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Brendan Steele leads by three strokes entering the final round of the Sony Open, trying to set a record you won’t find in any PGA Tour record book, but one which has a special place in our hearts ‘round here: He could become the first player to win a tournament after “hiring” an Action Network employee to be his caddie.
Yes, that caddie bib is hanging on the wall of my home office, and no, I didn’t make him write that inscription. (I’m also not coming out of retirement anytime soon to put my 68.00 career caddie scoring average on the line—unless it’s for the right price.) Back at the 2018 BMW Championship, I caddied for Steele in the final round at Aronimink Golf Club outside of Philadelphia when play was carried over to Monday due to bad weather.
As you might imagine, I have a personal investment in Steele’s future that extends beyond a financial stake. As one of the PGA Tour’s good guys and someone who’s slumped over the past year, I really want to see Steele in the winner’s circle again.
There are very few ways that golf betting can resemble betting on team sports, but this specific instance—for me, at least—there’s a direct correlation. Just as some bettors might resist betting either for or against their favorite football teams, I feel the same way in this situation.
After all, this is the part of my Round 4 preview column where I’m supposed to give my “objective” opinion on which player I think will claim the title Sunday evening, but it’s tough to remain “objective” when the favorite is a guy who once let you carry his bag for 18 holes.
If I pick Steele (+135 odds at FanDuel) to win, there’s a chance I jinx it. If I pick him to lose, well, then I’m just a bitter ex-looper who carries a grudge.
In all seriousness, each of Steele’s three previous wins—the 2011 Texas Open and 2016 and ’17 Safeway Opens—took place when there were some blustery winds, which has again been a common theme this week. His strokes gained/tee-to-green stats have improved every day this week, while his putter remains red hot, leading the field on the greens by nearly a full stroke.
So, you can kind of guess where I’m leaning here. But I mean, I don’t want to jinx it.
Let’s get to the Round 4 matchups, as players will compete in groups of three yet again.
Round 4 Matchup Picks: 2020 Sony Open
Nick Taylor (+170) over Peter Malnati and Tom Hoge — Already owning Low Taylor honors by a stroke over Vaughn, I’m taking the Canadian. Simply put, Nick is hitting the ball better right now than his final-round playing partners, as he gained the most strokes tee to green of any player in the field on Saturday.
Bonus bet: Keep Taylor in mind for next week’s American Express event, as well. He could make for a nice top-10 or low-priced DFS play.
Rob Oppenheim (+280) over Pat Perez and Nate Lashley — I’ve gotten a chance to watch Oppenheim play away from the PGA Tour on several occasions, and I’m not sure there are many courses on the schedule that suit his game better than this one. After a day in which his 72 paled in comparison to Perez’s 66 and Lashley’s 69, I’m buying low on the Massachusetts native with the idea that all of those scores should even out on Sunday.
Zach Johnson (+100) over Graeme McDowell — Sort of the same strategy here, as G-Mac was going exceptionally low at one point during the third round, before settling for a 67. Johnson knows this course as well as anyone in the field, and while I’d stop short of betting him against Brendon Todd, who he's matched up against on some books, I do like the two-time major champion over McDowell.
Corey Conners (+135) over Michael Thompson and Matt Jones — How’s this for a reversal of fortune: Conners has made a name for himself with elite-level ball-striking that could turn him into an elite player if his putting ever matches up. Well, so far this week, it’s been the putter—not the irons— that has worked well for him.
Coming off a T-19 at Kapalua last week, I’d thought Waialae would suit Conners better. Though he’s mired in a share of 30th place, I still think this is a good course for him. If his ball-striking improves just a little bit, he could be in store for a 65 or 66 on Sunday. The price isn’t great for Conners over either of these guys individually, but I like these three-ball odds.