Tiger, Phil plan duel in desert, but PGA showdown unlikely

By Matt Youmans  (Point Spread Weekly) 

August 9, 2018 12:45 AM

Ten years ago, it would have been a big-time event. Now, it’s merely a cool idea but really no big deal. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are planning to duel in the desert with millions of dollars at stake, but the timing is just not right and a few other details are wrong, too.

On Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas, two legends in their 40s will go head to head in a winner-take-all 18-hole match for someone else’s money. Who’s putting up the cash and how much will be on the line is yet to be determined, but the rumored amount is $10 million.

“I think people would be more intrigued if Tiger and Phil were putting up their own money,” Westgate golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said.

It also would be more intriguing if Woods had won a major sometime in the past 10 years and if Mickelson, 48, was not way past his prime. A decade ago, Tiger and Phil were bitter rivals. Now that they are friendlier and fading, much of the thrill is gone.

The proposed setting is Shadow Creek, an exclusive and stunningly scenic golf course, and the event will be televised on cable network TNT. The working title — “The Match” — was not brainstormed by a group of creative geniuses and needs to be changed.

But the biggest problem, at least for betting purposes, is the date. Thanksgiving week is all about the NFL, college football and college basketball. Golf could get lost in the shuffle, and Sherman does not anticipate a strong wagering handle.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that big at all,” he said.

A better idea is to call it the “Shadow Creek Showdown,” televise it on CBS around July 4 and add Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy to make it a foursome. Each player would bet $1 million of his own money and the sponsors would put up $6 million to make the $10 million pot, which is a nice overlay for the players involved.

The idea of a head-to-head match in prime time is nothing new. Woods participated in the “Monday Night Golf” series that was broadcast on ABC from 1999 to 2005. Of course, he was the world’s No. 1 player at the time. He’s still the top attraction for TV ratings, so this type of event could be big if it’s done right.

A week ago at the Westgate sports book, Woods opened as a -130 favorite over Mickelson. Sherman said some small wagers have trickled in on Tiger, who is now -150.

If either Tiger or Phil happen to win the PGA Championship this week, that certainly would help to hype “The Match” at Shadow Creek. But Woods is a 25-1 shot and Mickelson is a long shot at 60-1 odds.

“Tiger looked like he was spent last week. He was somewhat out of gas,” Sherman said. “I don’t expect much from him.”

Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis, the stage for the year’s final major, features tree-lined fairways and some of the biggest, toughest greens in American golf. Driving accuracy and length, shotmaking and putting will be keys to winning, and Woods’ driver and putter have not been his strengths in recent months.

Johnson is the 9-1 favorite on the Westgate futures board, but it’s difficult to recommend a single-digit favorite in an elite field. So, looking past D.J., Tiger and Phil, here are 10 better bets for the PGA:

Rory McIlroy (12-1): Plagued by erratic putting and overall inconsistency, McIlroy does not come in looking great. But he’s not playing poorly, either, and was in the hunt at the Masters and British Open. McIlroy leads the Tour in driving distance and has taken a liking to PGA course setups, winning this major in 2012 and 2014, so it would be no surprise if he’s on the Sunday leaderboard.

Justin Thomas (12-1): The defending PGA champion also won last week at the Bridgestone Invitational on a similar course. Thomas is a streaky player who’s suddenly on a hot streak.

Jason Day (20-1): Some key stats point to Day, who leads the Tour in putting and around-the-green performance. His driver will be a valuable weapon on this course, too. Day’s current form is positive and so is his PGA history. He won this major three years ago. Bet on him to win again.

Rickie Fowler (20-1): This seemed like the year Fowler finally would break through, but he’s still regarded as the best player to never win a major, and his 0-for-35 record is probably becoming a heavy burden. His second-place finish at the Masters in April might be the highlight of his year, yet he’s worth a look because nobody is talking about him this week for a change.

Brooks Koepka (20-1): The back-to-back U.S. Open winner has learned to thrive under pressure in majors, unlike Fowler. Koepka launches bombs off the tee and has all of the shots in his bag of tricks, so this course fits his game.

Justin Rose (20-1): A steady all-around player, Rose ranks second behind D.J. in Tour scoring average. He has finished in the top 15 in all three majors this year yet arrives under the radar this week. Rose is often in contention but rarely closes, so that’s a thorny issue.

Jordan Spieth (20-1): When the going gets tough, some people whine and complain. Spieth has been losing the mind games he plays with himself on the tees and greens. But that said, there is value in these odds on a player who tends to step up his play in majors.

Tony Finau (30-1): The biggest PGA futures bet at the Westgate, Sherman said, is $1,000 on Finau. Why? Quietly, he has recorded top-10 finishes in all three majors this year. He also carries a big stick, ranking third on the Tour in driving distance.

Henrik Stenson (40-1): Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari are more popular foreign players in better current form. However, two statistical categories point to a play on Stenson, who ranks No. 1 in greens in regulation and No. 2 in driving accuracy.

Xander Schauffele (50-1): The Tour’s top rookie in 2017 has slumped since tying for second at the British Open. He looks like a future major winner, so the strategy here is to play him at long odds until he cashes.

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