In early January, Jon Rahm seemed to set the scene for the year in golf by conquering an elite field with a win on the picturesque island of Maui. Rahm picked up two more PGA Tour wins in California by the middle of February. “Rahmbo” was beginning to resemble Tiger Woods in his prime, with power off the tee and precision on the greens while emerging as an intimidating force and the top player in the world.
Not to be forgotten on the other side of the world, Rory McIlroy showed a flair for the dramatic by winning the Dubai Desert Classic in late January.
The storyline shifted in mid-March when reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler took The Players Championship in Florida for his second win of 2023.
“Now you have a pack of three players that have separated from everyone else,” Circa Sports golf oddsmaker Jeff Davis said.
It’s not easy to pick one. This is golf’s version of “Gilligan’s Island” — Ginger or Mary Ann? — but there are three options. Do you prefer McIlroy, Rahm or Scheffler? Bettors and oddsmakers have waffled with the answer as we arrive at Augusta National for the year’s first major.
“We wrote a ton of money on Rahm when he was on a heater, and Rory is always popular,” Davis said. “I don’t really want to write a lot of action on Scheffler. We kind of like Scottie.”
DraftKings recently posted three favorites on the Masters’ odds board, with McIlroy, Rahm and Scheffler each at 7/1. Circa is giving Scheffler (+820) the edge over McIlroy (+840) and Rahm (+950).
“It feels like Scheffler should be the starting point, as far as what he’s doing lately,” Westgate SuperBook golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “Rahm had a hot start, but he’s kind of getting away from that and he has cooled off with the bettors, too.”
Scheffler (+700) has become the clear favorite at the Westgate, ahead of McIlroy (+800) and Rahm (+900), and VSiN golf handicapper Wes Reynolds has the same pecking order. “I think you have to go with the defending champion,” Reynolds said.
So there’s the answer. Las Vegas’ top golf analysts agree Scheffler is the player to beat this week at Augusta, where he will attempt to become the Masters’ first repeat champion since Woods in 2001-02.
Two months after the Chiefs beat the Eagles in a thriller, it’s time for the Super Bowl of golf betting. The Masters is head and shoulders above the other three majors in terms of the wagering handle and menu, so there are plenty of ways to play the tournament aside from trying to pick the winner, which is never easy.
Davis said he will post “Yes/No” propositions to make the cut and Top 10 and Top 20 odds on most of the 89 players in the field. Sharp handicappers usually focus on head-to-head player matchups when searching for an edge.
Woods’ dominance is a distant memory, yet he remains a major factor in driving the wagering action. Sherman posted a prop on Tiger to make the cut (Yes -150, No +130) and said he’s constantly taking wagers on Woods to win.
“When you watch Tiger, he still has trouble walking,” Sherman said. “I don’t think he can win. Maybe his realistic goal is finishing in the Top 20.”
More than a year after a career-threatening car accident, Woods made a comeback at Augusta in 2022, narrowly made the cut and limped through the weekend to a 47th-place finish at 13 over par. He has played in only one tournament in 2023 and finished 45th in the Genesis Invitational, which was won by Rahm at Riviera Country Club in California in February.
In December, the Westgate book took a $2,000 bet on Woods to win the Masters at 100/1. Sherman said smaller bets in the $20 to $100 range are still showing on Woods at his current odds of 60/1. It all seems foolish considering the 2019 Masters is Woods’ lone major win in the past 14 years.
Speaking of dry spells, McIlroy has not won a major since 2014, though he did finish second to Scheffler at the Masters a year ago.
The sharpest golf handicappers do bet multiple players on the Masters futures board, mostly due to the fact the odds have been up for at least nine months and there is value to be found at different times. Davis, for example, said he bet Scheffler at 15/1 several months ago. “Usually anywhere from three to five players is how many I accrue over the nine or 10 months it has been on the board,” Davis said.
Sherman said he has compiled Masters wagers on seven players — Rahm (12/1), McIlroy (15/1), Xander Schauffele (25/1), Tony Finau (55/1), Tom Kim (100/1), Jason Day (150/1) and Harold Varner III (300/1) — and beat the market prices significantly in almost all cases. In terms of value, his best play is on Day, who’s in better form and currently 25/1 at Westgate.
I always spray more plays on the Masters futures board than on any other tournament. As of now, I have bets on five players – Justin Thomas (25/1), Collin Morikawa (31/1), Finau (32/1), Cameron Young (50/1) and Sam Burns (55/1) — at better odds than are currently available.
“The thought of betting Cam Young now at 28/1 is just absurd,” Davis said. “I would be quite surprised if he won, but I would like to have 50/1.”
Circa typically offers better golf odds than the rest of the market due to Davis’ frequent adjustments to maintain a low theoretical hold percentage. Davis said his Masters board, which opened in early August, was at a 15% hold over the weekend and was going to 14% by Monday before he planned a “suicide mission” to go to 12% by Wednesday. By comparison, some other books will show a theoretical hold of 30% or higher. “You are in a constant cycle of moving numbers,” Davis said. “There’s so much more handle on this major than the others.”
The Masters is a tradition unlike any other, and this year’s tournament is especially different because battle lines have been drawn between the PGA and LIV tours. The controversial Saudi-backed LIV league is in its second year and its breakaway stars were begrudgingly allowed inside the gates to compete at Augusta.
Will a LIV golfer win the Masters? Sherman posted the prop with a price of No -700/Yes +500. He said action on LIV players has been “few and far between, and the odds keep getting higher.”
LIV Golf (which I refer to as the Losers, Idiots and Villains Tour) is sending Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson to Augusta. Smith is the reigning British Open champion and the top threat from his mostly unlikable Saudi contingent this week. “To me, you can make the case that 30 guys can win the tournament,” Davis said. Smith and Johnson are in that group of 30. While most fans will be rooting against LIV’s motley crew, Smith offers some value at 22/1 at Circa. Smith finished in the top 10 in four of his past five Masters starts. He tied for third last year, behind Scheffler and McIlroy, and finished second to Johnson in 2020.
ESPN sports betting analyst Doug Kezirian posed this question while recently viewing the Circa board: “If your life depended on it and you could take only one player, who would you bet?”
Scheffler was my answer. Fortunately, this is not a life-or-death situation. Considering odds value and my resistance to playing favorites, I don’t have a bet on Scheffler, at least not yet.