The game of golf has a way of teasing and tormenting fans at the biggest moments. Rare are the “payoffs” like Tiger Woods’ epic comeback to win the 2019 Masters. More often, the sport lays traps for its followers, making us believe that the next comeback is inevitable when it’s really not.
Dustin Johnson appeared to be making an unstoppable charge on Sunday of the recent PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. The Cheetah was tapping-in pars and nailing birdie-hole approaches on a course that seemed to have been designed just for his kingly shots, while the mortals in the field – including the leader Brooks Koepka – floundered in a stiff breeze.
Everything changed on the final 3 holes. D.J. had just birdied the monumentally hard 15th for an amazing 4th day in a row, and hit another solid drive on the Par 4 16th. Johnson’s only Achilles Heel during the final round was that he had suffered from rushes of adrenaline that pushed approach shots past the flag into unforgiving rough. It happened again on 16 and 17, ending his chances.
Meanwhile, the leader, Brooks Koepka, had had uncharacteristic lapses of his own, falling from double-digits under par as course architect A.W. Tillinghast smiled from on high.
It couldn’t have been easy to protect a lead in front of a New York crowd that was behaving more like a hockey crowd…on a Saturday night in OT.
In the East Coast Hockey League.
Harold Varner III was NOT happy with the fans who were rooting for Brooks Koepka to choke on Sunday at Bethpage. 👀https://t.co/7jUc518RES
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) May 20, 2019
Rooting for D.J. over Brooks was fine. The fact that the gallery kept yelling “Go Tiger Woods!” even after Tiger had missed the cut and gone home to Florida 48 hours prior was a tad…scary.
Koepka, as always, kept his cool. He had racked-up a pretty sizable lead over 60+ holes and wasn’t about to let the fans get to him. Like all athletes, the 2-time defending PGA Champion benefits from having a chip on his shoulder and the opportunity to prove others wrong.
“To be honest, they helped.” 💪🏼
— National Club Golfer (@NCG_com) May 20, 2019
The victory at Bethpage Black gives Brooks Koepka 3 major titles in 2 seasons, and there are still 2 more majors left to be played in 2019.
Las Vegas, of course, is looking forward to more than simply the upcoming U.S. Open at Pebble Beach or the British Open a few weeks later. “Futures” odds on the 2020 U.S. Masters at Augusta National are being adjusted at every golf betting site on the web, and guess what? Koepka is an odds-on favorite to keep winning more majors right away.
How many more majors? Like John Connor says in Terminator 2, “all of ‘em, I think.”
Brooks Koepka Odds: Yet Another Vegas Overreaction?
We have discussed Tiger Woods’ gambling odds and how they have fluctuated many times during the great sportsman’s comeback on the links. When we call his Masters title in 2019 a “comeback win” it has a double meaning, given the events of the last 3 years and a recent Sunday at Augusta.
To say that the sports gambling community changed its mind about Tiger once or twice during the past few years would be an understatement.
In 2018, Tiger was an odds-on futures pick to win The Masters…even though he was testing-out a medically repaired body and just getting his feet wet again as a serious player at the majors. Once Woods didn’t win The Masters or the U.S. Open, and the folly of making 10-to-1 bets on an experimental/rehabbing athlete sunk in, people laid off action on Tiger until his line for the late-summer PGA Championship (+1800) became a bargain price.
By the climax of the 2018 season, Woods was fully healed and had shaken off the rust, poising himself to compete at the highest level again. The indomitable veteran surged on Sunday with Brooks Koepka in the lead, just as Dustin Johnson in New York. Unlike Johnson, Tiger kept making birdies. Koepka poured it on with a low number of his own to prevail anyway. Only “top 3” and “top 5” prop-futures on Woods were to pay off…but even those odds were mispriced in favor of gamblers.
Tiger was blamed for not catching Brooks on Sunday. D.J. is getting blamed for it now. At some point, you’d think people would credit the guy who is actually winning the majors.
Vegas handicappers and the futures betting public cannot afford to worry about the headlines. They’re all-in on Koepka, just as I predicted would occur if the 29-year-old American won enough big trophies in a row to finally cause a shock to the system.
For a long time, Koepka had been a “sleeper” bet in Vegas and threat to win every week. Now he’s an odds-on favorite at any championship venue.
But are the lines overreacting, just as they have overreacted to Tiger’s peaks and valleys? Consider that Tiger Woods was an extremely-popular futures bet to win the PGA Championship in the wake of his Masters victory this year, even though Bethpage clearly did not suit his game anymore.
The gambling action on Tiger at Pebble Beach has waned a little bit following his missed cut in New York. Relative to Koepka he is no longer a favorite to win.
That’s another overreaction. His game still suits Pebble Beach just fine, considering that the wind, not raw driving distance, will determine whether players can reach Par 5s or get in range for a flick-approach on a Par 4. If the wind is against at Pebble, even power hitters like Johnson and Koepka will be hitting long irons. If a hole is downwind, everyone will just be trying to stop the ball.
Yet the betting markets don’t always work with such logic, especially in golf. Tiger misses cut – Tiger gets down-valued. Koepka wins another PGA title – becomes odds-on favorite in everything.
Are the markets jumping too far in a player’s direction once again?
Koepka’s Lines to Win U.S., British Opens and 2020 Masters
So here I am on a gorgeous sunny morning in SoCal, and I’m sitting in a darkened room with a laptop and Google trying to score a hit for “Brooks Koepka prop odds” or “Koepka Tiger Slam betting.” It’s not going so well. I’m going to try surfing at Bovada Sportsbook – the type of betting site that might just have a prop line on the Tiger Slam.
Nope. 2 “Tiger Woods Specials” and that’s it. The lines on Tiger’s career-to-come are interesting and could be the subject of another blog post soon. However, right now all we have are Brooks Koepka’s lines-to-win each of the next 3 major tournaments.
Brooks is favored to win each and every one. In fact, the unflappable Floridian is a (+550) wager to win the upcoming U.S. Open. That is a much-shorter line than even 2nd-most-popular bet Dustin Johnson at 8-to-1 payoff. Koepka is also favored to win the British Open and is in a 4-way tie for most-popular futures wager to win the Masters next April, with Brooks, Tiger, Rory, and D.J. at (+1000) each.
What’s most baffling to me are the Pebble Beach odds. If Koepka has a 1-in-5 or 1-in-6 chance to win, surely Rory and Tiger could deserve shorter lines. In actuality they probably each have about a 1-in-7 chance to win the U.S. Open.
Koepka certainly has the game to win anywhere, to sound totally cliché about it. His length is unsurpassed, his approach shots and mostly beauties, and while his putting stats go up and down the same as any other top pro, he’s finding a way to get it done on the greens when it matters.
Yet the public’s collective “handicap” of Koepka to win at Pebble Beach overlooks 2 factors. First is that the putting at Pebble will be quirky and dangerous – the greens are actually comprised of a weed – with the USGA applying its dry-earth triple-roll treatment for an entire week.
Then there’s the tiny factor of the wind.
We have zero evidence that Koepka is in position to handle a links-style gale at Pebble Beach and emerge on top. He just nearly fell apart with a 74 on a windy Bethpage Black in the final round. Perhaps the opening Thursday of the United States Open will dawn bright and calm and beautiful. But even in that case, it’s far from certain that Pebble Beach will suit his game to a tee. Brooks plays well at the AT&T Pro-Am but the USGA setup will be another animal this June.
It could be just as zany that gamblers expect the 2-time defending U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner to complete a “Tiger Slam” by winning the next 3 majors. Once you lose at The Masters a calendar Grand Slam of all 4 major titles is off the table. But because Tiger once held all 4 trophies by winning them in a row from June to April, any major winner who is favored to win the next 3 in succession is being touted as a potential “Tiger Slam” contender.
Tiger was fortunate to win his own Tiger Slam. It’s probably not in the cards for Brooks Koepka. I’m not buying the latter’s line for Pebble Beach, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s great. I just think Brooks is being handicapped in the wrong way.
It’s extremely hard to win 4 majors in a row with any set of skills.
A Quick, Illustrative Story About Jack Nicklaus
When Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Masters and the U.S. Open in 1972, the British press began calling the upcoming Open Championship at Muirfield “The Grand Slam Open.” If Jack won again, he would be just a PGA Championship victory away from the modern, calendar Grand Slam.
Except Lee Trevino, a low-ball short hitter of Mexican heritage, arrived at Muirfield already having had Nicklaus’s number at major tournaments. “I didn’t come here to help Jack win a Grand Slam,” Trevino said as the tournament teed off. “If I played golf against my mother, I’d try to beat her.”
Jack suffered from back problems and faded into the pack on Friday and Saturday while Trevino soared. Then on Sunday, what seemed inevitable finally happened – the Golden Bear awoke and birdied hole after hole to catch Lee and the other leaders.
Trevino, under pressure, knocked the ball into thick rough by the green with 2 holes to play. He later told reporters that the lie was so bad, he gave up and just hit it hard.
The ball went in, in what became known as the “Miracle of Muirfield.”
Remember that while 10 or 20 years ago golf had seemed like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a bunch of faceless clones, the current decade has produced great champions who are a threat to win any big tournament. Just as Jack Nicklaus (or any other hot favorite) had to deal with Trevino, Player, Palmer, and others who could stop his momentum at any time, Brooks Koepka must deal with several dangerous threats at Pebble Beach and Royal Portrush this summer.
Even a prodigious golfer in his prime cannot simply play well and lap the field anymore – that was proven at Bethpage Black.
And even while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy may not enjoy the form they once did, each golfer knows how to play in the wind and win majors on unique golf courses. Koepka is overvalued against those players at Pebble Beach because he just won. Bettors need to remember they’re gambling on future outcomes, not on recent ones that already happened.
Koepka’s Long-Term Value Outweighs Short-Term Value
I think Brooks Koepka will be an elite PGA Tour golfer for a long time to come. He may win more major championships than Nick Faldo or Phil Mickelson.
But I also know how the betting public (and the golf media that influences it) can become bowled-over by a player’s success in the short term.
Look for the same thing to happen to Koepka that happened to Tiger Woods last season. A loss (but a solid finish) at Pebble Beach causes the action to surge on someone else – perhaps Rory McIlroy if he wins. But then at Royal Birkdale the weather and the greens are different all over again, and gamblers forget about the cool-headed Koepka all over again…and lines pay off handsomely after the linksman takes the lead in yet another huge tournament.
Brooks may not be a solid pick to win the U.S. Open or even the British Open at the current short odds. But it’s always nice to have a player in-pocket who is always prepared to play his best rounds – especially when the fans, writers, and handicappers forget his immense talent.