Tiger tanks ’Open betting

June 05, 2001 7:08 AM
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Welcome to my inaugural sports betting column for GamingToday.

It is indeed an honor to write for the oldest gaming newspaper in the U.S. Formalities aside, please excuse me as I take a quick peek at the back page.

OK, I’m back. It’s not that I don’t appreciate timely and breaking stories about the industry, but pictures do have their place, too.

Now, on to the subject at hand. In the last 25 years, roughly the modern era of sports wagering, no man has transformed betting the way this individual has.

No, it’s not Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky or Joe Montana. They’ve all had huge impacts, but none can say they were responsible for changing the way bookmakers put up their betting lines.

This man has. Want a hint? He’s a golfer and his name isn’t Ian Baker-Finch.

Think I’m exaggerating about Tiger Woods? OK, look around the sports books and see what his odds are for this weekend’s U.S. Open.

I’ll save you the trouble. He’s anywhere from 7-5 to even money.

"Who ever heard of those kind of futures in golf," said Bert Osborne, director of sports for the Coast Resorts.

No one until Tiger came along.

"Last year was extremely bad when he won," Mirage race and sports book director Robert Walker said about Woods. "We were extremely stubborn.

"We would have him at 4-1 5-1 on every tournament. There were 8-5’s out there, and we would still have him at 9-2."

Those days are quite over.

"Our impression initially was there are so many good golfers out there that no one should ever be less than 5-1 or 6-1 in the majors, and he’s changed that," Walker said.

"We’ve cried mercy."

Golf wagering was just starting to take off when Woods burst upon the PGA scene five years ago with his tournament-record 18-under par at the ’97 Masters.

In the pre-Tiger days, tournaments were fairly wide open. Just about anybody could win.

"We didn’t know how good he was," said D. Wayne Mauldin, race and sports book director at the Castaways. "We underestimated him. Nobody could imagine how dominant he would be.

"He’s kicked our behinds. For him to do it week after week, with all the chances and intangibles of golf, is unimaginable."

Woods is so dominant that bookmakers started pitting him against two golfers in match-ups. When that didn’t work, they started matching him up against three golfers.

Now most places don’t even bother listing him in any of their match-up props.

"He’ll beat you to death in match-ups," Mauldin said.

But where Woods rates ahead of Jordan, Gretzky and all others, is that some hotels don’t put up golf futures anymore unless it’s one of the four grand slam events.

Tiger has single-handily destroyed golf futures.

"The problem with Tiger at even money is all the other golfers have exorbitant odds," Walker said.

It might be tempting to take double-digits on David Duval, Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els, but value doesn’t mean anything when Woods always comes out on top as those who bet Duval at 10-1 and Mickelson at 18-1 found out at this year’s Masters.

So, what’s the answer?

"It’s senseless to put up a prop if he’ll miss the cut," Mauldin said, "because he never misses a cut."

A possible solution is what Walker is doing at his Mirage properties. The Mirage has a prop where you can either bet Tiger, or take every other golfer.

"I think it’s the only fair way to book this to be honest," Walker said. "When you put up Tiger Woods at 3-5, those aren’t fair odds."

Heck, booking him at even money doesn’t seem too fair either.

But when Woods is the defending champion in the four major tournaments, including winning last year’s U.S. Open by a record 15 shots and has placed first in four of his last five tournaments, it’s justified.

One thing’s for sure. People are still going to bet Tiger. They don’t care what the odds are. They just want to have him on their side.

"They bet him," said Kitt Langvad, race and sports book manager at Arizona Charlie’s. "It’s amazing. But they win on him."

For the sports books, Woods has become a double edge sword. When he doesn’t compete in a tournament, golf handle goes down for the week.

When he does play, sports books are reluctant to put up a future book and their profit margin can be reduced.

"Usually when he’s not playing we keep all the money," Mauldin said.

That’s unlikely to be the case this week.