The four Majors are the undoubted highlights of the golfing calendar each year. Indeed, only in Ryder Cup years does the sport have anything that even begins to rival the excitement of the Masters, the PGA Championship, the US Open and the Open Championship. They are the four events that stand out for every golf fanatic, promising fun and excitement on another level to the tournaments and competitions that are just a generic part of the PGA tour and the European Tour. They offer plenty of good competitions, but none of them are the Majors.
Major season gets underway with the Masters at Augusta in April, with the PGA Championship taking place the following month. June is when the US Open takes place, with the Open Championship, also known as the British Open, being the final Major of the year. The July event is also the only one of the Majors that isn’t hosted by a course in the United States of America, being the jurisdiction of the Royal & Ancient, and always played on a links course somewhere in the United Kingdom. The question is, how well do the favourites do in them?
Below we will explore how well the favourites tend to do in each of the competitions as well as having a look at them as individual tournaments. As you might imagine, they differ from each other in numerous different ways, including the manner in which they are structured. As an example, the Masters is the only one of the four Majors that takes place at the same golf course every year, with the others rotating around different courses in order to allow more people from around the host countries to enjoy them.
Given that the British Open began in 1860, we’re not going to look at every favourite since then and their results. Instead, we’ll look at the past ten years of favourites across the four Majors, explaining what the odds were on them, and how they performed.
How Often Does the Favourite Win at the Majors?
Between 2012 and 2021, three pre-tournament favourites or joint favourites at one of the four Major Championships have gone on to win the event. This equates to a 7% success rate.
Jon Rahm won the 2021 US Open as the 10/1 favourite. Jordan Spieth was the 12/1 joint favourite when victorious at the 2017 Open Championship. In 2014 Rory McIlroy lifted the PGA Championship title as 5/1 favourite.
Founded in 1934, the Masters was the brainchild of successful amateur golfer Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts. Jones had purchased a former plant nursery in the wake of his Grand Slam in 1930, working with golf course architect Alister MacKenzie to design what would become Augusta National Golf Club. They came up with the idea of hosting the tournament when the golf course struggled to make money, partially thanks to the Great Depression. It worked, with the Masters becoming one of the biggest events in golf in the years that followed.
There are a number of traditions associated with the Masters, including the fact that the winner is awarded a green jacket. They need to return it to the clubhouse a year after winning, at which point they present the new winner with their own jacket. The competition involves the players playing 18 holes of golf each day over four days, starting on a Thursday and ending on the Sunday. The player with the lowest total wins the tournament, with a sudden death play-off taking place on the 18th and the 10th if more than one player has the same score.
Masters Favourites – 2012 to 2021
|Year||Masters Favourite(s)||Odds||Finishing Position|
|2021||Dustin Johnson||8/1||Missed Cut|
The PGA Championship
Often referred to either as the US PGA Championship or the USPGA by people outside of the United States of America, the PGA Championship took place for the first time in 1916. It was in that year that the Professional Golfers Association of America was formed, with the new organisation hosting a golf competition that boasted a $500 prize. In addition to this, the winner received a diamond-studded gold medal that had been donated by Rodman Wanamaker. This contrasts with the $1.8 million won by Jimmy Walker in 2016.
In terms of format, the PGA Championship began life as a match play event. The problem was that it wasn’t uncommon for participants to play as many as 200 holes, so it was changed to being a stroke play event in 1958. That involved 18 holes of golf a day being played over four days for a total of 72 holes of golf, usually at courses on the eastern side of the United States. At the time of writing, the PGA Championship has only been played on the Western side of the country 11 times, with New York being the most popular host state.
PGA Championship Favourites – 2012 to 2021
|2019||Tiger Woods||8/1||Missed Cut|
|2016||Rory McIlroy||7/1||Missed Cut|
The US Open
The United States Open Championship took place for the first time in 1895, originally played on a nine-hole course at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. The 36-hole competition took place on a single day, with ten professionals and one amateur entering. It has grown somewhat considerably since then, not least because it was dominated by British golfers in the competition’s more formative years. The nature of the courses selected means that it often has a winner at around or even over par, with them rarely being beaten severely.
The US Open can be entered by any professional or any amateur that has a USGA Handicap of 1.4 or lower. Around half of the field is usually made up of players that are exempt from qualifying, with the field limited to 156 players. They play 18 holes each day for four days, with the winner being the person with the lowest score after playing 72 holes. Since 2018, a two-hole aggregate play-off system has been used when two or more players have the same score at the end of the tournament, with sudden death used if the play-off ends tied.
US Open Favourites – 2012 to 2021
|2017||Dustin Johnson||7/1||Missed Cut|
The Open Championship
Not only the oldest golf tournament on our list but also the oldest in the world, the Open Championship, sometimes referred to as the British Open or merely the Open, began life in 1860. It was originally hosted by Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland, then it began to move between different links golf courses around the United Kingdom. As you might well have surmised from its title, it is called the Open because it is, in theory at least, open to all golfers, whether they be professional or amateurs, as long as they meet a certain standard.
As with the US Open, the field for the British Open is limited to 156 players. They each play 18 holes of golf on the first two days of the competition, at which point there is a cut off, with only those that are in the top 70 of scores or those tied for 70th getting to play another 36 holes over the final two days. The player with the best score after 72 holes is the winner, with a three-hole aggregate play-off used to decide the winner if two or more players are tied with the same score. If that can’t separate them, a sudden death format is used instead.
Open Championship Favourites – 2012 to 2021
|2019||Rory McIlroy||8/1||Missed Cut|
|2018||Dustin Johnson||12/1||Missed Cut|
How The Favourites Have Done
As you can see from the tables above, across ten years and 39 Major tournaments, with the 2020 Open Championship not taking place, the favourite or joint favourite won on just three occasions. On one of those occasions, the eventual winner wasn’t even the outright favourite but was actually a joint-favourite heading into the competition.
As we can see, this means that the pre-tournament favourite wins on just 7% of occasions. In fact, six favourites missed the cut between 2012 and 2021 meaning the favourite has been twice as likely to go home after two days as they are to lift the trophy.
The average odds of favourites between 2012 and 2021 was just under 8/1, with an implied probability of 12.5%
In other words, if you’re thinking about betting on one of the Majors then you would do well to look away from the favourite, irrespective of where the tournament is being held and which of the Majors it is that you’re hoping to place a wager on.