The return of MLB, NBA, and NHL, on top of soccer, auto racing, and boxing/MMA competitions, means sports gamblers who focused newfound attention on the PGA Tour this summer can leave it behind if they like.
But for those who now have “the golf bug,” and for those have always had it, this week’s PGA Championship offers plenty of intrigue.
The PGA — the first major of this upside-down year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first in more than 12 months — perhaps can best be defined by what it isn’t.
It isn’t The Masters, the one major that is played on the same golf course, Augusta National in Georgia, every year.
It isn’t the U.S. Open, which traditionally featured a test so daunting that it sometimes hit its sweet spot of just one golfer finishing under par and “beating the course.” That has changed in the past few years, but even in those cases the courses have tended to have little in common with typical PGA Tour tracks.
And it isn’t The Open Championship, which was known as the British Open before some branding experts got a hold of it a number of years ago. Many times this event — canceled for 2020 — featured links courses on the water, high winds, and brutally cold temperatures for July.
The PGA tends to be a “birdie fest” as it is played on courses all over the U.S., and often without the handful of daunting holes that make The Masters so special.
So, expect the unexpected. But first, the expected:
Brooks Koepka has won the last two PGA Championships, including at Bethpage Black on Long Island last year at 8 under par in a week where only six players finished under par. A year earlier in the St. Louis area, Koepka went 16-under while 58 players placed in red figures.
So what do those wins have to do with this week’s event at Harding Park in San Francisco? Nothing, really, other than the fact — as Koepka himself has referenced — that most of his rivals shrink on the biggest of stages.
This had been a terrible year for Koepka until last week, when he grabbed a share of second place in Memphis to Justin Thomas. Every element of Koepka’s game was on display, highlighted by an improbable 39-foot made putt on the second-to-last hole on Sunday … that was sandwiched by an improbable bogey-6 on the 16th hole and a tee shot into the water on the 18th that led to a double bogey.
Koepka’s driving is still not as consistent as it needs to be at what could be U.S. Open-like rough at Harding Park. The “pro” is that he’s so ridiculously strong that he might be able to muscle his way out of any lie. The “con” is that he still has a balky knee that could give him fits if he puts those tee shots into trouble.
Didn’t you used to be Rory McIlroy?
If Koepka is the first name that comes to mind for golf fans when a major rolls around, the second might be Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy was among the first prominent players to insist that the Ryder Cup — the U.S. vs. Europe competition held every other year — not be be held in 2020 because an absence of fans would rob that event of its soul more than any other.
Rory won that argument. But he seems to have “overthunk” himself into a pickle. After dominating in the early part of 2020, the absence of fans seems to have become his kryptonite. And with few courses since the relaunch provoking much fear in the field, McIlroy clearly has not found his extra gear.
That’s why he should benefit from the expected difficult conditions this week, as he’ll have something to focus on rather than missing spectators. McIlroy also won on this course in 2015, but that was in a rare match-play event and under less rugged conditions. Still, it might ease his nerves in some tough spots.
While McIlroy has struggled, the nattily attired Bryson DeChambeau has been the talk of the PGA Tour this season, as he produced an additional 20 pounds of muscle for the second time and became the longest driver of them all off the tee.
But “cheating” that works on mid-level courses, such as cutting off doglegs by simply hammering it over trees, isn’t liable to work in this — or maybe any other — major. There’s a reason Bryson D has yet to place in the top 10 in a major, and he doesn’t figure to get one until he makes some concessions to truly great golf courses.
Taking stock of the favorites
As of Wednesday morning, these were the odds at DraftKings Sportsbook on some of the favorites to win:
- Justin Thomas: +900 (9/1 odds)
- Brooks Koepka: +1100
- Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, and Jon Rahm: +1500
- Xander Schauffele: +1800
- Dustin Johnson: +2300
- Patrick Cantlay: +2500
- Daniel Berger and Webb Simpson: +3000
- Tiger Woods: +3300
The least appealing there is Woods, who has played one event in almost six months and who concedes that “range of motion” for his surgically fused back suffers in chilly conditions. As for Thomas, not only do favorites not fare well in majors of late, a couple of lucky bounces down the stretch this past Sunday — one after he yelled, “C’mon, get lucky!” — after errant Thomas tee shots strongly suggests that he has not shaken his mysterious “Sunday blues.”
There’s some real value there with Rory. And don’t tell anyone, but Schauffele has been a top-6 finisher in five of his 11 majors. So +225 for a top 10 finish? Yes, please, for a player with four straight top 20s and a knack for elevating his game in the big spots.
Just beyond the top 10 is Jason Day at +3500. The Australian has quietly been on a tear of late, so the price seems right. The issue? Day has been playing an unusually taxing schedule, for him, and like Woods he is prone to physical problems in challenging weather.
Tyrell Hatton, the fiery Brit, also is in good form and he should take to the conditions, so +5500 is an eye-opener. So are +7000 for Aussie Adam Scott and +8500 on South African Louie Oosthuizen.
Last week in Memphis, Oosthuizen was +110 to place in the top 40 of a 78-player field, and he went top 10. Louie won the British Open — sorry, rebranders — in 2010 and is one of only seven golfers to earn a runner-up finish in all four majors. Unlike DeChambeau, he takes only what the course gives him. At DK, Oosthuizen is a tasty +600 for a top 20, +188 for a top 30, and +138 for a top 40.
Selecting your golf betting style
When decided how to approach golf from a sports betting perspective, compare it to your philosophy at a casino.
Betting on all but the chalkiest of players to win is a bit like playing roulette: a big thrill if you win, but you probably won’t. Same goes for a lot of top 10 or top 20 picks.
If heading over to the sportsbook and placing a roughly even-money bet on an NFL or college football game is more your style, there are plenty of matching golf options this week, including Schauffele or Johnson top 20, and Tiger or Day top 30.
Don’t like Thomas this week? Wagering that he misses the 36-hole cut gets you +600. Lots of top names miss the cut in events like this, so if you like “shorting stocks,” this is golf’s version of that.
Another way to bet on McIlroy, if you have a good feeling about him, is to get him at +450 to knock off Thomas, Koepka, DeChambeau, and Rahm. Rory doesn’t have to win the tournament; he just has to beat that foursome.
Finally, if having to wait an entire year for a major seems to have been too cruel, enjoy the seven that are scheduled to take place in the next 12 months.
Photo by Raymond Carlin III / USA Today Sports