What a weekend! Let’s review the headline makers from Augusta, the NBA playoff chase, MLB, and the worlds of sports handicapping, and sports betting.
Overlooked Sergio Garcia wins 2017 Masters
To say Sergio Garcia was not a popular pick to win the 2017 Masters golf tournament is an understatement. Though respected as a highly regarded player for many years (particularly in Ryder Cup action, where he has a lifetime record of 19-11-7), he had “never won a major.” How can you pick a guy who’s never won a major to win a major?
Few did. But, in his 73rd try, Garcia came through with a victory over Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose on the first playoff hole. The two were knotted at 9-under par through four completed rounds.
Let’s start by looking at odds progression. Garcia wasn’t on the radar for months in terms of being a Masters threat. He jumped to 6 to 1 after entering the weekend in a four-way tie for first place. Though, even then he wasn’t the favorite, as co-leader Rickie Fowler was 7 to 2.
Garcia’s odds progression
- 50 to 1 last August
- 6 to 1 after two rounds
- 5 to 2 after three rounds
- 135 in a head-to-head matchup with Rose entering Sunday
As play began Sunday, Garcia was seen by the market as a clear underdog to Rose. Many handicappers and bettors assumed Garcia would fade…as he’s prone to do in majors. A quick look at Rose’s progression before we get to the stats.
Rose’s odds progression
- 25 to 1 las August
- 10 to 1 after two rounds
- 2 to 1 after three rounds
- -155 in a head-to-head matchup with Garcia entering Sunday
Rose was three shots off the lead entering the weekend, but was still priced at a respectable 10 to 1. He was the betting favorite entering the final day. And some offshore “live betting” sites had him as high as -600 Sunday after Garcia had two bogeys early on the back nine.
We looked at a few key statistical categories last Friday when reviewing Charley Hoffman’s big opening round. Let’s see how Garcia and Rose fared in those.
- Garcia: #6 (291.9)
- Rose #35 (279.6)
Only 53 players made the cut, so Rose didn’t impress here with a ranking at #35. Garcia got distance all week, which is usually rewarded on this course.
- Garcia: #2 (79.8)
- Rose: #35 (62%)
This stat matters less at the Masters than other major courses because the rough is relatively forgiving. Garcia didn’t spend much time in the rough anyway! Sergio was second of all weekend players with a fairway rate off the tee just a fraction below 80%.
- Garcia: #2 (74.7%)
- Rose: #2 tie (74.7%)
You knew this was going to matter. But, take a moment to reflect on what Rose accomplished. Justin was disappointing off the tee in terms of both distance and accuracy, but he was second in the field in greens-in-regulation. A truly stellar performance with his approach shots. And, he was literally just millimeters away from earning a green jacket on a few different putts.
- Garcia: #1 (2.213)
- Rose #2 (2.236)
The two best in the tournament this week at making putts, which is fairly normal “after the fact” because it’s the guys who put most consistently and effectively that win a tournament. When you look at the tie in greens-in-regulation, and the 23-thousandths of a put per green, you can see why it went to a playoff.
- Garcia: 7 bogeys in 73 holes (9.5% rate)
- Rose: 13 bogeys in 73 holes (17.8% rate)
Let’s not forget this one. Garcia didn’t have a single bogey during the very windy first round, and averaged fewer than two per day for the week. Rose had seven more birdies. But Garcia had an eagle and six fewer bogeys. The ability to avoid trouble ultimately proved to be the difference-maker on Sunday’s extra hole.
A reminder for handicappers and bettors that even if you know which fundamentals are likely to matter most, it can be very tricky divining which player is going to best execute those fundamentals on any given weekend.
NBA summary: those in “need” kept cashing tickets
Last Friday we talked about how teams needing to win to make the NBA Playoffs were having indifferent point spread results in recent weeks…but how a few really started kicking it up a notch last week. That new trend continued over the weekend as the race narrowed to the teams most motivated to reach the postseason.
A quick review…
Friday (3-0 ATS)
- Miami (plus 4.5) covered in a 96-94 loss at Toronto
- Atlanta (plus 14.5) won at Cleveland 114-100
- Denver (-7.5) beat New Orleans 122-106
Saturday (4-1 ATS)
- Chicago (-3) lost at Brooklyn 107-106
- Indiana (-4.5) won at Orlando 127-112
- Miami (plus 3.5) won at Washington 106-103
- Milwaukee (-7.5) won at Philadelphia 90-82
- Portland (-2.5) beat Utah 101-86
Sunday (0-1 ATS)
- Denver (-4) lost to Oklahoma City 106-105
Atlanta and Milwaukee are no longer teams in need in terms of making the playoffs. Those victories and Chicago’s loss locked the Hawks and Bucks into the brackets before Sunday’s action even took place. They join Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, and Washington (who are still jockeying for position amongst the teams who have clinched home court in the first round).
Still in play…
- #7 Indiana 40-40 (at Philadelphia Monday, vs. Atlanta Wednesday)
- #8 Chicago 39-41 (vs. Orlando Monday, vs. Brooklyn Wednesday)
- #9 Miami 39-41 (vs. Cleveland Monday, vs. Washington Wednesday)
Only eight teams make the playoffs in each conference. Indiana and Chicago will both be favored over lame duck opponents the rest of the way. Chicago owns the tie-breaker over Miami, and has the weakest schedule remaining by a mile (which didn’t help them when they lost at Brooklyn Saturday!). We’ll recap and review all three of those important Monday matchups for you tomorrow in VSiN City.
Denver’s loss to Oklahoma City eliminated the Nuggets from playoff contention. Portland will be the #8 seed and draw NBA championship favorite Golden State in the first round of the Western brackets. There’s still some jockeying to do for positioning in the brackets. More on that later in the week.
A few surprises in week one of Major League baseball
You never want to overreact to what happens in the first week of a new Major League baseball season. You’re ultra-focused now. But, soon the weeks will run together, and few fans will remember this past week as any more important than any other week in April, May, or June and so on.
But, there are a few relative surprises that handicappers might want to keep their eyes on.
- The Seattle Mariners have started the season 1-6, despite market assessments that they would compete with the Houston Astros for the AL West crown this season. Worth noting that all seven of those games were on the road. Still, the Mariners don’t want to dig too big a hole out of the gate.
- The Toronto Blue Jays have started the season 1-5, despite market assessments that they would compete for a Wildcard spot behind projected AL East winner Boston. Another team that had to play its first week on the road.
- The Arizona Diamondbacks have started the season 6-1, despite market assessments that they wouldn’t quite be a .500 caliber team this season. Other side of the coin here, with the D-backs being helped by playing seven home games. Though, those seven were against respected San Francisco and Cleveland franchises. Easily the best “good” surprise of the first week.
- The Minnesota Twins have started the season 5-1, despite market assessments that they would be below the .500 mark this season in a weak division. Minnesota played three home games and three road games.
Other good surprises: Colorado and Tampa Bay both starting the season 5-2.
Other bad surprises: San Francisco started the season 2-5 at pick-em or favorite prices each time out. Projected NL power Washington is only 3-3 despite getting to open as pricey daily favorites against Miami and Philadelphia.
Not so surprising: Atlanta is 1-5 in six road games.
We’ll jump into some more sabermetrics discussion through the week. And, we hope to compile the starting pitcher ratings for you that Gill Alexander and Michael Lambourne are using daily on “A Numbers Game” so you can monitor those at home within your own analytical process.
VSiN NCAA Challenge winner, (and the first Westgate NFL contest “millionaire”) visited Brent Musburger Saturday
Humble, hard-working James Salinas of Colorado has become The King of Contests in Las Vegas! Salinas appeared this past Saturday on “My Guys in the Desert” with Brent Musburger, enjoying one of the prizes awarded for besting the rest in VSiN’s March Madness "Beat the Spread Challenge" handicapping contest. Along with appearing on Brent’s show, the winner was awarded a cash prize, a weekend at the South Point, and a dinner at Don Vito’s. Congrats James!
You might recognize the name. Salinas accomplished something that many Vegas handicappers considered impossible in Westgate NFL contest the past two seasons (formerly known as the Hilton Contest).
*Salinas won the 2015 Westgate NFL contest, earning $906,675
*Salinas finished third in the 2016 event, earning $116,199 (scroll down to the "news and notes" section of link for 2016)
That’s a first and a third-place finish amongst huge total entry counts of 1,727, and 1,854 respectively, as Dave Tuley of ESPN Chalk mentioned in those articles. The event did have a back-to-back winner back in 2008-09, when fields were about 80% smaller.
And, check out the win percentage! In two years of Westgate selections, Salinas went 111-53-6 for an astonishing 68% mark. It’s very difficult to win two-thirds of your picks over one season, let alone two. (Back-to-back winner Steve “Fezzik” won 66% in 08-09 with a 107-55-8 mark). That's how James became the first "Westgate millionaire."
In the VSiN basketball contest, the streaky Salinas closed very strong…going 13-1-1 over the final four rounds of action. Because point value increased late in the tournament, Salinas was able to surge to victory. Salinas closed the 2016 Westgate contest on a 31-11-3 run, and started the 2015 contest on a 39-9-2 run.
Be sure you check out the interview right here if you missed it this weekend. Brent talked to James at the top of the second hour. You can scroll directly to that point for tips on how James evaluates “emotional intelligence” and team motivational factors in his analysis.
Legendary sports bettor Billy Walters convicted on 10 counts of fraud and conspiracy
Since we were last with you Friday morning, legendary sports bettor William “Billy” Walters was found guilty in federal court on 10 counts of fraud and conspiracy. The verdict was delivered midday Friday.
Here’s a helpful review of the trial and Walter’s career from the Las Vegas Review Journal.
For those of you who live outside Nevada, or have otherwise just recently developed an interest in sports betting, it’s hard to overstate how large Billy Walters loomed over this industry for the past few decades. David Purdum of ESPN Chalk called him “the Michael Jordan of sports betting” when talking with Gill Alexander of “A Numbers Game” Friday.
Walters was featured in this lengthy 60 Minutes segment back in 2011. (And, there’s an additional short feature on his “analytic” approach here.)
Walters was also a key “character” in Michael Konik’s popular book on Las Vegas sports betting called “The Smart Money” that came out in 2008. Konik “concealed” the identity of Walters by using the name “Rick ‘Big Daddy’ Matthews.” Though, that was like supplying Andre the Giant a pseudonym but still describing him as a 7’4, 520-pound professional wrestler from Grenoble, France who lost to Hulk Hogan in the Silverdome. Big Daddy Matthews could only have been Billy Walters! Basically the Michael Jordan AND Andre the Giant of this field, except he was champion for much longer.
If you’d like more information on Walters’ history as a bettor, ESPN published this lengthy and very informative feature on Walters back in 2015. Takes you from the Computer Group all the way up to recent history.
We’ll keep you posted on the appeals process and any other news in the Walters case as developments warrant.
That’s it for day one of the new week. See you again Tuesday to review games of import in Monday night’s NBA. The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday. You ice lovers might be interested in this article on a new “analytics” hire for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Never a day to rest in VSiN City!
Thanks again to all of you who have been providing helpful feedback. If you thought of something new to tell us over the weekend about the newsletter or VSiN programming, drop us an email.
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