Previewing the Masters and Betting Tips
For nearly a decade starting in 2003, I provided golf insight, analysis and match-up selections on PGA events with special interest in the four major championships. I did a weekly radio show in Las Vegas and nationally on Wednesday's providing golf insight and tips, and I often contacted and corresponded with golf professionals, course superintendents, golf writers, journalists, media personnel and other handicappers and golf insiders including sports book directors who set the match-up, win odds and proposition wagers. I enjoyed studying and learning more about the players, courses and game to provide additional information, insight and analysis.
The tournament that annually draws the most interest in the United States in The Masters. Betting on golf continues to gain in popularity, especially on the four Major events. Despite the tournament lacking Tiger Woods' participation in recent years, the handle continues to increase each year at many sports books, as they also offer a greater menu of options during the Majors and Masters. The sports books will get plenty of action on tournament matchups, round-by-round matchups, prop bets and on futures win odds, which will account for over 60% of a sports book's handle at many shops.
While it's difficult to pick outright winners each week in golf, there remains opportunities to cash a solid score with mid-range golfers or long shots. The Masters has produced its share of long shots, including last year when Danny Willett (150-1 a week before the Masters) put on the green jacket with a Masters victory after Jordan Spieth let a 5-shot lead get away on the back 9 Sunday. Willett was bet down to 50-1 in some sports books prior to Thursday's opening round, again showing various value opportunities available and also missed. Recall when Trevor Immelman won in 2008 at greater than 100-1, as did Charl Schwartzel in 2011 at greater than 60-1. Zack Johnson was a mid-range odds winner back in 2007.
But make no mistake, the cream often rises to the top at Augusta, with many of stars and top-rated pros in contention Sunday. However, plenty of big names and expected contenders will also struggle with some missing the cut, and that's why match-up betting and some prop wagers will serve you better if you're taking a swing and betting on the Masters as the sports books also have a solid hold on win wagers.
An interesting note on the Masters is that of the last 17 winners, all 17 made the cut at the Masters the previous year. So guys like past Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Charl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh may be eliminated from your outright win wagers after missing the Masters cut in 2016. Other missed cut members of note from the 2016 Masters include Ricky Fowler, Mark Leishman, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Russell Knox and Ryan Moore.
A less significant trend that should also be treated with caution is that the top-ranked player in the world has not won the Masters in the past 15 years. Dustin Johnson is now No. 1 and the favorite at 6-1, but his form excellent while also winning his last 3 tournaments. Recall he finished T4 in last year's Masters as one of just six players to break par at 287 (-1).
Last year 89 golfers started the Masters which was the fewest since 2002. This year 94 players are scheduled to tee it up for Thursday's opening round.
Your main handicapping focus should be on current form and a players experience and results playing at Augusta National. Finding value early and shopping around for the best long-shot prices and matchups is a focus as you narrow your selections and spread your risk. Your research and following others insight on proposition wagers may help you uncover some prop bet opportunities, and live wagering on the oddsmakers posts is another option when betting at the sports books.
Daily fantasy has added to the tremendous interest in golf betting, and the strategy is different when drafting players and putting together a team on a budget. We'll leave the fantasy advice to others this week, but know that fantasy golf is a great way to add to the enjoyment of the Masters and weekly golf events, and certainly an opportunity to make a big score if you have a long shot winner like Willett on your team.
However, if you want to make consistent money betting golf, then head-to-head match-ups are your best bet along with isolated proposition wagers that present opportunities for astute handicappers and bettors. Player finishing position and round-by-round wagering provide another good chance to score if you know player strengths and weaknesses well.
But understand the lines will can move quickly and sharply on head-to-head match-ups. Last year we bet Justin Rose (-125) over Louis Ooshausen, and while Rose won and finished top-10, he took lots of money and closed greater than -160 at some sports books. We also clubbed right on Daniel Berger (-130) over Webb Simpson and cashed our easiest matchup on Jamie Donaldson (T21) over Graham McDowell, who missed the cut badly.
The Masters at Augusta National is a picture of perfection. Manicured fairways, lush green landscape and magical moments and memories surround the first major championship of the season. So too does showers and thunderstorms on Wednesday with 20+ MPH winds and low 60's temperatures for Thursday and Friday's opening two rounds. The weekend forecast shows sunny skies, low 70's with light winds as the greens dry out and speed up.
Augusta National has been a venue of abundant change going back to the first Masters in 1934 with most major changes to the course in the last 15 year. Like last year, there are no course changes of note for the 2017 Masters.
The winner of the 2017 Masters will receive $1.8 million of the $10 million purse. Augusta National will play to 7,435 yards and a Par 72. The Par 5's rank as the four easiest holes, and the longer Par 4's will give the bigger hitters an advantage. However, if conditions soften due to rain, the distance advantage diminishes. But experience at Augusta is a definite advantage, and precision putting and an understanding of the Augusta greens is essential with the heavily sloped surfaces and tricky 3-6 foot sloped putts. Many players will leave the Augusta greens in anguish, turning smiles into snarls.
You can study key stats of importance at the Masters like Par 5 birdies or better, strokes gained on approach and around the greens, and bogey avoidance. But perhaps at no other course or tournament is course history and experience playing at Augusta of more importance.
That's why 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth is a favorite to include on your win list. His form is solid, his game and superior putting have shined at Augusta with a win and two runner-up finishes in 3 starts. He was in complete control of the tournament with a 5-shot lead entering the back 9 in last year's Masters before imploding on par 3 12th hole (155 yards) and hitting two balls in the water to take a quadruple-bogey.
So even the best players can hit the hazards and suffer a collapse as we've also seen top-ranked players Rory McIllroy (2011) and Greg Norman (1996) have nearly one arm in the green jacket before suffering Sunday meltdowns. Here's hoping your week is filled with more birdies than bogeys as you shoot for a good score at the Masters.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay