How to bet the 2021 Masters without Tiger Woods, and how lines are moving
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
The world’s most popular golf tournament is finally here.
By the time Thursday’s opening round commences at Augusta National, hundreds of thousands of Americans will have bet millions of dollars on the Masters.
Because of the event's popularity, Masters betting usually starts more than 11 months out from the ensuing edition. Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Masters took place in mid-November, so the 2021 pool has been up for only four months.
Even so, bookmakers have been constantly moving money and shifting odds to stay ahead of the curve. After all, there’s always a sports bettor ready to whack the right golfer at the right price.
The biggest riser on the Masters betting boards is Jordan Spieth, who just won the Valero Open on Sunday.
Spieth was as high as 60-to-1 to win another green jacket on March 1. Thanks to current form and recency bias, most books are dealing Spieth around 10-to-1 for this week. That $100 that netted you $6,000 five weeks ago nets you only $1,000 right now.
"We actually opened Spieth at 86-to-1 in early December," Circa Sports assistant sportsbook manager Jeff Davis told FOX Sports. "He was playing as bad as he’s played in his career. That number took all of about 24 hours to get a bet. I think we went to 70 from there. Then he really showed signs of life at the Phoenix Open. We dropped him to 50. Then somebody bet the 50, so we went down to 30.
"I think he finished top-5 at Pebble [Beach] the week after, and that’s when we went all the way in to [20-to-1]. Once he got to 20, the public really got interested in Spieth. It was eight weeks out at that point, and people were starting to come to town for the Super Bowl, then March Madness. The Spieth bets piled up pretty quickly."
As you can imagine, managing money in future pools for major golf tournaments can be quite the mathematical balancing act. Even a $100 dollar bet can lead to hours of tinkering with the betting prices.
"When somebody makes a noticeable bet, there’s an instant ripple effect," Davis explained. "You go right back to the pool and try to give it back. It’s time-consuming. You’ll move a guy from 68 to 70, this guy from 115 to 118. Sometimes you take three bets, and it makes you move 13 or 14 guys. It’s challenging, but it’s fun.
"For the most part, the prices are what they are with the Masters," Davis said. "Course history and course form matters so much more at Augusta than it does in most cases. Our respected bettors are the ones moving the numbers. It’s the people making the bets more than how much money is there."
There are, however, extreme exceptions to that rule.
"Let’s take Lee Westwood, for example," Davis said. "Westwood has been largely out of form for a long time. Then he goes super low and almost wins at Bay Hill. His price shortened from there, as people started betting him to win the Masters. We’ve taken bets at 80-to-1 and 65-to-1 on Westwood. Somebody even hit us a few weeks ago at 49-to-1.
"We started drifting his odds out this week, and sure enough, once we got back to 65-to-1, somebody came in and made a limit bet. So we dropped him down again. He’s one of the worst results for the house.
"In pools with a lot of handle like the Masters — where the prices can get big — the liability outweighs the logic behind the price. In a typical weekly event, the British-type bookmakers create the board while everybody else is still sleeping. Then the American bookmakers copy the board without all that much thought.
"The European bookies are largely booking to public, square types, so they chop the hell out of the odds of all the guys that played well in the last two weeks. And they drift out the guys that haven’t played well in the last week or two. That’s what the public bets. They bet what they saw last."
Another very interesting market is whether a golfer will make or miss the cut after the first two rounds. For example, Jason Day is -385 to make the cut at Circa and +325 to miss it.
"The make/miss market helps you get to the right number, and it also keeps you honest as a bookmaker," Davis admitted. "It requires you to offer a fair price, which generally increases your handle. When you get to the right price, the sharper guys are going to leave it alone. But if you’re offering a fair price at a fair split, people notice. Some places might offer -300 and +220 splits. We’re closer to -270 and +230, so both betting options are better with us."
Which result(s) would be the worst for the house?
"Westwood is going to be the worst result of anyone who can actually win the tournament," Davis reported.
"Matthew Fitzpatrick is bad, too. We took bets on him at 73- and 66-to-1. Bettors tell you when you’re wrong, and you need to know when to react. We’re at 56 on Fitzpatrick right now, which is crazy low, but that’s where we are. Those two results would not be good.
"Everybody who comes to the window with $100 is betting on Collin Morikawa," he continued. "He’s another guy that we’re going to lose to no matter what happens. Obviously, he’s good enough to win here. We’ve also taken a few limit bets on Bryson DeChambeau, but he’s incredibly unpopular at the window. I would expect he’ll be a good result for us."
Believe it or not, bookmakers dabble in sports betting from time to time, as long as the wagers aren’t placed at their own shop. One of Davis’ biggest golf cashes was for the 2016 Masters, when a 29-year-old English golfer named Danny Willett won at more than triple-digit odds.
"I wanted to call in sick because I had a thousand whiskeys that night," Davis cracked.
"We had a pile of 150-to-1 on Willett. We blasted him in December after he won in Dubai. Me and a couple buddies had a good chunk at 150-to-1 to win the Masters. I was on one that night."
Davis remembered being on the semi-right side of history when Tiger roared back to win his fifth Masters tournament two years ago.
"Tiger winning was a bad result, but a Tony Finau victory would have been a disaster," he recalled. "Everybody bet Finau, and there was no stopping that train. Luckily, he did what he always does: He came close and couldn’t get it done. That would have been very, very bad. We’re talking mid-six figures.
"Tiger certainly moves the needle, but golf has a lot of really good players now that people gravitate toward. When Tiger was in his heyday, it was Tiger and Phil [Mickelson], and then there was a huge gap to everybody else. There’s not a lot separating [Dustin Johnson] and Bryson and [Jon] Rahm and [Justin] Thomas and [Xander] Schauffele and Rory [McIlroy].
"There’s enough star power, so Tiger’s involvement isn’t as important as it once was."
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Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.