The Odds Part I: Woods biggest favorite ever at Masters

April 5, 2008

Tiger Woods’ recent six-month win streak, his revamped, almost flawless swing and his mastery of Augusta National made us fear for the nation’s bookmakers. Will storied, hard-working Americans like Toothless Louie and the Wizard of Odds be able to survive the Woods era, where betting on Tiger in a major feels like picking Superman in a battle versus the forces of evil?
Fortunately, the answer appears to be "yes." Chuck Esposito, assistant vice president of race and sports at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, says that his sportsbook will always accept wagers on Woods. However, those winning tickets won’t pay much. Woods will be an even-money wager next week in Augusta, which means to win $1 you have to bet $1. In golf, that’s a staggering favorite — the shortest odds Esposito can remember on any golfer at a major.
“Even money in golf is just ridiculous,” Esposito said. “To give you some perspective, in tournaments that Tiger doesn’t play in, the favorite usually pays off at 8 to 1 or 10 to 1.”
Caesars’ sportsbook opened 2008 Masters betting in August 2007. Back then, you could get 9 to 5 odds on Woods, but as he won the PGA Championship and then every tournament he entered, his odds kept falling. If Woods wins at Augusta National, Esposito says a Woods wager at the U.S. Open likely would pay less than even money.
After Woods, Phil Mickelson offers the next shortest Masters odds, at 6 to 1, followed by (surprise!) K.J. Choi at 10 to 1 and the resurgent Steve Stricker at 12 to 1.
Esposito says Woods has been great for his business, which only started posting odds for every PGA Tour event about eight years ago. The total money wagered on the Masters at Caesars Palace this week will approach seven figures, Esposito said, a drop in the bucket compared to the NCAA tournament or NFL football, but a tremendous jump over golf wagering B.T., or Before Tiger.
“Tiger really transformed golf for viewers and as a betting sport,” Esposito said. “On Sunday, the Masters will be on the big screen and we’ll have a full house. The atmosphere will be tremendous in here.”
And not everyone at Caesars will be rooting for Woods. Some will take a chance on dark horses like Fred Couples (70 to 1), Luke Donald (35 to 1) and Zach Johnson (the defending champ looks like a bargain at 40 to 1). After all, a bet on Geoff Ogilvy to win at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral paid off at 35 to 1.