Mark Zerof, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Billy Horschel
- Playing a golfer to be the first-round leader often presents a lot of value for bettors.
- Looking at how players fare on Thursdays, as well as their tee-time can help you find a longshot with a chance to go low.
- At 100-1, Billy Horschel is my favorite bet in the first-round leader market.
ST. LOUIS – Here’s a few quick tips for cashing your first-round leader bet this week:
- Pick the guy who shoots the lowest score on Thursday.
Collect your winnings.
See that? Pretty simple. And look, I’ve still got all this space left to fill up this piece. Anyone see any good movies lately?
OK, OK, let’s get serious. There’s money to be made here.
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First-round leader bets are the breakfast donuts of golf wagering. Get in early, pick the right one(s) and you could be — literally — playing with house money for the rest of the weekend.
There’s really no secret formula to picking a first-round leader. Yes, I was kidding around with the above tips, but really, that’s about what it comes down to: Pick the guy with the lowest score. It sounds tough — and in reality, it’s even tougher than it sounds.
The first thing I like to do is eliminate the contenders. That’s right: Get rid of the guys who are +3000 or better to lead the tournament Thursday night. Can they do it? Of course, but there’s a smaller disparity between the great players and the good players when it’s just one 18-hole round. Unless you absolutely have a great hunch about Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy, save those bets for the overall win, not the opening round.
After that, I like checking out the PGA Tour first-round scoring average leaders. Again, this shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but we can identify some outliers here. If a player is unusually better on Thursdays than all other days, he might be worth a look. Conversely, if a player often struggles to mount a quick start, it might be smart to keep away.
Lastly — and again, this is more guideline than hard-and-fast rule — I tend to look more at players with early tee times than late. Players who tee off in the morning have the benefit of better pace of play, softer greens with fewer spikemarks and (usually) better weather, avoiding more humid afternoon temperatures and freshening breezes.
With all of that in mind, here are my three favorite FRL plays for the PGA Championship:
Billy Horschel (+10000)
Perhaps my favorite play in the opening round, Horschel checks all the boxes. He’s a strong ball-striker who should perform well on this course, just two starts removed from a runner-up finish at the Barbasol Championship. He tees off at 7:34 a.m. and should have a swiftly moving group, alongside Shane Lowry and Byeong Hun An, which helps Horschel’s natural tendency to play fast. And then there’s this: With a first-round scoring average of 69.55, he ranks 15th on the PGA Tour this year. At 100/1, I love this play.
J.B. Holmes (+10000)
A long hitter who should be able to take advantage of this soft golf course, Holmes is a guy who has a propensity for going low when he’s feeling it. His tee time of 8:29 a.m. is helpful and while he ranks just 115th in opening-round scoring average, that’s not enough of an outlier to be a deterrent for me. This hasn’t been the greatest season of J.B.’s career, but a second- and third-place finish in his last five starts should at least hint toward solid form.
Tony Finau (+3500)
Since you’re already betting Finau everywhere for everything, might as well get him in this bet, too. With top-10 results in each of the year’s first three majors, Finau has established himself as the newest “It Boy” in golf’s upper echelon. Or more to the point: He’s every golf bettor’s current man-crush. Hey, I don’t have a problem with you taking Finau in matchup bets or in a top-10 prop or even to win, if you like him that much.
He’s a terrific player and has shown a knack for playing well at majors. But if you’re gonna cover your board in Finau anyway, there’s no point in letting this wager slide past. He ranks eighth in first-round scoring average this season and went low on two major Thursdays already this year (68 at the Masters; 67 at The Open). His 7:17 a.m. tee time works well, although I’d be just a bit worried about him trying too much to impress playing partner Jim Furyk, from whom he’d love a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team this year.