Walter Hagen, considered the greatest match-play golfer of the 20th century, once faced the legendary Bobby Jones in a high-stakes 72-hole exhibition match. Hagen won easily. But journalists of the era dismissed the result, arguing that since The Haig had never beaten Jones to win a U.S. Open, the outcome of the head-to-head combat was essentially a fluke.
No matter what happens, the media’s reaction to “The Match” – a post-Thanksgiving showdown between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods – can be expected to take a similar turn. Does this single match prove anything about the legacies of 2 great golfers? No. It’s not a comprehensive test of their skills, and neither player has been peaking as of late (though Tiger came close in August).
That doesn’t mean it can’t be a big whopping load of fun. Tiger and Phil are interested in making The Match a truly modern fan experience aimed at the home viewer…and the gambler. The pair will be gambling on the course, daring each other to make side bets. There won’t be a gallery – just close-up cameras and microphones broadcasting commercial-free. Bettors at home will be able to wager on almost anything – individual shots, putts, even the clothes worn by the opponents.
As a handicapping blogger, I’ve got to hand it to the 2 long-time adversaries. They’re welcoming the golf betting public with open arms by making risk-and-reward cash bets the centerpiece of a round, helping those who enjoy playing for $10 against pals on an otherwise empty course feel like we’re not so different from the biggest names in the game.
But it’s still Tiger and Phil. Good feels aside, they’re going to try to beat each other’s brains out.
Let’s look at the format and rules of The Match, the course, the betting odds (and some prop markets), and of course the money at stake…for the players and for gamblers at home.
The Match: Unique Betting Markets in a Unique Setting
The Match is scheduled to tee off on Friday afternoon in the 3 o’ clock hour EST.
Where? In Las Vegas. Surprise, surprise!
But it won’t be on some desert-tinged tourist trap with easy drives and forgiving approaches, designed for recreational golfers and Senior Tour stops.
Instead, the hazard-filled Shadow Creek Golf Course will provide challenges as well as birdie chances and breathtaking visuals. The layout regularly makes Top 50 and Top 100 lists of the best golf courses in the world and has been frequented by names like Michael Jordan and George W. Bush.
Regular match play rules apply. Players vie to win each individual hole, and winning any hole gives them a “1-up” on the scoreboard. Or a 2-up if they’re already ahead 1-up, or 3-up if ahead 2-up, and so on. If Tiger and Phil have each won an equal # of holes the scoreboard will be “All Square.” You don’t have to win by any more than 1-up to avoid extra golf – it’s not tennis or volleyball – but if either player is 1 or 2-down with only a few holes to go, you can bet he’s going to attack.
All of the “side bets” wagered and won on the course will be donated to charity, but bettors who quick-draw wager from home on the tiniest elements of the round do so at their own peril and the bookie’s pleasure.
The Match will be sold for $19.99 on Pay Per View, though I suspect many viewers will be illegally streaming online without paying the fee. Of course the governments of the world will quickly identify and apprehend all of them. Wink, wink.
While the golfers will be competing for pride (and an eye-popping $9,000,000 purse) I’m not buying that Tiger or Phil’s main goal is to go out and destroy the other guy and embarrass him. On the contrary, their biggest impetus to play well is the hype and build-up that they themselves as partner-promoters have given The Match.
Suppose Phil hits 3 shots into the water on the back 9, losing the match 4 and 3 (4 holes down with 3 holes to play). Will his first thought be, “oh crap, I lost out on 9 million dollars?” Nah. He’s got plenty of dough in the bank. But what he won’t have in that scenario is the respect of disappointed fans and an already-skeptical media.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have battled in more prestigious circumstances than a novelty match on PPV, and will do so again. But if either linksman plays like garbage, he’ll feel awful for ruining his own invention with a poor effort.
Betting Lines on a Winner…and Just About Everything Else
MyBookie’s odds on a match winner cast Tiger Woods as a distinct favorite. Tiger, who struggled to live up to expectations early in 2018 but blossomed into a top-level contender again in late summer, is a (-225) moneyline favorite to win the $9,000,000 match-play. Mickelson is a (+175) underdog.
But that’s far from the only market available to wager on before the 1st hole tees off.
Here’s a quick preview of some of the more interesting proposition bets available.
Tiger vs Phil: To Win the Most Cash on Side Bets
Smartly, the odds on this market are “even” – though with an enhanced 20% “vig” on either side of the line. Tiger and Phil each have (-120) odds on winning more extra cash for their favorite charities.
Part of that parity has to do with the golfers’ mindset. They’re not going to side-bet on things that they don’t feel they can win.
Tiger won’t say, “if I get my next 3 bunker and flop shots closer to the hole than yours, you owe me $10,000.” That’s because Mickelson is one of the greatest short-game wizards that the sport has ever known. Likewise, Phil probably won’t wager on who can hit the best “stinger” shot with a long iron or a wood, or on fairway-wood chip shots to the hole. Tiger has spent a career perfecting those shots.
But another aspect to the equal odds (very different from the pronounced favorite/underdog odds on 18 holes) is that the less shots and holes involved in any competition between the 2 men, the better chance that the older Mickelson has to win it. More about that a little later.
Will There Be an Eagle in the Match?
Bettors appear to be “voting with their touchpads” on some of MyBookie’s trickier lines.
For instance, the sportsbook offered and then took down bets (though they could always go back up on the site at any moment) on whether Tiger or Phil individually would make an eagle. But the prop came with a crafty stipulation – the player must hole-out.
In match play, either golfer can “concede” any putt or hole to their opponent. Suppose Phil nails a 350-yard drive down the 7th fairway. The 7th hole at Shadow Creek is a Par 5 with a green that is reachable in 2 shots after a big knock off the tee, and even if the hole location is tucked on the far end of the putting surface behind a bunker, Mickelson can hit a high fade (remember he’s a lefty, so a fade goes right-to-left for him as opposed to left-to-right for right-handed golfers) and put the ball close enough to putt for an easy eagle. If he does that, and Tiger knocks a 3rd shot into the bunker instead, Tiger might concede the eagle putt to Phil after failing to hole-out from the sand.
In that situation, even if Mickelson is 5-10 feet away and likely would have scored an eagle while putting out, his score of “3” on the Par 5 would not count as winning the originally-worded prop bet. A lot of gamblers seem to have figured that out, causing so little action on the market (or a rush of bets on “no” for either golfer) that the sportsbook took it down.
What remains is a simple straightforward prop with no such stipulation – “will there be an eagle in the match?” Odds heavily favor “no,” but I’m already leaning toward “yes” at (+700).
Shadow Creek is a tough course, but it’s not an overly long layout for modern equipment at about 7500 yards, and the last thing Tiger and Phil could possibly want is a course where a bunch of pars will win the day. There will be opportunities to splash, sink, and fumble in the rough…but lots of welcoming greens and pin positions that lend themselves to birdies and eagles.
How Many Times Will Tiger Twirl His Club (or Reference Unlawful Carnal Knowledge)
The need for many conservative 2 and 3-iron drives off the tee on the winding course, plus Tiger’s comfort in a relaxed setting (he’s played private matches for money as often as he’s teed off in The Masters) has led to the hefty prop line of “Over (7 ½) club twirls” getting (-150) payoff odds on this clever proposition market.
Another funny Tiger-centric prop is “Will Tiger Woods drop an F-bomb Over or Under (4 ½) times?”
Even a blue-language craftsman like Woods can’t say the F-word half of a time (or maybe he can, but not in a way that you could prove in court) so this yes vs no prop market is a win/lose offer at (-120) both ways.
Handicapping the 18-Hole Match: Mickelson All the Way
Tiger Woods is younger, more versatile, and less-prone to blow-ups and attacks of nerves over a 72-hole tournament than Phil Mickelson. Tiger should be favored in any comprehensive test of the 2 golfers’ skill sets in 2018. But this match is nothing of the sort.
Older golfers love short novelty matches in which they can use their legendary talent without worry of fatigue, putting yips, or charges from a dozen younger rivals on Saturday and Sunday.
The Match will be decided on Friday afternoon…and Phil won’t even have to compete on Thursday or in a Wednesday Pro-Am. He can hit a few of his classic great approaches and recovery shots, dazzle around the green, and putt just as well as Tiger Woods can…at least for 18 holes. Phil may not prevail, but his odds-to-win present a grand larceny of a value wager at (+175).
Meanwhile, in the prop markets, I’m loving “yes” on an eagle being scored at (+700). Expect the pair of great entertainers to entertain…and that includes some bombs off the tee and putts for 2 or 3.