Exhibitions whet appetite for return of PGA Tour

“The Match: Champions for Charity” raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief efforts Sunday and brought live golf back to fans and bettors.


Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning looked like they were going to run away from Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, but the latter pairing took it to the 18th hole before Woods/Manning held on for a 1-up victory. Woods, who hadn’t played a competitive round since early February, hit every fairway, and his game looked ready to return to competition after he withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational and skipped The Players Championship with a back injury. Woods is 16/1 to win the Masters and the PGA Championship and 20/1 for the U.S. Open.


Sunday’s event drew a fairly solid betting handle, indicating that bettors are ready for sports to return en masse.


“Total handle would be like a medium regular-season NFL game,” said William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich. Bets at most shops were steady in terms of volume but not massive in terms of the bigger bets. DraftKings Sportsbook reported a $15,000 wager on Mickelson/Brady at + 170. UFC President Dana White posted a similar $15,000 wager on Twitter for Mickelson/Brady. FanDuel Sportsbook reported its largest wager as $10,250 at -205 for Woods/Manning, which netted $5,000 for an individual bettor. 


PointsBet USA reported a small loss on the match as it was rooting for Mickelson/Brady, who closed as + 155 underdogs there. “We closed with 48% of the bets but 71% of the money on Woods and Manning,” said Patrick Eichner, PointsBet USA’s director of communications. A fair amount of the PointsBet loss could be attributed to the price-boost promotion it provided. PointsBet opened Woods/Manning at -225 and moved the price downward for every 100 bets placed, the price eventually closing at the standard -110 juice that you often see with an NFL or NBA point-spread wager.


In a little over two weeks, the PGA Tour resumes its tournament schedule with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Fourteen of the world’s top 20 have committed to the event, including four of the top five. (Players have until June 5 to commit.) No. 1 Rory McIlroy will be making his debut appearance at Colonial. No. 2 Jon Rahm and No. 3 Brooks Koepka have runner-up finishes at Colonial in the last three years. No. 5 Dustin Johnson returns to Colonial for the first time in six years. This will make for interesting handicapping, with the event’s strongest field in many years and all players essentially coming off a three-month layoff from competitive golf. Recent form is usually a key in golf handicapping, as is course form. With no recent form to speak of, course historical form could be a stronger indicator in the first few events. 


With the British Open being canceled, we will not get major championship golf until Aug. 6-9, when the PGA Championship is scheduled for TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. The U.S. Open is scheduled for Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. The Masters will close out the 2020 majors Nov. 12-15. As the world’s No. 1, McIlroy is the favorite in all three majors at all major betting houses, including Westgate Superbook USA. He is 9/1 for the Masters and 10/1 for the Open and PGA. Rahm is the second choice at the Masters and PGA at 12/1 and is 14/1 at the Open. Koepka, who won the Open in 2017 and ’18, is the second choice at Winged Foot. No. 4 Justin Thomas and No. 5 Dustin Johnson alternate between fourth and fifth choice at 14/1 and 16/1. 


In a little less than two weeks, sportsbooks will have prices up for the Charles Schwab Challenge. Bettors will have decisions to make with a large pool of top players from which to choose but also some players down the board with more value due to the field’s strength.


Some players will have to shake off rust returning to competition. Moreover, some players live in places that have had more restrictions in getting out on golf courses. Needless to say, bettors will have even more handicapping angles to play for the PGA Tour’s return, but if the handles on the exhibitions over the last two weeks are any indication, then bettors, including many newer ones, will be eager to dive into the action.


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