In the five previous iterations of The Match, there has been one constant: the presence of an actual pro golfer among the exhibition’s competitors.
The third time the high-profile charity event was staged, in November of 2020, marked the closest it came to sidelining PGA stars entirely, with only Phil Mickelson competing alongside Charles Barkley, with Steph Curry and Peyton Manning forming the other duo. Despite Barkley’s well-documented shortcomings on the links, he and Mickelson won.
There will be no Phil on the first tee at Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas on Wednesday, nor will there be any other pros in the field, which is an all-quarterback affair pitting Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers against the rookie Match tandem of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. WynnBET lists the veteran duo as -190/+155 favorites (a tad tighter than the opening price of -200/+165), while DraftKings has odds set at -195/+165.
Mickelson has gone dark — even skipping out on a chance to defend his title in the recent PGA Championship — since making some highly controversial remarks about the upstart Saudi-backed tour and seeing some of his more outlandish gambling exploits exposed in a new book. Still, his lack of involvement in this year’s Match — an event that began as a one-on-one contest between him and Tiger Woods — is somewhat puzzling.
“Even if he were just an on-course commentator, I think that would be a good spot to ease him back into it,” said Justin Van Zuiden, a golf analyst for RotoGrinders (a sister site of US Bets). “It is a little bit strange that there’s still no sign of him. Who knows when we’ll see him again?”
No pros could make Match ‘more watchable’
Despite the lack of participants who play golf for a living, Van Zuiden is bullish on the entertainment value of this year’s Match.
“I actually think it makes it a little more watchable,” he said. “It was always a little bit of a crapshoot trying to figure out what these NFL guys were gonna do paired up with a pro. You’ve got four quarterbacks now. NFL is so king in this country, I think getting some crossover between NFL and golf, in terms of growing the golf fan base, is a pretty smart move.”
DraftKings Sportsbook Director Johnny Avello isn’t so sure.
“We’ve done a few of these now and always have had a professional golfer,” he said. “I’m not sure if that helped carry it or not, and we’ll find out this time going with the four professional quarterbacks and no pro. It could get ugly out there. The pro will hit you a decent shot most of the time.”
Format favors underdogs
The two tandems will play just 12 holes in an alternate-shot, match-play format, meaning that after all four players hit their drives, each duo will play its best shot off the tee and then the team will alternate strokes, with the lesser driver hitting the second shot.
While Rodgers has the lowest handicap of the quartet, Allen and Mahomes are the biggest drivers — which Van Zuiden thinks gives the young underdogs betting value.
“These two guys can both really hit it off the tee,” said Van Zuiden. “If Mahomes and Allen can get good drives with their length, I think the format gives them the advantage. You’re getting plus money on Mahomes and Allen, and I think it’s a relatively even matchup.
“There is absolutely no way I’m laying -200 on Brady and Rodgers. I like the underdogs. You only need one good drive in this format.”
Here again, Avello strikes a more pragmatic tone.
“That doesn’t mean they can’t hit it out of bounds,” the veteran bookmaker cautioned. “These guys are decent golfers, but not the kind of guys who aren’t gonna make mistakes.”
Hole winners a popular wager
When asked how much time his trading team spent scrutinizing the games of the four amateur golfers involved in The Match, Avello replied, “I don’t know, five minutes? We knew that Rodgers-Brady would be the favorite. I would think that Rodgers-Brady would draw money just because of the names. But on our network, we have a lot of people who like to bet plus. I think it will get a little higher.
“This thing may go up to +170, maybe +180, then I think our bettors will take the underdog and it will go to +150, +160. It won’t be perfectly balanced, but I think there will be interest on either side.”
Whether DraftKings will take much sharp action remains to be seen.
“Sharps play a couple different ways. Initially, they’ll play if you’ve got a line up that’s wrong — and they didn’t,” said Avello. “They could jump in on the in-game stuff as well, because we’re gonna be doing some of that. We’ve got a lot of different content up, too — who’s gonna win certain holes, holes in one, first to go up a couple strokes, who gets the lead first. I think the hole winners will be popular. I think the in-game will rake quite a bit of money.”
Shades of the American Century
Curry, a scratch golfer who played respectably in a few events on the Web.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour, is the best non-pro to ever compete in The Match. And in the absence of pros, this year’s event is reminiscent of a miniature version of the American Century Championship, a celebrity tournament held annually near Lake Tahoe.
— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) August 9, 2018
When rattling off a list of athletes from other sports who are close to Curry’s caliber as a golfer, Avello mentioned former Major League Baseball pitchers John Smoltz (who once finished dead last during a Web.com event) and Rick Rhoden, who won the American Century Championship a record eight times.
Avello also puts former NFL quarterbacks Tony Romo and Billy Joe Tolliver — who won the ACC two times and four times, respectively — in the same elite category. The soap opera actor Jack Wagner is the only non-athlete ever to win the Tahoe tourney.
Football-related props for the four duffers
Serious sports bettors may be more interested in actual football-related wagers for The Match’s quartet of quarterbacks, and WynnBET released a set of season-long props — all priced at -110 — on the four competitors earlier this month.
While the passing touchdown over/unders — ranging from 32.5 for Allen to 35.5 for Brady — have held firm for all four since opening, only Rodgers’ season-long passing yardage total (3,850) has stayed steady in that market. Brady (4,600 to 4,500) and Mahomes (4,450 to 4,350) have seen their projected totals inch downward since wagering opened, while Allen’s o/u has ticked up from 4,000 to 4,150 yards.
Photo: Denny Medley/USA TODAY