Ah, the first round of a golf tournament. The course is in optimum condition – it simply won’t play any better than this, while all of the players in the field take to the first tee with the optimism that this is going to be their week.
After that very first tee shot, such ambitions may be enhanced or diminished, depending on whether the player’s ball pierces the fairway or plops down in the thickest of the rough.
Although you can’t win a golf event on the first day, you can certainly lose it – as Rory McIlroy has habitually done at The Masters in his bid for the career grand slam of majors.
The first round is also a great time to bet to, for some of the reasons already alluded to – the course is in premium condition, which reduces the chance of bad lies or bobbly putts, while the players all have their relative aspirations in hand; whether that’s to lift the trophy, secure a handsome payday or to simply make the cut.
The bookies offer a number of first round golf betting markets, and some of these are particularly noteworthy for punters seeking advantage and value bets.
First Round Leader
For the uninitiated, a field of 156 players in the average golf tournament is split up into 3-balls in the first round – that is, the players tee it up in groups of three to ensure that all can complete their round within daylight hours.
There is typically a morning wave and an afternoon wave of tee times, with the opening group teeing off at around 07:00 local time and the last group at around 14:00.
Why is this information pertinent? Well, one of the most popular golf betting markets is that of the First Round Leader, which permits you to back one or more players to be at the top of the leader board after the opening round of 18 holes. You can wager as win only or each way, with maybe five or six places paid at 1/4 or 1/5 odds.
One of the most interesting aspects of the First Round Leader (FRL) market is that it’s more prone to variance – that is, it’s less likely that the best players in the field will exert their quality over 18 holes than the complete 72-hole tournament. Therefore, the door is ajar for underdogs and long-odds chances to oblige for their backers.
To increase your edge, you should play particular attention to the weather forecast for the local area. The PGA TOUR’s Fortinet Championship is played at the Silverado club in Napa, California, and here’s the predictions – specifically the wind speeds – for Napa on the opening Thursday of the event:
As you can see, the early wave of starters from 07:00 onwards enjoyed near perfect conditions – 2mph winds is about as still as you can expect in California. But by the time the afternoon wave had teed off, the breeze had picked up to 7mph and would hit 11mph by the end of their round. The takeaway? The early starters had a major advantage in the First Round Leader stakes.
On the Western side of the United States, many golf courses have greens laid with Poa Annua grass – a rugged type native to California and the surrounding states. This is notorious for becoming increasingly bumpy and unpredictable as the day wears on; again, another edge for the early starters.
As you can see, with some simple research you can really enhance your chances in the First Round Leader market – you don’t need to be a meteorological expert to thrive.
First Round Top Finishes
Using the logic detailed above, you can hedge your bets and spread your risk by instead placing your first round wagers in the ‘top finish’ markets.
These extend your opportunities beyond the each way places to incorporate top-10 and top-20 finishes, which of course enhances your chances of scoring a return even if your picks finish outside the top five or six after the opening round.
Use the ideas detailed in the FRL section as your guide…
We’ve written a whole article dedicated to 3-ball betting – have a read of that to see how you can apply the principles to the first round.
In short, you’re backing a player to shoot a lower opening round score than their playing partners – but make sure you know your bookies’ terms, as some will refund stakes in the event of tied scores whereas others will settle your punts as losses.
First Round Player Score/Totals
More and more UK facing bookmakers are adopting the ‘player prop’ markets popular in North America, and these offer opportunities for punters during the first round of a golf tournament.
One of the best bet types of this ilk is the ‘First Round Total 3-Way’. This offers up a list of players and the score they will shoot in the opening round. If the event is being played at a Par 72 course, then these round totals might be under 68, 68-70 or 71 and over.
When betting on this market, we advise you to stick with two general types of bet: backing in-form players on the right side of the draw bias (as explained in the Napa example) to shoot under 68, and conversely out-of-form types on the wrong side of the draw to fire 71 or over.
First Round Player Totals
Here, we’re offered prices on how many eagles, birdies, pars and bogeys a player will score in their opening round.
Birdies should be your go-to with this market. Head to the website of Data Golf, who have produced the scoring averages for each course used on the PGA TOUR. Those with minus scoring averages are the easiest, so for example birdies galore are expected at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, which plays host to the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
It’s also worth looking out for the courses with the easiest Par 5 holes, which you can determine using the sortable columns. These longer holes are typically where the vast majority of birdies are made.
If you really want to nail down your edge, the PGA TOUR has listed the First Round Scoring Average of is players across the entire season – amongst the familiar names are some lesser-lights that you might want to consider when betting on this market.