Intelligent Golf Betting: The Majors

There are four majors each year in golf, along with one flagship event on each of the two main tours. Unsurprisingly these events are the most liquid and offer the most markets on the Exchange. In my final article, I’ll highlight some of the interesting betting angles for each of the majors.

The Masters

Arguably the best golf tournament in the world, The Masters is played at Augusta National each April. The only major to be played at the same venue each year, it invokes classic memories for players, spectators and punters alike.

With around 100 competitors, The Masters is a small-field event and as such is the weakest field major. Past winners are granted a lifetime exemption which means there are often several older players in the field that have virtually no chance of winning. It is viable to quickly reduce the betting options in the Masters down to 60-70 possible winners, something not possible in most tournaments.

This year’s OWGR Strength of Field (SOF) rating was 782 and last year was also below 800 (798). As a comparison, The Barclays in August 2016 (start of the Fedex finals) had an SOF of 738 making The Masters just a little bit stronger than a top PGA Tour event.

Due to being played at the same venue each year, The Masters is considered by many as a ‘horses-for-courses’ event. Stars of the past such as Freddie Couples and Angel Cabrera have a habit of popping up on Augusta leaderboards but rarely at other main tour events. It is a track that tends to favour players that move the ball right-to-left, and there are a few players that openly dislike it and/or don’t play it well. The market factors this into prices long before the first player tees off though, so intelligent bettors using the Exchange to help form their opinions will have it covered.

The Masters is a fantastic event to bet in-play with liquidity second to no other golf tournament. The Par-5s are almost Par-4s to the top players and anything worse than birdie is often akin to dropping a shot on the field. Punters often over-value a birdie on these holes presenting an opportunity to intelligent bettors. Make sure you have an up-to-date view of hole averages to hand when betting in running.

The US Open

Played in June each year, The US Open is traditionally relatively high scoring by virtue of the course setup. The USGA is known for trying to get the 72-hole winning total near to Par which means the tournament is not typically a birdie-fest. The Strength of Field for the past two years has been around 840.

The event moves around a relatively large number of courses which limits prior playing (and betting) knowledge. Additionally, courses are continually being lengthened so by the time the Open returns to a track, previous hole statistics might not be that relevant. This might explain the relative lack of repeat winners in the modern era, Tiger Woods excepted.

Typically setup with narrow fairways [1] and penal rough, the USGA place a premium on accuracy at the US Open. Weather can play a significant part in this if, as we saw in 2017 at Erin Hills, one side of the draw has a marked advantage. If Thursday morning and Friday afternoon (or vice versa) have a noticeably better weather forecast bettors can profit in markets such as First Round Leader and Make the Cut. This advantage dissipates somewhat at the weekend, as the leaders tee off at a similar time. It is still possible though to pick up a good priced player for a Top10/20 finish if he tees off early Sunday in highly favourable conditions.

The Open Championship

Played in July, The Open is hosted by a small rota of links courses in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland (Royal Portrush returns to the circuit in 2019). It’s a full-field (156 players) event with a Strength of Field rating in the mid-high 800s.

British links golf courses share a few attributes. Firstly, they are coastal and thus typically built on a base of sand. The physical location of the courses means they are exposed to the best and the worst of British weather, notably high winds. The courses are all well-established, meaning they are not necessarily long by modern standards. Their defence, rather, comes from a combination of deep pot bunkers, penal rough, undulations and…the weather. Greens are intentionally not as fast as those in the US to avoid balls being blown straight off them!

Players all tee-off on Thursday from the first tee (many tournaments run a two-tee start). This means The Open runs from 06:00am to as late as 8-9pm (local time) making the most of the long summer daylight hours. In my experience, there is a lot of money traded on the Thursday morning (in-play) as Brits wake up and realise the tournaments has started before they have got their money down. With lots of birdies and several double-bogeys or worse, The Open is typically highly volatile and a lot of fun to trade in-play.

Like the US equivalent, intelligent bettors are advised to look closely at weather forecasts, in particular the wind speeds. As a one-tee start there is a huge spread of possible tee times and an early/late Thursday tee time in benign conditions might throw up a few good First Round Leader options. Do remember though, that the market has probably already factored this in to prices come Wednesday…

The PGA Championship

The year’s final major is played back in the US in mid-August. It is typically the strongest field of the year (SOFs of 923 and 902 in the last two years) and is played on a wide variety of courses mostly in the eastern states.

Last of the majors and coming after many high-profile trading events (including the Irish Open, Scottish Open and The Open in quick succession), the PGA can suffer a little from fatigue (both bettors and players). The 2017 renewal however is unusually being hosted in San Francisco which might provide the event with new momentum.

With a wide range of courses and winning scores very often double-digit under-par, the PGA Championship does not differ greatly from other strong field PGA Tour events. There are ~20 places in the field for PGA professionals (the guys that work in club shops) which provides an interesting angle for TV, but not really betting. Occasionally one or two of them will feature on an early leaderboard but in reality, they have little chance of placing and can generally be disregarded for betting purposes.

As a major, there will be many more markets on offer than a typical tournament however, so if you have modelled probabilities it is possible to find value away from the main market. On the derivative markets, intelligent bettors making full use of odds comparison sites, can often identify standout prices where bookies and/or exchange participants have got lazy.

Outside of Majors

Outside of the majors, The Players Championship (played in May at Sawgrass) and the European Tour’s PGA Championship (also in May at Wentworth) are excellent betting events. They attract great fields, have a depth of course/hole history and large numbers of betting markets.

This wraps up our series on intelligent golf betting. All the best and enjoy responsibly!

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