The Four Undervalued European Golfers to Watch at the Masters

Seventeen.

Heading into the 2016 Masters, that’s the number that followed European golfers around like a dark cloud blocking out Augusta National’s usually bright-blue skies. No European had won the tournament in 17 years—not since José María Olazábal took home his second green jacket in 1999—and the players couldn’t seem to figure out why.

“It is an obscene stat, really, when you think about it,” Graeme McDowell told The New York Times before the 2015 Masters, when the streak was still at 16 years.

“I don’t know what I have to do here,” Martin Kaymer said in 2011. “Maybe one day it will work out.”

Ahead of that 2015 tournament—before Jordan Spieth won his first green jacket and extended the streak to 17 years—a few theories were offered that are, to some extent, backed up by conventional wisdom. McIlroy suggested that Tiger Woods’s dominance was a big part of what held the Euros back at Augusta, and it’s true: Woods took home three of those jackets from 2001 to 2005. And Ian Poulter echoed the narrative that lefties have an advantage at the tournament (given Augusta’s many right-to-left holes and their greater opportunities to hit cut shots), as Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and great-pride-of-Canada Mike Weir won six of the 12 Masters played from 2003 through 2014. Between Tiger and southpaws, there weren’t many blazers to go around.

Then in 2016, Danny Willett won the Masters and ended the European drought. And last year, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose followed up with an epic battle that Garcia eventually won in a playoff. This April, the Europeans are going for a three-peat, something that hasn’t been accomplished since Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, and Ian Woosnam won four straight from 1988 to 1991. But some of Europe’s greatest talents are still considered Vegas underdogs, as the ghosts of droughts past have reappeared for this tournament.

Augusta National hasn’t changed its lefty-favoring constitution, and Watson and Mickelson are currently playing some of their best golf. Both won tournaments in March—Phil’s win in Mexico marking his first tour victory since 2013—and both contributed heavily to the European dry spell, with Bubba winning two Masters and Phil winning three during that time period. Then there are the new obstacles—young American players like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Dustin Johnson who weren’t around for most of the last drought but are ready to bring about a new one. And, of course, Tiger’s back, and he looks primed to break out his old yardage book and make a run at his fifth Masters victory and first major championship in a decade.

Despite the deep field of challengers they’ll face this weekend, the Europeans are ready to battle. They bring a deep 23-man field to the Masters this year with some betting favorites (Rory McIlroy at 10/1, Justin Rose at 14/1) and electric young guys (Jon Rahm at 18/1). But there are also a few European players who have been overlooked on the betting circuit for most of the spring, and a few could have major impacts on this year’s tournament. Here are four European players whose betting line sits at 30/1 or above and who are worth monitoring at the Masters:

Alex Noren

Odds: 40-to-1
Top-10 finishes this season: 3
Top-25 finishes this season: 7
Past Masters: Cut in 2017

In Vegas, European golfers are often undersold because of a lack of name recognition. Before the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this month, Noren’s odds were 50-to-1 despite two top-10 and six top-25 finishes to that point in the season. Jeff Sherman of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook explained at the time that “the general public is familiar with seeing [American players] on the PGA Tour week in and week out. So even if there’s European tour golfers that are playing solidly … the general public isn’t quite as familiar with [them], and it really takes more of someone that follows golf on a weekly basis to recognize those names.”

Noren has only recently begun playing a more robust PGA Tour schedule, entering 11 official events last season and eight so far this season. And though the 35-year-old Swede has had plenty of success, he’s yet to record a win on the U.S. tour. The European tour, on the other hand, has been very good to Noren—he’s recorded nine wins since 2009, with five of those coming in the last two years.

Noren’s biggest drawback is that he’s only played the Masters once—last year—and he missed the cut, shooting a 74 on Thursday and a 78 on Friday. But he isn’t easily intimidated—he beat Justin Thomas five-and-three to take third place at the WGC Match Play in Austin—and he’s stated that he’s ready to take on Augusta for a second time. “Last year maybe I was just too happy [to be playing at the Masters] just to be able to see it,” Noren said. “Obviously [I had] a different start this year than last year … I’m looking forward to it. My expectations are obviously higher than last year.”

Tommy Fleetwood

Odds: 30-to-1
Top-10 finishes this season: 2
Top-25 finishes this season: 5
Past Masters: Cut in 2017

Fleetwood’s case is similar to Noren’s in a few ways: He’s never won on the PGA Tour and was cut before the weekend in his only Masters experience. But Fleetwood made a big splash at last year’s U.S. Open, sharing the 36-hole lead and eventually finishing fourth at an Erin Hills course that gave established vets like Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day plenty of trouble. After that performance, Fleetwood went on to win two European tour tournaments and he has two top-five finishes on the PGA Tour this season (though one was the unofficial Hero World Challenge, so take that with as many grains of salt as you’d like).

Fleetwood is no underdog here, no matter what the odds say. At 27, he’s already shown his chops on a major stage, and his form has looked solid throughout the spring. Plus, who doesn’t want to see this exchange with Tiger recreated in a final pairing on Sunday at the Masters?

Tyrrell Hatton

Odds: 80-to-1
Top-10 finishes this season: 2
Top-25 finishes this season: 3
Past Masters: Cut in 2017

If you know how to pronounce Hatton’s first name, then you already know more about him than Phil Mickelson did when they squared off against each other in the final grouping of the WGC-Mexico Championship in March.

At 80-to-1 odds to win the Masters, Hatton is definitely the longshot of this group. But if you’re content to probably lose $10 on a bet that has a sky-high upside, then Hatton could be the guy for you. He wound up shooting at 67 in his final round in Mexico and finished tied for third, his best-ever finish in a PGA Tour event. He has three European Tour wins—two of which he recorded last October—and he’s 17th in the world golf rankings, one spot ahead of Mickelson and two spots ahead of Watson. Golfweek ranked him 41st in their Masters fantasy golf power rankings, so he’s definitely a big risk, but if he can put his best game together at Augusta, it should make for a fun few days.

Sergio Garcia

Odds: 30-to-1
Top-10 finishes this season: 3
Top-25 finishes this season: 3
Past Masters: Top-10s in 2002, 2004, 2013; won in 2017

I went out on a frail limb with my Hatton pick, so Sergio is my safety net, ready to catch me when Hatton shoots a 79 on the first day and my limb snaps in two. Sergio won the Masters last year, but because he didn’t play in a Tour tournament between late September 2017 and this year’s Honda Classic in February, Sherman had to increase Garcia’s odds just to get some engagement from the betting public. “He’s a defending champion,” Sherman said, “and I was as high as 50-to-1 on him [in March] until some support started showing up.”

That support finally came after a top-10 finish at the WGC-Mexico and a top-five at the Valspar three weeks ago. But betting support for Sergio still isn’t as high in Vegas as it is in some European markets, so of the top-tier players at Augusta this weekend, he’s got the longest Westgate odds at 30-to-1.

Sergio’s had a love-hate relationship with the Masters and Augusta National throughout his career, but it did reward him with his first ever major victory last year. His tournament-saving eagle at 15, after an incredible approach shot, will be burned into my memory for years to come.

But the 13th hole is the most important to Sergio. He saved par there to stay two shots back of the leader, Justin Rose, then went 3-under over the next two holes and eventually went on to win the green jacket. Last month, Sergio’s wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Azalea after no. 13 at Augusta. Through his play—and now through his family—Sergio has a special connection to Augusta. I can’t wait to see him return and try to become the fourth player in history to present the green jacket to himself.

All Vegas odds are current as of April 2, 2018.

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