Golf betting expert Steve Rawlings outlines everything you need to know before placing a pre-tournament golf wager...
"Current form is hard to define. Byron Nelson once won 11 in-a-row in 1945 and Tiger Woods won six straight tournaments when at the peak of his powers in 2000 but in reality, back-to-back wins aren’t common."
Golf is a great sport to bet or trade on because it's both consistent and, compared to most sports, sedate. Tournaments are often played at the same courses year after year and as they last for four days, with long breaks in-between rounds, there's plenty of time for reflection and contemplation in-play. I'm going to concentrate on what to look for before a golf tournament starts for this piece.
The two main tours are the European and the PGA and they're the two that most punters (including myself) concentrate on. But golf is played in almost every corner of the world with professional tours in nearly every region. There's the Asian, Australasian, Japan, Canadian and Sunshine Tours, to name just a handful. There are also feeder tours below the main tours.
The vast majority of events are stroke play tournaments, played out over four rounds and over four days, starting on Thursday and finishing on Sunday. The four round scores are added together and the player who has taken the fewest strokes is the winner - hence the term stroke play. Large fields start out on a Thursday, typically 160-plus players, and a cut is made at halfway with the top-65 players and ties on the leaderboard playing on over the weekend. Those outside the top-65 and ties go home early without any prize money.
Which form to follow?
Opinions differ among those that like to trade or bet on golf as to which is more important before the off - course or current form - and this poll looks fairly accurate to me - although I'd have it closer to 50-50.
Poll time. Which is more important to u when looking to bet, course form or Current form? Obviously both r ideal but if you had to back a player in 1, average/bad form but with great course history or 2, in really good form but a really poor course history, which would u choose?? Sundogmonkey (@Sundogmonkey) February 8, 2019
Current form is hard to define. Byron Nelson once won 11 in-a-row in 1945 and Tiger Woods won six straight tournaments when at the peak of his powers in 2000 but in reality, back-to-back wins aren't common. In the last four years, only three men - Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Brendon Todd - have won back-to-back PGA Tour events and we have to go back to 2006 for the last time anyone won three consecutive PGA Tour events (Woods again). Rory McIlroy (in 2014) and Dustin Johnson (in 2017) won three starts in-a-row (with breaks in-between) but it's remarkably difficult to win and win again.
It's slightly more common to see players win again a few weeks or a month or so after a victory but a lot of golf traders/punters prefer to side with players creeping in to form. Anyone that's playing really well and not winning, for example, Matthias Schwab on the European Tour last year, when he had a run of results reading 5-8-2-28-MC-4-MC-4-2, is likely to be found out in the market, but someone with improving form figures, where maybe the odd round in four each week has let them down, is more likely to represent value.
Don't be a dedicated follow of fashion
Another thing to consider is how fashionable or popular a player is. If someone is consistently talked up on the TV, that will be reflected in the market, whereas other players are constantly over-priced. For example, the ever-popular Rickie Fowler, with five PGA Tour wins from 262 starts, will often start at a shorter price than someone unpopular like Bryson DeChambeau. Yet Bryson has just as many PGA Tour titles from less than 90 starts on the Tour.
Patrick Cantlay is currently the seventh best player on the planet and he's priced up to reflect that but he's still only won twice and the world number 16, Tony Finau, has such a poor strike rate that Sam Harrop wrote this superbly witty ditty about him.
This is obvs a bit of a throwback now, but I never actually posted the 'official' version of the Finau video with the cracking video montage Sky did. Improves watching me sitting at a piano by about 800%.? Sam Harrop (@sam_golf) March 14, 2020
Meanwhile, looks like I'll have plenty of time to think up new song ideas! pic.twitter.com/Mcb3BG2ICc
Finau has played 134 times on the PGA Tour and he's won just once. He's a nice character and a truly great player so he's never going to be a big price but he's one to keep swerving.
Having looked at current form and player popularity bias, we're back to course form and because we have the ability to look back at past results, research for any given tournament can start days, weeks or even months before the event itself.
Start by getting to know the courses used. Most will have their own websites with plenty of helpful descriptions and hole-by-hole course guides, but a study of the statistics from previous events will provide the most clues.
Getting to know the players strengths will take time but again, the stats will help you get up to speed quite quickly. For the more serious traders there are some excellent and very reasonably priced pay sites but for anyone new to trading, the European and PGA Tour websites are great places to start. Both have plenty of statistical information and a good study of the player profiles will go a long way.
On the PGATour.com site there are a myriad of weird and wonderful stats and an over-analysis of them could tie you up in knots. Here are the main ones to concentrate on though.
Driving Accuracy - The higher the percentage the more fairways hit from the tee.
Driving Distance - Expressed as average yards covered from the tee.
Greens In Regulation - The higher the percentage, the more greens hit in regulation. I.e. On the green with your second shot on a par four equals a green hit in regulation.
Putting Average - Shows the average number of putts per green. The lower the better.
Scrambling -This stat demonstrates the percentage of times a player gets up-and-down when they've missed the green. It's the most important stat in my mind. If a player is scrambling poorly, the rest of their game needs to be immaculate or they'll fritter shots away. And a good scrambler can keep a score going, even if they're off their game.
Strategies before the off
There are a multitude of variables to consider each week. Weather conditions are very important but they're often tricky to predict too far in advance. A benign Sunday, with little or no wind, could be the forecast when you place your pre-event wagers but that could easily change by the time you actually get to Sunday. With many coastal courses used on both tours, even the best forecasting sites can be inaccurate a day in advance, let alone four or five days. Have a look and bear it in mind by all means, but the best things to concentrate on before the off are the two constants, the courses and the players.
Take a look at previous results, analyse the stats. If the top-ten is full of players that were highly ranked for Driving Distance for the week but lowly Ranked for Driving Accuracy then in all probability you're looking at a long course with wide fairways and/or little rough.
Conversely, if the top-ten is full of players ranked poorly for Driving Distance but highly for Driving Accuracy, then there wasn't a premium on length, but finding the fairways was key.
Some weeks there's a very high premium on putting and others there isn't. Some weeks it's important to find plenty of greens and the top-ten or 20 will be littered with players ranked highly for Greens in Regulation, other weeks it's nowhere near as important.
Try and envisage the type of test required and look to marry the stats. Everyone can see which players have played well at a course before but if you can spot which players should like the course - even if they've either failed there in the past, or are making their course debut - then you'll find some value. Some of the most rewarding pre-tournament bets I've had have been on players whose stats suit the course they're playing but they haven't had previous form there.
Sometimes you can find a player who really should like a course but their form figures there are poor. Have a look back, maybe they were out of form when they'd played there previously?
Another angle in I really like is correlating form. Getting to know events that are played on similar courses will take time but it's quite remarkable once you get tuned in to it how many players play well at certain course types. For example, we've had only four renewals of the WGC-Mexico Championship around the tree-lined Club de Golf Chapultepec but we can already see that it correlates nicely with Augusta - home of the US Masters. Dustin Johnson, last year's runner-up at Augusta, has won there twice and US Masters winners, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, won the other two renewals.
My particular favourite course correlation is between Waialae Country Club in Hawaii, home of the Sony Open, and El Camaleon Golf Club, home of the Mayakoba Golf Classic. There have only been 13 renewals of the MGC but four Sony winners - Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Mark Wilson and Johnson Wagner - have all won both tournaments and numerous players have been placed in both events.
Have a look at the profile of the previous winners. Some events seem to produce an extraordinarily high number of shock winners and others regularly go the way of the well-supported, well-known players.
Timing your plays
So, you've looked at current and course form, you've weighed up the venue and decided upon the type of player it should suit and you've even assessed the likely weather conditions and you've picked out your selections, the only thing that remains now is when and how to place your bets or trades.
If you want to back your selections, you can either use the Sportsbook, where more often than not they offer a generous eight-ten places on golf tournaments, or you can use the exchange, here various different markets are available, including Top-10, Top-20, Top-30 and even Top-40.
The exchange win markets tend to be up on Monday afternoons and if you've been on the ball and you know who you want to back by then, placing your bets early is often beneficial but there's been a very definite trend of late of players drifting markedly on Wednesdays. Splitting your stakes between each-way and exchange and Mondays and Wednesdays is a very sensible way to go and by waiting until Wednesday, you get a chance to assess how the weather is developing over the critical first two days of the week.
In all tournaments, players that are drawn early on Thursday play late on Friday and vice versa so the draw can be a significant factor. It's usually made on a Tuesday afternoon/evening, so if you've backed your picks on a Monday and they get a bad draw they're likely to drift in the market.
The markets often react quite slowly to the draw and the more sophisticated traders can avail themselves of some great positions if they're willing to keep a close eye on when the draw is published. Either by backing those with a favourable draw or laying those with a bad draw. Or both. Please see the Betfair Exchange's How to guides, like this one concentrating on laying, if you're new to trading but like the idea of getting involved.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
Be sure to check out the other volumes in our Betting Masterclass series, listed below:
Volume 1 - Ed Hawkins on Test Match Cricket
Volume 2 - Ed Hawkins on Twenty20 Cricket
Volume 3 - Ed Hawkins on how to bet on ODI Cricket
Volume 4 - Mark O'Haire on the football stats that don't matter
Volume 5 - Mark O'Haire on benefits of data and beating the closing price
Volume 6 - Mark O'Haire's perfect football punt checklist