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Expert Team

2019 Masters Championship: How Warm-Up PGA Tour Events Could Shape the Odds

The Masters at Augusta
The late Arnold Palmer published a book that I won’t mention by title. Not that it’s a bad book, but the branding and presentation of the paperback has always struck me as if it were some type of forced compromise for Arnie.

The great champion tells part of his autobiography in the tome, but keeps it totally PG rated – there’s no mention of his dad’s substance-abuse issues or the infamous row with 4-time U.S. Open winner Ben Hogan (Hogan may have helped bring about Palmer’s meteoric streak of power-hitting golf in the early 1960s, stoking a fire in Arnie by calling the younger linksman a flash in the pan). But those omissions and a general “on sale at Disney World” vibe are not the weirdest parts of the read.

About halfway through, Palmer appears to concede true authorship to a lawyer named Mark McCormack, who long-represented Jack and Arnie. McCormack was a renaissance man and a real golf nut – he wasn’t a bad writer at all. It’s still a bummer that the late chapters are warmed-over and filled with trivia on the PGA Tour instead of glimpses into Arnie’s mind.

Thankfully, a few nuggets of wisdom from a legend seep through the margins. Arnie talks about preparing for tournaments as if he were playing badly, missing greens and fairways on purpose on Tuesday and Wednesday, just to practice recovery shots on the course itself. “Palmer struggling, missing every green” would thus become a pre-tournament headline.

Modern golf can deceive the media (and Las Vegas) in similar ways.

For instance, it’s generally held that while warm-up tournaments prior to the U.S. Masters Championship in April are a valuable chance to analyze form, winning those events is not as prestigious as triumphing in the major. That much is accurate. But a crucial mistake is made when pundits look only at golfers, leaderboards, and stats – and not at how the “warm-up” PGA courses are playing.

It takes a certain style of golf to win at The Masters. It’s a different game than the one played on Tour.

The futures betting odds for Augusta National may fluctuate with wins, top-10 finishes and missed cuts. They ought to be moving based on the way players are swinging, thinking, and feeling. Does any golf course on the March schedule reflect the challenges faced in Georgia?

Reviewing the Schedule Prior to Augusta

The crown jewel of the “silly season” – celebrity Pro-Am events held in tandem with the PGA over the winter – is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Pebble Beach has its own unique challenges and is nothing like Augusta National. But when the AT&T tournament rolls around you can guess that the sleepy hit-and-giggle days of the calendar are coming to an end for most PGA Tour professionals. All champions at Pebble Beach are respected, regardless of the event or the circumstances.

Things get serious in a hurry. Pebble is followed by events at Riviera and PGA National in addition to the World Golf Championships in Mexico. 3 marquee events in 4 weeks are to follow, including Arnie’s wonderful event at Bay Hill.

Then there’s the imminent Players Championship, at the oddly-named TPC at Sawgrass. I say “oddly-named” because “TPC” stands for The Players’ Club, meaning that bloggers had to spend years getting used to not saying “the TPC at Sawgrass” lest they unknowingly join the rock band “The The.”

Sawgrass is similar to Augusta National inasmuch as players must hit high, long, soft-landing shots that are precisely targeted. Tiger Woods believes that Sawgrass is set up to trap (literally and otherwise) golfers who use the driver too much.

Nobody has to use a driver on the infamous 17th hole, a flick to a small island green in the middle of an oft-choppy Florida lake. But it’s a test of nerves similar to the Par 3 12th hole at Augusta.

Once you get on the green it’s easier to make putts, though, and Tiger once made a bomb on the 17th green that patrons at Sawgrass will talk about forever.

In my opinion, golfers’ performances at Bay Hill and Sawgrass are the most cogent to successfully handicapping The Masters at Augusta National. Some of the other Tour stops in February, March and early April present tricky parkland conditions, but to compare the windy conditions in Texas and Mexico to the challenges of Augusta is like comparing a day’s hard work at the diamond mine to the art of crafting a wedding band.

The aforementioned Ben Hogan used to wait for the flag to droop before swinging on the treacherous 12th at Augusta. He knew exactly how the breeze would ebb and flow through the forest clearing, and that the slightest extra gust could steer the ball into the sand or water. Compare that to a 40 MPH wind whipping across a fairway in Austin as a PGA pro tries for the green in 2 shots on a Par 5. He’ll hit a low, stinging shot that requires nothing of the trajectory a long 3-wood at Augusta usually does.

Bay Hill and Sawgrass at least force the players to hit precise targets and putt with caution. The courses also punish those who cannot hit the driver with accuracy.

Let’s look at the results from Palmer’s tournament and take a peek at the upcoming TPC weekend. But the subjects of our form-analysis are pretty important too. We should gauge whether the most popular 2019 futures picks for The Masters are moving up, moving down, or staying put at BetOnline as the morning tee-off at Augusta looms on Thursday, April 11th.

2019 U.S. Masters: Betting Odds on the Contenders

To put it mildly, BetOnline’s futures odds for the 2019 Masters Championship are in a log-jam.

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are tied atop the board at (+1000) each, or 10-to-1 payoff odds to win the event. McIlroy has of course won at Augusta, while Johnson’s best finish is a T-4 in 2016. Rory played an excellent tournament at Bay Hill, helping his line-to-win grow a little bit shorter. He’s currently working on another good start at The Players Championship.

Justin Rose and Woods are each at (+1200). Rose’s futures line could grow longer in a hurry if his poor Thursday effort at Sawgrass is any indication – he’s currently +3 after 17 holes. But he’s ranked #2 in the world, won the Farmers Insurance Open earlier in 2019, and finished 3rd in the WGC event.

2018’s double-major winner Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and the laser-accurate ball striker Jordan Spieth are in a 3-way tie at 14-to-1 odds to win the green jacket. Not a whole lot of big-time line movement.

Meanwhile, bettors aren’t sleeping on Phil Mickelson after seeing the aging veteran handle Tiger in a $9,000,000 match play event and then whip the field at Pebble Beach early this year. The handicapping logic is simple when it comes to Phil at Augusta – we all know that he has not yet contended at Augusta for the last time. At some point he’ll make a serious run at another Masters. Can you guess which year?

If you guess “2019” and are correct, then the payoff on a winning “Mickelson To Win” bet slip would be 25-to-1, assuming the bet was placed this week (or that Phil’s odds don’t go anywhere).

Driving Stats and Putting Stats from Bay Hill and Sawgrass

Bookies understand that birdies made at Bay Hill and Sawgrass are no promise of birdies being made against while a player fights the Pi-Cubed-on-the-Stimpmeter conditions at Augusta National. However, any problems with the driver or the putter will be mercilessly punished in The Masters. Missed fairway woods and/or a lack of touch on the greens can kill a round at TPC, and will vanquish a good score even faster when the clubhouse’s address is on Magnolia Lane.

Who’s having issues with the 2 most-important clubs in the bag?

McIlroy was one of the only top superstars to play at the Bay Hill Invitational, and he played well. But forever-popular-underdog Masters pick Rickie Fowler (currently (+1600) for Augusta) had problems driving and putting on Thursday, carding a 74 and playing catch-up all week.

Mickelson shot an abysmal 78 in the 2nd round, struggling with his long game and scrambling out of the rough and trees. It doesn’t auger well for a good performance at The Masters, but bettors are counting on Phil’s instinct taking over on a major championship course at which he has dominated.

The stars are competing at The Players Championship, and while Vegas seems to be reacting to results from warm-up events like Bay Hill and WGC, the betting public appears a little slow on the up-take when it comes to early returns from The Players’ Club.

If Justin Rose’s line-to-win the U.S Masters doesn’t begin to lengthen by this weekend, I’ll be shocked. Rose is driving the ball poorly in Florida, in danger of missing the cut at Sawgrass after missing 9 out of 14 fairways in a morning round on Thursday. Considering that TPC should be easier to drive the ball accurately on in the AM hours, when heavy dew and the general softness of the turf should make long irons off the tee check-up like wedges, Rose’s long game appears to be in a shambles.

Not that Mickelson’s bad start seems to be having any effect on his odds for Augusta…yet.

Handicapping The Masters in March: Conclusions and Predictions

It’s not necessarily time to place a Masters wager. Instead, it’s time to start crossing-off bets. Like a good golfer, the futures bettor must put herself in position to win.

Too much luck is involved to win them all, but the percentages begin to work in the gambler’s favor if they can eliminate picks from consideration, starting with the names of favorites who likely won’t contend on the fateful Sunday.

Rory appears to be a solid pick. His arrival at The Masters could have more shine on it than Spieth’s or Johnson’s, especially if each continues to miss headlines. As for Dustin Johnson, I like The Cheetah but Rory can putt circles around him on diabolical Augusta greens.

Meanwhile, I would not venture a bet on Mickelson at this point. Not until Lefty shows some sign of life in March.

What about Tiger Woods? He’s a betting-odds enigma as usual. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if his fanfare is driving the lines short or if general skepticism and a % of haters are holding his odds long. Tiger sat out Bay Hill because he’s playing it safe and protecting his assets. Gamblers could stand to do the same before more information can be reeled-in.

ODDS+1000

MY PICK:
McIlroy (+1000) is the best pick for those gambling on The Masters in mid-March.