Five Mistakes to Avoid When Betting on The Masters
April 5, 2023
There are few joys in life quite like drifting off into a Jim Nantz-induced slumber on a quiet Sunday morning and waking up in time to catch the final few holes of The Masters. Bringing home a bomb price (hello, Trevor Immelman) might be up there. Before you pick your stable for the weekend, Unabated co-founder Rufus Peabody has some things to keep in mind when betting on The Masters.
The ur-mistake, of course, is failing to line shop. Books have to price out a lot of golfers in the tournament. That means there are plenty of spots for them to differ from one another. Patrick Reed is priced at +6000, +6600, +7000, +7500 and +8000 at various books. The difference in implied probability is negligible, but the money still spends.
The outright markets are high-hold situations, but the hold doesn’t get distributed evenly. The glut of available markets offer the books plenty of chances to make mistakes.
Let them be the ones making them. Don’t fall victim to these five mistakes when betting on The Masters.
Majors are a different beast, and The Masters stands out among even those tournaments. Looking just at who’s been winning recent events on tour won’t give you a clear picture of who the contenders truly are.
“The top guys key in on them. You think about their schedule, and they’re trying to peak at the Masters. Whereas a regular tour pro who’s just trying to make it week to week doesn’t have the luxury to prep as much,” Peabody said. “There’s definitely predictive value to how guys have done in majors in the past.”
That’s not to say you have to immediately discount the chances for any and all newcomers. Just that experience is a weight. Younger players in the modern game are in better positions than in years past thanks to advanced analytics and other systems that can help prepare players to attack the course.
Horses for Courses
Similarly, course fit matters a great deal. Being able to go long off the tee helps at Augusta, Peabody said, but it’s not a course where driving accuracy means as much as at other venues.
Masters veterans will know how to fit their strength to the needs of the course.
“Course history and experience is a thing at every course, but it means more at Augusta than almost any other course,” Peabody said. “It’s such a unique course. You always hear the saying, ‘You have to know where to miss.’ Knowing which pins to take on and which ones not to. A lot comes from your knowledge of it.
“It’s also unique in the fact that you get very few flat lies. With the hills, you rarely have a situation where the ball isn’t below or above your feet a little bit. And the greens are very undulating. You don’t have real rough. You have the pine straw, but there’s no thick rough. If you miss around the green, you have a lot of tight lies. You have to have a lot of confidence around the greens. Having done that before is a huge advantage.”
Examining Recent Results
History with Augusta is one part of it, but you also have to account for recent form when betting on The Masters. And the window for judging that might be shorter than you think.
“In golf, recency matters more than probably any other sport in general. It’s not like you look at the last however many events,” he said. “Literally, each event is worth less (than the one after it). The further back you go the less it’s predictive than now.”
Only Looking at the Big Names
This isn’t the Tiger Woods Corollary, but it’s not not the Tiger Woods Corollary, either.
When Tiger came back to play in the 2022 Masters he was fighting a 17-month layoff and a nasty car crash the year before that nearly cost him a leg. He finished 13 over. The books offered around 50-1 coming into the tournament.
Peabody made his number closer to 1500-1.
If you focus on the big names alone, you’re going to overlook players who might be going better than they seem to be. These are players who offer real value in betting on The Masters. Score alone doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Na went into the woods, took a penalty stroke for an unplayable ball, went back to the tee and hit his next shot to the exact same spot.
It didn’t get any better from there.
“I would’ve judged his round way worse if he had bogeyed every single hole than having a 12-over-par in one hole where half the shots he’s in the woods trying to hack out, and then just goes on tilt. Find a situation where a guy’s results are a little bit overblown.”
Treating LIV Players Like PGA Tour Players When Betting on The Masters
We’re in uncharted waters when it comes to LIV defectors returning to the majors.
They play fewer events, and the events they do play are shorter. There’s less data to parse, and therefore more uncertainty in how these players are going to perform when they return to the big stage.
“A lot of that is the fact that playing competitive rounds is good,” Peabody said. “It helps you stay mentally sharp, and these guys haven’t really been doing that. The question is how much that is getting to hurt them.”
Correcting for Limited Information
The LIV golfers are a not-insignificant portion of the total Masters field. You can’t ignore them entirely.
With some of the advanced statistics you’d get for PGA players unavailable, Peabody says to use standard stats like driving distance and accuracy. Those allow you to impute factors like strokes gained: off-the-tee. Greens in regulation can help inform strokes gained: approach.
As the match goes on, watch for these players’ performance to move directionally relative to your baseline assumptions. Make your adjustments from there.
“There is some correlation there if we’re wrong,” Peabody said. “If I’m over-penalizing them for not playing, and that turned out to not be particularly detrimental to them, it’s going to be that way for all of (the LIV players).”
Overreacting to the Idea of a Choke
Rory McIlroy came into the final round at Augusta in 2011 with a four-stroke lead. He shot 37 on the front nine to stay in the catbird seat. Then a triple bogey on 10, a double on 12. Six holes later he’s 10 back and looking up at the rest of the leaderboard.
Scottie Scheffler had a five-stroke lead at one point on Sunday last year, and Peabody was able to get the winner in the -200s with the more esteemed McIlroy charging hard at the top spot against a player who had never won a major.
The choke jobs and near-misses always loom large in our memories, but having a realistic understanding of their likelihood can open up value opportunities in betting on The Masters as the tournament rolls on.
“The most bang for your buck if you want to sweat on a Sunday, is if there’s a guy in the lead or a few strokes off the lead, who is a surprise,” Peabody said. “Those guys tend to be a little undervalued. In general, people think that a guy is a crappier golfer, that those guys are going to choke more than they do. There’s a thought that, ‘This guy’s only up two strokes. That it isn’t that many strokes.’
“It isn’t, but each stroke is still worth a lot. Betting on guys on or near the lead going into Sunday who’s not a big-name guy, I can almost guarantee you’ll find some value there.”
Reducing Your Disadvantage
There’s an added benefit when a leader may be undervalued. The hold in general is lower than you’ll face pre-tournament, and the high hold you get in large multiway markets tends to fall on the longshots.
“With Scottie Scheffler being way ahead, you couldn’t make a 40 percent hold market there because you can’t hold 40 percent on the Scheffler side. If a golfer is 70 percent to win, think about where you’d have to set the price to make a 40 percent hold. You have to make all the hold on the underdogs.”
Mishandling Weather Information
By now, you’ve probably seen the forecast for this weekend. Rain Friday through Sunday with the heaviest storms coming Saturday as temps fall to the 50s.
That’s not enough on its own to be actionable for betting on The Masters. But that doesn’t mean the weather is priced in already.
“There’s definitely edge (to be had),” Peabody said. “I think people are overconfident, including me, on those weather things. They don’t consider the whole. They don’t consider the uncertainties there may be and how correlated they are. What those possible scenarios could be.”
He pointed to this past week’s Texas Open. Fog delays meant some ended up playing in more advantageous weather conditions.
That’s relevant to The Masters, where everyone goes from the same tee, meaning you get a parade of players all day who may end up playing in materially different conditions than ones who teed off earlier and later.
“You have to have a lot of humility here. Just realize that there’s stuff you don’t know and there’s things that can happen that you don’t necessarily expect,” Peabody said. “When you have events where you have tee times spread out throughout and only going off of one tee, weather plays a bigger role. You are exposed to more potential weather effects.”
You do, however, have to balance that with the fact that Augusta National isn’t St Andrews in Scotland.
“It’s not a course that is as vulnerable to weather as some other courses,” he said. “It’s not a links course. It’s not open on the water. There’s a lot of trees and hills. It’s still difficult. That makes it hard to judge.”
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