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Golf, Gambling and the Masters.

When gambling and sporting events are brought up in conversation, you would assume that most individuals would think of the Super Bowl, March Madness, World Series, and even the Kentucky Derby. What other options do amateur or professional gamblers have if none of the above fancies their interest?

Did you ever think you could sit down, turn on the television and get into a golf wager? Better yet, did you ever think you could watch golf? Typically, the audience for the links is geared to an upscale, highly educated and most importantly, highly paid viewers. However, if you frequent any local or private course, you could bet top-dollar that golfers, caddies and pros are making friendly wagers amongst themselves all the time, regardless of the demographic.

Golf takes center stage every year on the first Thursday in April, as players tee it up in the biggest major tournament of the year, The 2005 Masters. The four-day event takes begins April 7th in Augusta, GA., at Augusta National Golf Club. Whether you're a golf enthusiast or not, you always seem to recall who wins the coveted green jacket, one of the few rewards for winning the event each year.

So, who gets to compete in this classic event? Considering it's hard enough to make the PGA Tour, then you can only imagine the criteria to tee off at Augusta. The field varies from 85 to 95 players and isn't normally set in stone until March 28th, which is when The Players Championship finishes.

From there, The Masters committee invites the top-10 on the 2005 money list, along with the top-50 in the world rankings and/or the winner of The Players Championship. Special invitations and exemptions are given to foreign players and past winners of The Masters, which rounds out the group.

Consistency has become the common factor in determining the field and also a key to success at Augusta. It appears that the all boys network at Augusta and the USGA officials are battling every year for whom can provide the tougher challenge for the best players in the world. Last year, only seven events on the PGA Tour saw players shoot above par, with the U.S. Open and The Masters both staking claim to one and two, respectively.

Winning The Masters is unlike any other tournament and certainly unlike any other major. Just ask Phil Mickelson, who finally broke his 0-for-42 majors drought in 2004 by capturing The Masters on an 18th-hole birdie.

Mickelson is one of 22 past champions expected to compete in this year's tournament. What are his chances of repeating? Only three champions – Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods -- have captured back-to-back green jackets in the 67-year history, indicating how monumental the task of repeating can be.

'Mickelson should always be considered a threat at The Masters. He is one of the longest off the tee and has the short game to compete at Augusta, which is mandatory,' says Alf Musketa, golf handicapper and analyst for

Musketa, like other gamblers, looks at golf as a moneymaking machine for avid bettors.

'Casinos and sportsbooks often lean their lines to a well known golfer, who could be slumping,' says Musketa. 'I'd rather go against a well known golfer, who is a three-time winner of an event, but has failed to make the cut in previous tournaments.'

The PGA Tour has 14 events scheduled prior to The Masters, with most of the field likely to sit out the Bell South Classic, a competitive tournament that precedes Augusta up the road in Duluth, GA.

Experience is a key in any sport, but especially at The Masters, since no amateur or first-timer has ever won at Augusta. Also, no senior (over 50) has been able to capture the crown. Jack Nicklaus is the oldest winner (46), while Tiger Woods (21) is still the youngest.

After Woods (270) crushed Augusta in 1997 with an eye opening 12-stroke victory, members of the Augusta club altered the course to reduce the chances of seeing such lopsided event anytime soon. Augusta keeps getting longer, as pin placements get tighter and greens move faster.

Still, distance appears to be the key to success. 'Distance is more important than accuracy at Augusta, since you need to set yourself up for birdies on the par fives and shape your tee shot accordingly,' said Musketa.

Gamblers have options when it comes to betting golf, with casinos and sports books offering futures odds, matchups and propositions for each and every round. If you're hesitant to pick a winner, then find a golfer to go against and look for value in matchup plays with live underdogs. As stated earlier, many past winners are routinely listed as favorites, just like the Yankees are a 'public' team in baseball.

I suggest that you weed out the field based on the three keys of experience, consistency and distance, then pick five or six golfers who will give you a solid opportunity to make the cut. Half the battle at Augusta is making it to Saturday and some golfers consider that an accomplishment.

Finally, don't get too excited if one of the players you selected isn't leading after the first 18 holes. Only four ball strikers have completed the wire-to-wire victory at Augusta.

If you like to gamble, then give the links a shot at Augusta in April.

By Chris David

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