An article should never begin at the beginning.
But in golf gambling it’s never a bad idea to start with the basics.
Let’s see – golf or “gulf” was invented by sailors several centuries ago on a patch of land now known as The Old Course at St. Andrews. Later, architects devised a 22-hole layout that was shortened to 18…
Hmm. Yeah, this does seem a tad mundane and boring. Never mind.
But you don’t have to start with the Big Bang to know that 3-time major championship victor Jordan Spieth is an underrated futures pick headed into this week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Spieth, still only 25 years of age, made a cosmic boom in the British links scene when he won the Claret Jug in 2017 with a -12 score over 4 rounds. It was his 3rd major championship, making the young Texan 1 of very few men or women in golf history to have accomplished so much in their early 20s.
For perspective, Arnold Palmer never won a major until he was nearly 30 years old. Tiger Woods turned 23 years old before winning 2 majors, let alone a trio of them.
A protracted slump and Sunday frustrations in 2018 have driven some of Spieth’s betting lines into “also-ran” territory. This is a brand new era of PGA Tour and European Tour golf. Top players like Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy are considered disappointing when they don’t win. To be ranked out of the elite category by Las Vegas in a burgeoning age of great champions could be bad juju.
But 24 is childhood for a golfer, and at 25-years old Spieth is quietly showing signs of returning to world-class form. His coming (back) out party could be a simple matter of finding the right week, the right circumstances, and the right course to play on.
Not that anyone would notice. Tiger Woods winning the 2019 U.S. Masters at Augusta National cemented the icon’s status as an A-#1 sports celebrity who creates downtown traffic jams wherever he goes. Meanwhile, Brooks Koepka is beating the pants off everybody at the biggest events. Rory carded a 61 at Royal Portrush once, making him a “sexy” futures wager for the British Open.
Golf is a sport of forgetting and remembering. I’ve got a hunch that we all might suddenly “remember” Jordan Spieth as a gloomy, wet weekend arrives in Ireland.
Easy Conditions Help 2nd-Tier Pros – Except This Time
When we see a “2nd tier” player like Gary Woodland win a major, as was the case at Pebble Beach in June, it is often because conditions were not so difficult as to make par the standard.
Tiger Woods got around under par at the 2019 U.S. Open, but he couldn’t contend on Sunday because he wasn’t able to go low enough. It was the same with Rory McIlroy, whose expertise in heavy wind would not help him on a mostly pleasant weekend at Monterrey.
It helped Woods that conditions were hard at Augusta this year, just as it helped Brooks Koepka that lesser players could not cope with Bethpage Black during the PGA Championship. It did not help either man when the Open turned into the AT&T Pro-Am.
Great players can shoot pars no matter what, but all good players are capable of going low on a lucky week…especially when there’s 100s of them trying to. You can argue that even Michelle Wie’s promising career was sunk by the preponderance of easy courses on the LPGA Tour. Her machine-line ball striking could produce pars at a men’s layout but not enough birdies from women’s tees.
But there’s an exception to the rule. An easier-than-expected scoring scenario can help an elite golfer out of a slump…and in 2019 that golfer might just be Jordan Spieth.
Spieth’s weakness is his lack of a commanding long game. Dustin Johnson, Koepka, and other stars (not necessarily Tiger as of present-day) can often outdrive him by 50+ yards.
Like Hale Irwin a generation before him, Jordan’s finesse-oriented game looks worse when he’s playing badly, since he can’t simply knock the ball over everything and solve problems that way.
But on a course of manageable distance where hitting 5-to-10 foot clutch putts and immaculate short irons will be as good as gold?
The British Open can be a struggling phenom’s best hope for a revival when it’s all down to touch, feel, and medium-length putts for birdies.
Royal Portrush’s setup is not going to be as difficult as advertised. It’s a week where the announcers on TV will blather on about how hard it’s going to be in the rain, but the expected rain might do more to lessen the hazard of 15-20 MPH winds on the course.
The course is just 1 of my 3 reasons for liking Jordan Spieth as a potential jackpot-futures bet winner on Sunday, even if his position after Round 1 or Round 2 lends itself to a shorter betting line.
The 2019 British Open could turn into a scoring bonanza for PGA and European Tour pros alike.
For a start, the course is simply too short.
Length is not a prerequisite to making a golf course difficult for even the top-ranked players in the world – Merion, for instance, is a relatively-tiny U.S. Open venue nicknamed “Cruel Maiden” for its holes and shots that appear to be easy yet trap the errant golfer in impossible situations.
Pinehurst, the USGA layout where John Daly finally lost the plot on the putting green, is often hardest where it is the shortest.
But look at the Royal & Ancient’s setup at Royal Portrush and you won’t see a lot of Merion-style hiding spots for the flag to bat eyes at foolish players, nor a majority of difficult driving holes.
As played in 1951, the course layout included lots of difficult drives – because a 420-yard Par 4 involved hitting a driver and a 5-iron back then.
Many of the Par 4s at Royal Portrush will be 3-iron drives and wedge approaches this week. Holes that were once designed as tests of power and skill will test only skill with the shorter clubs. Par 5s will be reached in 2 unless playing upwind.
It could rain for all 4 days, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be Hurricane Barry. Wet grounds will stop wayward drives from finishing in the rough, negating the longer hitters’ advantage of hitting irons off the tee. Careful short-ball hitters can use damp greens to stop the ball by the flag even on mid-iron approaches, as Lee Trevino did when beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff at Merion.
Birdies will win the tournament. But we’re not just on the lookout for someone who can go lower when everyone else goes low – we’re looking for a birdie king who won’t be dismayed by challenging putts, who can weather the storm (literally) of British Open rains, and potentially handle the pressure of leading on Sunday while knowing that a final-round 72 won’t nearly be good enough to hold on.
Jordan Spieth fits that profile. Incidentally, so does Tiger Woods…but Tiger’s long-time Sunday strategy involves making par after par and daring others to catch him. That may not be a recipe for success this weekend.
Spieth’s 2019 Record
Spieth missed the cut at the recent Travelers Championship, and did not have a strong U.S. Open. But he posted several top-10 finishes in a row before that.
Again, he is only 1 Claret Jug ceremony removed from having dominated a British Open.
Jordan’s short game is highlighted in that clip, but don’t sleep on the other factors in 2019.
His excellent distance control and shot-making will come in handy for Royal Portrush’s many elevation changes – not something you always find at a classic links layout like St. Andrews or Turnberry.
Forget the recent missed cut at River Highlands. That’s an American parkland course that has as much to do with the British Open as Coca-Cola has to do with a dry wet martini.
But the bummer 36 holes has had an effect alright – moving Spieth’s line-to-win the Open Championship into the stratosphere.
“Jackpot” Futures Odds on Spieth at the 2019 British Open
Jordan Spieth is a (+4000) wager to win the Claret Jug again at Bovada Sportsbook.
There are a few potential steals on the prop-betting boards of London and Sin City – including Over/Under (65 ½) for a 1st round leading score. I’m taking the Under with 3 units. Somebody will get to at least -6 on a 7300-yard course with soft greens, even if they’ll get a little waterlogged doing it. The rough will be tangled and gnarly, but when you’re shooting 64 you’re not in the rough.
Still, 40-to-1 on the 2017 champion who’s been slowly improving his game in 2019?
On a course that suits his style? On a layout that will frustrate sluggers who are too meek with the flat stick, like Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott? Johnson is a (+1600) wager to hoist the Jug on Sunday, and Scott is at (+2800) in the same market. I had to rub my eyes while comparing the odds of the 3 players at Bovada Sportsbook.
Scott and Johnson are each far older than Jordan Spieth. Each has never – I repeat never – won the British Open. Jordan Spieth has already won more majors than both men combined. His comfort level could be so much higher on the greens at Royal Portrush, it could feel like a cheat code.
If you find this column after Thursday’s tee times, never fear – a player undervalued this badly on Wednesday is likely to remain undervalued in Vegas going into the weekend, even if he’s leading the British Open at double-digits under par.
And as for the pre-tournament gambling action, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Spieth at 40-to-1 is the futures steal of the season.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.