How to bet the PGA Championship: Odds, favorites, sleepers

Jay Busbee
·6-min read

The PGA Tour is here, and with it an array of betting opportunities as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge. With 156 players in the field and four days of competition over 18 holes at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, your options for laying down a wager or two run the gamut from near-certainty to longest of long shots. Whether you’ve been gambling since the days of Arnie and Jack, or you just want to dip your toe in the world of golf betting, we’ve got you covered.

What are the best tips for betting on golf?

We’re not in the days of Tiger Woods circa 2000 anymore. Picking a winner from a field as crowded as this one is incredibly difficult. There’s a reason even the favorites are 10/1 odds — at this point in golf history, there are a good two dozen players who could step up and win a major and it wouldn’t be too much of a shock.

Odds for players to win are expressed in a moneyline: Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are co-favorites at +1000, meaning you’d bet $100 to win $1,000. Other favorites include Rory McIlroy (+1400), Jon Rahm (+1500), and the Golf Hulk, Bryson DeChambeau, at +1800. (All lines via BetMGM.)

With odds like that, it’s obvious that picking a winner before the tournament even tees off is a bit of a dart toss. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to improve your odds of winning.

“If you’re just going to bet on someone to win the tournament, it’s really hard to do that on Thursday,” says Christian Cipollini, a sports trader with BetMGM. “If you wait until past Friday, your odds will be much better. It’s better to look at who makes the cut, head-to-head matchups, the leader after Day 1, bets like that.”

What are the different options available for bets?

In golf, unlike head-to-head sports, winning isn’t the only thing. You can find some much more reasonable odds if you start looking at whether a given player will finish in the Top 5, rather than win outright. JT (+225) and Koepka (+240), among others, come in with odds four times better than their winning chances here. Your money gets even safer if you give the players a top-20 cushion; you’d have to bet $200 to win $100 on the prospect of Justin Thomas (-200) finishing in the top 20.

Head-to-head bets are a quick and easy way of sizing up two players against one another. Want to see who really owns the Koepka-DeChambeau rivalry? Like to take another crack at Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson? Head-to-head matchups, particularly when the two players are in a featured group, lock you into the action on a shot-by-shot basis, and it’s even more fun when the pairing is grouped together or in one of the featured groups for television.

It's almost time for the PGA Championship. (Photo by Christian Petersen/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images )
It's almost time for the PGA Championship. (Photo by Christian Petersen/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images )

What can you bet on Tiger Woods?

Tiger Woods has played only one true tournament since the quarantine lockdown; The Match 2.0 with Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady doesn’t count. He finished tied for 40th at the Memorial, a finish that doesn’t inspire much confidence. He claims to be ready to go, but then he always says that. He comes in at +3000, but his true odds are worse than that.

“People always bet on Tiger,” Cipollini says. “Realistically, he’s more middle-of-the-pack. With bigger names, people bet on them no matter if they’re playing well.”

That said, BetMGM has an entire slate of Tiger Woods specials if you want to bet on Big Cat to do something other than win. For instance, you can gamble on Tiger to have a bogey-free round (+500), to card a hole-in-one (+8000), or make an eagle (+300), in addition to the standard Top 5/Top 10/Top 20 bets. And if you’re feeling especially bold, gamble on Tiger leading all four rounds and winning (+15000). It won’t happen, but if it does, you’ll be even happier than Tiger himself.

Who are the sleepers?

When no one’s a favorite, everyone’s a sleeper. “We haven’t taken too many big bets on long shots,” Cipollini says.

That said, he recommends you take a look at players who have won on the big stage in the past. He points to past major winners like Justin Rose, Jason Day and Bubba Watson as players who don’t carry quite the same cachet they did a few years back, but could still step up to win. As for first-time major winners, Cipollini has his eye on Ian Poulter, well known for Ryder Cup heroics, and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who’s coming in hot with two top-six finishes, as good options.

And then there’s Phil Mickelson. “Phil’s a great example [of a sleeper bet],” Cipollini says. “We all know Phil could easily take it on and win. He’s done it in the past.”

What are some other special bets?

Think this tournament’s going to be a blowout? Go for a winning margin of four strokes or more (+450). Go the other way and bet on a playoff at +350. Think the fog of TPC Harding Park will tamp down scores? Gamble that the winning score will be 270 (10 under par) or higher, a straight 1:1 bet at 100.

You can also bet on whether the winner will be American (-200), whether the winner will birdie the final hole (+600), and whether we’ll have a wire-to-wire winner (+1400). The options are limited only by your imagination … and your bankroll, of course.

There won’t be a gallery. What effect will that have on players?

We’re in uncharted territory here with the lack of fans. There won’t be the traditional Tiger Roar on Sunday afternoon; players won’t be able to ride the wave of a gallery’s cheers, or tighten up trying to make a crucial 6-foot putt with thousands of eyes on them. Will that have an effect on odds?

“So far we haven’t noticed much of an effect,” Cipollini says. “We can attribute bad play to bad golf right now. Maybe with a little more info, we can say that a certain player is better without a crowd, or way worse without a crowd.”

It’s something of an irony, then, that the sport where fans can get the closest sees less of an impact without those fans in attendance. “It’s a little different in golf than in basketball or football,” Cipollini says. “Momentum and the energy of the crowd can have an impact on the odds in those sports, not as much in golf.”

The PGA Championship tees off Thursday. Get out there and get your piece of the action!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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