Jun 15, 2004 4:08 AM

Shinnecock is Open season.

For the first time since 1999 when David Duval held the No. 1 world ranking has a Las Vegas sports book not installed Tiger Woods as the favorite in a golf tournament.

But, this isn’t any event.

The Stardust slipped Phil Mickelson in as the Open favorite at 5-2, while raising Woods to 7-2. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Woods as the 9-2 favorite, with Mickelson and Ernie Els as the 5-1 second choices in what should be quite a shootout.

Even Duval is coming, having entered his first event in seven months. Duval has been off the Tour since missing the cut here in Las Vegas last October. He has battled physical problems that has seen him become a blip on the radar screen since reaching his peak in ’99. David is now married, happy and ready to go.

We don’t recommend taking Duval to win, but he’s worth watching if paired in any matchups or listed on individual odds.

Shinnecock is a British Open type course on Long Island, so expect high scores, higher rough and plenty of over par scores. We like a European golfer to win the Open, with Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington at the top of the list. Certainly, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are solid contenders, as are Phil and Tiger.

The fun part of this job is trying to figure out who can win one of the majors. Most of the time it’s an effort in futility, but every once in a while we hit paydirt. That’s why we play the game.

Garcia (18-1) and Harrington (25-1): The odds are nice on these guys. Garcia fell from 25-1 at the Stardust, but still a bargain. The waggle is gone and the putter is alive. Harrington has become a consistent Top 10 player on the American circuit. He’s ready to climb the mountain top.

Adam Scott (30-1): Won the Colonial, one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour. A young but experienced player on the European Tour. Nice price.

Justin Rose (50-1): His game has gained the consistency needed to challenge the world’s best players. Rose has been high on the leaderboard before, but has always faded.

Fred Couples (40-1): Freddie is down from 60-1 a few weeks ago. Shinnecock brings out the best in veteran players. Past Opens there have been won by Ray Floyd, Corey Pavin and Hale Irwin. Couples, if his back holds up, fit the bill.

Els, Mickelson, Woods, Singh: The four best players in the world. No surprise if any in this elite group win. We’ll give Els the slight edge.

Here are some suggested matchup plays:

Singh (+140) over Woods: The ball striking edge to Singh, who is the one most likely to stay out of that vicious rough. Woods is the superior putter, but Singh should get the better opportunities.

Mickelson (even) over Els: Phil has picked up a lot of support in New York and that will energize him. He’s the only one with a shot at the Slam so the confidence is high. Els is so steady and will be in the hunt. Slight edge to Phil.

Harrington (-105) over Garcia: Looks like Westchester. Padraig has been a bridesmaid many times. Maybe, he steps to the head of the class this week. Garcia would be first to ever win Westchester and Open back to back. Tough assignment.

Couples (+110) over Verplank: Fred has played the best golf of anyone in the world the past three weeks. We’ll stay with the hot hand and the acupuncture needles. Verplank majors in non-major excellence.

Haas (+110) over Price: An intriguing matchup of the "elderly." Haas, at 50, playing some of his best golf. Price is capable, especially on difficult courses. Tough call, but we’ll take a shot with the underdog. Haas has better shot at a 65 in him.

Weir (-110) over Campbell: This is just the type of course Canadian Mike swallows up. Expect lots of straight shots and pars. UNLV Chad is an excellent player, but give Weir the experience edge on links courses.