With most tour events played over four days and 72 holes, big-priced winners are commonplace in golf but there are many subtleties to this fantastic betting sport. Steve Rawlings explains all...
Where and when?
The game of golf is played in almost every part of the world now, with professional tours in almost every region. There's the Asian, Australasian, Japan, Canadian and Sunshine Tour, to name just a few, but the main two to concentrate on are the European Tour, now rebranded as the Race to Dubai, and the US PGA Tour.
The European Tour runs for virtually an entire year now, taking in all sorts of far-flung places. South Africa, India, China, and Australia are just some of its destinations. For the last few years, the final event has been staged in Dubai - hence the rebranding.
Both tours are regularly tweaked but at present, the US PGA Tour starts in January and ends in November.
The vast majority of events on both tours are stroke play tournaments, played out over four rounds and over four days, starting on Thursday and finishing on Sunday, every week. The four round scores are added together and the player who has taken the fewest strokes is the winner. Large fields start out on a Thursday, typically 150-odd players, and a cut is made at halfway with the top-65 players and ties playing on the weekend. Those outside the top-65 and ties go home early without any prize money.
There are also a couple of match play events which are played in knockout format.
As there is in tennis, there are four majors in golf. The US Masters in April, the US Open in June, the Open Championship, often known (to the irritation of traditionalists) as the British Open, which is staged in July and finally, the US PGA Championship in August.
Below the majors, there are four World Golf Championship events, contested by only the highest in the world rankings. The Accenture Match Play in February is the first WGC event of the year and that's followed by three stroke play events, the Cadillac Championship in March, the Bridgestone Invitational in August and finally, the HSBC Champions event in China in November.
Almost every event on the European and PGA Tour is televised live but do be careful with the coverage (from America in particular). It's described as live but it's often delayed by several minutes and that has a big impact on the in-play markets.
Types of Market
The main market for each event is the Winner market, typically uploaded to Betfair on the Sunday before the tournament starts. In addition, there is also a Top 5 Finish market, Top 10 Finish market, a Victory Margin and First Round Leader market and you can also bet on all of the three-balls and/or two-ball markets.
Over the first two days of a typical stroke play event, the players are drawn together in groups of three and you can bet on the outcome of each group. The three-ball groups that play on Thursday morning will play on Friday afternoon and the Thursday afternoon starters return for round two on Friday morning. As the course is at its best when freshly prepared to perfection, a Thursday morning-Friday afternoon draw is often advantageous.
Over the weekend, following the cut, the players typically play in pairs, in reverse score order. The players in last place go off first and the leaders last. If there have been weather delays though, the organisers will stick to three-balls, and the second half of the field will often start at the 10th hole and they'll operate what's referred to as a U draw.
At the majors and WGC events, there are many more markets, with plenty of Top Nationality and match betting markets to choose from. Markets whereby, for example, you can bet on the top Swede at the event or you can bet on one player to finish in front of another over the duration of the tournament (a matchbet).
Making a profit - Back, lay or both?
Some people naturally lean towards backing players to win an event, some prefer to lay them, and others will look to purely trade. Find what suits you.
Personally, I prefer to back most of the time and I'll start events with a few players onside but I'll nearly always look to lay back part of my bets at some point to ensure a profit.
Where to start
Get to know the courses well. 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 like Tour-Tips.com and Golfobserver.com but for anyone new to trading, Europeantour.com and PGATour.com are great places to start. Both have plenty of statistical information and a good study of the player profiles will go a long way.
Types of statistical analysis
On the PGATour.com 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. 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 has to 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 woefully 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 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 lowly 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 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.
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.
Take care not to back players too short before the get-go. Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, for example, are very popular with the fans and TV guys alike but as a result, they're often too short in the market most of the time and especially before the off. The market tends to favour some and forget others, week after week. Players like Mark Wilson in the states, and Michael Hoey in Europe, regularly go off at huge prices but both men have won three times since the start of last season. They're just not popular names so use their unfashionable profiles to your advantage.
One of the best things about trading on golf is the length of time tournaments take. Played out over 72 holes, with lengthy breaks in-between each of the four rounds, traders have plenty of time to access and adjust their positions.
Get to know how previous events have panned-out. For example, at both the US Masters and the Open Championship making up ground is extremely difficult and a fast start on day one is vital. Of the last seven US Masters winners, seventh is the furthest down the leaderboard any winner's been after day one, and at the Open Championship over the last eight years, every winner, bar Padraig Harrington, has been within three of the lead after the first day.
The commentators will babble all sorts of nonsense about players still being in the tournament when they're miles back and the uninformed will bet accordingly. Gen-up and get an edge.
On the other hand, there'll be other events where a fast start is neither here nor there and on those occasions the early pace-setters may be too short and worth laying.
A few in-running tactics
You can often take a position about someone the moment they've finished the round and it will change dramatically before they tee-off again the following day. For example, the finish at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is brutal and a player's price can shorten up after they've signed for their score, as those finishing behind fail to par their way in.
On the subject of brutal holes - familiarise yourself with the hole averages, or stroke indexes as they're known. SI one will be the hardest hole and SI 18 the easiest. All courses have scoring sections and tough stretches. Get to know where they are and trade accordingly. Don't back someone just before they play three or four of the toughest holes on the course, unless it's factored into the price. Wait until they're through the tough section. Conversely, taking a position on someone just before they play the easy holes can pay dividends.
The market nearly always favours those out on the course over those in the clubhouse and in bad weather that's often very wrong. The most obvious example would be the 1999 Open Championship, when Paul Lawrie finished his round a long way off the lead but spent the afternoon watching his name climb the leaderboard.
Keeping up to date in-play
If you want to trade in-running and be as up to date as possible then in addition to watching live on TV, you can follow the live leaderboards. Both europeantour.com and pgatour.com have live leaderboards, with the latter boasting the better of the two.
They're both fairly up to date but the europeantour.com one is often wrong so take care. It's more down to the scorers at the events than anything else. If you've ever attended an event, you'd see that they're gathered by volunteers and it's rare that one goes by without at least a few scoring errors.
In addition to a standard leaderboard, the pgatour.com site has something called Shot Tracker, which shows loads of different stats as well where each player is on the course. But again, caution is advised, mistakes are commonplace and many's the time I've seen that a selection of mine has a tap-in for birdie after a stunning approach shot, only to find Shot Tracker has missed out the first putt. If it looks too good to be true on Shot Tracker, it often is.
On the PGA Tour, you can also listen to satellite radio for commentary, which is great before the TV coverage starts and it will occasionally advise of play before it's shown on TV but it does have a major downside. There's a constant stream of inane adverts and it can drive you bonkers after a while! But as a tool, it's out there if you want it.
Play away but still in-play
If all that sounds a bit hectic and time-consuming - and in-play live doesn't sound your thing - don't worry, in-running golf trading is still possible, without having to endure all the coverage. Many traders place trades and leave them in the market.
Once play starts on day one, the market remains in-play so if you want to back someone before the off and you want to ensure a profit, should your pick get into contention, but you can't face the hours and hours of coverage, you can leave a lay in place, or even a serious of lays in place. Here's an example:
Place £20 on your pick before the off at [50.0] and before commission you stand to win £980 should they win. To ensure you don't lose or that you make a profit should they contend, you could leave a series of lays in place.
Leave a lay for £20 at [5.0], one for £20 at [3.0], one for £40 at [2.0], one for £80 at [1.5], one for £100 at [1.2] and one for £200 at [1.01].
Given the above example, if your pick trades at [5.0] but not as low as [3.0], before getting beat, you'll get your £20 back and break even.
But if they then trade at [3.0] but not as low as [2.0], then you'll win £20.
As low as [2.0] and your profits are up to £60.
Should they trade as low as [1.5], you're up to £140 - [1.2] and it's up to £240.
And if they were then to look sure to win but fail, given you'd have also been matched at [1.01], you'd be collecting the grand total of £440 about a losing selection.
If your selection wins, your winnings would be reduced to £758 because from your original winnings of £980, you will have paid out on the following for the lay backs - £80 for the first one, £40 each for the second, third and fourth, £20 for the fifth and a full £2 for the final one.
Of course, if you did nothing and your pick won, you'd collect the full £980, but by inputting several lays like this you take the heartache out of a very near miss.
There are plenty of different ways to play the market but whether you decide to play before the off, then leave things alone. Play before the off and then trade in-running, trade purely in-running or leave trades in place, you must do your homework. Forewarned is forearmed.
The biggest tip I could give to someone new to golf trading though, is expect the unexpected. As the 2012 Open Championship showed, nerves play a huge part in the sport and things can change rapidly and dramatically. Adam Scott traded at [1.02] before bogeying the last four holes to lose to Ernie Els, but don't think for a moment that was a one-off. Els himself once led an event in his homeland by three with one to play. He traded at [1.01], found water twice to make eight and got beat!
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