Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teeing Off

The Masters began today. Like happens with the Olympics I find myself keeping it on as a kind of ambient soundtrack to my work, with occasional glances up to see a shot or check who is leading.

While the absence of Tiger Woods from Augusta was the most frequently reported story over the last couple of weeks, other articles catching my eye included several emphasizing how open the field is this year thus making it difficult to predict a winner.

I read one pointing out how the last 24 majors had been won by 21 different players. Another noted how during the 2013-14 PGA season there have been 18 different winners in 21 total events. Rory McIlroy was quoted saying he thought up to 70 different players among the 97-player field were capable of winning. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson said he thought about half the field had a chance (although if the greens were fast he’d reduce that number to under a dozen).

Indeed, these stories are all kind of related to the one about Woods, as those looking to predict a winner in Tiger’s absence found themselves hard-pressed to latch onto a favorite. I’ve been noticing as well several in my Twitter timeline sharing their bets on various players to win, with all standing to earn big returns given the fact that the odds are long on everyone.

The situation isn’t perfectly analogous to poker tournaments, but it is similar insofar as the likelihood of any single player winning is always fairly slim, and there’s also usually going to be great variety in the winners over the course of a large enough sample size.

For example, entire summers go by at the World Series of Poker with perhaps only a single double-winner -- or even none -- among the 60-plus events. The European Poker Tour is about to mark its 100th Main Event this fall when it returns to Barcelona, and they’ve actually yet to have anyone win more than one title.

That said, those playing in the Masters this week all represent the sport’s elite -- a marked difference from the field of pretty much any poker tournament which invariably includes a number of amateurs and part-timers with varying skill levels represented throughout.

I think it’s probably the case with most golf tournaments and with any poker tournament that there are usually a handful who participate who have essentially zero chance of winning. But while there’s little likelihood for someone without any experience or ability to have earned a spot in the 97-player field at this week’s Masters, such can always happen with poker tourneys where anyone with enough to buy in with can play.

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