Golf Betting Without Tiger
by Trevor Whenham - 06/26/2008
Tim Finchem, the Commissioner of the PGA, has had his worst nightmare realized - he lives in a world without Tiger Woods. This is just a temporary condition, but it's nothing but bad news for the PGA. Attendance, viewership and overall interest in the Tour will drop until Woods is back in action. With two majors and a Ryder Cup still left to play this year, that's certainly not good news.
For bettors, the golf world has changed substantially as well. Now that the feelings of awe over the U.S. Open win have faded a bit, and now that Woods has apparently survived his surgery (I didn't know until now that robots needed surgery), we can start to look seriously at how to deal with betting on the sport during the absence of the biggest star. Here are five things you'll want to think about as you bet on golf for the rest of the year:
1. A shift in betting mindset - Though Woods was just one guy among 140 or so every time he teed it up, betting on golf in the Tiger era has essentially just come down to one decision - do you think he will win or not? If you did then your bet was obvious, and if not then you were left to figure out how to maximize that often misguided belief. Without him in the field we are forced into a much different decision-making process. There is no clear No. 2 behind Woods, so we have to handicap the field on a more detailed, careful level. Tiger allowed us a simple, straightforward, almost lazy way to handicap golf. Now it will take more homework and careful attention if you want to succeed at the betting window.
2. Psychological impact on other players - Perhaps the biggest impact of Tiger's absence will be the effect it has on other players. Rocco Mediate is the only player in recent history to look Tiger in the eye and stand up to him, and even he blinked in the end. Tiger intimidates pretty much everyone in the PGA from Phil Mickelson on down. With him out of the picture for several months the dynamics of most tournaments he would have played in will shift significantly. Tiger was almost always lurking near the top of the leaderboard on the final days of the tournament, and many players tightened up because of that. It seems quite likely, then, that some players that have struggled on final days in recent tournaments might be more reliable going forward. In other words, a player that may have been ignored in the past because he wasn't a closer could need another look now.
3. Lack of public action - Public betting action is significantly lower for tournaments Tiger isn't in than those he plays, so it only makes sense that the handle is going to plummet in this period of extended absence. A significant decrease in the amount of money bet on the event can have both positive and negative impacts. On the plus side, less betting can lead to softer lines, and that can lead to improved value on players you like. It can also mean that oddsmakers could pay less attention to setting the odds given the lower chances of profit, and there could be mistakes to be found and exploited. On the down side, though, decreased action will probably mean that the more popular golfers will be more unattractively priced than they otherwise might have been because they will attract a bigger piece of a smaller total pool.
4. Shift in what a fair price is - When you have one favorite in a field that is so much more heavily backed than everyone else in the field it has a strong impact on the prices of everyone in the field. The prices of every golfer other than Tiger, and especially the other successful golfers, are higher than they probably should be because Tiger attracts such a large portion of the money. With that money magnet out of the way, the new favorites will inevitably draw more action. That means that bettors will have to develop a new sense of what a fair price on a golfer is. Mickelson, for example, might now consistently be found at 4/1 or 9/2 when he would have been at 5/1 with Tiger playing. Some of that change is because his chances are much better to win without Tiger playing, but some is because he will now get a bigger percentage share of the action. That's inevitable and must be compensated for in your thought process.
5. Don't overreact - This is the most important thing on this list. The loss of Tiger will change a lot of things about golf, but in the end it still comes down to the same thing - you have to do your homework to find a golfer or combination of golfers that provide value in your mind and then back them. It might be harder to do without Tiger, but the process remains essentially unchanged. Don't let the whole thing freak you out - just keeping doing what you were doing before if it was working. Besides, the dark period will end and Tiger will be back and better than ever soon enough.