The Masters has returned.
It was a shorter respite than normal given the 2020 edition was played less than five months ago, but there's something reassuring about the year's first major returning to its usual springtime slot. The azaleas will be in full bloom, and the golf season once again has a recognizable cadence as the action has built toward a crescendo this week as players drive down Magnolia Lane.
Fresh off a drought-breaking win at the Valero Texas Open, Jordan Spieth is perhaps the biggest storyline heading into the 85th playing of the Masters as he seeks a second green jacket. We already took a deep dive into his tournament odds and their transformation over the last two months, so this article will examine some of the other pressing topics facing oddsmakers ahead of the biggest betting week on the golf calendar.
I spoke to multiple shops in recent days to get a gauge of how the early action has come in for the Masters. Some common trends and themes emerged across various books, but there were also instances where some oddsmakers were willing to take a stand on a price when they felt the market was off-target (more on that in a bit). For now, let's take a look at some of the most pressing questions facing books as the action and attention quickly shift from the conclusion of March Madness to the return of golf's springtime tradition:
1. Who are the biggest liabilities?
This is straightforward but telling, as it's always important to know where the money is going and whose prices are being shaped and shaded by outsized action in the marketplace. Most books are facing moderate to significant liability on Spieth, whose price has fallen from the +6000 or higher range in January to around +1100 at the moment. But other players have received the attention of bettors as well. One of them is Tony Finau, whose winless drought might be the most legendary on Tour now that Spieth's is a thing of the past.
Finau has gone more than five years since his only Tour win, and he rattled off three straight runner-up finishes earlier this year including a playoff loss at Riviera. But he's almost always in the mix, especially on the big stage: Finau has seven top-10 finishes in his last 11 major starts and played in the final group here alongside Tiger Woods in 2019.
"They always bet Finau at Augusta. Every year," explained Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. "Everyone knows he's been so close over the past year. Doesn't get the wins, but he puts himself in position to get the wins. That's what a lot of people like to get involved with, just because at least it gives you a chance."
Sherman reached as high as +4000 on Finau and recently dipped down to +2500 before settling at +3000. Their next largest liability is also No. 2 on the ledger at PointsBet Sportsbook - former amateur standout Viktor Hovland. Hovland hasn't played the Masters since winning low amateur honors in 2019, but he has one more PGA Tour win than Finau and has become a popular selection for big events in recent months after a strong (but winless) start to the year.
"Hovland, just given his form, given how much people like him just in general with his future, he's gone from +5000 to +2800," said PointsBet head trader Jay Croucher. "Him and Spieth, those are the two guys we'll be cheering against." As of Monday, Hovland had ticked back up to +4000 at PointsBet.
2. What would be the best result for the house?
While some players have bettors lining up around the block to snag a ticket, other big names simply don't have the same draw they may have had in recent months or years. And this week, while books across the country will be rooting against Spieth in particular, they're likely going to be pulling for another popular player.
Last fall DeChambeau came to Augusta National as a newly-minted U.S. Open champion, described the course as a par 68 and laid out his plan to overpower it. He finished T-34. While he's still among the top pre-tournament favorites at most books and won at Bay Hill less than a month ago, bettors simply aren't clamoring to get down on the PGA Tour's bulkiest star this week.
"Bryson is far and away our best result right now," said Jeff Davis, assistant sportsbook manager at Circa Sports. Circa has had DeChambeau priced between +1050 and +1950 since the market opened, and he is currently the third favorite on the board at +1210.
It's a similar story at the Westgate, where DeChambeau opened at +1000 and drifted as high as +1500 before his API victory brought his odds back down to +1200. He would still be a favorable result for the book should he win a second major, even though Sherman personally sees some potential.
"I didn't like him in November there, and the way he played, I just think he put too much pressure on himself," Sherman said. "He was the one talking about overpowering everything. I think he learned from that experience there, and I think he'll be in a better position this time around."
Another big name who isn't attracting much action? Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman will once again aim for the final leg of the career Grand Slam, but his turbulent relationship with Augusta National is well-documented and his game appeared in tatters in each of his last two starts. Often teeing off as one of the top favorites, he's instead out to around +1800 at most shops.
"I think he's probably the golfer who has burnt the most people in the past 12 months," Croucher said. "Just not that much belief in Rory. I think there's a lot of kind of fresher options. People would rather back Scottie Scheffler at +7000 than McIlroy at +1800 at this point."
"I'm trying to get to a point where I can get some money on him," added Sherman. "Because I don't think he's too much of a threat."
3. Who are the biggest question marks?
One big question was answered Sunday when Jon Rahm announced the birth of his first son. Rahm's wife was due to give birth during tournament week, and he issued a "don't bet on me" warning at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play given the chance he could have to leave the Masters to witness the birth. Crisis averted, and a sigh of relief for oddsmakers who were leaning toward keeping Rahm out of the head-to-head matchup markets over those same concerns. Now the world No. 3 can be effectively priced out, although the hesitance around Rahm's status has led to him being a win for the house at PointsBet, where he's currently listed at +1300.
"He would be the best result," said Croucher. "I think because of that whole situation, people were just afraid of backing Rahm given the decent possibility that he might withdraw."
Circa offers a "No" option on every player in the field with win odds of +25000 or lower, including Rahm. They priced his "No" at -3000, meaning bettors could lay $300 for every $10 they wanted to make if any player other than Rahm wins the tournament. But by the time the baby news broke Sunday, they hadn't received a single wager on that prop for Rahm.
One other player being priced carefully is Brooks Koepka. The four-time major champ's injury status remains up in the air, as he is just weeks removed from knee surgery but was seen on the grounds Sunday getting in some on-course practice at Augusta National. Koepka took to Twitter to poke fun at some predictions that he might be out 6-8 months, lending credence to the notion that he will tee it up for the first time since late February.
Given the uncertainty, Koepka's prices have been all over the board in recent weeks. He got as low as +1200 after winning in Phoenix and finishing T-2 at The Concession, but the injury concerns have caused that number to skyrocket. He's out to +3800 at Circa and +4000 at Westgate, where Sherman isn't buying into the notion that Koepka can so quickly rekindle the form that helped him to a T-2 Masters finish in 2019.
"If he does play, I just couldn't even imagine that he even comes close to competing with some of these other top guys," Sherman said.
4. Who are the notable longshots?
While the limited field and familiarity of the Masters tends to create a top-heavy market, there are always some mid-range options to monitor. One such player this week is England's Lee Westwood, whose resurgent season has included runner-up finishes at both Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass. Westwood's odds reached as high as +14500 at Circa before tumbling as low as +4400. He's now back up to +4600 but represents the shop's single biggest liability.
"He should be closer to +7500, in my opinion," Davis said. "But sometimes the bettors tell us otherwise."
That sentiment was echoed by Sherman, who believes the market is "excessively low" on the 47-year-old Englishman based on his recent results. Westwood finished runner-up at the Masters in both 2010 and 2016 but remains in search of his first major victory.
"Even though we have some liability, I have him at +5000 and I'm almost thinking of going to +6000 just because I think the number that's out there on the market is just ridiculous," he said. "Just because you do something for two weeks and you've shown some signs of life at Augusta. But look at his age. I mean, come on."
Other notable price moves on mid-tier options: 2017 champ Sergio Garcia has gone from +10000 to +6000 at Westgate, while Abraham Ancer has plummeted from +17500 to +8200 at Circa.
"Another guy who is quite popular at the window is Cam Smith," Davis said. "We were as high as +9000 in January. Now we're down to +4800 and he is still seeing support."
5. How important are November results?
It's somewhat low-hanging fruit this week: not only was the 2020 Masters played only a few months ago, but it's also the last time we saw any of these players competing for a major championship. How much information can be gleaned from that November leaderboard as we look to handicap the 2021 field?
According to oddsmakers, not much. For starters, the course played significantly softer last year than it's expected to this week, even if rain enters the forecast in a few days. Johnson's winning score of 20 under almost certainly won't be touched this time around. Add in the lack of patrons in the fall and the true one-off vibe, and it's not surprising that you saw debutants like Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer, C.T. Pan and Dylan Frittelli thrive in an event that typically favors experience.
While those results won't be discounted entirely, they likely won't factor as strongly into player odds this week as they might otherwise have if last year's event was conducted under more traditional circumstances at the one major of the year that most leans into a sense of familiarity and repetition.
"I'm treating it closer to an outlier, just because of the weirdness surrounding everything and how the course played," explained Croucher. "By and large we probably weigh course history less than people think, and particularly so when thinking about last year's Masters just because of the unique factors surrounding it all."
Sherman said he has put some stock into the November results but won't use them as a guide simply because of recency. He points to a player like Im, who finished T-2 last year in his tournament debut while trying to become the first debutant since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, as someone whose odds are especially buoyed by last year's showing.
"He's around +4000, but to me what he's done at the start of the year hasn't been indicative of someone that should be +4000," he said. "I think he should be higher than that, other than what you saw him do in November."
But now that sense of familiarity may skew more toward the other side of the field list, in favor of course veterans and past champs who know every nook, cranny and putt break that this famed course has to offer. Adding up the various factors to create a price on each player remains a soft science, and there's no set formula for which aspect receives the most importance.
That remains the case this week, even as the best in the world gather in Augusta for the second time in less than five months.
"No one event carries too much weight," Davis said. "I think it's clear, as a whole, which golfers have taken nicely to Augusta and which ones haven't. And that doesn't change all that much from year to year."
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