There is nothing that sportsbooks like more than an emotional bet. The game they play, wherein they try to accurately estimate the underlying probability of given outcomes in a sporting event and assign those outcomes corresponding payouts, is boring and difficult and only moderately profitable. More fun, and more profitable, is when the broad mass of the public aligns behind an outcome that will be emotionally resonant, and places bets largely without evaluating the value of that bet.
When Conor McGregor fights Floyd Mayweather, it’s Christmas come early for sportsbooks, who revel in offering hilariously short odds on a first-timer defeating a(n undefeated) professional boxer in a boxing match. The only problem is that the shorter the odds they offer on McGregor, the longer the odds they have to offer on Mayweather, because there are only two possible outcomes. Sharp bettors (including Money Mayweather, himself) take advantage of this, and sportsbooks end up with a lot of tickets on one side and a lot of money on the other, far from their ideal situation. What they need is an emotional candidate who plays in a big field with many potential outcomes, so they’re not creating too much value on any particular bet.
Enter Tiger Woods. For whatever reason, Tiger’s rehabilitation and return to form is the single most important golf narrative in the public consciousness. Googling “is Tiger back???” will likely yield more results, especially recent results, than “Dustin Johnson,” the no. 1 player in the world. Google Trends indicates that Tiger is more frequently searched than anyone who won a major this year. Casual bettors desperately want the return of old, miraculous-chip-making, Ernie-Els-psyche-destroying, career-ending Tiger more than they want anything else in the world, including value. They’ll bet on Tiger to win anything, even Presidential elections, when in some cases he can’t bend over to pick up a tee.
Tiger’s current 2018 Majors odds
Below is a table of Tiger’s odds for each of the Majors for 2018, compared to the odds of the defending champion, and Tiger’s recent performances.
|Tournament||Tiger’s Odds||Defending Champion’s Odds||Tiger’s most-recent finish||Tiger’s last top 10 finish|
|Masters||+1800||+2800 (Sergio Garcia)||2015 (T17)||2013 (T3)|
|US Open||+2500||+2800 (Brooks Koepka)||2015 (CUT)||2010 (T4)|
|The Open Championship||+2200||+900 (Jordan Spieth)||2015 (CUT)||2013 (T6)|
|PGA Championship||+2500||+1600 (Justin Thomas)||2015 (CUT)||2009 (2)|
As you can see, Tiger Woods is currently listed at +1800 to win the Masters, which corresponds to a 5% chance. Against a 98-man field, that suggests that Tiger is well above the average Masters competitor. Tiger did not play at the Masters last year, and has not finished higher than fourth since the Bush administration. Sergio Garcia, who is the defending champion, is listed at +2800. Listing a player who has not competed recently and has a history of inconsistent performances over the defending champion is just silly. Even more silly: people will take those odds, and do so happily.
It gets only slightly better at the US Open. Tiger is listed at +2500, ahead of Adam Scott and Brooks Koepka (both at +2800). You might remember Koepka, he’s the guy who won last year. He’s one of the most exciting talents in American golf, and he’s listed behind a 41-year-old who has spent the last decade or so being evacuated from golf courses and apologising on television.
If you add all of Tiger’s odds together for the four majors, you get a 17.31% probability (or a little better than a 5/1 shot) that he will win at least one in 2017. I don’t think you would take that bet — I certainly wouldn’t — so taking a component of it is not advisable.
If you add the implied probabilities of the different competitors in these tournaments, you see that the book is charging a vig of over 15%. That’s not news for anyone with experience betting futures, but it is important.
What does this mean for bettors?
You can bet for value, or you can bet for fun. You can put your money on Floyd Mayweather, and hope for a boring fight and a small payoff, or you can put a live bet on the Patriots in the 3rd quarter of the Superbowl and hope something magical happens. If you’re going to bet on Tiger Woods at contender prices, that’s fine, but don’t think of it as anything other than another expensive part of an Augusta weekend, like a $50 hat or a $43 coffee cup.
Unfortunately for bettors, the value this creates on the other side of this bet is diffused among the dozens of other competitors, and even without your usual futures vigs, it’s hard to find value in any of these bets. For what it’s worth, Brooks Koepka is maybe the best value available at +2800, he played exceptionally well last summer and is still developing.
For a sportsbook, an emotional bet in a broad field in a format where they can run a huge vig is a dream come true. Tiger Woods, in the Masters, as a futures bet, is exactly that formula.
Where can bettors find value?
As Tiger firms up his schedule and his tournaments draw nearer, sportsbooks will start to list head-to-head wagers and individual round bets for Woods. Head-to-head wagers pit two golfers against one another, and bettors pick the player they think will finish higher at the tournament. Individual round bets are basically over/unders: the book will set the total for Woods’ next round at, say, 70.5, and bettors can take the over or under.
You’re a lot more likely to find value in these dual-outcome bets than in the futures market. They are, by nature, like the Mayweather/McGregor fight; if and when Tigers’ odds are exceedingly short, sportsbooks can’t disperse the corresponding value among a large field. It will necessarily land on the only other outcome.
In upcoming editions of the Tiger Tracker, we’ll explore which of these bets are offering the most value.