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Handicapping 72-Hole Match-Up Bets at the 2019 Masters

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson
I’ve whiffed on the weather in previews of outdoor sports before. I promise it’s not because I’m a lazy handicapper or because I don’t want to gather as much current information as possible before making a pick. My instinct is to macro-analyze. I’m more likely to observe 50 or 100 years of very basic trends in an event than look at The Weather Channel for an hour while thinking about BYU vs Utah.

Besides, athletes are getting better and better at adapting to Mother Nature with such efficiency that it feels like a fool’s game to wager with weather in mind. If it snows 6 inches, a pair of gridiron teams could grind to a halt, but if it turns into a laid-back duster at the last minute, the wetness of the field can simply help a QB and his receivers score touchdowns.

Golf announcers are the most inadvertently dishonest people in the world, since they constantly sound like they’re underestimating the players. “He’ll be lucky to get this to 10 feet” says the whispering course correspondent – just before the PGA pro hits it stiff to thunderous applause.

It’s part of the culture of the game to stress the hazards of every shot. The players – and the modern golf ball – are so efficient that a lot of the TV hand-wringing just serves to make them look even greater in the clutch than they are…which is the point, of course.

The media tends to emphasize the difficulty, too, instead of recognizing how certain “bad” conditions might actually buoy a champion golfer.

Rain on the course is portrayed as gloomy news, but there are players who like rain because they hit the ball so far and straight. Dustin Johnson can destroy the field on a wet course if he’s striping the driver. His approach shots are still short, and will have a nice soft landing zone. Meanwhile, fellow competitors who don’t hit drives as high or as far are floundering with long tough approaches.

The 2019 Masters begins this Thursday, and a dry weekend is not expected by meteorologists. How could wet-and-dripping conditions affect the gambling outcomes?

U.S. Masters: Lessons From the Past in Match-Up Betting

Once at a Masters in the early 70s, Arnold Palmer appeared to be a favorite to make a return to glory on Sunday afternoon thanks to his excellent driving. The weather at Augusta was windy, dark, and chilly, and Arnie’s novel tactic of slamming his driver into the turf a split-second before he struck the ball was producing low, boring rocket-balls that ran and ran closer to the green. Meanwhile, the high-ball hitters in the field were scoring 75s and 76s on Monday and Tuesday.

Then Thursday morning arrived, “bright and sunny and gorgeous” as later described by Palmer. The icon’s golf game fell apart, with the lack of wind causing the turf to soften and put his drives in different positions than he was expecting. With the challenge of 10 or 12 unfamiliar approach shots in unexpectedly-easy conditions, Arnie made par after par while others soared. Finally, he started missing tiny putts as the frustration of bad luck got to him.

The effects of weather on a particular linksman are not always so drastic. But it makes it easier to predict trends across the field as a whole.

If it rains at Augusta this year, early and often, then the short-hitters of the field will be at a distinct disadvantage. Rory McIlroy can crack a 325-yard drive over a span of trees and through a narrow chute to the fairway, as he often did when winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in 2012. Ordinary power off the tee won’t pull that off consistently. Sorry, Jordan Spieth.

It also helps to imagine how a bad-weather scenario will affect the psyche of contenders in a clutch scenario. For instance, in the 1999 PGA Championship in Chicago, Tiger Woods led Sergio Garcia comfortably for 3 and ½ rounds. But the wind whipped up on the back 9 of a pock-marked and hazardous Medinah course on Sunday, and suddenly El Nino was in his element.

Garcia will never be a consistent birdie-maker over the long term, but that day he hit one of the best recovery shots of all time to save par and put all kinds of pressure on a nascent phenom.

Let’s do more than just look at 72-hole match-up bets at Bovada Sportsbook for this year’s Masters Championship. Major titles are won with a swing, but much more-so with the brain. Imagining a subdued, soaked atmosphere on at least 1 or 2 out of the upcoming 4 rounds, how do we expect the best players in the world to react?

Just as importantly, will Mother Nature ask anyone to pull-out skills that just aren’t in the bag?

Bovada’s 72-Hole Match-Up Odds and Betting Rules

72-hole bets are fairly simple. Players who may or may not be literally paired together on the golf course are pitted in stroke-play competition over the course of the tourney.

My general assumption is always that if one player misses the cut while his head-to-head opponent leads the championship, the bettor will not be punished for 1 of the 2 missing the weekend and therefore being unable to play the entire “match.” I’m also recalling that if each player in the market misses the cut, the better score wins as opposed to a “push” refund on all action.

But let me check with Bovada on that real quick, and get back to you. Meanwhile, here are some tasty lines on a few match-ups I’m recommending as pre-tournament 72-hole wagers.

Fred Couples (-120) vs Vijay Singh (-110)

If any head-to-head market raises the issue of what happens when players miss the cut, it’s match-ups between aging veterans. Fred Couples and Vijay Singh own Green Jackets and Couples at least is a beloved fan favorite.

(Singh made bitter remarks about Annika Sorenstam when the Swedish legend bravely competed against men at PGA Tour events, and a hex on him forever. We’ll leave such personal feelings out of the handicap of the tournament though.)

It’s easier to make the cut at Augusta National than at a typical championship. I’m liking Freddy in this match-up due to the crowd support (not the fact that I’m a supporter…promise) and its effect on a golfer who is really only competing for the love of the game and trying to please the patrons.

Especially on a rainy day, the crowd can be 75% of what an older player has going for him.

But we’d better get an answer on that missed-cut thing. I’ve been talking to a kind lass from Bovada who is putting me in touch with an odds manager to discuss the golf betting rules. Apparently we’re not the only people who need confirmation.

Brooks Koepka (-115) vs Tommy Fleetwood (-115)

My volunteer work in prep sports can be a challenge due to the immense number of High School teams and matches to prognosticate. I’ve learned how to effectively preview a contest in just a few words, even (for humor and to save space) a one-liner.

I don’t think I’ve ever used just 4 words to handicap a golf match before, but here goes.

Brooks Koepka – who in his most-recent major championship, out-dueled a surging Tiger Woods on the back 9 to claim another championship in an already-decorated career – is at (-115) even odds to beat Tommy Fleetwood at (-115) – Tommy Fleetwood who has missed a cut and finished 17th in 2 Masters Championship appearances…and potentially in foul weather.

Are you kidding me?

Wager on Koepka to win the match-up. Then do it again, then have some lunch. Then tell your friends to bet on it.

2 more quick picks in marquee head-to-head markets:

Rory McIlroy (-130) vs Dustin Johnson (EVEN)

Take D.J.’s line while the impending rain is still an uncertainty.

Rory can stripe the driver, but he’s not capable of the kingly week off the tee Dustin Johnson might have if fairways are soft and brute force is at a premium.

Tiger Woods (-210) vs Phil Mickelson (+160)

Phil beat Tiger as the betting-odds underdog at The Match in Las Vegas late last season, but I’m liking Tiger as a lock on this line since I expect Mr. Woods to finish in the Top 5.

Recap of 72-Hole Match-Up Leans (and Rule Clarification)

It’s not every day that a handicapper tells a bedtime story in the middle of the day, at least one that doesn’t involve the Chicago Black Sox scandal or something.

But the odds manager scheduled a call with me in 2 hours. That wouldn’t work, since the golf blog at waits for no one when The Masters is coming up.

Instead, I found this fairy tale (unlike most of them, this one’s 100% true) elsewhere on the web:

“If John and Mike make the cut to advance to the final rounds of play, the golfer with the lowest score wins. If John plays 72 holes while Mike plays 36, John’s market wins the bet. If John and Mike miss the 36-hole cut and John has a lower score than Mike, John’s market again wins the bet.”

Poor Mike. He must not have been prepared for the rain.

My picks on the 4 match-up markets above:

  • Freddy (-120) over Vijay
  • Koepka (-115) over Fleetwood
  • D.J. (EVEN) over Rory
  • Tiger (-210) over Phil