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PGA Championship 3-Balls Bets and Head-to-Head Match-Ups

2019 PGA Championship logo at Bethpage
One of my betting maxims is to look for the price, not the number.

You hear so much talk from lifelong handicappers about “finding the number.” Finding the most-favorable point spread and betting at the sportsbook which offers it is great, or at least it was always a strong tactic in old-school Las Vegas, where the 10% house “vig” was less often toyed-around with.

The house’s 10% has now become a computer algorithm – woven deeply into a sports betting site’s calculated markets but not guaranteed to show up next to any ATS or O/U line. Sites such as MyBookie offer strange spreads and totals in exchange for slapping (+120) or (-140) next to them – and even sportsbooks like BetOnline often utilize the same gambit.

In those circumstances, a gambler can get caught taking what feels like likely-payoff lines over and over again, and winning 60% of the time but gaining no ground against the bookie’s fees. It’s better to restrict oneself to only betting the (-110) markets and even a few (EVEN) or (+110) bets if you can find them.

But what when there is no “number” – just a number of strokes that add up to par?

Golf’s 3-balls and head-to-head match-up markets present a unique opportunity to the bettor. Household handicappers must not worry about a number set on a line by the sportsbook, rather, it’s our job to figure out what number a player is likeliest to shoot over 4 (or 2) rounds.

Betting boards offer moneylines on a golfer out-shooting a paired 2nd golfer over 72 (or 36) holes, and “3 balls” markets on linksmen who are teeing-off together in major championships.

Bovada Sportsbook likes to utilize a late, quick window for much of its golf betting action. But as of early in the week prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, at least a couple other websites in our network are already posting 3-balls and head-to-head odds on the battle in New York.

Let’s sift through and find some quality bets to play.

But first, a quick update on who Las Vegas currently likes to win.

2019 PGA: The Elephant in the Room is a Tiger

Finding a good price on a Tiger Woods group at a major is no more or less likely than handicapping a valuable 3-balls bet in another market. However, we ought not to let a PGA Championship post fall away without at least addressing the subject of Tiger, who has not been the biggest story in golf but rather the biggest story in sports since winning The Masters in April.

Woods is still a 10-to-1 futures pick for the PGA at Bethpage, which begins play on the A.W. Tillinghast course on Thursday morning (weather permitting). I don’t understand that line.

Or shall we say I do understand how the line came to pass even though Tiger would not be a good pick at (+1500) let alone (+1000).

Tiger Woods 2.0 is not ideally suited for Bethpage Black, a course where mistakes are punished and finesse can only take you so far. It would take a Ben Hogan or Lee Trevino-level week of ball-striking and a putter like that of Walter Hagen in his prime.

Bethpage Black is long and arduous, even longer than Augusta National, which allows downhill approach shots to its longest Par 4s and 5s. In contrast, the 15th green of Bethpage is a torturous piece of turf Tilly built into the side of a 50-foot hill. The lowest level of the putting surface is more than 10 yards above the fairway, with punishing rough and sand front and left.

The 2019 Masters champion pistol-whipped the field at Bethpage in the United States Open in 2002, out-driving the average competitor by 15 yards and hitting green after green for tap-in pars. There are enough birdie holes on the layout that Tiger needed only to be patient and keep cranking long drives.

Look at the kid who won that tournament. Muscular, agile, healthy, and able to hit golf balls at a velocity never-before seen in major championship competition.

When the U.S. Open returned to Farmingdale in 2009, Tiger had episodes in the first 3 rounds and then worked his way into contention on Sunday afternoon. But his 2nd shot to the upper tier – the upper upper tier – of the 15th green ended with the ball skipping over the flag and snagging in the long fescue, as it is wont to do. Woods’ eyes closed and his cap covered his face. His tournament was over.

Tiger Woods

Tiger’s game is even less-suited to Bethpage in his 40-something years. For instance, the best way to avoid being too far up the hill on #15 is to slam a drive 350 yards off the tee and then hit a balloon-ball to the upper tier.

Dustin Johnson can do that this weekend. Tiger no longer can.

Woods’ futures line is simply there because gamblers want to believe he’ll win a calendar Grand Slam. I think his chances to do that are less than 1-in-75, but I do think he’ll have a run at another major win when the U.S. Open heads to Pebble Beach later this season.

Can a Short Hitter Prevail at Bethpage?

I do think there’s a place for short hitters at the Tillinghast course, players whose drivers always hit the fairway and who don’t make any bad mistakes on approach shots.

You also have to hole pretty much every 6-to-10 foot par putt you look at, kind of like contending in the British Open.

Jordan Spieth is a likely candidate. If the course is as damp as it is anticipated to be, then Spieth’s (+4000) line-to-win might be a sneaky wager at low risk that could pay off. Avoiding bogeys at Bethpage means landing in the proper spot on greens that range from easy putting mats to severe peaks and valleys. There are penal putts at Bethpage designed to add strokes to your scorecard. But a precise player like Spieth can avoid having to hit those. His long irons will stick in wet weather.

Spieth’s problem is that power players like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka will have many more birdie chances than short-hitting opponents. PGA Championships can be won by carefully building a 72-hole score, but they’re almost always won by a player under par. Birdies just have to happen, and it’s harder to produce them when you’re playing defense. D.J. can hit diddy-bump iron shots into holes 7, 10, 15, and 16, Par 4s that will demand low-flying long balls from other Tour pros.

I like Brooks Koepka (+1000) as a pick in any major until gamblers learn to respect his talents. But Dustin Johnson is still the best PGA futures bet at the same price.

Now, on to the 3-balls and head-to-head markets.

Potential 3-Balls Wagers on the PGA Championship

There is nothing stopping a sportsbook from posting head-to-head odds on any selection of players, but traditional 3-balls bets are made on groups at a given tee time. Bettors can pick an 18-hole winner for Thursday’s 1st round until the early AM hours, or even pick, observe for a while and then bet again on another “game” later, just as with a Saturday afternoon of college football.

Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Justin Rose will play in a marquee morning trio.

Fowler ((+150) Odds-to-Card Lowest 1st Round Stroke Total) vs Watson (+240) vs Rose (+150)

Bubba’s 3-balls line at MyBookie stands out like a sore thumb  Long hitters tend to fare well on fresh, soft Thursday courses – John Feinstein has always joked that “Big” Jumbo Ozaki shot 32 in the opening 9 holes of every U.S. major tournament only to never finish in the top 10 – so it’s clear that Vegas handicappers think Watson is going to struggle from the outset.

Watson has been making headlines for more than just his golf game. A Twitter feud – real or “worked” – with Phil Mickelson is fresh off the social media griddle. Bubba has also drawn the PGA Tour’s ire for endorsing certain products of a “green” variety.

It’s finishes like T-56th at The Players Championship that have Watson priced where he is. Consider, though, that TPC at Sawgrass is a “target” course for finesse golfers, not a slugger’s paradise like Bethpage Black.

Watson is a fantastic wager to lead his group on Thursday.

  • Pick: Bubba the Underdog

McIlroy (+110) vs Day (+160) vs Mickelson (+320)

Another 3-balls market is priced based on overall form and not 1st-round considerations. Aging golfers like Mickelson with adaptable high-loft swings are often able to “tease” with Thursday exhibitions of great golf. Jack Nicklaus often did it, leading the U.S. Open on weekdays in his 50s. Old pros don’t necessary get tired from playing every day, but their nerves can’t hold up on the greens, and their arms can’t yank the ball out of deep rough anymore. On Saturday and Sunday, they fall back.

Phil can shoot a 67 or a 68 in the 1st round. If the course is wet, he’ll take advantage of receptive greens and make sure to get up and down after misses. Thursday putting comes with a minimum of spike marks, playing to Mickelson’s strength as a jewel-maker. Drying conditions are almost a certainty once a window of opportunity is found in which to let the leaders finish. Under those circumstances, Mickelson’s flagging length and putting nerves will fail him. But just because there’s no value in Phil’s (+6600) futures line-to-win doesn’t mean he ought to be a (+320) bet on Thursday. Not at a course where high, accurate, soft iron shots are the key to scoring well.

As for Rory, he’ll attack Bethpage with the driver and it will either pay off on the weekend or it won’t. It’s a crap-shoot whether his (+110) line would win with an opening-round 68 or lose in a haze of stumps and mulch and branches if McIlroy’s adventurous bombs head sideways.

Meanwhile, Jason Day’s private battles have become public, and his courage is an inspiration to the rest of the Tour. He finished 5th at Augusta before falling off the map in the last 2 Tour stops.

But those are also not solid reasons to make Phil such a decided underdog in the perfect scenario for an aging legend to show off. Show off for a Day, that is.

  • Pick: Phil’s Fancy

Koepka (+135) vs Molinari (+260) vs Woods (+150)

This group will get a whole lot of attention on the 1st day even if the eventual winner is not bound to come out of it.

Francisco Molinari is clearly another underdog that it would be wise to look at. The Spaniard finished 5th at The Masters and won the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational, so he knows how to play in big tournaments against marquee superstars.

Tiger is even an interesting choice at 1 and ½ to 1 odds for a Thursday, since the momentum of his historic Masters win could conceivably carry his putter through the 1st round.

But I’m sticking with Brooks Koepka, the perfect golfer if weather issues clog-up the field and make finishing the PGA in 4 days into a challenge. I’ve often compared Koepka to an old-timey golfer named Julius Boros, who in Mark McCormack’s words, stood on the golf course like “a man in a storefront waiting for the rain to stop.” That might be literally the case this week as other linksmen lose their tempers while the best golfer of 2018 waits patiently before playing on.

I believe Brooks is most-likely to finish 2nd on Sunday behind Dustin Johnson, so there’s no going against his market here.

  • Pick: Koepka Won’t Crack

72-Hole Head-to-Head Gambling on the PGA Championship

Finally, a glance at a few of BetOnline’s head-to-head 72-hole markets that could offer value – at least for bettors as patient as Brooks Koepka.

Remember that head-to-head betting means that there must be a winner unless the golfers tie with the same score for the whole tournament.

Scores are measured against par in case of failures-to-qualify for the weekend, so nobody can beat your pick with a “lower” score by missing the cut. Missed 36-hole cuts mean that the opposing golfer wins the market unless she or he shot even worse and is also out of the tournament on Friday.

I’m liking Patrick Reed at (-120) to beat Phil Mickelson over 72 holes. Mickelson’s veteran savvy and will to compete is likely to produce a strong Thursday round, but Reed will show off more power, versatility and nerves over the course of 4 rounds.

Also don’t overlook Adam Scott’s (+100) line to beat Sergio Garcia. Bethpage is laid out to punish wild, scrambling golfers like Sergio, who get stuck in mounds of hay by the 8th green.

Yes, Garcia has challenged Woods in the past at Bethpage Black and similar long, old-fashioned courses. But a modern PGA Championship is set up with players chasing -10, not level par.

All of Sergio’s scrambling won’t mean much if he’s playing defense while a steady veteran like Scott fires long down the middle.

Finally, an interesting “seniors” market pits John Daly (-135) against 50-year-old fellow former PGA champion Shaun Micheel (+115). Daly can still crack the hell out of a driver at 53 years of age, but don’t be tricked into thinking his old putting hands and forever-young attitude will add up to par.

Daly will spend most of 36 holes looking for his golf ball in mighty oak trees.

Meanwhile, Micheel is probably at Bethpage to prove he can still play. He won’t necessarily try to win, but he’ll try to make the cut with safe shots.

A healthy 50 years beats a party-worn 53 years of age any time…especially when the younger player’s tactics are smarter.

ODDS+115

MY PICK:
Wager on golf’s greybeards with Micheel (+115) over Daly at BetOnline.