Golf Tournament Betting
by Josh Nagel - 10/12/2007
Golf might be the most gambled-upon sport for those who enjoy playing it. A few bucks changing hands on the links never is a rare sight, and some of the biggest and most legendary gambles to take place in Las Vegas outside of the poker tables are known to have happened on a golf course.
For your average sports fan, this seems like a bit of an anomaly. It's not terribly often you see two guys playing one-on-one basketball down at the YMCA with a $50 bill lying on the baseline going to the winner. But in golf, it's practically proper etiquette to place a bet against your competitors.
However, the golf-betting fever that you see on the links doesn't always carry over to the sports books, where NFL and NCAA basketball betting reigns king. However, these establishments do offer golf tournament betting for die-hard fans and other erstwhile handicappers who can take their shot at picking a winner and, in some cases, take home a handsome payday.
Most sports books offer two types of bets on golf tournaments. The most popular is the "to win" bet. For instance, say Phil Mickelson is 5/1 to win The Masters. Your $20 wager will cash a cool $100 spot if Lefty comes through for you. The other bet is usually a "matchup" proposition, where odds are posted for two golfers' results against each other. For instance, Mickelson might be listed at -130 against Sergio Garcia, who would be getting +110 against him to have the better finish at the Masters. These propositions are mostly low-risk, lower-reward wagers and most golfers prefer the potentially more lucrative "to win" wager when betting on golf tournaments.
So where and how do you find value in these odds? It isn't always easy. If you're looking for a great bet, then don't even consider Tiger Woods. It is a sign of his borderline absurd dominance and accurate oddsmaking that Tiger usually comes in around 9/5 to 2/1 in almost every tournament he enters. This seems ludicrous when you realize that most golf tournaments have well over 100 participants, and you are basically being offered a little better than even money on one of them to win. However, when you consider that Tiger Woods wins practically half of the tournaments he enters, then 2/1 seems about the correct price.
But a winning bet on Woods won't make you rich, and neither will the other popular bet these days, "the field." That is, every golfer for whom individual odds are not offered becomes yours if you take the field bet. This used to be a rather lucrative bet, but it seems the oddsmakers have caught up with what field bettors have long known; that you can count on about 40 percent of tournament winners coming from the field. It wasn't long ago that odds such as 5/1 or 4/1 were common on the field, which made it a great bet to take every week because it won much more often than one in four or five times. However, these days it's often even money at best, or at times even -120 to take the field, but at least it gives you more than one horse in the race.
Other, second-tier top professionals who have popular names will often get undesirable odds because the public might back them, but they do not win often enough to justify the poor price. For instance, Ernie Els might get around 3/1 in any given tournament, but he is not a good value at those odds.
So how do you find that steal when golf tournament betting, the longshot who actually has a chance of winning? There are a number of factors, but the main thing to keep in mind is that there is not usually a huge gap in talent between the top money winners and PGA journeymen. Some have just not broken through with that big win, while others consistently place high but have few wins to show for their efforts.
"I look for the guy who seems to be on the brink of breaking through; a guy who has been in the top 10 a lot and looks ripe for a win," said Rob Bazarnick of Reno, an avid sports bettor who often places golf bets.
An example, he pointed out, was then up-and-coming Canadian Mike Weir a few years ago. Weir had several recent top-10 finishes before going on a tear in 2003, in which his three wins included a Masters victory in which he was a 15/1 shot.
Look for courses that suit a particular golfer's strength. If he is a skilled driver or an expert putter, he will have an advantage on a course that fits his game. For instance, Jose Maria Olazabal might be considered a journeyman by PGA Tour standards. He has six victories in a 20-year career, yet two of them have come at The Masters. Evidently, something about the links in Augusta, Ga., agrees with his game. Another example is noted putter Loren "The Boss of the Moss" Roberts, who found the putting greens at the former Nestle Open - now known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational - to his liking enough that he won the event two straight years in the mid-1990s.
A lot of golfers also seem to have good performances in tournaments that are in or near their hometowns. Weir, for instance, always seems to be in contention in any tournament held in Canada, and he has a win in the Air Canada Championship to his credit.
"If you use a combination of past results, a player's personal information and his breakthrough potential, you'll usually find a player or two who looks like a pretty decent value in any given tournament," Bazarnick said.