Top 10 golf handicapping tips for the Masters

3 April 2017

Golf has been responsible for a very small percentage of the record amount of dollars that have been wagered at Nevada sportsbooks in recent years. But there are certain events each year that generate widespread betting interest from those who otherwise couldn't care less about the sport.

Everybody wants to place some sort of "prop bet" on the Super Bowl . Over the last few weeks, March Madness office pools were rampant once again and likely primed to be won by the secretary who makes her selections based on team colors. On the first Saturday each May, people who have never stepped foot in a race track suddenly crave a piece of the action from the Kentucky Derby.

The same goes for golf and the Masters. Whether it's a small pool among friends at the local bar, a daily fantasy sports contest at DraftKings or a few old-fashioned wagers at the sportsbook, this is, by far, the week when more people will have a financial interest in golf than any other time of the year.

Regular readers of this space know full well that yours truly believes golf and gambling go hand in hand , and we've been looking forward to this week more than the average sports bettor. So, before Jim Nantz starts waxing poetically about a "tradition unlike any other" and the sounds of birds chirping and the hot pink azaleas begin filtering through your TV from Augusta National, we present 10 tips to keep in mind as you try to predict who will challenge for the coveted green jacket this year.

To bolster our opinions, we spoke with Brady Kannon, who is not only the Las Vegas regional manager for TeeTimesUSA.com , but has carved out a niche as a prominent golf handicapper in Las Vegas. Kannon was also part of the four-man "Sans Souci" team that won the popular football SuperContest , at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino with a record-breaking performance in 2011, so he's got the golf background and the sports handicapping chops.

Now, let's head to Magnolia Lane and try to make some money.

A blooming Augusta National is home to the Masters every year, making it a unique handicap for sports bettors.

A blooming Augusta National is home to the Masters every year, making it a unique handicap for sports bettors. (photo by Julie Campbell)

10. Past history at Augusta
The Masters is unique in many, many ways, including the fact that it is the lone major championship played on the same course every year. So, a primary step in the handicapping process is to research how individual players have fared at Augusta National.

It's clear that past experience on the course is vital. Over the last 17 years, the person who has gone home with the green jacket made the cut the previous year at the Masters. What's more, it's been nearly four decades (Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979) since a player won at Augusta when playing his first Masters.

"You have to log some hours at Augusta before you're likely to have some success there," says Kannon. "You have to learn the nuances of the course, get used to the scrambling aspect and get used to putting those incredible greens."

Although the last two winners (Jordan Spieth in 2015 and Danny Willett last year) were making just their second appearance at Augusta when they prevailed, Kannon points out that 13 of the last 17 winners had made six or more previous starts at the Masters.

9. Recent form
Considering each of the last 25 major championship winners have had at least one top 10 during the current season, it’s clear that recent form can play a factor.

"You can't come into a major — especially the Masters — and expect to just flip the switch and have a great round," Kannon explains. "A Top 10 is a pretty good indication that you’re playing pretty well."

Another compelling reason recent form counts: Eight of the last 10 winners at Augusta have ranked in the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking entering Masters week.

8. Weather
When trying to predict the outcome of any sporting event played outdoors, checking the weather is crucial, most notably in golf where the elements can entirely alter playing conditions.

While wet and damp weather gives an advantage to the big bombers because the shorter hitters won't get the benefit of rolling fairways, Kannon says a soft course also makes it easier to land the ball on the green when playing long approach shots.

The wind at Augusta can also be very tricky, as it tends to swirl in a number of different directions because of the way the course winds around and the dramatic elevation changes. Kannon says he typically does not worry about wind affecting play until it creeps over 15 mph.

As of today, the forecast looks dry this week at Augusta, with a chance for some windy conditions on Thursday and Friday. Keep an eye on that forecast, though, especially if you are making individual round wagers.

7. Key stats
Certain skill sets match certain golf courses. At Augusta, the key stats to be aware of are greens in regulation, driving distance, scrambling and, of course, putting.

"Putting may be more important at the Masters than any other tournament because of the undulation and incredible speed of the greens," Kannon says.

Within the many putting stats tracked by the PGA TOUR, Kannon says success on putts inside eight feet and avoidance of three-putts are most important.

Greens in regulation has become more important since the course was revamped following Tiger Woods' dominance in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

"Driving accuracy and distance are still important, but there's much more of an importance now on landing the ball in the fairway and setting yourself up to be on the green in regulation," he says.

As for scrambling, Kannon says with very little rough and many shaved areas off the fairway it's inevitable a player will face some dicey shots and, thus, they need to be "creative and have a deft touch" around the green.

Dustin Johnson is one of the betting favorites at the Masters this week.

Dustin Johnson is one of the betting favorites at the Masters this week. (photo by Keith Allison)

6. Is it right to favor the left?
Six of the last 14 Masters winners were left-handed, and, according to Kannon, that's not by coincidence.

"Augusta hasn't necessarily become a lefty's course, but it has always been a right-to-left golf course," he says. "If you're a left-hander you can hit a cut, and a cut is a much more controlled golf shot, and that's why left-handers can go to that and run into less trouble. That's the reason they've had a lot of success."

Kannon also said it's worth noting that while this year's Masters favorite, Dustin Johnson, is right-handed, he recently started to favor the cut shot.

"He's controlling the golf ball much better than in the past and it's paid dividends," Kannon said of Johnson, who won his first-career major at last year's U.S. Open and has three victories and five top 10s in just seven starts this season.

5. Intangibles
"There might not be a bigger stage in all of sports than the guy who has the lead heading into the final six holes of the Masters," Kannon says with conviction. "Very few people can handle the pressure, and I think that's the main reason we haven’t seen a Masters rookie win at Augusta in so long."

With that said, you want to back players who have proven they can perform in such situations because even some of the game's greatest players (Greg Norman, Rory McIlroy, Spieth, to name a few) have succumbed to the glaring spotlight on Sunday and coughed up a final round lead at Augusta.

4. Fast starts
While you can't win the Masters during Thursday's first round, you can most certainly take yourself out of contention, according to recent history.

If you're making "in-play" wagers during the Masters, keep in mind that while the Round 1 leader has gone on to win the Masters just twice in the last 31 years (Trevor Immelman in 2008 and Spieth in 2015), only two winners since 1998 have been outside the top 10 heading into Friday.

Also, the Masters winner has played in the final pairing on Sunday in 21 of the last 26 years.

"You have to get out in front and be in contention at the Masters because this is not an event where you will typically see people coming from way behind," Kannon adds. "Like horse racing, you need to position yourself and be in contention heading into the weekend, and that's not true for every tournament."

3. Don't forget matchup bets
While betting players "to win" is the most popular and lucrative way to wager on golf, it's also the most difficult. There is much more value and less variance in the "match-up" bets that are offered each week.

Here's how it works: The bookmaker takes two golfers that go head-to-head in a fictional match-up. So, this week at the Masters one matchup that could be offered would be Rory McIlroy (-120) against Jason Day. The player with the best finish wins the bet and if both players miss the cut it's a "no bet."

"Trying to pick the winner in a field of 150 players — or in the case of the Masters 95 players — can kind of be like trying to pick a needle out of a haystack," says Kannon, who is the featured golf handicapper on a number of sites including Pregame.com, Covers.com and AgainstTheNumber.com. "With the matchups, it's a much less arbitrary handicap. You can take Player A and put him up against Player B and consider all of the things we just talked about, like course form, recent form, key stats.

"If you think one player has an edge over the other on that given course on that given week and the odds favor your handicap, you fire away."

2. Sleeper pick

Since the matchups for this week's Masters were not available at press time, let's focus on the "to win" market.

Everybody loves to bet a little to win a lot, so we asked Kannon for one of his "sleeper picks" and he slipped us Thomas Pieters, who entered the week a 66-to-1 shot to win at bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook.

"His game is very good; right there with some of the best in the world," Kannon says of the 25-year-old from Belgium. "He played on the European Tour a year ago and really had his coming out party at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. He's got a couple recent top five finishes (Genesis Open and WGC Mexico), and I think he could have a big week."

The sports book at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

The sports book at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. (photo by Prayitno Hadinata)

1. Our best bet
OK. We've crunched the numbers, analyzed Kannon's Masters list of "must-haves" and think we've found a player that checks all the boxes, yet isn't one of the overwhelming favorites.

We're taking the 18-to-1 odds on Hideki Matsuyama, the 25-year-old from Japan who got off to a white-hot start to the season with four victories and two runner-ups in seven international tournaments.

He's cooled off recently, but is still No. 4 on the World Golf Ranking and has most of the other major attributes we laid out above going for him, including Masters experience (this will be his sixth start at Augusta), Masters success (T-7 last year, T-5 in 2015 when he fired a 66 on the final day, and best amateur score in 2011), major championship experience (he has five top 10s in 17 career majors), driving distance (ranked 23rd on TOUR this year), greens in regulation (26th), scrambling (22nd) and putting average (29th).

Put it all together and at 18-to-1 we see a ton of value in betting that Matsuyama will add some more international flavor to the winner's locker room at Augusta and become the first Japanese player to don the green jacket, one year after Willett became the first British player to win the Masters in 20 years.

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