Jon Rahm’s absurd odds in Mexico reveal 2 interesting things
Jon Rahm was the favorite heading into Thursday’s first round at the Mexico Open. But not just any kind of favorite: The Masters champ went off at +260 odds, meaning a $100 dollar bet on Rahm to win would yield a $260 profit. That’s not just low. It’s crazy low. Historically low. Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz low. The Atlanta Hawks were +260 on Thursday, too, and they just have to beat the Boston Celtics. A talented team, sure, but just one team! Rahm has to beat 143 guys — and he’s playing them all at once.
On the PGA Tour, favorites in the post-Tiger era have traditionally settled somewhere in the 10-1 range, depending on the event’s top player and strength of field. For some context: Rory McIlroy was the favorite entering the WM Phoenix Open at +800, Scottie Scheffler was the Masters favorite at +750, and Rahm is the +800 favorite at next month’s PGA Championship. But +260 is … something else entirely.
When was the last time a Tour pro was this heavily favored? I asked stats guru (and Twitter must-follow) Justin Ray, who was kind enough to trek through his database in search of an answer. There were a couple interesting nuggets from that search — given the Tour Championship’s new staggered scoring, for instance, Scottie Scheffler entered last year’s event as a +240 favorite — but if you were guessing the last guy to have better odds than Rahm does this week, you probably got it right: Tiger Woods!
The year was 2014. Woods, coming off a five-win year, was the unquestioned No. 1 player in the world. And he was making his season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He went off at +225. But Woods struggled that week, shooting 72-71 to make the cut before a strange Saturday 79 left him with an MDF (made cut, didn’t finish) and a T80. It was the beginning of an uncertain era for Woods, who withdrew from his next PGA Tour start, the Honda Classic. He got surgery for a pinched nerve in his back and wound up missing the Masters and U.S. Open. By the time he returned later that summer, he was a 16-1 play at the Quicken Loans National. The days of Tiger-or-the-field were gone for good.
So what does it mean that Rahm has entered that vaunted territory this week? Two things, really.
1. Jon Rahm is really good.
Like, really good. He’s won four times on the PGA Tour in 2023, and it’s not yet May. He’s won six times in his past 14 worldwide starts. He’s exceptional in basically all phases of the game, particularly excelling in the all-important irons category, ranking third in Strokes Gained: Approaching the Green. He’s in the top 25 on Tour off the tee and on the greens, too. He has the lowest scoring average at 68.16. He makes the most birdies per round at 5.08. He makes eagles at the highest rate too, just for good measure. He has the lowest scoring average when he plays in the morning. He has the lowest scoring average when he plays in the afternoon. He leads the Tour in first-round scoring average. He leads the Tour in second-round scoring average. By the time they reach the weekend, his competition has serious work to do. Rahm is inevitable, and he is, at the moment, the best golfer in the world.
He’s also shown an ability to win in a variety of conditions. This year, he’s won on a mountainous island course in Hawaii, a desert course in Palm Springs, an L.A. classic in Riviera and, of course, Augusta National. And while he thrives when there’s a chip on his shoulder — don’t think he didn’t notice he was third billing behind Scheffler and McIlroy heading into the Masters — he can win as a heavy favorite, too. At last year’s Spanish Open, he teed it up as a +225 mega-favorite. He went on to win by six.
Rahm opened Thursday with a round of four-under 67. He was happy with the round. But he was hardly impressed.
“Those first 13 holes we had virtually no wind, about as easy conditions as it can get. I wish I would have taken advantage of it more,” he said. He finished the day at the edge of the top 10, four shots back. His live odds stayed about the same, dipping to +275.
2. The Mexico Open field is very weak.
To be clear, these guys are still very good at golf. They just aren’t quite as good as some of the other golfers on the PGA Tour. Behind Rahm, the second-ranked player in the field is Tony Finau, who opened at 8-1 odds. Then there was a giant gap before Wyndham Clark at 20-1.
That reflects the field, which the OWGR awarded a 173.2 rating. Compare that to a 391.94 at the RBC Heritage, and you’ll realize the gulf between this and a top-tier tournament; this field has more in common with a field on the DP World Tour (this week’s Korea Championship is 99.2) or Korn Ferry Tour (the Hometown Lenders Championship clocks in at 73.3). It’s also the weakest full-field event of 2023 thus far, just behind the Honda Classic (181.6) though still well ahead of the opposite-field events in Puerto Rico (59.1) or the Dominican Republic (91.9).
Why the weak field? There are a variety of reasons, but the simplest explanation is that this is a logical tournament for players to skip. The Masters-RBC Heritage back-to-back capped a busy couple months of golf, and next week’s Wells Fargo kicks off another one, with three designated events plus two majors in seven weeks. The designated events have doomed some lesser tournaments to have-not status, although it’s worth noting that players this week will have an incredible opportunity to gobble up valuable FedEx Cup points. For everyone else, this is the time for some rest. Just not for Rahm.
“I wish I could have rested a little more, but it is the life we signed up for,” he said.
That’s a good attitude for the defending champ, reflecting the relentlessness that has gotten him to this position. After all, the field only looks weak because he’s played his way so far ahead of the competition.