On rare week off, we head to Sin City to test our insider knowledge
Posted: Thursday August 12, 2004 11:17AM; Updated: Thursday August 12, 2004 11:17AM
At 30-1 odds to win the PGA Championship, Jim Furyk could be a smart investment.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Regular readers of Sports Illustrated's Golf Plus will recall that last month, my esteemed colleague Alan Shipnuck spent British Open week prowling Troon's betting parlors, attempting to turn £1,000 into $15,000 --enough money to fund a post-season SI staff trip to Bandon Dunes.
He failed. Miserably. Mind you, it made for a great story, but it sullied SI's reputation as the periodical of choice for the golf handicapper.
For some reason, I got it in my head that it was up to me to redeem his embarrassment. And an opportunity quickly presented itself.
Those same readers of SI's Golf Plus will remember that yours truly authored the magazine's recent PGA Championship preview. For that piece, I spent a week at Whistling Straits, using up all my annual Wisconsin privileges. Finding myself with a rare week off, I decided to head to Las Vegas to atone for Alan's lackluster wagering performance, and make that Bandon Dunes trip a reality.
Before leaving my safe Southern California home for the blast-furnace summer heat of Vegas, I did my homework. That mostly consisted of poring over the PGA Tour driving stats, since Long and Straight will be the keys to success at the season's final major.
I then had a series of conversations with the man who'd be my de facto adversary for the week, Jeff Sherman. Sherman (as loyal readers of this column will recall) is likely the most astute golf oddsmaker in Vegas, or perhaps anywhere else, and recently relocated from the Palms to the Hilton, where I'd be staying and playing. In quizzing him, I tried to locate weak spots in his expertise, and therefore his lines.
Naturally, I found some. I think. Maybe. Well, we'll find out, won't we? Armed with my research and my own (similarly delusional, perhaps) Tour insider savvy, I marched into the Hilton Sports Book on Wednesday night, and spread around $450 of my $1,000 allowance on various winner-picks, matchups, and propositions.
I saved the rest for the round-by-round matchups -- Golfer X vs. Golfer Y over 18 holes -- that will be posted each evening from Thursday to Saturday.
Yet even now -- sitting in my hotel room and leafing through my betting slips -- I'm convinced we're already headed to Oregon. Without further ado, here are the first set of bets destined to take us to the linksland. Look for updates on my progress over the weekend.
Winners: The favorites this week are the usual suspects -- Els, Singh, Mickelson and Woods. Like everybody else, I half-expect the winner to come from this foursome. I especially like Els' and Mickelson's chances. (A lot of people are saying this is Tiger's tournament, but they're a week early. I'd go on here about how he's going to chew up Firestone, but that's for next week's column.)
None of the favorites, however, are good value bets. That is, none of them are going to make me any serious cash. To get to Bandon, we're going to have to land a longshot, or at least a near-favorite going off at inflated odds.
My first two picks are guys who (never mind their recent injuries) excel at smart, mistake-free golf: Jim Furyk (30-1) and David Toms (40-1). Stuart Appleby (50-1) also gets a nod, because he's going to win a major at some point, and this may as well be the one. Chris DiMarco (50-1) might look like a heart (as opposed to head) bet, but he's one of the few players who won't to be intimidated by the course. Straight-hitter Fred Funk (100-1) might surprise everyone if the tee placements are generous and the ibuprofen keeps his rib injury in check. Paul Casey (100-1) is ready to win a major. My dearest dark horse, however, is Zack Johnson (125-1), because he ranks seventh in total driving (the Tour's combo of distance and accuracy), and because he showed in Atlanta this year that he can overcome the worst winds imaginable.
Matchups: Two of my matchup picks key on players prone to big misses off the tee (which, in Whistling Straits' three-foot fescue, will lead to big numbers). Adam Scott is pitted against Chad Campbell, and I'm taking Campbell. Fredrick Jacobsen goes against Stephen Ames, and I'm taking Ames.
I also have Sergio Garcia over Mike Weir, even though this one's counter-intuitive. Weir has it over Garcia in both the Guts and Patience categories, and has posted two fine finishes in the last two majors (T4 US Open; T9 British Open). But this venue will neutralize the strengths of his game -- wedge play and putting. There are no wedges at super-long Whistling Straits -- not even on the par-fives. And its greens are so tame that putting will be less a factor here than at any major in recent memory.
My last matchup is Luke Donald over Peter Lonard, simply because of Donald's recent form (e.g., his win two weeks ago at the Scandanavian Masters).
Proposition Bets: "Props," for you newbies, are simple yes-or-no or over-and-under lines offered more or less at the oddsmaker's whim.
I stayed away from the over-and-under on the winning score, which Sherman posted as 4 1/2-under-par, because I think that's about the right number. I also passed on the semi-exotic "Will there be a hole-in-one?" and "Will there be a playoff?" because, well, who knows?
The over-and-unders I wagered on were Mickelson's finish (over or under 8 1/2 place -- I say he'll finish eighth or better, and wouldn't be surprised if he won); and Furyk's finish (over or under 19 1/2 -- I say 19th or better).
Where I'm really figuring to make hay is Sherman's "Will Player X make the cut?" propositions. I'm betting that both Chris Riley and John Daly will leave Wisconsin before the weekend. Now, I love Chris Riley -- he's one of my favorite half-dozen guys on Tour, and he's got tons of game. But Sherman put this prop up, I think, to lure in the local Las Vegas Riley-rooters. Riley plays a going hook off the tee, and a going anything will get you in a lot of trouble at Whistling Straits. Plus, everybody will make putts this week, which will neutralize Riley's putting genius.
Daly is the most interesting proposition on Sherman's board. Everybody (no matter where they live) is pulling for a Daly resurgence, which, again, makes this prop poison bait. Moreover, while Daly did have a good week at the Buick Open in Flint, Mich., he's still 181st on Tour in driving accuracy. Plus, this week, off-course concerns will likely be a distraction: on Monday, in Mississippi, a federal judge threw out the house-arrest plea-bargain arrangement on wife Sherrie's money-laundering charges, reawakening the possibility that she might see time in jail. I, too, would like to see Big John have a Big PGA Championship, but I don't think it's going to happen.