Sports fans are known for overreacting to the most recent events that take place during the course of a season. That includes golf, where betting on the PGA Tour has become quite popular since players returned to the course following the hiatus due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Following a record betting Round 1 for DraftKings Sportsbook at Colonial two weeks ago, director of sportsbook operations Johnny Avello told TheLines, “The golf handle has been phenomenal.”
Webb Simpson‘s win at Harbour Town was a double-bogey for many bookmakers, as Simpson was a favorite and popular player to win among many golf bettors. DratKings has adjusted some of their Top 5 and Top 10 odds on finishing position since then with a slightly lower payoff on some of the higher-rated golfers in the fields.
Three tournaments have been played with stronger fields than years past competing in those events. This week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, we’re seeing some real recency bias in the odds with the aforementioned Simpson – along with Bryson DeChambeau and Tyrrell Hatton playing great golf out of the break and now at their lowest-ever tournament odds to win an event.
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The case of Rickie Fowler and finding value in golf odds
For a many tournaments over the past 1-2 years, Rickie Fowler’s odds have been near 20/1. That includes in the biggest events with odds of 20/1 or less in all three majors in the US last year. In fact, Fowler was Top 3 in the betting market at the 2018 Open Championship at the long and rugged course at Carnoustie. Prior to the 2020 Masters and rescheduled event, Fowler was 25/1 to win against the best players in the world.
Yet this week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Fowler is 33/1 to win at DraftKings against a field that has just seven players competing that rank Top 25 in the World Golf Rankings. Fowler has fallen to No. 31 in the OWGR after ending 2019 ranked No. 23 and was even top 15 a year ago. Fowler’s skill set suggests he’ll bounce back soon like Dustin Johnson did last week. Same with Brandt Snedeker, another player with skills set and course fit to perform well at longer odds (+4500 DraftKings) this week. Snedeker provides value over others above him in the betting market this week, yet note he’s a shorter price at FanDuel (+3700) and BetMGM (+3300). Snedeker was also seen at odds of 28/1 last year in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic when he finished tied for fifth. Now he’s longer odds despite that Top 5 finish, with solid skills and fit and a history of proven putting performances on Tour.
Johnson won the Travelers Championship at pre-tournament odds of 28/1 at both DraftKings and FanDuel Sportsbook. He was tied with the eighth lowest betting odds despite ranking Top 5 in the World Golf Rankings. Johnson’s victory was the 21st of his career at age 36, and extended his consecutive season win streak on Tour to 13 years. Johnson’s last win was the WGC event in Mexico in Feb., 2019. However, he did finish T5 in the PLAYERS Championship and 2nd in both the Masters and PGA Championship in 2019.
Yet Johnson’s form had been off prior to the COVID-19 health crisis interruption. Johnson admitted he had not practiced much during the hiatus and then played poorly in the Taylor Made Charity Skins Match in May. He was also 28/1 to win the first event after the hiatus in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial.
Johnson offered some value compared to other top-tier golfers at lower odds in a star-studded field at TPC River Highlands. However, his current form – combined with not competing in the event since 2014 – kept his odds higher than his skill, talent and world ranking would support. Winning any event is difficult, but Johnson was also available near 3/1 odds for a Top 10 finish, and also as an underdog in select head-to-head tournament match-ups. You will not see Johnson’s odds to win a tournament this year above 20-1 again.
Recency bias and ways to exploit it
“Recency bias” isn’t just a theory, it’s reflected in the way bets are made and where the money lands, and impacts the odds and lines on upcoming events. Recency bias and player performance affects golf odds just as it does on NFL or college football teams when they win impressively the previous week or are on a winning streak. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKings adjust the odds, knowing much of the public interest and betting activity will support the ‘hot’ players or teams. The media attention also drives interest to affect the odds as those teams and players winning and contending more recently impacts and persuades public perception.
In another sport with individual performances and results, daily horse racing also sees odds impacted by a horse’s recent performances. You’ll often see the public bettors in the parimutuel pool bet more money on the horse that has been winning and running well most recently. Yet, the level of competition, distance of race and surface or conditions can all impact the odds and race results. Same with pro golfers, who face different levels of competition, different golf course distances and types of grasses and greens, which also impact player performances.
When handicapping and reviewing golf stats and player performances, you’ll hear or read how some players putt better on Bentgrass or Poa Annua greens versus Bermuda. Clearly bigger hitters have an advantage on longer courses which also impacts the odds on players, and especially those that are at a disadvantage as a shorter hitter.
Ways to exploit these situations include betting games or events well in advance where futures odds, props or advance lines are offered. If you’ve researched an event and anticipate player performance or improvement, you can often find better odds and lines. Wagering with a sportsbook like DraftKings or FanDuel, which offer more ways to win along with props and various player pools and match-ups, will provide additional opportunities to not only find bets of interest, but potentially weaker lines or better odds.
Decisions based on your emotions and recency bias instead of reason, sound logic and statistical support is a poor approach to sports betting. Placing too much weight on a recent result or event can lead to other sports betting and cognitive biases like confirmation, hindsight or outcome biases that lead to other mistakes by sports bettors.