How will Sunday at the Augusta National pan out?

Going into Sunday there are still plenty of guys in The Masters field who will believe they are in with a shout.

Bubba Watson Masters win

Who will succeed Bubba, and receive the green jacket from him tonight?

It seems unlikely that anyone will muster a round of any better than 66 under the weight of the pressure that comes with the territory of being in the dog-fight for the green jacket on a Sunday.

It is also unlikely that all of the top three will buckle, and you would have to expect at least one of them to get round in level par given the form they’ve shown so far this week.

By that logic then, the lowest the winning total will be, come later tonight, is six under par, and more likely at least seven under par.

The combination of someone a few shots back pulling a Sunday 66 out of the bag, and the potential winning total being around the seven under mark, would suggest that anyone who is starting the day any worse off than two under will not mount any serious challenge.

Two under then, appears to be the score which all players need as a minimum requirement going into this evening’s action if they are to have a realistic chance of winning within the regulation 72 holes of play.

This means then that Angel Cabrera, Brandt Snedeker, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Bernhard Langer and Rickie Fowler are the only players worth any serious consideration.

The following are only hunches, but it’ll be interesting to see how they pan out…

I personally can’t see Langer, Furyk or Stricker challenging at the last and neither can I see Tim Clark, who starts the day at three under, maintaining a serious challenge throughout. I will therefore discard them from consideration.

I have a feeling that Woods, Westwood, and Fowler all still have a good score in them. I’m going for Woods to shoot 68, Westwood a round of 70, and Fowler a 69.

I think Matt Kuchar will tickle along nicely, and that he will muster a useful 70, to see him finish on six under for the tournament.

Of the rest of the non-leaders I think Marc Leishman’s challenge will fall by the way-side with a battling 74, but I think that fellow Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott will go under par. I think Scott will shoot 70 and Day a 69.

Now then, the leaders… It’s a tough call really, but I can’t quite see Angel Cabrera pull another round out of the bag. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came home one over for the day and six under for the tournament.

As for Snedeker, I think he will go under par. I think the shaggy-haired Nashville native will score a tidy 70, and will win the tournament by a single shot, bagging his first green jacket and a first major title of his career.

Given his early season form, and his form throughout 2012 there is no one out there who deserves to win The Masters more, and I think Brandt will do just that. I do though expect this evening to take both him, all other competitors, the patrons at Augusta and us, the viewers, through the full ringer of emotions.

If the scores go the way I’ve predicted, the leaderboard will look a little like this come midnight tonight (it is Sunday at the Augusta National though so forgive me if they wind up being horrifically inaccurate!):

1. Snedeker -9

T2. Scott -8

T2. Day -8

4. Woods -7

T5. Cabrera -6

T5. Kuchar -6

7. Fowler -5

T8. Westwood -4

T8. Clark -4

T8. Olesen-4

T11. Leishman -3

T.11 Furyk -3

T.11 Haas -3

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Simpson’s maiden triumph sends major message out to the likes of Lee

Webb Simpson’s wonderful final round fightback at the Olmypic Club on Sunday night not only boosted American hopes of a new era of golfing superiority ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup but also sent out a further warning to some of the more elderly members of golf’s elite.

Simpson US Open 2012

Webb Simpson has now capped an impressive past 18 months with a major tournament victory

This latest major trophy victory continued the run of what is now fifteen consecutive different winners of golf’s major competitions and provided further evidence that there are plenty of players on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour  now who are capable of winning and competing in majors.

This run of different major winners highlights just how competitive the top end of golf is at present and though that may provide great excitement and joy for golf fans all over the world it must surely worry the likes of Lee Westwood who managed yet another top 10 finish in a major at the Olympic Club this past weekend but again failed to capitalise on a promising position going into the final day of the tournament.

Having now competed in a total of 57 majors, Westwood  certainly has a great wealth of experience on his side when approaching the

Westwood US Open

Lee Westwood has now competed in 57 majors without success despite several flirtations with glory

showpiece events of the golfing calendar but this week  he showed great heart and great talent in San Fransisco but fell just short once again.

As always it has not been a question of whether Lee Westwood has the ability or the talent to win a major competition this past weekend but rather a case of whether he can land enough putts or get on lady luck’s good side on enough occasions to finally get the major tournament monkey off of his back.

There are certainly some real positives for ‘Westie’ to take out of another four days of being in genuine contention to win a major and it must be of some consolation to him that he once again competed strongly in one of golf’s toughest tests on a golf course so tough that Webb Simpson’s winning score for the competition was just 1 over par. However, moments like

Westwood lost ball US Open

Lee Westwood searches in vain for his lost ball up in the canopy of the trees on the 5th hole at the Olympic Club

when he smashed his tee shot into the trees on the fifth only to never see the ball again as it got stuck in the canopy must surely damage his self-confidence, which up until now he has maintained so adamantly and so stubbornly throughout his career. This drive on the 5th hole when his score stood at 2 over par, just one shot back from the eventual winning score, was yet another ‘what if’ moment for Lee in a career which has been full to the brim with such near misses and frustrations.

However, as much as many golf fans would love to see Westwood win a major after years and years of near misses it would be hard to argue that Webb Simpson wasn’t deserving of his triumph.

Having stuck in there throughout the first three days of the competition and having reached a tournament score of three over par thru three rounds, Simpson remained confident that a hard-earned under par round would put him in the mix having started the final round 4 shots back from Jim Furyk’s tournament lead and ultimately it did so and more.

If he had been asked honestly at the beginning of the final day’s play if he thought a round of 70 would win him the tournament outright he would have been forgiven for saying that it wouldn’t quite be enough but Simpson demonstrated tremendous self belief and did exactly what he needed to in order to win the tournament.

He got round in a couple of shots under par and posted a testing clubhouse lead, which added significant pressure to the final couple of holes of front-runners Graeme McDowell’s and Jim Furyk’s rounds, and on Furyk in particular the pressure told. A wayward drive on 16 cost Furyk his lead of the championship and handed the initiative to Simpson, who of course had no time left for mistakes having safely navigated his way into the clubhouse.

McDowell and Furyk

McDowell and Furyk both fought valiantly over the four days at Olympic Club but to little avail

In a way it was no surprise that Simpson managed to win his first major this past weekend in spite of him having to face-off with the likes of former US Open winners McDowell and Furyk and Lee Westwood who has competed at the business end of such tournaments on numerous occasions, as Webb Simpson has had a fine past year and a half and very much comes under the category of ‘bright, young things’ in American golf.

It wasn’t that long ago after all that Simpson went into the last PGA Tour event of last year locked in a straight shoot-out with world number one Luke Donald for the right to end the year at the top of the money list. He may have lost out in this first major face-off of his PGA Tour career but he will have learnt from this disappointment and the two ‘big’ tournament victories and the wealth of top 10 finishes he had achieved to put himself in the position where he could have topped the money list will have given him an enormous boost so early in his career.

So, as much as it would have been lovely to be sitting here reflecting on a third straight Northern Irish victory of the US Open or upon Westwood’s first ever major tournament success after more than a decade of close calls, it is important that Webb Simpson’s victory is not forgotten amidst British disappointment and that he is rightly congratulated for his success as he deserved to win the tournament having produced two wonderful rounds of golf over the weekend.

Simpson’s victory was the product of experience, form and self belief and it sends out a harsh reminder to the likes of Westwood and indeed someone like Tiger Woods that there are now a lot of very talented and mentally capable golfers coming to the fore (no pun intended), and indeed it sends out a reminder to the European team that the US will have a team full of quality and full of success stories come the Ryder Cup later this year.

Masters 2012: Bubba bags the Green Jacket on Super Sunday

For a man born in Bagdad, winning arguably golf’s most glamorous and high profile major tournament ain’t half bad as achievements go.

Bubba Watson Masters 2012

Bubba, one of the game's real characters, was totally overwhelmed by his tense play-off triumph

This is Bagdad, Florida of course rather than a certain location which the American nation is a little less fond of but still, for a man of such humble beginnings and of such immense personality this was one hell of a win.

Not only has he bagged a Green Jacket, which by the way I think would go awfully well with a pair of dungarees (see attached video evidence) but the fashion in which he did so was enormously admirable.

Play-offs in any elite level golf competition, let alone The Masters, are arguably most suited to those who are composed, accurate, consistent and cool-headed. Bubba Watson though is a man hardly synonymous with any of the above, well, not until now anyway…

The manner in which he plays the game is, generally speaking and quite frankly, extraordinary. His temperament as we saw very clearly when he had a “mudball” on the first fairway is raw and unkempt at the best of times, his swing is in almost no way at all ‘technically sound’ and his game is renowned far more greatly for it’s staggering length rather than it’s deadly accuracy.

In nearly every way imaginable Bubba is an outstanding golfer and, perhaps a little unfairly, I mean that in terms of his character and his persona on and off the course rather than his game. Somehow though he has managed “without a lesson” to become one of the finest golfers on the planet and one of the finest players of his generation within a nation which is arguably historically the strongest golfing nation on the planet.

Bubba Watson Masters 2012 winner

If the Jacket fits...

Few lucky people can call themselves a major golf tournament winner and now Bubba has defied the odds and certainly some golfing logic to become one of this privileged bunch and as much as my previous tone might suggest that he is a little bit of a shock winner I don’t actually find his victory that much of a surprise. In fact, I did have enough faith in his abilities to place the princely sum of £2 on him to win the tournament after he had got himself in position after day one and it made me several quid richer. Thanks Bubba.

Though he may be unorthodox, and he may be pretty hot-headed and at times he may even be a little rash, it is these characteristics which have made him a major winner and that mean he could be a constant threat in the big four tournaments of golf’s calendar year for the foreseeable future.

Such character traits may not be befitting of a man who would reach the top of the world rankings (ie. a Luke Donald-esque player), or that of a man that always delivers when in position to charge to victory but they are the hallmarks of several players that have become icons of the game, most notably, Seve Ballesteros.

The likes of Seve have of course become the best player in the world and have topped the rankings and that is perhaps because they aren’t in the same league as someone like Bubba, they are in no uncertain terms the cream of the unpredictable crop.

Watson is indeed almost certainly more streaky and more unreliable than some of the game’s huge, exciting and at times over-the-top characters but it is his temperament and his playing quirks which give him the X-Factor which certain players lack.

On this, the day of his most significant golfing triumph to date, Bubba did keep a fairly cool head though and he did play pretty straight and pretty sensibly. There were no eagles, no long range hole-outs, but his relentless, punishing length of the tee was crucial as was the imagination and sheer outrageousness of his ‘tournament winning’ hook out of the woods with the wedge in the play-off.

Whether Bubba ever wins another major or ever has such a satisfying day in his career again is unclear but I think one and all can accept that he was a deserving winner and that he is now a Green Jacket holder because he showed extraordinary bottle, class, skill and character throughout the overwhelming majority of the four days at Augusta.

As per, The Masters have once again delivered a week of marvellous entertainment and the nature of Bubba’s win is something that most of us distant viewers won’t forget for quite some time so just imagine how Mr.Watson is feeling right now. The only problem now is that we and Bubba have to wait another year for it to come around again…

The Masters 2012: Who can produce their Sunday Best?

With just a day to go at ‘The National’ the Green Jacket is still well up for grabs as ‘Moving Day’ in Augusta more than lived up to it’s infamous billing.

Peter Hanson and ‘Big Phil” came storming through the field after starting the day three back on just 2 under, Louis Oosthuizen played beautifully en route to fine round in the sixties and Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar were amongst those that came out of anonymity on the first couple of days to find a decent launch-pad for Sunday glory. The likes of Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson too played themselves right into the thick of things with further examples of why they are two of the best players to watch in world golf.

On the other hand though, the likes of Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy shared a totally miserable day in what most would have expected to be the best pairing to watch on the course. Others who endured a miserable day included Justin Rose who at one point had looked like being the story of the day when he shot himself up into the top three but coming home he made error after error and ended back on level for his round and for the tournament. Golden Oldie, Freddie Couples, too had a miserable day out there playing himself out of contention after starting the third round right on top of the leader board and another notable failure on ‘Moving Day’ was World Number One Luke Donald who had a shocker leaving himself way, way adrift at 7 over par for the tournament.

Many of the field made significant moves on Saturday whether it was up or down the leader board, so many in fact that it would be take a lifetime to mention them all but I have taken a look at the board going into the final round and picked out a few of who I think will be the main contenders.

Peter Hanson:

World Number 25 going into the Masters and with a best finish at Augusta of tied 64th who would have thought that the Swede would lead going into the final round?

Peter Hanson Masters

Well, if you did, and you wagered a couple of quid on him then hats off to you as I imagine his odds were pretty decent. It says something about the surprise nature of his challenge that I hadn’t even registered his pre-tournament odds but he is at the top and after shooting a superb round of 65 is amongst the favourites now to win.

If you’re capable of shooting a 65 on ‘Moving Day’ at Augusta then you’re capable of winning The Masters, all Hanson has to do is keep calm and carry on.

Score: -9     Position: 1st     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 8/10

Phil Mickelson:

‘Lefty’ had yet another day to remember on Saturday and like Hanson came out of nowhere, he was three back at the start of the day on 2 under and stormed his way round in just 66 blows seeing him shoot through to 8 under for the tournament.

Mickelson Masters 2012

Other than the one shot difference in their rounds and the one shot difference between their overall scores for the tournament, one of very few differences between Phil’s round and Hanson’s round was that no one was surprised by Mickelson.

He has such an aura around him when he starts to pick up a couple of shots around Augusta and arguably only Woods can rival him for his ability to build momentum over the weekend in Georgia. Phil has put himself in position and now all he needs to do is convert.

Score: -8     Position: 2nd     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 9/10

Louis Oosthuizen:

Saturday was further evidence of why Louis Oosthuizen is already a major winner and why he could go on to win a few more.

Oosthuizen Masters 2012

His beautifully balanced swing was used to it’s full effect right the way through his third round and a score in the sixties has seen him going into Sunday as one of the standout favourites. If he shoots a similar score on Sunday then I can’t see many going with him.

Score: -7     Position: 3rd     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 8/10

Bubba Watson:

You could watch mad-cap Bubba play all day long couldn’t you?

Bubba Watson Masters 2012

The man with arguably the most rubber-like wrists and digits on tour once again lit up Augusta with one of the quirkiest ‘solid’ rounds of 70 you’re ever likely to see. This useful Saturday score has thrust him to 6 under for the tournament and with the way he plays it could easily end in ecstasy or in misery for Bubba come midnight-ish on Sunday. Whether he charges right into contention or whether he bombs it is sure to be a great round to watch and I have a sneaking suspicion that he could be the man to come from behind and push the current leaders right to their limits.

Score: -6     Position: 4th     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 6/10

Lee Westwood:

Saturday may well have been one of Lee Westwood’s most frustrating days at Augusta.

Westwood Masters 2012

He may not have played himself right out of contention but boy did he try. For every birdie and every moment of positivity there was a slack chip shot and shocking short range miss with the short stick. He may not have managed to build any momentum but he did manage to get himself round and leave himself in OK shape going into Sunday. Those who have watched a fair amount of Westwood throughout his career both in majors and outside of majors know that he is more capable than most of going really low and it is simply a case of whether he can get some putts to drop.

Score: -4     Position: Tied 6th     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 4/10

Hunter Mahan: 

One of the best rounds of Saturday was Hunter Mahan’s sweet 68.

Hunter Mahan Masters 2012

This round saw the in-form American rise from mid-leader board mediocrity and up into the glare of a Sunday evening charge for the Green Jacket. His metronomic putting and recent tournament successes will hold him in very good stead as he tries to make up the five shot deficit between him and Hanson who leads the way and I think he is one of the most likely to break from the chasing pack  and  to post a decent clubhouse lead at some stage on Sunday.

Score: -4     Position: Tied 6th     Likelihood of winning the Masters: 4/10

Others to keep an eye on…

Matt Kuchar: 5th (-5). He has the steadiness of swing and of mind to put himself in contention but I think he’ll slump a little on Sunday.

Padraig Harrington: Tied 6th (-4). A wonderful back nine in round three has put the three-time major winner in amongst the chasing pack but I don’t think he’ll make a serious charge.

Henrik Stenson: Tied 6th (-4). Another entertaining round from Stenson saw him bag his best score of the tournament so far and he is one of those players that can rip a course to shreds when he is bang in form. For a player of his considerable talents he has been struggling along for far too long now and it would be great if he could get himself in the mix.

Ian Poulter and Nick Watney: Tied 11th (-2). Both Watney and Poulter are capable of scoring a hat full of birdies when they find their best form and if either of them can steer clear of any concentration lapses then I think they could post something like a 67 which could put them up there in the top few places when the heat is on tomorrow. For me, Poulter in particular is one of the players stuck seven or eight back who could get round in a low score and post a challenging clubhouse lead.

Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy: Out of the running… This may well be the case, but both men are capable of going very low on Sunday. They were poor on ‘Moving Day’, McIlroy in particular, but just keep an eye on two of the most talented players in the field as they play without the shackles of being in contention. It could be very fun to watch indeed.

The Masters 2012: Who’s up for the Green Jacket?

A year on from Charl Schwartzel’s under the radar capture of his first Green Jacket and Rory’s infamous back nine collapse, we have just one day to wait until the start of this year’s Masters.

Schwartzel Masters

With such a huge field competing and all the unpredictabilities of the Augusta National as a course it is hard to pin down just a few favourites or ‘Ones to Watch’ but Golf’s most glamorous major has people rushing to the bookies and their online betting accounts looking for some nice, tempting long odds to have a punt on.

Below I have made picked some categories and within these bounds have chosen some decent looking options to throw a couple of quid at.

The top two favourites:

Going into the tournament it is perhaps no surprise that Tiger Woods (Betfair 5/1) is the favourite with the bookies given his history at Augusta and his recent win at Bay Hill but last year’s nearly man, Rory McIlroy (Betfair 15/2), is arguably the people’s favourite going in.

Both Woods and McIlroy would relish a fourth round face-off with each other on Sunday

McIlroy’s record since his Augusta meltdown this time last year has been superb. In the twenty+ events that he has contested since he has finished in the top 10 about three quarters of the time, bagging himself four event wins, four second places and four third place finishes. This is a staggering level of form and consistency that Rory has shown over the past twelve months and when compared with Woods’ record in the same time period it is almost comical that Woods is favoured by the bookies.

Woods does of course have the most memorable of histories with the National but even he might admit that Rory’s the one to beat on current form.

Verdict: If you’re backing one of the top two favourites then go for Rory.

The Brits:

Aside from McIlroy there are some other attractive British options including the two players either side of Rory in the world rankings; world number one Luke Donald (Betfair 15/1) and world number three Lee Westwood (Betfair 22/1).

Other options include former US Open champion Graeme McDowell (Betfair 85/1) who has shown some encouraging recent signs that he might be re-finding some of his best golf, Paul Casey (Betfair 260/1) playing his first major since injuring himself snow boarding in Colorado, three-time former major winner Padraig Harrington (Betfair 110/1) who leads the par 3 contest as I write and Ian Poulter (Betfair 110/1) who has decent form at the Masters and is as confident as ever.

Other Brits in the field include Simon Dyson (490/1), Ross Fisher (370/1) 15th at Augusta in 2011 and Martin Laird (170/1) who perhaps wouldn’t be a bad shout for a top ten finish given his usually very consistent showings on the PGA Tour.

Rose golf

Justin Rose appears to be coming of age on the PGA Tour

Perhaps the canniest of all British bets though would be to put a fiver of Justin Rose (Betfair 33/1) who’s brilliant form has seen him win at Doral a few weeks ago as well as charging into the world’s top ten. He is in ship-shape at the moment and he has plenty of experience at Augusta where he has on a couple of occasions come flying out of the traps.

Verdict:

Back Rose at very generous odds, could look at Each Way bets on the likes of Casey, Laird, Poulter or McDowell as each would give a fair return. Or… back ‘Luuuuuuuuukkkkeeee’ Donald for a top 5 finish.

Long Shots:

As previously mentioned Paul Casey is well worth a look at on an Each Way basis and he isn’t the only one offering more than generous odds with Betfair…

Johnson Wagner (Betfair 200/1) may well not be a household name with us Brits but his season on the PGA Tour has been superb. He is currently second in the FedEx cup points list courtesy of some fantastic form which has seen him bag a PGA Tour win, a second place and two further top 10 finishes and at those odds he is a handsome Each Way option.

Wagner

Johnson Wagner is in great form on the PGA Tour

The mercurial Alvaro Quiros (Betfair 200/1) is also worth a real look.

Verdict: All worth a shout with an Each Way bet

Best of the rest:

Day Golf

Jason Day has a great recent record in majors but does have a niggling ankle injury

Other big name players that have been given generous odds by Betfair and several other bookmakers include Jason Day (45/1) who has three top ten finishes and two second placed finishes from the last five majors including last year’s Masters, Nick Watney (65/1) who likes it at the national, the only two-time winner on the PGA this year Hunter Mahan (37/1) and finally Adam Scott (33/1) who tied for second place with Day last year. One other decent option is reigning champion Charl Schwartzel (Betfair 45/1) who’s odds to win the tournament are staggering given how marvellously he played en route to victory last year.

Verdict:

Jason Day at 45/1 is my star bet for the whole tournament, he is also well worth a look at for a top ten or top five finish given his recent record in major tournament golf. He is a slight injury doubt though so beware… If Day doesn’t float your boat then look at Hunter Mahan as an Each Way option.

Place your bets: The Masters

This coming weekend plays host to one of sports greatest events, and one of it’s most competitive betting markets. The Masters is golf’s first Major of the year and is a fond favourite of those with an eye for a punt, and an eye for arguably one of the most vivid and enchanting venues in global sport.

Picture-Perfect

This Thursday begins one of those special sporting events that sparks interest and appreciation from the corners of disenchantment. Golf is a sport loved far and wide, but the lengthy schedules and perceived elitism involved in the sport have always attracted scepticism and mockery. Perhaps it could be argued that such attitudes have detracted from others getting involved in any way with the sport having never given it a real shot.

However, The Masters is just that bit more special than any old golf tournament. The course itself the Augusta National, Georgia, is a work of art. The beauty of the venue is beyond compare in the sporting realm and it provides that little glint of magic that sets it apart from the crowd.

Not only is the course achingly beautiful but it plays like a wicked, teasing, taunting mistress. In part it offers opportunity for low scoring and in others the margins for error are excruciatingly tight. This set-up makes for constant subtle and not so subtle twists and turns, thus there is always an element of unpredictability. Sometimes such unpredictability amongst a large field of competitors lessens the desire for a punt, but betting figures would suggest otherwise. With 99 competitors in the field, The Masters offers some fantastic odds in the outright winners market, the seed of temptation is there for all to see.

After all, how many of the world’s leading sports events could boast best odds of 25-1 on the World Number One triumphing? Not too many I would wager, but those are indeed the available odds with Betfair for the brilliant Martin Kaymer.

World Numbers 1 and 2 have been paired together for the opener at Augusta

Other names of interest to the betting public might include Lee Westwood, World Number Two and last year’s runner-up, who will desperately seek to get the monkey off his back by winning his first major (Best Odds 18/1). Red-hot young Americans with attributes seemingly built for Augusta Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, can be backed at best odds of 18/1 and 32/1 respectively.

My European tips are big-hitting duo Paul Casey (40/1) and Ross Fisher a long-shot at a lengthy 200/1, and my tips from foreign-shores are Americans Watney (18/1), Johnson (32/1), and Matt Kuchar (34/1), and South African veteran Retief Goosen (90/1) .

Watney focused on 'Major' breakthrough

The majority of this select group have challenged seriously in Majors gone-by, with Goosen already a major winner. I feel the time is right at Augusta for a fresh-face to dazzle the golfing world with a performance of real class and flashes of sheer inspiration, as were finely demonstrated by reigning champion Phil Mickelson in the closing round last year. I think the man for this job could well be Nick Watney, a quirky character off the course whom would prove a very popular champion amongst the American spectators and in the locker room too.

Mickelson seeks to put the jacket on himself this time

The tempting length of odds for players within the world’s top thirty or so makes for some potential big-money wins for low-liability gambles. Thus, an already stunning sporting spectacle has the ability to take on increased importance and value of the monetary kind. Who knows what the outcome will be on Sunday night when the tournament reaches it’s conclusion but my advice would be: Don’t break the bank, but maybe have just a little punt on some generous odds.