Sport

BEATING THE ODDS

There are no dead certs in golf, but ‘SuperComputer’ picks Scheffler for PGA title

There are no dead certs in golf, but ‘SuperComputer’ picks Scheffler for PGA title
Scottie Scheffler plays his shot from the 11th tee during a practice round before the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, on 15 May 2024. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

Stats show that world No 1 Scottie Scheffler is a massive favourite to win the PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, but his chances are still slim.

Tiger Woods is the most successful golfer of all time. He is a serial winner, or at least he is in golfing terms. But the stats show that he only wins, or won, as he hardly plays any more, a shade more than 20% of the time. 

Make no mistake, that is a phenomenal return in a sport that punishes the slightest miscue and is a battle against the elements as much as against competitors. 

On the PGA Tour where Woods made his name, he has played 375 tournaments and won 82, which is a 21.8% winning ratio. He’s collected 15 majors in that haul and 199 top-10 finishes. His numbers are staggering in a sport where winning is hard. 

Jack Nicklaus, widely considered the only other rival to Woods for the title of “greatest ever”, won 73 PGA events in 586 starts — 12.5%. He surpasses Woods in one crucial stat — winning 18 majors to Woods’ 15. 

But no one has won as much as Woods, who also won a staggering 45% of events he played in the 2013 season. He also won at least five tournaments in a season on 10 separate occasions. 

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, on 8 June 2023. (Photo: Action Images / Brandon Malone)

To put that in perspective, Rory McIlroy, probably the most successful player on tour over the last 15 years, has never won five tournaments in a single season on the PGA Tour. He has 26 wins in total. 

Players can have winning streaks, as leading woman’s player Nelly Korda did recently, winning six tournaments in a row. It will up their winning percentage for a brief period, but over time, winning anything around 10% of the time, as McIlroy does, and even 8%, as world No 1 Scottie Scheffler does, is freakish.

Outlier 

Woods is a complete outlier in golf, yet if any other athlete, team or coach in almost any other sport had a 22% winning ratio as Woods does, they’d be considered borderline useless. 

Golf is different because players are routinely up against fields of 70-120 players. Any one of those highly skilled players could have a good week. There is so much more competition. 

The courses change every week as well, as do the weather conditions and tee and pin placements. A light wind might not affect a soccer or rugby match in any material way, but in golf it makes a huge difference to club selection, ball striking and the flight of the ball. 

Tee times also make a difference to outcomes. Over the course of a competitive round of golf, which can cover six hours between the first and last tee-off times, the elements can vary wildly. Especially if the golf course is located on the coast. 

How many times have players benefited from benign morning conditions, only for the afternoon field to be blown away by gales off the ocean? It’s another factor that makes winning hard. 

Rory McIlroy on the 18th tee during a practice round before the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, on 15 May 2024. (Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Almost impossible to pick 

Which brings us to the 2024 PGA Championship and why it is almost impossible to confidently pick a winner. 

Scheffler, with four wins in his last five tournaments, is the obvious favourite. McIlroy, who has won his last two tournaments, and who won the PGA Championship the last time it was played at Valhalla in 2014, is also a good pick. 

After that, you may as well throw a dart at a board and see who comes up. 

Predicting winners and outcomes of sports events is big business. Betting companies have increasingly been searching for more scientific ways of foreseeing outcomes, and considering how hard it is to win in golf, it’s one sport that’s highly difficult to predict. 

In the US alone, sports betting in 2023 was worth $10.92-billion, according to the American Gaming Association’s annual report. 

Research company Statista projects that revenue in the online sports betting industry in the US will grow to $45.94-billion in 2024

And if betting markets in Asia, Europe and Africa are added, it’s monstrous. Numerous studies predict online sports gambling growth north of $200-billion in the next decade. 

What does this have to do with the PGA Championship? Well, sports betting companies need to give odds (and ensure they come out well), and given golf’s unpredictable nature it’s probably the sport with the most variables and therefore hardest to predict. 

One company, BonusBetCodes, decided to take a more scientific approach to predicting the odds at the PGA Championship this week. 

The company developed a “SuperComputer” using a purpose-built code. 

It estimated and normalised each player’s probability of winning, determining a unique chance for each participant. 

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take a computer, super or otherwise, for the data to reveal that Scheffler and McIlroy are the two favourites for the title. 

One aspect that is surprising though is that McIlroy is only given a 4.7% chance of winning, which is about half as good as his career average. 

The computer predicts Scheffler has a 14.2% chance of winning, which is nearly double his historical winning percentage on tour and almost 10% more than McIlroy. 

The SuperComputer is a probability model, not determined by human predictions or bias. Data from the PGA Official World Golf Rankings was one of the tools used to estimate each player’s probability of winning. 

The event was simulated 1,000 times to observe the frequency of each player’s finishing position. 

A spokesperson for the company said: “Whilst Scottie Scheffler may be the undoubted favourite for the PGA Championship this weekend, the wide percentage spread amongst the remaining contenders suggests that the field is wide open.

“Sports fans have throughout history relied on their ‘gut feeling’ or ‘instinct’ to make predictions for a season, which can certainly be blighted by personal preferences or bias.

“However, the SuperComputer aims to remove the sentiment and emotions of predictions and instead replace these inexact methods with logical and intelligent predictions relying on data.” DM

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