The timing of the sport of golf makes handicappers forget things…and forget excellent golfers.
Golf’s calendar proceeds as it must. Meanwhile, the rush of media attention between April and August causes pundits to rush their opinions while the 4 majors help a maximum of 4 champions to worldwide notoriety. Those who do not win a major (or captain a Ryder Cup team, or shoot a 58, or accomplish some other record-breaking feat) languish in the shadows even if they recently basked in glow.
You can achieve some pretty special things in a links season without winning a major or even threatening to win any of them. Like Justin Thomas, for instance.
Not that Thomas – still a developing player at age 26 – didn’t fare OK at the big’uns in 2019. He finished Top-15 at the U.S. Masters and at the Open Championship, but it also would have helped if Justin Thomas had played in all 4 major championships this season. A wrist injury forced the Kentuckian’s withdrawal from the PGA Championship in spring.
But he’s tearing it up on the PGA Tour and in the FedEx chase, launching long, accurate drives and playing the kind of modern target-golf required to win when Par 4s are falling prey to big sticks and tiny wedges. Thomas won the BMW Championship at Medinah with an epic 25-under-par performance, and he’s the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas and at golf betting sites to prevail when golfers visit Atlanta for the Tour beginning this Thursday.
Only 1 thing – Thomas isn’t the bookmakers’ “favorite” in the traditional sense. In fact it would be a minor scandal – and a slap in the face – if he wasn’t taking wagers with the shortest odds.
For once, golf gamblers actually know what a leaderboard looks like before the tourney begins.
Tour Championship Gambling Odds: Futures Markets Informed By Starting Scores
At last! It gets boring watching golfers tee off on Thursday tied at 0 strokes, again and again. While the PGA Tour isn’t necessarily “weight-handicapping” its Thoroughbreds with certain numbers of prearranged strokes, the 2019 FedEx Cup format actually gifts high-ranking and low-scoring players with bonus strokes under-par to begin the 30-man East Lake tournament.
I spend a lot of time questioning the PGA Tour as I suspect any honest golf blogger would. You’ve got to give the organization (and the FedEx Cup) credit for a masterstroke this time, though.
Or at least they’ve done a fantastic job of cleaning up a mess.
Past incarnations of the FedEx Cup spoiled rounds of golf from both the fans’ and the players’ points of view. A guy would be so far ahead in the standings that he could afford to play safe at the Tour Championship. Then when he finished 2nd, everybody on TV would say, “Yay! He won!”
Meanwhile the linksman who came in “1st” (by, you know, shooting the lowest 72-hole score at East Lake) would lose the battle while he won the war. Viewers had a hard time knowing which “leaderboard” to ponder as the points chase made Sunday scores just part of the puzzle.
Now we’ve got clarity – a race for the lowest score under par as opposed to the lowest 72-hole score, but ignore the round-by-round totals and focus on the number. It’s not like the winner is likely to be at even par or over par on Sunday anyway, even if record-setting winds whip across Georgia on the weekend. That’s because the prearranged leaders – the FedEx point leaders such as Mr. Thomas – are beginning their Thursday rounds already well under par for the event.
The under-par winner on Sunday wins the FedEx Cup futures betting market as well as the Tour Championship market. Easy enough.
Where the Leaders Stand at East Lake
Thomas will begin the 2019 Tour Championship at -10 under par thanks to his BMW triumph, and is a (+200) wager to prevail at the 7300-yard course.
7300 yards is a drive-and-flick for modern PGA professionals, so we should probably expect a lot of birdie streaks and runs at Justin’s lead if not a whole lot of lead changes over 4 days.
Patrick Cantlay is taking (+450) wagers-to-win at Sportsbetting.ag, and will begin his 1st round at 8 under par.
Oh, and wouldn’t you know – Brooks Koepka is in position to win a big title. Gee…that seems to happen quite often. Koepka will begin at -7 and is a (+500) futures gamble.
There will be some huge names missing from the fold. Phil Mickelson and Jason Day won’t be on hand, though given the pair’s trials and health issues over the past 5 years it’s never a surprise when either does not make it into a select field of under 50 competitors. It’s a bigger surprise that Tiger Woods, the 2019 Masters champion, and Jordan Spieth will each be absent from Atlanta.
Remember that winning a golf tournament is never about showing up and just playing okay – even for the Koepkas and Rory McIlroys of the world. Players must peak at the right time in order to beat the best of the Tour over 4 rounds. When you see a player at 15 under par on Saturday at the Anywhere USA Open, their gambling line is short because they’re at -15. But it’s also short because they are playing well and peaking on the weekend. It’s not as if the 54-hole score happened by accident.
We have no idea if Justin Thomas will be playing well enough on Thursday to have gone -10 in a theoretical 36-hole Pro-Am at East Lake on Tuesday and Wednesday. We only know that he’s getting spotted 10 birdies.
2019 Tour Championship pre-scores are weighting sportsbook lines while talent, form and clutch-performance history are getting overlooked a little bit. Otherwise, Koepka’s odds-to-win would at least match those of Thomas and Cantlay.
Here’s a capsule-update for all 3 players along with other contenders for the season crown.
Justin Thomas (+200) Odds-to-Win
Thomas missed the 2019 U.S. Open cut at Pebble Beach, a tournament that (at least as a handicapper not a fan) I committed to wiping from my memory. Pebble Beach lived up to its name during the 4-day birdie fest…instead of turning into Stormy Tide as it often does.
The favorite has been resurgent down the stretch. He finished just out of the Top 10 at the British Open, but more impressively, immediately adapted his game to the breezy high-ball style of the state-side PGA Tour and started to putt scary-well on American greens, front-running the Tour’s birdie stats.
His driver – for all my raving praise – is still streaky and he takes a lot of chances off the tee. But Thomas broke a bridesmaid-bugaboo by breaking through with his 1st win of the year last weekend.
I’m just not sure 2 strokes is much of a lead on a 7300-yard PGA Tour layout. Not when it’s not earned on the course but spotted by FedEx before the ball is teed up.
Patrick Cantlay (+450)
The 27-year-old native of Long Beach finds himself in a nice position heading into the season finale. Cantlay picked up his 2nd career PGA Tour victory at the Memorial in June and capped-off consecutive solid finishes at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and Northern Trust.
Cantlay’s scoring average is similar to Thomas’s recent scoring stats in that his low-accuracy % with the driver is deceptively not as much of a drag on the number as you might think. Major championships are designed to punish wayward drives, but the Tour doesn’t want players hacking out of foot-long rough and modern gear means golfers can spin approach shots from the hay anyway.
Players like Cantlay and Thomas bring a lot of power to the tee and don’t mind hitting a 100-yard wedge from the rough as opposed to a 175-yard iron from the fairway. I’d be confident in the fellow Californian’s ability to make up 2 shots on Thomas…if it weren’t for the guy a stroke back.
Brooks Koepka (+500)
Koepka was 1st in the FedEx standings prior to Cantlay’s win at the BMW. The world’s top-ranked golfer has won his share of major titles in recent attempts but also quieted some chatter about his “poor form on Tour” by winning some non-major PGA stops.
Brooks drives the ball almost 310 yards on average and is near the top of the charts in birdie average, crucial on a week in which even the leaders feel like they’ve got ground to make up.
Rory McIlroy (+800)
Rory will begin the tournament at 5 under par.
The popular McIlroy has responded well after a summer gut-check, a brutal performance at the Open Championship that resulted in an early exit. The 30-year old has been up to par (excuse the pun) in his last 2 outings, finishing in the top 10 at consecutive PGA Tour events.
Will there be a few roars for Rory’s -2 hole-outs en route to making up a 5-stroke deficit over 4 days?
Again, it’s not so much the starting score as the player’s overall form. It will take 4 exceptional days to win and Rory hasn’t often produced 72 consistent holes in 2019.
Jon Rahm (+1400)
The 24-year-old Spaniard has been on a streak ever since missing the cut at back-to-back events in May. Early exits at the PGA Championship and Charles Schwab Challenge knocked Rahm back a few places in the FedEx Cup Standings, but he has rebounded extraordinarily well.
Rahm threatened at the U.S. Open, finishing T-3rd, and nearly cracked the top 10 at the British. He’s been raking money at late-summer Tour events and has an impressive 300+ yard driving distance average. That number includes, of course, drives on all Par 4s and 5s…even those occasions when a youngster like Rahm finally puts the big stick away and goes with a 3-wood or an iron.
He’s more likely to come back gradually than to shoot a pair of 64s, but Rahm will need to make some kind of noise quickly after beginning the event at -4.
Dustin Johnson (+2500)
The Cheetah will begin his Thursday round at 3 under par, 7 strokes behind. That’s the same number of strokes Arnold Palmer trailed by at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, which Arnie won, and it only took the late Palmer 18 holes to come back.
However, given Dustin Johnson’s form lately, playing 72 holes might be to his disadvantage.
The 35-year-old Columbia, South Carolina native has struggled to find the top 10 in recent PGA Tour outings. D.J. finished way back in the pack at the British Open, and is still searching for his 1st win since February despite terrific performances at the U.S. Masters and PGA Championship…the latter in which he made a charge at Brooks Koepka before succumbing to adrenaline on the back 9 on Sunday.
Driving accuracy may be an overrated stat in 2019, but it’s not helping Johnson to be having issues with it. D.J. plays a classic high ball from the fairway and cannot control approach shots well enough to win if he’s always playing from long grass.
Anyone here watch the Discovery Channel? Long fescue always cuts down a Cheetah’s momentum.
Recommended Futures Pick at Tour Championship
The only problem with futures gambling is that it rarely works as a 1-off try. (+500) lines are likely to lose more often than not, but if you keep playing them and win more than 1 in 5 times, then you’re beating the bookmaker.
If the PGA Tour got together and held a great big championship tournament and Brooks Koepka was given 72 holes to make up 2 strokes and win, and then the Tour held another event just like it, and again, and again, and a grand total of 5 times – would Brooks Koepka win at least once?
Probably more than once. The FedEx Cup has done gamblers a favor by giving Las Vegas cause to weight odds based on pre-scores. 2 strokes is nothing on a weekend full of birdies.
All it does is help put a 5-to-1 payoff line on the world’s #1 golfer.