Over the last few days, we’ve extensively previewed the Open Championship in terms of which stars are rising and fading, a deep dive on how the course will play, and our picks for winners and longshots of the event. But while most money will be waged on futures bets, the real money to be made on golf tournaments in through head-to-head matchups.
Most golf tournaments feature a significant degree of variance that can make picking the winner rather difficult, but the Open Championship is one of the toughest tournaments to pick a winner. There’s a high degree of luck involved in links golf, and one wrong bounce off the fairway or a bad tee time on Thursday might submarine a golfer’s chances in an instant.
You have a little bit more control of your destiny when betting matchups. It allows you to isolate data points between only two golfers, and if careful enough analysis is done then it can be quite a profitable endeavor.
Here’s a few matchups that have caught my eye (odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):
Tiger Woods (-110) vs. Brooks Koepka (-110)
No respect for the reigning U.S. Open champion as he’s an underdog to the GOAT. My sense is the oddsmakers won’t make Tiger a big underdog on most matchups because A) public money would pound plus odds and B) there are a lot of trends that do work in Tiger’s favor this week.
On Monday I wrote about what will be some of the keys to success to play well at Carnoustie, and I speculated that golfers that are solid tee-to-green, are proficient with short irons and scrambling, and are above average putters should find themselves in contention. Let’s try and check off the boxes for Tiger with respect to these areas (with rankings on PGA Tour):
- Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green – 6th
- Strokes Gained Approach – 3rd
- Strokes Gained Around Green – 4th
- Strokes Gained Putting – 56th
On the surface, Tiger seems to check all the boxes here, and that will cause lots of his fan boys to fantasize of him crushing stinger after stinger like he did at Hoylake in 2006.
But I just can’t get on board with him this week. For one, Tiger has notoriously putted poorly on slow greens, and the greens at Carnoustie will only get to 10 or 11 on the stimpmeter at best. But the biggest hangup for me is in his short game. A lot of his prowess around the greens this year has been by playing out of thick rough where he can pop the ball up into the air. If he misses the green at Carnoustie he’ll either have to rely on the bump and run on tight lies (that didn’t go so well at Shinnecock Hills) or out of deep pot bunkers (he’s 140th in Sand Save % this season).
Meanwhile, I’d rather be on the end of Brooks Koepka in this matchup, who has played tremendously well at links golf courses over the last three years and is a lot more consistent in big tournaments than Tiger has been. Koepka and Tiger will play a similar style at Carnoustie, but I trust Koepka more to show up here than I do Tiger.
Francesco Molinari (-160) vs. Jason Day (+135)
Everyone loves Francesco Molinari this week, and what’s not to love? He’s the hottest player in the world right now with four Top 2 finishes in his last 5 starts. He also has the solid ball striking statistics to back it up, ranking 2nd in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and 22nd in Strokes Gained – Approach on the PGA Tour in 2018.
Then there’s Jason Day, who no one seems to like this week. Day had high expectations at Shinnecock Hills but vomited all over himself thanks to his inability to control his irons and missed the cut by a mile. That seemed to be enough for everyone to throw him onto the Island of Misfit Toys.
So this one is an easy call, right? Not so fast. Molinari has been doing his damage off the tee and by sticking longer approach shots close, but this week most of his approach shots will be within 150 yards. That has not been his strength this season. Molinari only ranks 87th in scoring on approach shots 150 yards and in, which won’t get it done at a place like Carnoustie. I’m also not sure if he has the ability to scramble or putt well enough this week to match his blitzing hot streak of late. He only ranks 184th in Strokes Gained Putting and has struggled to salvage par from tight lies and from bunkers this season. These things might catch up to him at Carnoustie.
Meanwhile, one of Jason Day’s best clubs in his bags is his driving iron, and that club will get plenty of work this week. If he’s hitting that club well all week, he’ll set himself up for short approach shots and he’s fared much better from that range than on approaches 150 yards or more. He also is the best scrambler and putter in the field, ranking 1st in both of those Strokes Gained categories in 2018. That should help him take advantage of the slow greens and score better than he has of late.
I like Jason Day way more than most this week and expect him to contend for the win. As for Molinari, I think he’ll be a relative afterthought most of the tournament. My money here will be on the underdog in Jason Day at +135.
Zach Johnson (-120) vs. Bubba Watson (+110)
Back at the U.S. Open when I wrote my props column, I assassinated Bubba Watson’s mental fortitude to handle the adversities that a tough golf course like Shinnecock Hills would throw at him. Bubba lacks things like patience and staying positive, and that submarined his tournament at Shinnecock Hills quickly (unfortunately for me, though, Matt Kuchar was slightly worse than him).
Expect more of the same mercurial attitude from Bubba this week at Carnoustie. Bubba excels when he’s able to shape his shots down fairways and into greens, but between the wind and his inability to control how far the ball runs out on the firm fairways I can’t see that working for him this week. Even if he can find the fairway for expected short approach shots, he hasn’t been good from that range into greens. He’s ranked 103rd in scoring on approaches under 125 yards and 117th in scoring on approaches between 125-150 yards. He also has struggled around the greens this season, ranking 179th in Strokes Gained Around The Green and hasn’t fared well out of bunkers or tight lies.
Meanwhile, not only is Zach Johnson a prolific links player he checks a lot of boxes in a guy you want to back this year. Zach Johnson’s shortcomings in length will be negated by the firm fairways to allow significant rollout on his tee shots. That’ll allow him to exploit the strengths of his game in short approach shots, putting, and scrambling if need be. I love Zach Johnson this week, but I especially love him heads up against Bubba Watson. This one seems like an absolute slam dunk to me.
Webb Simpson (-145) vs. Hao Tong Li (+125)
What am I missing here?
In one corner, we have a guy who’s made 15 of 18 cuts worldwide this year, ranks 20th in Strokes Gained on Approach, and has been one of the best players in the world around and on the greens in 2018.
In another corner, we have a guy who not only has struggled with his ball-striking on the PGA Tour but also on the easier European Tour and has been, statistically, a complete dumpster fire with his irons and short game this year.
Hao Tong Li is a fine player and he did play marvelous at Royal Birkdale last season. But I expect Carnoustie to expose guys who are loose with their irons and are unable to salvage par when they miss a green this week. While I wince when Webb Simpson starts his downswing and makes me fear I’ll pick up a nasty swing thought just watching him, I’m pretty sure Webb will be around for the weekend with a chance for a Top 20 finish while Hao Tong is 50/50 to make the cut at best. Even with the juice here, I like Webb.
Sung Kang (-140) vs. Satoshi Akiyoshi (+120)
I have never seen Satoshi Akiyoshi hit a golf ball. And I have no idea what the strengths of his game is.
But what I do know is this – the golf gods are a fickle bunch. Any amateur golfer knows this. Spend 17 holes in your round spraying your golf ball all over the course, they’ll reward you with a birdie on the 18th. Look at your scorecard and realize you need a par at the last to record your best score ever, they’ll magically make you top the ball all the way up to the green for a triple bogey.
So when Sung Kang took a dishonest drop after sending his approach shot out of bounds at The National that let him save par and helped him earn an exemption into The Open, I have a feeling the golf gods will not let that deed go unpunished.
Most of my readers know me as a thoughtful, analytical guy who always has a stat to back up a claim, but this one feels like the universe is about to be reset to its proper balance. Karma is coming for Sung. For all I know, Akiyoshi will shoot 78-77 and miss the cut by a mile, but there’s absolutely no way the golf gods will allow anyone to profit by betting on Sung Kang this week.