The final spot in the 2017 Masters field was claimed by American Russell Henley on Sunday when he shot a final-round 65 that included 10 birdies to win the Houston Open for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2014 Honda Classic (and third event overall). Henley, who was born in the Peach State and went to the University of Georgia, otherwise wouldn't have been making travel plans to Augusta. It marks the third time in the last four years that the winner at the Golf Club of Houston was not otherwise exempt for the season's first major. Henley played the Masters from 2013-15 but didn't qualify last year.
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I did consider picking Henley to win that tournament because he had a great track record in Houston. I wrote that "Henley seems due here as he has three straight Top 7 finishes in Houston." I hit on him for a Top 10 at +325 - he now has 13 consecutive rounds under par in the tournament -- but opted for ex-Houston Open champion J.B. Holmes at +3300 to win. He missed the cut. Sung Kang, seeking his first career win on Tour, shot a final-round 72 to finish second, three back. He had a six-shot lead after 36 holes, the largest in tournament history.
It's such a shame that Henley's win was overshadowed in the golf world by what happened on the LPGA Tour in its first major of the season. It's patently ridiculous that a professional sporting event can be determined by some clown sitting on his couch who calls in a rules violation. What LPGA officials did to Lexi Thompson on Sunday at the ANA Inspiration was absurd. She was running away with that tournament but learned of a four-stroke penalty on her 13th hole Sunday even though the issue was in Saturday's round. Thompson lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu. Here's hoping the firestorm over what happened to the American forces the various Tours to scrap that stupid rule. To be fair, the officials applied the rules the way they should have been and as currently written.
So now we head to the greatest four days of the golfing year at the Masters. The British Open is the oldest major championship and the U.S. Open usually the toughest, but the Masters stands alone in my opinion. It obviously helps it is only held at one storied course as opposed to the other majors. I highly recommend going to Augusta for this tournament someday if you can.
It's a darn shame that Tiger Woods won't be playing yet again this week, and if Woods had to miss his favorite tournament then you know his career might be over. It's the third time in four years Tiger will be watching. Woods won the first of 14 major championships 20 years ago at Augusta National by a record 12 shots at age 21. That changed golf forever. The good news is that Jason Day will play. That was up in the air as the Aussie was waiting to see how his mother came out of surgery to deal with her cancer. It's a 94-player field. Nineteen players will make their Masters debuts, and there are six amateurs in the field ranging in age from 19 to 51.
The defending champion is England's Danny Willett, who was the beneficiary of Jordan Spieth's shocking back-nine meltdown on Sunday a year ago. Willett, the first Englishman to win a green jacket since Nick Faldo in 1996, shot a final-round 67 to win by three. Willett hasn't won since.
There will be literally hundreds of prop options for this tournament as the various sportsbooks treat it like golf's Super Bowl.
Golf Odds: The Masters Favorites
To no surprise, Dustin Johnson is the +550 Bovada favorite as he looks to win his fourth straight PGA Tour event. He originally was going to be in Houston last week, but after playing seven rounds and winning the Match Play smartly decided not to. Johnson didn't have a Top 10 in his first five trips to Augusta but is T6 and T4 the last two years.
Rory McIlroy, who blew this tournament on the back-nine in 2011, is +700 to become the sixth golfer to complete the career Grand Slam. He hasn't been outside the Top 10 the past three years.
Spieth (+800), Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day (all +1800) round out the favorites. It was physically painful watching Spieth blow his five-shot back-nine lead on Sunday last year and hit two ducks into Rae's Creek on No. 12. He was looking to be the first repeat winner since Tiger in 2002. Now we all find out what Spieth is made of mentally. Matsuyama has been Top 10 here the past two years. Day was second here in 2011 and third in 2013. I'm not sure where his head is because of his mom, but great story if he were to win, though. Fowler missed the cut last year but was fifth in 2014.
Golf Odds: The Masters Picks
I can't do all the props justice, so I recommend going to Bovada as there are many interesting options, including whether some big names even make the cut. I might take a shot on "no" at +375 for three-time champion Phil Mickelson only because he has missed two of the past three years.
I do like Johnson (-180), Spieth (-150) and McIlroy (-150) at their prices for a Top 10. I'll take a shot on Lee Westwood at +600 too as he has been Top 11 six of the past seven years. Go with Matsuyama at +400 for "top rest of the world," Spieth at +110 as top former champion and +350 as top American, Fred Couples (+275) as top senior player, Jon Rahm (+200) as top debutant, and, why not, Westwood at +2200 as top European.
Hard to go against Spieth this week, but I'll bundle him on a prop at +170 along with Johnson and McIlroy vs. the field at -225. I doubt Johnson wins since only one golfer since the 1950s has won four straight PGA Tour events, that being Tiger.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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