What is matchup betting in golf?

Betting on matchups allows a sports fan just starting out with golf to find wagers that most closely resemble something they may be used to seeing in other sports.

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Golf betting can seem like an intimidating market if you are not familiar with all the details. For this reason, sportsbooks offer multiple ways for bettors to place wagers throughout each tournament. Most casual sports bettors will place “future wagers“, simply means picking a golfer to win the tournament – more for entertainment purposes than anything else. But with over 150 golfers competing each week, it can be difficult to narrow down the field. This is what makes matchup (or head-to-head) betting so appealing and, if approached correctly, more profitable over time. 

What is matchup betting in golf?

Betting on matchups allows a sports fan just starting out with golf to find wagers that most closely resemble something they may be used to seeing in other sports. With most sports, such as the NBA or NFL, the most common type of wager is betting on the moneyline. One team will be the favorite and will have odds somewhere in the region of -125. The other team, the underdog, will have odds that are roughly +130. In this example, a bettor taking the favorite will need to place a $125 bet in order to win $100, while betting the underdog will profit $130 on a $100 wager. 

When it comes to the PGA Tour, sportsbooks will release odds for different pairs of golfers at the beginning of any event. With this type of bet, one golfer will be the favorite and one will be listed as the underdog. Whoever posts the lowest score at the end of the tournament will win. Simple and straightforward enough, but reducing the wager type down to only two golfers instead of over 150 makes golf betting more appealing and approachable for the everyday gambler. These types of wagers can be placed over the course of the four day tournament or simply for one round. In a round matchup, a sports bettor is attempting to predict which golfer will shoot a lower score just by the end of that specific round as opposed to a tournament matchup, which lasts all four days. 

Typically speaking, sportsbooks will release head-to-head matchups with two golfers that are fairly close in the futures odds market. For example, if Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are the two favorites to win The Masters outright, then sportsbooks may release matchup odds that place them against each other. Current future odds to win The Masters have McIlroy at +650 and Tiger at +1000. Matchup odds between these two golfers could look something like this:

Rory McIlroy -140

Tiger Woods +120

A bettor wanting to place this wager on Tiger for The Masters does not necessarily need him to win. They would just need him to finish higher in the final standings than McIlroy. 

Head-to-head vs three balls

Sportsbooks offer matchups in two different forms: head-to-head and three balls. Head-to-head, as explained before, is just one golfer against another. To add a little more depth to this type of bet, most bookmakers will also release what are known as three balls. This is the same concept as head-to-heads, it just adds one more golfer into the mix. The 1st and 2nd round of a PGA Tour event are typically played in groups of three. A three ball wager is betting on which golfer of the three will finish with the best score at the end of a round. If there is a winning tie between players – two or more players shoot the same score – the payout will be split. A tie between two players results in a payout of half the original sum, while a tie between all three players in the group pays out one third of the accepted price. 

Live betting

Live betting has gained a lot of popularity with the newer sportsbooks like Draftkings and Fan Duel. As these betting platforms look for ways to enhance the gambling experience, being able to offer up-to-the-second lines combines the watching and wagering experiences like never before. Golf has adapted to this trend and has been able to offer live matchups to place wagers on as an event unfolds. 

Matchup per hole

If two golfers are paired together, sportsbooks routinely offer live betting lines on who will win the current hole they’re playing. This bet type gained notoriety during “The Match”, which saw Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson square off in a head-to-head challenge for charity. The Match took place during the offseason of the PGA Tour, allowing golf fans to put their full focus into this one-day event. It also allowed viewers to experience the entertainment of live betting individual holes in a head-to-head format. In the event, Tiger was favored to win entering the day. For this reason, the majority of the holes saw him as the favorite with odds at roughly +250. Phil Mickelson, the underdog, would have seen his odds around +375 per hole. Both have plus odds because the most likely outcome of each hole is a tie. 

Best Score – Hole 6 (par 4)

Tiger Woods +250         Tie +120       Phil Mickelson +375

Matchup per three holes

Live matchup odds can also come in the format of three-hole stretches. Augusta National, the home of The Masters tournament, has a three hole stretch known as Amen Corner. This is the collection of holes 11, 12, and 13. It is one of the more difficult stretches of golf that players face all season, and it offers some of the most excitement for viewers to observe. During The Masters, live odds may be placed that look like this:

Best Score – Holes 11-13 (par 4, par 3, par 5)

Justin Thomas +150      Tie +220       Dustin Johnson +210

The more holes that are played, the worse the odds of a tie taking place. While fans are watching this pairing compete on the front nine, they can place wagers on the upcoming holes. The odds will continue to change until the golfers approach the 11th tee. Finding the best odds, and deciding when to pull the trigger on the bet, adds to the entertainment value in this type of wagering. 

Low hole score

The final type of live betting option available for individual matchups is “hole score.” With this format, the bettor is attempting to predict what the lowest score between the pairing will be, not necessarily who will score it. See the example below:

Jon Rahm – Bryson DeChambeau

Any player to score a birdie or better – Hole 9 (round 2, par 4)

Yes -245         No +180

Mar 12, 2020; Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA; Patrick Rodgers hits a shot from the sand onto the 10th green during the first round of the 2020 edition of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Finding an edge in live betting

For entertainment purposes, a gambler can certainly place a futures bet without watching the tournament. With live betting, however, there is a big edge to be had for the bettors following along. Golf, as with most sports, is often decided by the smallest of margins. A golfer can hit a great putt but see their ball catch the lip of the hole and not go in. They can also hit a perfect drive that happens to roll into a fairway bunker. There are a number of tough breaks someone can face on the course and, if the sportsbooks are only looking at the score when posting live odds, there is a definite advantage to be had.

Webb Simpson is one of the best putters on the PGA Tour. The part of his game that struggles is his driving. According to the official PGA Tour website, Webb is 3rd on the tour in total putting but is 118th in driving. Still, even he can go a stretch of holes without getting a putt to drop. If he misses three straight putts while his opponent rolls in a few in a row, the odds may be swayed against Webb in a live head-to-head wager. This is where following along with the live-action gives the bettor an advantage over the sportsbook, which is typically only focused on the score. The odds will say Webb is due to make some putts in the near future based on his long term results.

Another advantage to be found is what type of holes the golfers are approaching next. Some golfers are more successful on specific holes than others. For example, Justin Thomas plays Par-5s better than most golfers in the world. He currently ranks 2nd on the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring. However, he tends to struggle on the shorter holes, the par-3s. He is only 68th on the tour when it comes to par-3 scoring.  If Justin Thomas has played a few par-3s in a row and has struggled, he may be able to make up some ground on the par-5s still to come. Finding a live line that is only tracking the current score can allow an edge to be had if there is still a par-5 to play. 

How to bet matchups successfully

At the start of every week, details like course fit, current form, and relevant stats are used to determine a smaller pool of golfers to consider placing futures or to win bets on. This is also a great starting point and strategy for determining matchups. When it comes to matchups betting, there are a number of different approaches to take in order to find success over time. Most sportsbooks place full tournament head-to-head lines based on Vegas future odds and Official World Golf Ranking. If these are the only two factors a bookmaker is taking into account, it allows for the bettor to find an edge when deciding which wagers to place. 

Full tournament matchups strategy

Full tournament matchups can often be viewed as a golfer versus golfer type of bet but, as with all golf betting, it is really the golfer versus the course. Certain courses fit the style of play of some golfers better than others. Short courses weigh more heavily on a golfer’s ability to hit irons while longer courses place more value on the driver. Even this one small factor can make a big difference when deciding on which golfer to place a head-to-head wager. Prior to a tournament starting, the matchup odds of any two golfers will be set. They may look something like this:

US Open – Full Tournament

Bryson DeChambeau +130

Patrick Reed -125

At first glance, these odds may appear accurate when looking at the World Golf Rankings. Patrick Reed is currently the #6 ranked golfer in the world and Bryson is #12. But let’s take a closer look at some stats to dictate which golfer to place a bet on. If the US Open is being played on a long course, which is typical, it would naturally favor golfers who drive the ball further. Below are the current PGA Tour driving distance rankings for each golfer:

Average Driving Distance

Bryson DeChambeau 1st

Patrick Reed 144th

Reed, who ranks #2 on tour in putting, may not even get a chance to effectively use his putter on a long course based on how poorly he drives the ball. If the course for the US Open is upwards of 7,500 yards, DeChambeau would be a great value over Reed at this odds of +130.

Single round matchups strategy

If the field of golfers was successfully narrowed down at the start of the event, then you already know a pool of golfers to target throughout the week. As is often the case, a golfer that looked like a great bet at the start of the week may have a very poor first round. This could be caused by a number of different factors but, if the process to start the week was correct, there may be some positive regression due for the following round. 

As mentioned prior using Webb Simpson for example, occasionally the putts just don’t drop. A great putter can miss every putt one day and make them all the next. This is why looking at long term form and course fit are more important when making betting decisions. Fortunately, sportsbooks will base their odds more heavily on short term results. This is where the advantage can be found.

Betting round two matchups leads to some of the most edge in the golf gambling market. Bookmakers tend to translate 1st round results very heavily when placing 2nd round head-to-head odds. By following the process that originally made certain golfers appealing for that given week, there will almost always be value found for 2nd and 3rd round wagers. 

Bankroll management 

Managing how much to invest in any given sporting event is a crucial part of becoming a successful long-term gambler. Regardless of the sport, implementing a successful bankroll management strategy is important. This is no different with golf betting. If a bettor is comfortable wagering $100 for a week-long PGA Tour event, there is a lot of strategy involved in how to spread out that amount. It can seem appealing to place that $100 bet on one golfer to win, but the odds of that hitting are low and, most likely, the bettor will be down $100 come Sunday evening. 

The best odds of winning a golf bet is by placing a head-to-head wager. But for entertainment purposes, betting on futures makes for a more fun viewing experience on a Sunday afternoon. Finding the proper balance between these two is what makes a golf bettor successful. A simple strategy to start may look like this:

$100 total investment for any given week

$50 spread between 5 full tournament matchups ($10 per bet)

$25 spread between 5 outright futures ($5 per bet with odds ranging from roughly +2000 to +7500)

$25 remaining for live betting (single round matchups, live “best hole” matchups, live to-win wagers, etc.)

Since a full tournament matchup is the easiest golf bet to win, this approach can lead to the best results over a longer period of time. And with five golfers potentially in contention to win on Sunday, it can still lead to an exciting final round. 

Betting golf matchups is the best way to start out gambling on the PGA Tour. It is the easiest to comprehend, offers the best odds of winning, and has a definite edge to be found. With the types of wagers offered, it turns watching a live golf event into a more interactive and enjoyable experience. Pick a strategy and stick to it. Don’t let one round influence the rest of the week. Manage the bankroll wisely. And hopefully on a Sunday afternoon, you can enjoy a cold beverage, track some live matchups, and watch a +5000 golfer with a chance to run away from the field.

Dropping Dimes