illness, a third child is on the way, and he could quickly follow up Bay Hill glory with something even more prestigious.
5pts e-w 13-2 Paddy Power
1.5pts e-w 40-1 Coral
1pt e-w 66-1 Hills
Course Augusta National, Georgia
Prize money $10m ($1.8m to the winner)
Length 7,435 yards Par 72 Field 94
Course records – 72 holes 270 Tiger Woods (1997), Jordan Spieth (2015) 18 holes 63 Nick Price (1986), Greg Norman (1996).
The cut The top 50 players (plus ties) qualify for the final 36 holes, along with anyone within ten shots of the lead.
Course winners taking part Bernhard Langer (twice), Larry Mize, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Mark O'Meara, Jose Maria Olazabal (twice), Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson (three times), Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett.
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports at 7pm Thursday and Friday, live on Sky Sports and BBC2 on Saturday and Sunday.
Time difference Georgia is five hours behind the UK and Ireland.
Last week – Houston Open 1 R Henley (35-1), 2 S Kang (250-1), T3 R Fowler (16-1), L List (100-1), 5 D Berger (40-1), 6 H Swafford (125-1), 7 R Campos (500-1)
Course overview Home of the Masters since 1934, Augusta is the only Major venue which is used every season. The yardage has increased through the years in an attempt to combat technological advances.
In 2001, the course measured 6,925 yards from the championship tees, but that had been extended to 7,270 yards by 2002 and 7,445 yards by 2006. Generous fairways and token rough (known only as the 'second-cut' by Augusta officials) encourage aggressive driving, but the course demands accurate iron shots to the fastest greens in golf.
Avoiding three-putts on the dancefloors is hugely challenging given the pace and severity of the undulations. Sound course management is required to find the easiest spots from which to putt.
The two short par-fives on the back nine, the 13th and 15th, are classic risk-reward holes where the Masters is often won or lost. Eagles are achievable, but greenside water hazards are lurking to punish mishit approaches.
The story of last year Jordan Spieth had a successful title defence at his mercy, having forged a five-shot lead entering the back nine in round four, but the champion quickly lost the plot.
Bogeys at the tenth and 11th were followed by an incredible quadruple-bogey seven at the 12th hole, where Spieth hit two balls into the greenside water hazard, Rae's Creek.
Danny Willett took advantage of Spieth's collapse, the Englishman's bogey-free final-round 67 enough for a three-shot triumph and a stunning Major breakthrough just 11 days after becoming a father.
Weather forecast Pre-tournament rain has softened Augusta. A stormy and breezy start to the event, before a sunnier, calmer weekend.
Type of player suited to the challenge Courage is a prerequisite. It is the most intimidating venue of them all. Length off the tee is a significant advantage, especially when the track is soft, as is the case this week.
Long and pure ball-striking has been the key for recent champions, with the powerhouses able to approach small targets with loft in hand. Only two of the last 17 Masters have been won by short-hitters (Mike Weir in 2003 and Zach Johnson in 2007).
Key attribute Power