It took him 74 tries, but Sergio Garcia finally fulfilled his boyhood dream and won a major last year. His drive up Magnolia Lane at Augusta National will never be the same.
Garcia defeated his friend and Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose in a playoff in the 2017 Masters in Augusta, Ga. The 38-year-old from Spain will always have his green jacket, but his title is back on the line as the field prepares for the first of golf’s four majors April 5-8.
“I believe that everything that happened throughout my career, good and bad, made the win at the Masters even better,” Garcia told CNN last year. “Now we can really appreciate how hard it is and how sweet it is to have it.”
Garcia, who got married last July and is expecting his first child in March, is not gaining a lot of attention from oddsmakers. The defending champion is listed at +3300 (odds provided by Bovada).
There are 13 other golfers ahead of him with lower odds, including the two favorites — Dustin Johnson, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, and Jordan Spieth, who won here in 2015. Both are listed at +750. Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who has never won at Augusta, is next at +1000.
The next group has Justin Thomas at +1200, Jason Day at +1400, Rickie Fowler at +1400 and John Rahm at +1600.
The odds will change as the first round of the tournament approaches, based on player performance and possible injuries.
Let’s take a look at some of the favorites and one long shot and try to pick the winner of the annual event, which started 84 years ago in 1934.
Dustin Johnson (+750)
Johnson, ranked No. 1 in the world, has played in seven Masters. His finishes keep getting better and better with every start.
He finished in a tie for 13th in 2013, a tie for sixth in 2015 and a tie for fourth in 2016. Johnson, who has won a major but not the Masters, had to withdraw from 2017’s event after he slipped and fell down a staircase.
The 33-year-old, who has 18 career PGA Tour victories, has a win and three top 10s in four starts so far this season.
Jordan Spieth (+750)
Spieth was almost unbeatable in his first two starts at Augusta. He finished in a tie for second in his very first appearance in 2014. He bettered that with his first green jacket in 2015.
A quadruple bogey at No. 12 in 2016 cost him the tournament, even though he still finished in a tie for second. In 2017, he made another quadruple bogey, this time at the par-five No. 15th.
Spieth, 24, has a way of bouncing back from adversity. Obviously, the three-time major champion has to limit these huge mistakes.
Justin Thomas (+1200)
Thomas, who will celebrate his 25th birthday later in April, had a breakout year in 2017. The FedEx Cup champion won four PGA Tour events, including his first major at the PGA Championship.
He has two victories this season and eight career wins in total. This is the third visit to Augusta for Thomas, whose best finish was a tie for 22nd last year.
If Thomas has proven anything, he is a quick learner.
Tiger Woods (+1600)
The four-time Masters champion has not finished in the top 10 yet this year, but that’s not his focus.
The 14-time major winner seems injury free again after his fourth back surgery. If Woods can stay healthy and can some of his old, dominant form, he can win at the Masters and continue his pursuit again of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors.
The 42-year-old, who has 79 career PGA Tour victories, must regain some consistency that made him great. There’s nothing like a “Tiger roar” from the Augusta National crowd.
Charley Hoffman (+8000)
Of course he’s VGB’s long shot special, he’s a graduate of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Hoffman, a four-time PGA Tour winner, has had some great starts to the Masters in his four appearances. Closing the deal has been a different issue. But experience is a key to winning at Augusta National, and this is Hoffman’s fifth visit to the famous grounds.
The 41-year-old veteran shot a seven-under 65 in the opening round last year.
Every once in awhile an unlikely contender like Trevor Immelman (2008), Charl Schwartzel (2011) or Danny Willett (2016) will stun the golf world and score at Augusta. But not this year.
Thomas got his first taste of major history by winning the PGA Championship last summer. He continues his great play and major winning streak in the Masters. It’s time to get fitted for that green jacket.
VGB’s pick — Justin Thomas (+1200)