LAS VEGAS — If it seems like yesterday when Dustin Johnson won the Masters in dominant fashion, that’s not far off. It was five months ago, to be exact. The scheduling cancellations, postponements and quirks caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been mostly negative, but this one is a major positive.
The biggest betting event in golf is making a quick comeback, and no one is complaining.
There’s not a lot of buzz around Johnson, which is odd considering his 20-under-par score blew away the field in November and he’s returning to Augusta National as the 9/1 favorite. At BetMGM, Johnson is the only player listed at single-digit odds.
“DJ’s odds have been so low for so long, and he has been out of form, so most people have been shying away from him,” Westgate SuperBook golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said.
Johnson is not forgotten, but he has not found the winner’s circle since the day Tiger Woods, the 2019 Masters champion, handed him his first green jacket.
Woods is obviously missing this week while recovering from serious injuries sustained in a car wreck in late February, yet the absence of the sport’s biggest star is not hurting the wagering handle.
“It’s already great. Our handle is actually higher than it’s ever been leading into Masters week,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “Tiger draws money regardless of what his odds are and how he’s playing. If it wasn’t for Tiger, I don’t think golf betting would be where it is today.”
Even without Woods, golf betting is thriving due to high-profile stars such as Johnson and several young guns who pack the potential firepower to win the year’s first major. Few other sports present opportunities to hit a winning ticket at long-shot odds on a weekly basis.
“Cashing a ticket is not easy,” Avello said.
And playing the favorite in an elite 88-player field is seldom advised. Take a shot at beating the favorite, so look past Johnson and consider these five players at longer odds:
Jordan Spieth (11/1)
In early February, when Spieth started showing signs of finding his lost game, his Masters odds were soaring as high as 60/1. He’s finally all the way back, stopping a four-year winless streak Sunday at the Texas Open in San Antonio. The odds are no longer a bargain, but the 2015 Masters champion figures to be in the hunt on a course that fits him like a glove.
“Spieth is getting a good share of the money,” Avello said.
Justin Thomas (11/1)
Driving distance is imperative at Augusta, where shorter hitters off the tee are at a distinct disadvantage. Thomas is long off the tee, and his precision iron play is about as good as it gets on the PGA Tour. He leads the tour in putting average this season and there are few flaws in his all-around game, which was strong enough to win the Players Championship in Florida in mid-March.
In 2018, Thomas tied for 17th at Augusta at four-under. When Woods won the following year, Thomas tied for 12th at eight-under. Last year, he finished fourth at 12-under, eight strokes behind Johnson.
“Every year, he has been a little better,” golf handicapper Jeff Sealey said. “Everything is trending the right way for JT. I think the price is appropriate. It’s not really great value at these odds, but I’ll bet him.”
In the group of short-priced players behind Johnson, Spieth and Thomas appear to have more momentum than Jon Rahm (11/1), Bryson DeChambeau (11/1) and Rory McIlroy (18/1).
Brooks Koepka (25/1)
The four-time major champion is getting odds as high as 40/1 at Circa Sports, mostly because of questions surrounding surgery on his right knee March 16. Still, Koepka arrived in Augusta this week saying he intends to contend. Sealey’s math model projects Koepka as the most likely winner.
“I take into account short-term form, long-term form, course history and course fit,” Sealey said. “I looked at the results and Koepka is No. 1. But [the model] does not account for the injury factor.”
Koepka’s win in Phoenix on Feb. 7 was his first since the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
“I want to play Koepka, but I’m worried about his health,” VSiN golf handicapper Brady Kannon said. “I might take a shot with him. If he’s 90 percent, he could win it.”
Cameron Smith (40/1)
The 27-year-old Australian has course history in his corner. Smith tied for second, five strokes behind Johnson, in November. He also tied for fifth in 2018. Sharp money has shown on Smith since his odds recently reached a peak of 70/1.
Adam Scott (65/1)
Another Aussie who excels at Augusta is Scott, the Masters winner in 2013. Scott ranks in the tour’s top 20 in driving distance — DeChambeau ranks first — and should make a run for the money if his putter gets hot.