While the golf world mourns the loss of Tiger Woods for the rest of 2008, don’t expect British bookmakers to send the World No. 1 any “Get well soon” cards. UK bookies lost about £1 million each (almost $2 million) when Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. After Tiger’s April surgery and two-month layoff, the odds on his winning his 14th major fell to 7-2 (down from 5-4 earlier in the year), the longest odds on a Woods win since he won his first major in 1997. So when he pulled off his miracle on one leg, the bookmakers got hurt.
So imagine the sound of champagne corks popping when bookies heard that golf’s heavy favorite will miss the British Open at Royal Birkdale. “We are slightly relieved,” said Graham Sharpe, spokesperson for William Hill, one of the UK’s largest bookmakers. “If Tiger had gone on to win the next two majors [with lower odds], it would have cost us big-time.”
Then again, bookmakers lose business when the fan favorite is absent. “Tiger missing is like having England not playing in the European Championship Finals,” Sharpe said. “We will lose a lot of casual customers who only get interested in betting when Tiger is playing. But, on the plus side for us, instead of the favorite being 2-1 against the field, it’s now 12-1, so it is a far more competitive betting environment.” Indeed, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia are the new 12-1 Open favorites, with reigning champion Padraig Harrington at 14-1, Phil Mickelson at 16-1, Sharpe says.
“We haven’t had a major tournament without Tiger for a while, so [setting new odds] is as much a guess for us as anyone,” Sharpe says. “We had to restructure the market and went with players who have done well in the Open and in big tournaments. But, with no Tiger, it remains to be seen who people support with their money for the rest of the year.”
All British bookmakers have refunded Tiger-related bets at the British Open and for the rest of 2008, but no big sums were involved because most money is laid out nearer the start of an event. Woods’ absence shouldn’t dramatically affect action on the Ryder Cup in September because it’s a team competition and is a large enough event to drum up plenty of interest. “But when Tiger comes back, there’s likely to be even more of a frenzy, and we’ll have even more money bet on him,” Sharpe says. “One customer has bet £10,000 ($20,000) that Tiger will equal Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors by the end of 2010. He stands to win £100,000 ($200,000), so he’s probably a little upset that Tiger will miss at least two majors.”
Sharpe jokes that he’s happy that his customers’ chances of success have been reduced. But he adds that over the long haul, golf — and gambling — is better off with a healthy Woods. “Tiger is the overriding reason why most people watch and bet on golf, so we are sorry to see him missing from the Open and the PGA Championship.”