Young guns helping golf betting thrive

During a year of never-ending depressing news, with the economy flailing and many businesses struggling to survive, a few positives can be found in the sports world. Even with Tiger Woods in hiding for most of the summer, the business of golf betting is thriving.

It was once theorized that when Woods aged and faded from dominance, golf might become old news. Forget it.

The PGA Tour is making the best of a bad situation, and the same goes for the UFC, NBA and NHL. We will soon find out about the NFL and college football. Golf has an inherent advantage as a non-contact sport played in the great outdoors. It also has a surplus of young stars who can carry the game today and into the future.

Woods will reappear at this week’s PGA Championship in San Francisco. He’s not among the favorites, yet wagering on the year’s first major is projected to skyrocket.

“I think this will break all of our golf records,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “There are 10 or 12 guys who can win in a given week, and another layer of players behind that who could win maybe once a year, so golf is an attractive betting option right now. It seems every week the handle is higher than the week before. After football, basketball and baseball, golf is our fourth-best betting event.”

Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending PGA champ, and Justin Thomas are co-favorites on the Circa Sports odds board at 12/1. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson form the next five before a group of players that includes Woods.

It has been 16 months since Woods won the Masters. In May 2019, Koepka repeated as the PGA champ by conquering Bethpage Black in New York. The coronavirus pandemic forced a juggling of this year’s major schedule, giving the PGA the honor of first to the tee. Since the tour restarted in June, golf betting has gained steam.

“The handle is going to be strong,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “I would not be surprised if it reached Masters level.”

Woods, 44, has played in only one tournament since February. He tied for 40th at the Memorial last month after shooting 71 in two rounds and 76 in two rounds. Woods complained of back stiffness at the time, and the cool, wet weather in San Francisco might be problematic for his back. His odds are drifting as high as 30/1 this week.

“You can never count him out, but I don’t think Tiger wins it,” Bogdanovich said. “I would not be interested in backing him in any matchups either.”

Woods missed the cut at Bethpage last year, when Koepka carried a seven-stroke lead into the final round and beat Johnson by two.

Westgate SuperBook golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said he’s fading Woods, who has not won the PGA since 2007, in head-to-head player matchups. Sherman laid prices with Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa and Webb Simpson in matchups against Woods.

“We did see the golf handle come back a little bit last week because of the return of the NBA and NHL, but I expect this handle to be double what we normally do on the PGA,” Sherman said.

The PGA Tour has had eight tournaments and eight different winners — Daniel Berger, Simpson, Johnson, DeChambeau, Morikawa, Rahm, Michael Thompson and Thomas — since restarting two months ago. Thompson was the longest shot at 125/1.

“The golf handicappers have been picking some winners lately, but good luck picking one this week,” Bogdanovich said. “This one is so wide open.”

With so many intriguing players, it’s difficult for some bettors to decide where to draw the line on futures wagers. Here’s a scouting report on the most popular players and my best bets (with Circa Sports odds).

Brooks Koepka (12/1): A three-peat in a major happens about as often as a pandemic shuts down the sports world, but several signs again point to Koepka. He has shot 70 under par in 12 majors since the start of 2017 — or 36 strokes better than the next-best player. The knee pain the 30-year-old whined about a couple of weeks ago seems to have eased. Koepka briefly took the lead Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, Tenn., before driving a ball into a watery grave on the 72nd hole and tying for second.

Golf handicapper Jeff Sealey, a frequent guest on VSiN’s “Follow the Money,” said Koepka is his pick to win.

Justin Thomas (12/1): My pick to win last week was Thomas, who avenged an agonizing beat from early July when he blew a three-stroke lead with three holes to go. Koepka’s late blunder in Memphis allowed Thomas to escape with a three-stroke win at 12/1 odds and reclaim the world’s No. 1 ranking. Back-to-back wins are rare on tour. One negative for Thomas is the pink pants he wore Sunday — not as intimidating as Tiger’s usual Sunday red shirt and black pants. I’m betting Koepka this week instead of the Pink Pantser. Thomas, 27, won his only major at the PGA in 2017.

“I really do believe Thomas is the best player,” Avello said. “He’s so good in all aspects of the game.”

Rory McIlroy (14/1): With no top-10 finishes in five tournaments since the tour restarted, McIlroy’s form is off. He did win a WGC-Match Play event at TPC Harding Park in 2015. It’s a challenging course with heavy rough, so driving accuracy will be a key statistic and more important than length off the tee — the primary strength for McIlroy, who has four major titles but none since 2014.

Jon Rahm (14/1): Thomas just took away Rahm’s No. 1 ranking, which Rahm claimed with a July win. He has four top-10s in his last eight majors and is searching for the breakthrough win in a major. He will eventually win one, because there are no holes in his game, but I’ll pass on him at these odds.

Bryson DeChambeau (16/1): The bulked-up bomber is the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, but accuracy off the tee is the emphasis this week. DeChambeau has made 14 major appearances and never finished better than 15th, so that’s a troubling track record, and this course is not an ideal fit for his new-look game.

Xander Schauffele (18/1): Sharp money is showing on Schauffele, driving down his odds from 25/1 at several books. I made this bet about a month ago. Thomas and Schauffele are my favorite players because of their all-around games and competitive yet cool demeanors. Schauffele has finished sixth or better in five of his first 11 majors. He ranks seventh in strokes gained/off the tee and in the top 20 in strokes gained/approach, two stats important to winning at Harding Park. His current form is good, and he’s a California kid who will be comfortable in his home state.

“Xander won’t have the pressure of being everyone’s pick this week,” said Sherman, who’s also betting on Schauffele. “He’s not being talked about too much, and I think the 25/1 range is fair.”

Webb Simpson (28/1): I bet Simpson in each of his two wins in 2020, and he looks promising again as a strong iron player on a shorter layout. Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at the nearby Olympic Club, a similar course that sits across Lake Merced. Bogdanovich said he’s betting Simpson and another elite iron player who’s next on this list.

Collin Morikawa (32/1): At 23, he might be the hottest young gun on the tour, which he leads in strokes gained/approach this year. The graduate of Cal-Berkeley knows this course well, and it’s tailored to his game. 

Jason Day (48/1): A bad back is an occasional problem for Day, who is showing better form with two recent top-10s. He’s also good in PGA Championships, with six top-10 finishes in nine tries, including a win in 2015. He’s confident for the first time in a while, and his exceptional short game should pay off on this course.

There are plenty of attractive long shots on the board. I also like Daniel Berger (43/1) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (54/1) based mostly on current form. I’ll pass on Rickie Fowler (43/1) and Tony Finau (48/1). Each can contend this week, but neither is a closer.

Gary Woodland (59/1): Last year’s U.S. Open winner at Pebble Beach, Woodland is quietly playing well at the right time. This could be the right course, and the price is right. He reached the WGC-Match Play final at Harding Park in 2015, when he lost to McIlroy. Woodland, who ranks eighth in strokes gained/approach, has top-10 finishes in the last two PGAs.

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