Jul 22, 2003 7:06 AM

Ben Curtis, the most improbable of British Open champions, moves on to Hartford this week as a newly-recognized entry in Las Vegas sports books.

"He’s not part of the field anymore," quipped Eddie Ricca, Suncoast race and sports director. "We had him at 5-2."

Vegas books came away lucky. Curtis was a 500-1 shot in London and would have been as large at the Stardust, according to race and sports manager Bob Scucci.

"I would have listed him that high," Scucci said, noting there were more field bets made for the British Open than normally takes place in other PGA events. "We had the field at 5-1, just behind Tiger Woods at 5-2. The Open lends itself to field betting because of the course."

Curtis is now a "name," booked at 35-1 at the Greater Hartford Open. The focus was supposed to be on Suzy Whaley, the local club pro pulling an Annika in trying to play against the big boys. Whaley is this week’s Ben Curtis, part of the field at even money.

"Her chances of making the cut, how about slim and none," Scucci said. "It’s night and day between her and Annika. This is not a big deal with us. There are no special props."

Not only is there no Annika, there’s no Tiger. So betting should be down.

"No doubt, but wagering is up this year in golf," Scucci said. "It’s due to Tiger, although the mood is changing. Last year, people were betting on Tiger. Now they’re looking on the board to see who can beat him."

Now, bettors can add Ben Curtis to the list.

"We had Curtis in the "field" at 2-1, tied with Tiger for co-favorite," Ricca said. "In our situation, we had some field action. Seeing Curtis win is a huge for golf. We have him at 35-1 at Hartford. His field days appear over."

Curtis also made the tourney matchups, listed as a +110 underdog against Jonathan Byrd by the Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Byrd is a -130 favorite. Phil Mickelson is the overall tourney favorite at 8-1, followed by Kenny Perry at 10-1.

"Most people bet on tournament winners than matchups in our book," said Jack Frost, race and sports manager at Harrah’s. "Curtis winning the British Open was a good result for us. A Woods win could have hurt us, but the money was spread around pretty well."

Runnerup Thomas Bjorn, who will have visions of sandtraps in his head for quite some time, was also part of the 5-2 field at Harrah’s.

"I would say the books probably did well in general," Frost said. "The action won’t be the same this week. I know Whaley is playing, but it’s like she isn’t there."

But, it was that way for Curtis last week.

"He is in the matchups and that’s becoming a big part of wagering," Ricca said. "We’re happy to see golf wagering up."