There can be no doubt about it. Las Vegas and the betting public had Tiger Woods handicapped all wrong at the majors in 2018.
Many factors were at play. Bookies were skeptical but afraid of dealing with the kind of imbalanced handle Tiger’s action can create, so the opening lines were somewhat cautious. But Woods’ news cycle had become a frustrating lather-rinse-repeat over the years. Tony Kornheiser chirping something optimistic, Michael Wilbon saying he’d like to see Woods actually walk 18 holes.
Tiger had struggled with injury and painkiller dependence for so long that when the aging golfer came back to finish -10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early 2018, it was like a jailbreak for bettors who had kept a small extra stake handy just in case their hero ever returned to the links in earnest.
Odds quickly shrank into triple-digits (or single-digits in London odds) for Woods to win The Masters in April. But he wasn’t ready. Nor was he ready to win another U.S. Open, a tournament in which he missed the cut last season.
Then came the PGA Championship in August. Woods’ line ballooned to 16-to-1 as golf betting junkies simply tired of losing out on the iconic athlete.
Yet it was then – only then – that a confident shark would have made his play on Tiger.
Golf is eternally deceptive – but it’s not just the players being deceived. The media is forever misled on how to cover The Gentleman’s (and Gentlelady’s) Game and the press’s malfeasant hype tends to cause ripples in the betting odds. Especially when it comes to someone as world-famous as Tiger Woods.
New Year, New Optimism
Take a peek at Bovada Sportsbook’s futures odds for golf’s 4 majors in 2019 and one particular market sticks out like a sore thumb.
A golfer who hasn’t won a major title in a decade is favored to have one heck of a season.
It doesn’t help that he won the Tour Championship last autumn, giving fans and bookmakers an entire winter to prognosticate where he’ll win next.
Lines for Augusta National have Tiger at (+1100) and slightly trailing the always-dangerous Jordan Spieth. But Tiger is tied-1st on the futures board for the other 3 majors, including a new spring version of the PGA Championship, a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and the British Open at Royal Portrush.
Bettors don’t yet know what Tiger’s health will be like in the coming season. But we know he’s off to a decent start with a 10-under-par effort in the Farmers Insurance Open.
Handicapping Golf’s Majors: One Big Long Cold Shower
The media forgets that golf’s volatility makes it a sport where success is unlikely to be replicated from week to week. Golf is also a sport in which a “struggling” player can jump up and contend in any tournament, so long as his very best game is good enough.
A previous 3 or 4 weeks’ worth of results is a poor gauge for determining what will happen in a major. So is the result of the previous major. But pundits will always overrate recent winners and underrate those who have been coasting within the PGA Tour and European Tour packs.
The career of Phil Mickelson, who just ran away with the 2019 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, has often provided examples of the fallacy. Phil was occasionally written off as a contender during his prime after bad rounds in February and March. Cut to the 16th hole on Sunday at The Masters, and there was “fat, unathletic, inconsistent” Phil moseying up to the green with a chance to win.
But you don’t have to tell Tiger Woods about being written off. While Tiger’s cockiness early in his career may have been a foolish symptom of youth, his defiant nature as a veteran PGA Tour professional is probably more justified. Woods’ numerous sins have offended some of the game’s most powerful people, yet we know that the public is on Tiger’s side because of the gambling action. People don’t tend to bet on superstars whom they cannot stand to cheer for.
A Matter of Course
Tiger’s short odds are also in-part a product of the course schedule of 2019’s major championships. Pebble Beach and Bethpage Black are each masterfully-designed layouts that demand distance and accuracy while testing a player’s preparation, shot-making versatility, and putting nerves. In other words the layouts were made for Woods in his prime.
The 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links was simply no contest. Tiger destroyed the field in a similar fashion to how he had embarrassed the world’s best at Augusta in 1997, winning by 15 strokes and shooting 3 out of 4 rounds in the 60s.
Bethpage Black turned into the Tiger Woods show at the U.S. Open in 2002. Woods arrived like a dark shadow over the New York country club and posted 67-68-70-72 to win by 3 over Phil Mickelson.
There’s no way to tell what the immediate future will hold for Tiger’s swing, rhythm, and mental keys. But we do know that he’s a far healthier athlete than he was several years ago. With his futures odds for the 4 majors of 2019 almost mirroring each other exactly, some projections can be made of the great linksman’s chances of success in each setting.
It would also help to look those players the bookies see as Tiger’s biggest potential threats…just in case a ’19 major turns into a Trevino vs Nicklaus style 2-man prizefight.
Tiger at the 2019 Masters
There are “Masters” golf tournaments in Japan, Europe, and the Middle East. But when links fans say “The Masters” it’s almost always referring to the hallowed ground of Augusta National and the U.S. Masters Championship in April.
Weird and unforgiving weather patterns in late winter give bettors pause when trying to predict what kind of tournament The Masters will be. But we know what kind of course it’s going to be played on. The first thing Augusta does is eliminate all short and low-ball hitters almost as a matter of course. Even the great Lee Trevino struggled to play well there with his hooded iron shots and knifing drives. Jones and McKenzie intended the course to yield to high, long, powerful country club approaches, and those are forever the shots needed to reach Augusta’s toughest hole locations.
Once your golfer is close to the hole, don’t assume he’s putting it in the cup. Augusta National’s greens are so slick that Gary McCord once referred to them as “bikini-waxed.” The flub got McCord – a good guy on the PGA Tour if there ever was one – banned from announcing the tournament. But his real sin was probably to underrate the green speed. A golf ball would encounter more resistance on the smooth thighs of maidens than on a 4-foot downhill putt on the 15th green.
Tiger’s putting stroke has won him The Masters a few times. In 1997 his Augusta putting performance resembled that of the teenager who makes everything he looks at on a municipal course. He was only 21, after all. While the aging process is not good for the putting nerves, it’s not necessarily the flatstick keeping Woods out of the winner’s circle these days. Modern-day Tiger is excellent at The Masters but prone to round-changing mistakes, such as in 2013 when he carded an 8 on the 33rd hole of an otherwise championship-level outing.
Woods went in the water after his approach shot hit the flagstick, and was later penalized 2 shots for a controversial drop in the fairway.
Dustin Johnson’s faulty putting stroke has him at (+1200) for the U.S. Masters, though his towering shots are otherwise perfect for the venue.
Spieth (+1000) suffers from the defects of his virtues – he’s the ultimate compact shot-maker but needs to build a score over 72 holes. The rough which has been grown in recent years to catch and punish errant tee shots sometimes catches up with him, as did the pond on the 12th hole in this memorable meltdown:
Needless to say, if D.J. happens to be putting well headed into April, then he’ll be the guy with the shortest futures odds to tame Tiger Woods.
Tiger at the 2019 PGA Championship
This is where the odds start to get a little bit strange. Yes, Tiger Woods killed it at the 2002 United States Open at Bethpage Black. But he was capable of a high, high ceiling back then.
In the course of present day in which Tiger is a mega-talented and captivating but also 43-year-old golfer, you’ve got to give the nod to Dustin Johnson at the A.W. Tillinghast layout. In fact I’m not sure why D.J.’s odds-to-win aren’t twice as short as Tiger’s for the PGA in May.
The course designed in such a way as to mask The Cheetah’s weakness on the putting surface. Bethpage Black has 4 or 5 magnificently hard greens and hole locations, and it will be each golfer’s goal to 2-putt those. Johnson can do that. But the routine 5-to-10 foot birdie putt at Bethpage is not challenging. Sinking those is a fairly easy proposition – about the only easy proposition during the round.
The Black Course’s elevated greens are also made to punish average shots and reward D.J.’s kingly iron play. His weak 289 at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage was a product of a bad swing-timing week and rain-soaked rough that overtaxed his short game. If there’s a major in 2019 in which Johnson deserves shorter odds than Tiger Woods (or Brooks Koepka or Jordan Spieth) it’s the PGA Championship.
Tiger at the 2019 U.S. Open
One of my favorite all-time TV quotes comes from Johnny Miller, who always sticks up for Pebble Beach. The iconic course is the source of more anecdotes and lore than any layout in the United States (or at least tied with Augusta and Pine Valley for the honor). But it has its critics, and the phrase “These would be ordinary holes at a Midwestern park” has become a slogan for haters of the Monterrey Peninsula’s unique (read: windy) brand of outdoor sport.
Miller, who won the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach at 46 years old, will have none of it. Once asked about the “boring design” complainers on an NBC broadcast, he said, “That’s because they’re ignorant. This is the greatest golf course in the world.” “Mmm-kay,” his partner awkwardly replied.
Tiger will always feel like a true favorite when playing at Pebble. His turn-of-the-millennium tour de force was an epic tutorial in solid, patient, precise, confident golf. Miller was in the booth on Thursday, watched Tiger hit a bunker shot, and muttered “See ya later, guys.”
Woods was 10 strokes ahead after 54 holes.
Perhaps the memories of nearly 20 years ago are keeping Tiger’s line short for the U.S. Open. But I can’t fathom why Dustin Johnson shows up at (+1000) again for a major championship at Pebble Beach, since the course’s impossible sloping greens are likely to murder him unless rain tames on the weekend. There are patches of actual weeds rolled right with the putting surface, a scenario such as the one at Chambers Bay which bedeviled D.J. on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open in 2015.
Dustin Johnson led after 3 rounds of the Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and then shot an 82, one of the worst cards ever signed into the record in his long and distinguished golf career.
Perhaps none of the favorites should dip below 10-to-1 at any point prior to the 2019 U.S. Open, no matter how hot they might be on the PGA Tour or in the majors. The weather is a wild card for a tournament at Pebble, and it can be one of the worst weather environments in the world in which athletes are expected to play on.
There’s rarely any lightning or anything that would kill anybody. Just things that can kill a competitive round of golf, like gale-force winds and sea spray as players turn toward the ocean on the breathtaking Par 3 7th hole. A bad weather week at Monterrey can turn a major championship into a tee-time lottery.
In the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, conditions got so bad that when Colin Montgomerie finished his round several strokes behind the leaders, Jack Nicklaus walked up to him and said, “Congratulations. I think you just won the tournament.” Caddies’ umbrellas were blowing inside-out. But the unflappable Tom Kite ignored the carnage around him and shot a 72 to beat a glum Monty (and Jeff Sluman) by multiple shots.
Tiger at the 2019 Open Championship
I wonder how the Royal & Ancient Club is taking it that its one and only major tournament is now the final such outing of each season going forward. Probably not so bad. The Masters has always benefited from going first on the calendar each year. Now the British Open can benefit from being the calendar’s last major, a chance to settle scores in the true home of golf.
2019’s setting is a real change of pace, a place called Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland that routinely makes global Top 10 and Top 20 lists of the best golf links but which has not hosted The Open Championship since Max Faulkner won there in 1951.
Plus, it’s hard to even grasp how the old course is going to play, since several holes have been freshly remodeled with this year’s tournament in mind. We do know that it is filled with booby traps, including a ravine-riddled 16th hole that the locals call “Calamity.”
Calamity is a Par 3 of close to 250 yards, meaning that for once in his life, Dustin Johnson will have more than a sand wedge to the flag.
Rory McIlroy is tied with Tiger at the top of the British Open futures board at Bovada with each 10-to-1 odds on winning at Royal Portrush. At this point it’s hard to counsel against picking either man, though I highly prefer Koepka at (+2000) at this point.
If there’s one thing we know about the remodel of a famous course, it’s that there could be long faces and controversy over the playability of the links during the tournament. That leads to distractions and negative states of mind on the fairway. If the souped-up course’s difficulty ramps up in an Irish wind, don’t expect players to take personal responsibility for bogeys.
Brooks Koepka reminds me of Mark McCormack’s description of Julius Boros in the 60s, a man who hit the golf ball, waited for it to come down, and then hit it again, all with the facial expression “of a man in a storefront waiting for the rain to stop.” If headlines are screaming about dastardly course architects and petty R&A officials, then Koepka – who won the U.S. Open and the PGA last year – could be the one to quietly score well for 4 rounds, lift the trophy and go home.
Tiger Woods at the 2019 Majors: Best Futures Market
Those who took LegitGamblingSites.com’s advice on Tiger Woods futures betting last year almost won big at almost no risk. Tiger was 16-to-1 to win the PGA Championship, indicative that people were tired of betting on him after an 0-for-3 performance in the 2018 majors.
The truth was that it was the previous 3 lines for The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open that were a wee bit too short thanks to the buzz and excitement that surrounded Tiger’s comeback. Then the disappointment led to a thin supply of high-roller action on Woods in August.
August became the time to pounce, as only a masterful string of late birdies from Koepka held off a charging Tiger and prevented a near-$20 on the dollar payoff on a living legend.
It could be time for a mirror-image strategy in ’19. I’m liking Tiger’s (+1100) line to win at Augusta National more than any other option.
Consider the dynamics. If Woods does re-injure himself in a prohibitive way in 2019, then there goes any stake invested in his futures lines…unless the injury occurs after the tournament in question. Picking the 1st of 4 majors spins those odds in the gambler’s favor.
Plus, Tiger’s a known quantity at Augusta National and Pebble Beach. Pebble could turn into a free-for-all. But no matter what the weather does around Magnolia Lane, it won’t be difficult to predict the outcome if Tiger arrives in April on the same upward trajectory he finished the ’18 majors on.
Maybe we’ll update this page after The Masters and gauge how well the projections are playing out. Happy Tiger watching!