I always say I handicap the NFL and PGA on my own, and for everything else I listen to smart people.
It’s a convenient schedule for me, as football winds down right when golf is picking up and vice versa. So while the NFL is nearing the finish line and about to decide some championships, the golf season has just left the starting gate — and does so each and every year at some of the most gorgeous venues in the world.
The year began at Kapalua in Maui. We find ourselves this week at Torrey Pines along the cliffs of La Jolla, Calif. Not long from now we will be in Monterey at Pebble Beach and then back down to Southern California at Riviera. I love the West Coast swing, and soon after it concludes, we get The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, which takes place about a month before the granddaddy of them all, the Masters at Augusta National in April. The Masters is golf's official ushering in of springtime and the rebirth of the major championship run.
Major League Baseball has been much maligned for how it positions itself in the major sports landscape. The PGA Tour is much different. I applaud what the tour has done to maximize its position. Its leaders recognize that football is king, and they have adjusted the golf calendar accordingly.
As I said earlier, the golf season basically begins as football is coming to an end, and golf tapers off as football is once again beginning. In between, we get a major championship nearly every month. And falling in and around the majors, we get big-time tournaments at big-time venues such as Torrey Pines and Riviera. World Golf Championships, The Players Championship, the Memorial, the Heritage … and the FedEx Cup playoffs down the stretch. Golf has done a wonderful job keeping it exciting every week, staying out of the way of football and embracing the betting interest that continues to add fuel to the product.
Much to my delight, golf betting has seen a big spike in the last five years, and the PGA Tour has taken notice. We saw the TV screen flash up a graphic last week during The American Express, showing the odds of whether the tournament would end on the 72nd hole or in a playoff. As sports betting surges throughout the country, the options for betting on golf have followed suit.
For many years, watching golf on TV had the reputation of being boring. Tiger Woods certainly changed that for many casual fans, but I believe golf betting has changed that notion dramatically as well. Watching a player you have to win a tournament come down the stretch on Sunday is one of the greatest sweats you can enjoy in sports betting. And of course, the outrights are so fun because you can turn a few dollars into a very big payday. Typically, the favorites in any given golf tournament are around 10-1 or 12-1. Then there’s a tier from 25-1 to 40-1 … and then you have the long shots at 80-1, 100-1, etc. How many sports offer a futures market where you can make a bet at 100-1 odds that has a chance of cashing over the course of just four days?
While picking the outright winner is where all the glory is, and certainly a great deal of excitement, the head-to-head matchups are probably the best market to turn a profit over the course of a tournament, and more so, an entire season. These are not actual competitive matchups, but rather ones that oddsmakers create. The player who scores better (lower) over the course of the tournament is the winning side. For example, one matchup being offered at the Farmers Insurance Open this week is Jon Rahm (-160) versus Justin Thomas (+ 140). Rahm is a pretty heavy favorite.
Another market I like is the finishing position menu. Betting on a player to finish top 5, top 10 or top 20 (some books will offer even deeper places such as top 30 or 40). Jon Rahm, for instance, is the favorite this week to win the tournament at around 7- or 8-1, but he’s around even money to finish top 10. Maybe not a bad way to go, giving yourself 10 spots on the leaderboard to cash a ticket rather than having to win — or lose — the whole thing. Personally, I choose to wager the most on full tournament head-to-head matchups, a little less on finishing position plays and an even smaller amount in the outright market.
The outright market is a long-shot bet, or, as we say sometimes, a needle in a haystack.
Here are the tournament matchups I considered and played this week for the Farmers:
— Joaquin Niemann (-115) over Cameron Tringale
— Francesco Molinari (+ 120) over Mackenzie Hughes
— Jason Day (-105) over Tom Hoge
— Scottie Scheffler (+ 105) over Sungjae Im
— Justin Rose (-115) over Christiaan Bezuidenhout
For a full breakdown of the Farmers Insurance Open and the Dubai Desert Classic, and all of the plays from myself, Wes Reynolds and Matt Youmans, check out this week's “LongShots” podcast with special guest Dan Rapaport of Golf Digest.