Sobel’s Golf Betting Preview for the 2020 BMW Championship: Expect Big-Name Players to Step Up On a Big Course
Darren Carroll/PGA of America via Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm of Spain hits his shot on the 17th hole during the first round of the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
- Check out Jason Sobel's golf betting preview for the 2020 BMW Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.
- Below, you'll find his favorite outright bets, sleeper picks, player props, and DFS plays for this week's PGA TOUR event.
Whenever the debate over golf’s G.O.A.T. is broached in conversation, I delicately straddle the fence: Jack Nicklaus was the most acclaimed, Tiger Woods was the most dominant.
You are welcome to read into that what you will. Perhaps you believe I suspect Jack in his prime would’ve beaten Tiger in his prime more frequently; maybe you think I’d say Tiger’s ceiling was higher, but his floor was lower.
The truth is, I’m simply offering a bit of deeper contextual analysis, while allowing others to define “greatest” however they so choose.
I bring this up here not to start this debate all over again — although I’m sure I’ll get a few tweets on the matter — but to employ this as a parallel to the current state at the top of today’s game.
With his 11-stroke victory this past weekend, Dustin Johnson has returned to No. 1 in the world ranking, the fifth player to claim that honor this year – and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s not the last, as the math points to Collin Morikawa getting there once his number of events closes in on the minimum divisor.
All of which leads to everyone’s favorite recent 19th hole deliberation: Who’s the best?
Much like that big-picture Jack/Tiger discussion, this question comes down to how you define it.
If “best” is the player whose A-game beats all other A-games, then Johnson should be your answer. If “best” is the guy who wins the most important events most often, it’s Brooks Koepka. If “best” is the most consistent at the highest level, your guy is Justin Thomas. If “best” is the most accomplished of the upper-tier players, you can insist it’s Rory McIlroy. If “best” is based on potential upside, it might be Jon Rahm. And if “best” is a literal algorithm of results over the past year, it’s tough to say it’s not Morikawa.
That clear it up for ya?
The best part about all of this is that there literally is no right or wrong answer.
And the reality is, with so many of these superstars winning tournaments during the post-COVID swing, the “best” player has usually been the one who posted the lowest score from Thursday though Sunday, whose talents were still freshest in our minds on Monday morning.
There’s a good chance that, if you’re fickle enough, your personal nomination for “best” in the world right this very second might change by Sunday evening this week, as another big-time field should offer the chance to either clear up our opinions or make them even murkier.
This week’s event, of course, is the BMW Championship, which will be staged at Olympia Fields for the very first time. A course founded in 1915 and designed by Willie Park, Jr., it has only once been employed as a host venue for a men’s professional tournament in the past 40 years, with Jim Furyk taking the 2003 U.S. Open.
Some will undoubtedly use the transitive property to make a correlation: Since Furyk won on this course and Furyk is a short-yet-accurate type of player, then this course should suit short-yet-accurate types of players. That’s not necessarily true, though.
In 2015, Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, but even pre-bulky Bryson could move it a long way off the tee. Then there’s this from Mike McAllister of PGATour.com, who wrote about the course this week:
“In looking for one word to describe Olympia Fields, ‘big’ likely would be the first choice. But maybe that word isn’t strong enough. As golf historian Herbert Warren Wind once wrote, ‘Bigger and better went up all over the country. But Olympia Fields was the daddy of them all.’”
It still is, apparently, as it’ll play as a 7,366-yard par-70 this week, meaning plenty of drivers off the tee and long/mid-irons into the greens.
There are also some eye-popping prices, as the books seem to be targeting our collective recency bias more than usual. (Daniel Berger lower than Rory McIlroy?! Scottie Scheffler lower than Tiger Woods?!)
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some big talents who could perform well at a big playoff event in what should be a big-boy leaderboard this week.
One player to win the tournament.
Jon Rahm (+1000)
A final-round 65 moved Rahm into a share of sixth place at The Northern Trust this past weekend, but it’s another number that should have our interest piqued. During that round, he picked up 2.79 strokes on the field from tee-to-green, a Sunday ball-striking performance we hadn’t witnessed from him since the Workday Charity Open, which he immediately parlayed into a victory at the Memorial Tournament one week later.
Based on history and sheer numbers, it’s tough to believe we won’t again see one of the game’s elite players claim this title. If you believe DJ will keep racking up birdies and eagles, I won’t talk you out of it. If you think it’ll be JT, I can see it. If you prefer Rory or Collin, you might be right.
But if I’ve gotta pick one of the game’s best, I’m taking the guy whose game once again looks to be peaking entering a tough tourney in the Midwest. Give me Rahm for the outright.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Adam Scott (+5000)
When Scott decided to skip the first two months of the restart, it was out of concerns about traveling during a pandemic with a young family at home. A residual byproduct of that decision, though, is that while most of the world’s best players have competed more than usual this summer, Scott should be fresher right now.
With two starts under his belt — a T-22 at the PGA Championship and T-58 at The Northern Trust — he should still have nearly a full tank of gas left for this stretch run while others are gradually easing toward empty.
Viktor Hovland (+4500)
If Rahm’s final-round tee-to-green performance left him (and us) licking his chops for this week, then Hovland should be delirious to get to the first tee on Thursday.
He picked up 4.48 strokes on the field in that most recent round, a substandard putting day was the only thing that kept him from firing something better than the 66 he posted. For those playing catch-up in OAD pools, Hovland should be a low-owned player with tons of upside.
One player to finish top-five.
Daniel Berger (+400)
Why do I like this play? Oh, I don’t know … maybe just because Berger has cashed top-five wagers in six of his past eight starts. While the world’s best continue playing musical chairs with the No. 1 ranking, Berger can lay claim to being the “best” player since the restart. He’s also playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
As of right now, the world’s 13th-ranked player is not in the Masters field for this November and can no longer qualify for it, no matter how well he continues playing. I have no inside info, but knowing the powers-that-be at Augusta National, who can invite anyone they’d like to play their tournament at any time, I’d be surprised if Berger’s current pace doesn’t warrant an invitation at some point.
Of course, the better he plays, the better his chances will be of receiving that letter in the mail, so don’t expect him to take his foot off the gas pedal.
One player to finish top-10.
Russell Henley (+500)
He hasn’t been quite as hot as the aforementioned Berger, but he’s been close, so maybe we should refer to him as mini-Berger, which in restauranteur terms is called a slider. Speaking of sliders, he’s started holing a few more of those putts recently, as his putting stats are finally starting to catch up to his ball-striking numbers.
Fresh off a T-8 and needing another strong week to qualify for the Tour Championship, he should be motivated by a short-but-solid history at East Lake that includes a solo 12th in 2014 and a T-3 in 2017.
One player to finish top-20.
Alex Noren (+200)
One of the biggest movers on the FedEx Cup points list last week, Noren climbed from 78th to 47th and now has the Tour Championship within his grasp after what was a mediocre year for a player of his caliber until very recently.
In fact, in his first 10 starts — all in PGA TOUR-sanctioned events — the former top-10 player had zero top-10 results, but he’s compiled three in his last four, with plenty to play for this week.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Xander Schauffele (DK $9,900; FD $11,400)
Perhaps nobody likes playing no-cut events with big-boy fields better than Schauffele, as three of his four career victories have taken place in these types of tourneys.
Last week’s T-25 was his worst result in his past six starts, which also suggests that his reputation as a safe play for all lineup formats remains intact. He owns not only a high ceiling this week, but a high floor every week, making him a regularly strong candidate for this category.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Adam Long (DK $6,300; FD $7,200)
Getting into the BMW is a nice benefit for the 70 players who have fared well enough over the course of the season to advance this far.
Getting into the Tour Championship, though, can be life-changing for certain players who will qualify for each of next year’s four majors, the Sentry Tournament of Champions and be able to set their schedule however they’d like. Each year, there are a few surprises in the field at East Lake and this year won’t be any different.
At 27th in the standings entering this week, Long has an inside track on making this happen — and it potentially couldn’t come at a better place for a guy who grew up in the Midwest and should’ve had this one circled on his calendar for a while.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Scottie Scheffler (+2800)
Not sure if you’ve heard, but Scheffler has the ability to post a low one — like, 59 kind of low, the number he shot last Friday. The rookie is riding a heater over the past month and isn’t showing any signs of cooling off.
As of the time I’m writing this, it’s unclear whether regular caddie Scott Mcguinness, who went down with a leg injury on the ninth hole of Sunday’s final round, will be able to be on the bag this week, but we’ve seen guys like Jason Day and Justin Rose play well recently after splitting from their swing coaches, so it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility that Scheffler will still go super-low, even without his usual caddie alongside him.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Tony Finau (+4500)
If you played Finau last week, it was yet another occasion to bust out that cartoonish GIF of a guy shoveling money into a fiery oven, but I’m going to keep firing anyway. In two rounds last week, he actually gained strokes off the tee and with his approach shots; it was his short game and putting that deserted him.
Just his second MC since the restart, I’ll consider those his outliers and instead look at the fact that he tends to play well on big Midwest ballparks as reason to once again back him – at least against just a few other similar types of players.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Paul Casey (+5000)
My research for this category consisted of going down the odds board this week, reading each name and saying to myself, “Nope, can’t fade him. Nah, can’t fade that guy, either. Or that one…”
I said that for every player until I got down to Casey at 50-1, who was runner-up at the PGA Championship, but otherwise has seemed pretty ordinary since the restart. That’s not to say that Casey can’t put together a strong run this week, because he’s certain capable. It’s just that every other player above him on the board is either there because he’s played well recently or hasn’t played well and now owns a lot of value.
My favorite non-PGA Tour play of the week.
Lee Hodges, Korn Ferry Tour Championship
Yes, it’s the KFT’s Tour Championship, but no, it’s not the final tourney of the year, as COVID rescheduling has kept this one with the same name, but with five more events afterward.
Looking at last year’s leaderboard, which unquestionably held more drama, the top-15 included the likes of Tom Lewis, Tyler Duncan, Lanto Griffin, Henrik Norlander, Scottie Scheffler, Richy Werenski, Cameron Davis and Will Zalatoris, each of whom has made some headlines in recent months. It also included Hodges, who won earlier this month in Portland.
His skillset should set up well for this one, as he looks to join Davis Riley as two-time winners this season. Even if you’re not betting this event, keep an eye on the leaderboard, as some of the names near the top will undoubtedly be coming to a PGA TOUR leaderboard in the not-too-distant future.