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Golf Betting Essentials

T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions

If it seems like it was only a few weeks ago that the PGA season ended, that's because it was. I don't feel bad for them because they make a fortune, but golfers really do have the longest season this side of NASCAR. The 2007 season kicked off last weekend in Hawaii with a win for Vijay Singh. For most bettors, the golf season only gets any attention a few times a year - the four majors, and maybe the Ryder Cup every other year. If you share that attitude then you are definitely missing out on a regular chance for action, and you may be leaving some profit on the table, too.

There are all sorts of ways that you can bet on the PGA. Like any sport, your success is dependent on choosing the right betting vehicle for the right decision and knowing which bets aren't worth making in a particular situation. The most common, and most commonly known, type of golf bet is the straight bet on the winner of a tournament. Typically, odds are assigned to about half of the field, and the rest of the field is grouped together into a field bet. Despite the fact that there are always over 100 starters in a PGA tournament, there will usually be one or several favorites below 10/1. Obviously, then, picking the few biggest names in the tournament and putting money on all of them is not the path to long-term profits. Success on these bets comes from knowing which golfers are playing well, and spotting value in those players' odds. With only one winner each week, this is clearly a long-term game where you are going to lose much more than you are going to win. One win has the ability to make you and your wallet forget about a lot of losses, though.

That same style of bet is also available on future tournaments. You can currently bet on the Masters and the British Open at Bodog, and you'll be able to bet on the other majors months in advance of tee time. The further away from one of these events, the worse the odds are for the name players. Tiger Woods hasn't played yet this year, so we have no idea how he will play (alright, we have a really good idea, but you get my point), yet he is already the 1/1 favorite for the Masters.

If choosing one player from a full field isn't your idea of a good time, then maybe you'll prefer the match-up options that are available. You can decide which one of two players will finish higher in a tournament, or you can choose one from a group of three. Either of those bets is usually available for the whole tournament, and often for the first or last round as well. You can also often find a head-to-head prop that features a tie option that will pay off in a big way if both players end the tournament with the same score. These matchups give you much more of a chance for effective handicapping, since they reduce a huge field into a more familiar two or three entity situation. They can also provide real value, especially in situations where the public is overvaluing a name player who isn't playing at his best.

To get ready for 2007 PGA Tour betting, here are three things to keep in mind:

1) Avoid picking Tiger. Think of horse racing. You don't get rich in horse racing by always betting the favorites. Sure, you'll win a bunch, but you'll end up with less money over the long run than when you started. Where you make money is from finding races where the favorite is prime to be beat, and figuring out which horse will beat him. Tiger will probably have another ridiculously good season, but chances are very good that it won't be enough for him to be profitable. As I said before, he's 1/1 for the Masters already. He's won four Masters, but he's started 12 times. Even over the last six years, when he has been playing some of his best golf, he has won three of six - a breakeven proposition at these odds. The 1/1 odds are close to what you will often see him face from week to week. Last year he had one of the best seasons in golf history, yet he still lost seven of his 15 starts. He was a profitable bet, but just barely. Tiger Woods almost never represents betting value.

2) Look for hot streaks. Every year, or for part of every year, there is a player or two that plays like they are virtually unbeatable. Phil Mickelson, for example, is usually strong early in the season. He won three of six early in 2005, and two in a row before the Masters last year. Adam Scott was in the top four for every tournament for a month last season. Vijay Singh had multiple stretches of excellence in 2005. By identifying hot streaks and riding them you can often profit nicely. If the first tournament of this year was any indication then Vijay Singh is embarking on another hot streak right now. His win was dominant, and the look in his eyes made it clear that it wasn't a fluke.

3) Learn the names of no-names. Despite Tiger's great year last year, and Phil's hot streak, there were still a dozen first time winners on the tour. Names like Eric Axley, John Senden, Chris Couch and Brett Wetterich don't exactly roll of the tongue of casual golf fans, and the odds on those players would have been high. In some cases first time winners come from nowhere, but more often their eventual success can be hinted at by their performance, statistics and attitude. The payouts on wins by no-name players is often high enough that solid handicapping can be worthwhile.

Betting on no-name players can be particularly effective and lucrative in tournaments where the big names aren't going to be there. The U.S. Bank Championship, for example, happens in Milwaukee the same weekend as the British Open. All of the top golfers will be at Carnoustie, so a second-tier player will be able to excel in a lower pressure situation in Wisconsin. Similar situations occur during the President's Cup, the Match Play and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

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