Renewed Ernie looking good for Green Jacket

TIGER Woods’ return to professional competition is an extra reason, if one is needed, to feel comfortable about parking yourself on the sofa for the next four evenings to take in all the action from Augusta National.

Even after a well-publicised five-month hiatus from the sport, the world’s most recognisable athlete starts as short as 4/1 favourite for the title. Woods leads the betting ahead of Phil Mickelson, as is invariably the case when these two are in the same field, with South African ERNIE ELS, 16/1 with Hills, just behind.

The Big Easy has missed the last three cuts here, but between 2000 and 2004 was twice runner-up and finished no lower than sixth. He recorded back-to-back victories last month at the World Golf Championships and the Arnold Palmer Invitational and is playing some of his best golf of his career. He is the form player and one of the most experienced in the field – a potentially winning combination at the Masters.

Els’ compatriot TIM CLARK is a 100/1 outsider but, on inspection of his stats, should be considered a more likely contender than his price suggests. He has three top-10s from his eight starts this season, while from seven Masters tournaments he has finished 13th on three occasions and even second in 2006. Perhaps most importantly however, this season he is ranked eighth for driving accuracy on Tour and first on putts per GIR. We’re aware of how important a steady putter is on Augusta’s glassy greens but in recent years the course has also been much more rewarding of solid strikers who can keep to the fairways. Selling his finishing position at 36 with Sporting Index is a good option.

Padraig Harrington, 20/1, and Lee Westwood, 22/1, are among the leading European contenders, but no European has won since Jose Maria Olazabal slipped on the Green Jacket in 1999. Even so, PAUL CASEY, who is as short as 20/1 with Hills and Boylesports but 30/1 on Betdaq, makes a strong case with his record. More than just a big hitter, he has the all-round game to conquer this trickiest of layouts and particularly enjoys the US style of course. Further to his win at the Houston Open last year, he has reached the final at the Accenture Match Play, finished fourth at the Honda Open, sixth at Doral and 10th at Kapalua this season.

Ernie Els at 16/1 e/w with William Hill
Sell Tim Clark’s finishing pos at 36 with Sporting Index
Paul Casey at around 30/1 on Betdaq