There is always a relationship between trends in golf betting and the media’s coverage of the game. After all, few of us who handicap and gamble on the royal and ancient game actually attend PGA Tour events in person. We rely on television and the internet to provide accurate results and analysis.
The results part is easy – the analysis not so much. Predicting golf has been a matter of science for decades, and science doesn’t make for good headlines. Phil Mickelson (and Tiger Woods) are covered as if their every round is a precursor to the next round after it. Writers and especially TV pundits race to declare a links competitor “dead” or “still the greatest” after low-sample sizes of tournament play.
But a funny thing happened over the past year. There are dominant, truly dominant golfers on tour again. Not just Tiger Woods.
Like it was in the days of Nicklaus vs Trevino vs Player, the game has become about its personalities again, a story of great champions waging war on iconic courses. Golf is once again epic.
On one hand, you’ve got Tiger 2.0 – his life’s drama has become a cultural touchstone of courage and redemption. On the other you’ve got Brooks Koepka, Mr. Anti-Emotion, nonetheless (or perhaps because of it) just as deadly an opponent in a major-championship pairing.
Whenever the best golfers get this good, styles make fights. Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones each carded competitive rounds in the 80s, not because they were possessed by hackers (golf-style hackers) on those days but because the courses did not suit them.
Let’s look at the upcoming PGA Championship at Bethpage Black and some of the top personalities – nay, athletes – who may potentially overcome its mental and physical tests. Gamblers must bear in mind that a PGA in May is still as new for the golfers as it is for all of us – and the sea-change in the PGA Tour season could have ripple effects in Las Vegas.
Bethpage Black and the PGA: Why Tiger Could Struggle to Contend
The more I think about the upcoming PGA Championship, the more I feel like Tiger Woods is liable to be an overvalued and mispriced pick this time. Tiger could easily finish out of the top 20.
To understand why, consider the setup at Bethpage Black when the PGA commences on Thursday 5/16. Bethpage has been the site of U.S. Opens, and the Professional Golfers of America tend to set up their layouts only slightly differently. The fairways and greens may not be as fiery as they would be on the New York course during a United States Open, but the rough could be even thicker after a spring of rain and flashes of warm temperatures.
The A.W. Tillinghast course is made for high-ball power hitters like Dustin Johnson, and even Rory McIlroy who must adapt his driver to European and American conditions but is nonetheless a master with the whoopin’ stick on a good week. Big drives at Bethpage can put the player in position to hit spinning, finesse shots to raised greens. Long approaches will smack off the uphill surfaces and bound into the rough sooner or later.
Birdies are eminently makeable for D.J. on greens that will not challenge him on every short putt. The danger of Tillinghast’s greens lies in severe slops meant to prohibit certain chips and putts following badly-missed approaches, leading to certain bogeys. But the surfaces also “dish in” at times, and a slightly-slower Stimpmeter is going to make an “early U.S. Open” feel friendlier to the flatstick.
That could benefit long, wild hitters like Bubba Watson. It will not benefit Tiger Woods, whose new and precise style will be punished by the sheer length of holes like the million-mile Par 4 7th and the treacherous uphill 15th. Tiger can make up ground on holes like the Par 4 18th, a narrow chute to a tricky raised green surrounded by hazards…but the kingly power-hitting that once allowed Woods to dominate at Bethpage is gone from his game.
Here’s a look at the 10 most-popular BetOnline futures markets for the PGA.
Tiger Woods ((+750) Odds-to-Win 2019 PGA Championship)
Make no mistake, Tiger will be well-prepared despite the hiccup in the annual rhythm of veteran PGA Tour stars. Pros may not be used to playing their hearts out in May, but Woods pretty much always tries his very, very best to begin with.
Tiger’s U.S. Masters win will be talked about forever. It may have been the most dramatic major championship victory in the modern era of golf.
But it’s not just Augusta National that has felt the tremor of the aging phenom’s walk in 2019.
Tiger has collected 3 top-10 finishes and has only finished outside the top 25 in a single tournament. He has climbed from 12th to 6th in the world rankings since the season began.
Woods has now won 15 majors and owns a 70.17 scoring average in 12 rounds at Bethpage Black. Those rounds were mostly shot with a different set of tools in the bag, and Tiger is unlikely to win his 16th crown on the massive New York layout.
Dustin Johnson (+900)
Should there be any question that D.J. is the more-likely winner in spite of his longer Vegas line?
Johnson began 2019 ranked #3 in the world but now sits on top of the rankings. His season has been highlighted by 6 top-10s, a 2nd place finish, and a win in the World Golf Championships.
The Cheetah only has a lone major to his credit, but has finished as high as 3rd at Bethpage. If Johnson were in a slump, he could miss the 36-hole cut while hacking in the trees and weeds waiting for inaccurate players. But he’s on his game in 2019, and I think the conditions will suit him handsomely.
Especially if there’s more rain, and the PGA turns into a power-and-distance-control competition with easier putting for D.J. than anyone else.
Justin Thomas (+1200)
Justin Thomas got out to a strong start in the 2019 season, but has faltered the last few events. He played well at The Masters and finished 2nd at the Genesis Open, posting 5 out of 11 top-10 finishes.
You always have to consider when a big name is using PGA Tour events to prepare for majors, hitting fancy shots in practice in addition to trying to win. That’s how Tiger fooled everyone going into April.
Thomas finished top-10 at Bethpage Black in 2016.
Rory McIlroy (+1200)
McIlroy has been superb all season, finishing in the top 10 on 8 occasions in 10 events played. The Players Championship win in March was his 6th-consecutive top-10 finish at the time.
A consistent season has elevated McIlroy from 8th to 4th in the world rankings.
Rory had a top-10 finish at the 2009 U.S. Open held in Bethpage but finished T-24th and T-31st there at the 2012 and 2016 editions of The Barclays. McIlroy has won an impressive 4 majors.
Brooks Koepka (+1200)
He hits the ball, he waits for it to come down, and then goes up to hit it again. Not a bad system when you can stick to it.
Koepka is not a consistently great PGA Tour player, just a constant devil at the majors like Lee Trevino used to be. If Tiger Woods continues an incredible comeback streak, Koepka will likely be a thorn in his side the entire way.
The underrated champion has fared poorly at Bethpage Black, however.
Justin Rose (+1800)
Rose bounced back from missing the cut at Augusta with a 3rd-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship. The English veteran won the Farmers Insurance Open early in 2019, and that performance has helped keep him 1st or 2nd in the world rankings throughout the season.
His efforts at Bethpage Black have not been successful, leading many pundits (including this one) to conclude that Rose’s fine finesse game can’t adapt to the monumental layout.
Rickie Fowler (+2000)
Fowler recently went through a minor slump, finishing outside the top 35 golfers in 3 out of 4 events. The big hitter has bounced back with consecutive top-10 finishes.
He finished T-9th at the Masters and displayed touch and creativity around the greens. Fowler stands 10th among the world’s best. Fowler still seeks his 1st major win.
Jason Day (+2000)
The former world #1 sustained a back injury prior to Augusta, but in the courageous manner we’ve come to know, still managed to finish T-5th at the event. His past 2 events have been a struggle however, as he was found missing the cut and finishing T-24th on the PGA Tour.
Day has finished in the top 10 on 5 occasions this season but has failed to push his game over the top. His Bethpage record improved greatly with a top-5 finish at the 2016 Barclays.
Jon Rahm (+2000)
Rahm has put together a consistent season with 8 top-10 finishes in 12 events. His lone win came in his most recent appearance at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He played well in The Masters Championship and finished tied for 9th alongside Steek (or “Big D*** Rick” as Fowler is cheekily called by fans in Phoenix.)
Jon Rahm has yet to make an appearance at Bethpage Black on the PGA Tour, and yet to win a major. That makes for a rather unproven commodity at 20-to-1.
Bryson DeChambeau (+2000)
DeChambeau threatened to become a sensation in 2018, and picked up an early-2019 win at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but he has struggled his last 7 events.
His world ranking has fallen from 5th to 8th in the process. Golf writers have gone from calling him the Next Big Thing to a Flash in the Pan, but he’s really Just a Young Pro…and he’ll emerge again soon.
Likely not at the PGA Championship this year.
My Prediction and Pick to Win the 2019 PGA Championship
There is of course a chance that Tiger will simply will himself to the finish line again and prevail with another unlikely major. A victory in New York would give Woods a real shot at an unprecedented modern Grand Slam, another reason why futures bettors are so eager to give his market a spin. Why not buy-in on a little history?
But hold your britches, stop the insanity…choose your cliché. Even Tiger probably knows deep down that his best chances for a 16th major title will come with the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (a windy finesse-layout at which he has thrived like no other) and at the British Open this summer.
Woods would need 4 rounds of perfect golf to overcome his newfound shot-making disadvantage at a course made for driving and sky-high irons.
Among the power hitters with 4-irons that stop on cement, Dustin Johnson has shown the most flashes of getting it right at Bethpage Black.
On a course where he can putt okay, and hit approach shots like nobody else in the field? My money is on D.J. to get it right this time.