Course No. PGA 103
Using Vegas To Your Advantage in PGA
One of the likely progressions you will make as you start to play DFS Golf more and more, is that you start to pay much closer attention to salaries from week to week. The best players in the tournament—from a World Golf Ranking or Fed Ex Cup standings point of view—will always be at the top, and generally speaking, the highest salary will be between $11,500 and $13,000. The strength of the field for a given tournament is dictated by two things, with the first being the number of players above $10,000. The second is the salary gap between first tier and the second tier of players.
For example, this week at the Quicken Loans National, the top players are Justin Rose ($12,200), Ricky Fowler ($11,800) and Jimmy Walker ($11,000). The second tier of players sees a dramatic drop in salary from Jimmy Walker ($11,000) all the way to Justin Thomas ($10,000). I have researched salaries for the past two years and can tell you that salary gaps are a product of two factors. The first being projected points, and the second being projected percentage owned. Identifying salary gaps are a very important part of my research, as I depend on those gaps to find my value picks.
Checking in On Vegas
While I pride myself on being a PGA expert, I would not argue that the sportsbooks in Las Vegas are much more finely tuned in to setting odds and have information at their disposal that the majority of us can only dream of. They base those odds on proprietary algorithms that take into account a multitude of factors, namely; course history, current form, career history, player statistics and strength of the field, as well as weather and course setup. On top that, they have extremely granular factors like the type of grass on the fairways and greens. Believe it or not, the different types of grass on the greens actually matter. Whether it is a small factor or not, the Vegas books are looking for every edge they can find, which makes it all the more important that you consult their odds each week while building your lineups. The only downside to consulting Vegas odds is that you have to remember the goal of the books is to balance money on both sides of the bet. With that in mind, I suggest you check the books each day to see if any of the odds have changed. If the books take in a large amount of money on one side, the solution is to balance the odds accordingly, so Justin Rose may have started out as a 7.5:1 favorite this week, but that could change to 9:1 by Wednesday. The first day (Monday) that the odds are released are generally the most accurate projection of what to expect.
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Vegas Odds that Matter
The Vegas books have several main odds they set each week, and the most important of those odds to consult are, “Odds to Win" and “Odds to Top 10". On certain weeks, the books will also set an “Odds to Make Cut", which is a very valuable tool to have for DFS play. On the weeks where those odds are not set, I use “Odds for 1 st Round Leader" as a replacement.
You can google, “Las Vegas odds for (insert tournament name)", and there will be a fair share of sites that pop up displaying the given odds for that week's tournament. The odds may differ very slightly from site to site, but for the most part, they are identical across sites. After you have found a site displaying the odds, you want to then bring up the salary page for the DFS site of your choosing. I play primarily on DraftKings, so for this article, I will be using DK salaries as the example.
The first odds we are going to look at is “Odds to Win". Justin Rose is the favorite this week at 7.5:1, which is also reflected in his DraftKings salary at $12,200. As you can see below, the odds follow the salaries in order, until you get to Bill Haas at 28:1. The difference between Haas and Tony Finau is somewhat negligible in odds, however the difference in salary is $600, which is anything but. You are looking for discrepancies between salary and odds, and the most important thing to remember is that it is all within the context of the other players. For instance, the difference between Haas and Brenden Steele is quite significant when you look at the odds to win. In that case, the picture becomes much clearer that Haas is not only the better option, but that Steele is a great candidate to fade based on his salary. Tony Finau is not as easily dismissed. Haas has pedigree as a former Fed Ex Cup Champion, and a guy who has six career victories. Finau is a rookie on tour with no wins to his name. If the books are projecting their odds closely—even if Finau is higher in odds and higher in salary—it means Finau deserves a look this week.
Odds to Win:
Odds for Top 10:
The last example brings me to a good point. There are underlying factors that are baked into the Las Vegas odds, and it is one of the reasons why books are so successful. They rely on hard evidence and facts to build their algorithms, and while there is no substitute for a good eye, the eye and the heart often get confused when it comes to making bets, or filling out your lineups. Rarely do rookies win tournaments, and it is due to the fact that it takes more than skill to win a golf tournament. Experience, patience, and course management all play a big factor in winning. On top of that, rookies have a tough time adjusting to the grueling schedule, not to mention picking up courtesy cars, finding their way to the course, figuring out where to eat etc. It is only natural that given the big adjustment, rookies and young tour players would have a hard time getting their first win. When you look at the odds, you have to consider experience as a factor. You are trying to figure what player will win, but you are also trying to discern who has the best chance of outperforming their salary. You can only pick one winner per week, so the rest of your team has to be balanced enough to have the rest of your players finish high. These are things you need to keep in mind when looking to the Vegas books for help in your research.
As with “Odds to Win", “Odds to Top 10" follows a similar path with salary and odds converging at the same point. While the difference is only several percentage points, it is useful information to know that Haas and Steele are closer in “Odds to Top 10" than they are in “Odds to Win". This illustrates my earlier point, as younger players have a shown a propensity to make more than their fair share of top 10's. “Odds to Top 10" offers much more of a complete picture for DFS purposes, as you don't have to rely on knowing and understanding points like the one I made above. For all intents and purposes, you are looking at the basic odds of what the books expect to happen, without the incomplete information baked in.
While looking at the odds is a great way to building out the top of your lineup, it is also a way to identify sleeper and value picks. I find the biggest discrepancies in salaries to occur in the low to mid $6000's on DraftKings. As an example, Hudson Swafford is $5,900 on DraftKings this week, and Retief Goosen is $7,400, yet they have the same odds to win the tournament. This isn't an anomaly either, Jim Herman is also ($5,900), yet has the same odds as Jonathan Vegas ($6,400) and Angel Cabrera ($6,700). In this instance, it is not a knock on Vegas or Cabrera, as both are reasonably priced. It is an endorsement on Herman's ability though, and each week there are a handful or two situations like this. All it takes is time and research, but given how much time the books put into setting these odds, it may be the best investment in time you make all week.