AUGUSTA, Ga. — There are no sure things in golf, but here's a tip straight from Las Vegas that you can take to the bank: this year at the Masters, two players have separated themselves from the field. You know who they are.
"It doesn't matter if it's a computer, my brain or anything else, this year Tiger and Rory are the favorites," said Mike Colbert, risk director for Las Vegas-based Cantor Gaming. "We're going to have an opinion, and we're going to post numbers accordingly. And our opinion is that it's going to be Tiger or Rory who wins this thing."
Colbert's job is to set the odds on each player in the Masters field for seven prominent Las Vegas sports books: M Resort, Venetian, Palazzo, Hard Rock, Cosmopolitan, Palms and Tropicana. As bets flow in, a computer model helps determine when odds on select players should be adjusted, but Colbert also occasionally alters numbers based on his own assessments.
This year, his instincts happen to match those of the computers.
"Of course it's a golf tournament, and anyone could win, but two guys stand out," he said. "The fact that Tiger Woods obviously hasn't been himself this year, but now is starting to come into his own, can't be ignored."
Woods ended a 30-month drought by winning by five shots two weeks ago at Bay Hill, and his odds promptly dropped from 10-1 to 4-1. Earlier in March, McIlroy captured the Honda Classic and briefly took over the No. 1 ranking. He was also the leader through three rounds at the 2011 Masters before collapsing on Sunday.
Masters wagering is hugely popular at the Vegas casinos, and Woods is the player who has the attention of most bettors. "There is absolutely buzz. It's absolutely one of the most anticipated Masters in a while," said Chuck Esposito, race and sports book director at Sunset Station, which includes 18 Las Vegas sports books. "The crowds in our sports books are electric, especially if Tiger is there in the end. I expect tremendous action."
Other than Woods and McIlroy, Esposito also anticipates heavy betting on another fan favorite: Phil Mickelson.
"Phil's still really popular as well. If you look at fan base, there are a lot of people rooting for him, and his fans are tremendous," he said. "We'll get a lot of money on him. "
When it comes to total money wagered, the Masters is king among all other majors. But this year, Tiger's improved play — capped by his win at Bay Hill — has ratcheted up the interest among gamblers to new heights.
"When it comes to golf, we don't take more bets on any other event than the Masters," Colbert says. "The fact that Tiger is back and playing well is big for us. With Tiger, it's probably 10 times the action compared to without him. He creates the action."
Other players Colbert likes this week include Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley and Bo Van Pelt. There are also a few golfers who have been heavily wagered upon, but the odds haven't fully caught up. These are players the casinos will be rooting against this week.
"Dustin Johnson's been bet heavily at all of our books, for whatever reason," Colbert says. "We don't really like him. If he wins, we aren't going to be happy. Steve Stricker's also taken a lot of bets.
"One strange one is Peter Hanson. He was set at 125-to-1, and he's 100-to-1 now."
Maybe a long shot is the way to go. Last year some guy named Charl Schwartzel bounced between 50-1 and 100-1 before he won his first green jacket.
Like Colbert said at the top, it's time to have an opinion. Place your bets.
Current odds on players at 50/1 or less:
Tiger Woods: 4/1
Rory McIlroy: 5/1
Phil Mickelson: 13/1
Luke Donald: 14/1
Lee Westwood: 15/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Adam Scott: 30/1
Charl Schwartzel: 30/1
Jason Day: 30/1
Keegan Bradley: 35/1
Dustin Johnson: 35/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Sergio Garcia: 45/1
Nick Watney: 45/1
Hunter Mahan: 45/1
Graeme McDowell: 45/1
Bubba Watson: 50/1
Steve Stricker: 50/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Martin Kaymer: 50/1