Bettors torn on Tiger

As he’s showing more signs of old age, the old Tiger Woods is missed. He was far more fascinating when winning majors and scoring with porn stars.

Now, he talks about his bad back, assorted other ailments and the weather. He looks and sounds like an old-timer. When he talks about winning, he’s rarely taken seriously. But at least the threat is there, and that’s worth something.

Even if Woods is a miserable flop this week and misses the cut in the British Open, his comeback is good for golf. Back surgery threatened his career, and like him or not, we wanted him back. A major minus Woods is equal to the New York Yankees without Derek Jeter.

This week, the bettors are torn on Tiger. Some are in his corner, and others think he’s about to throw in the towel.

“There are two different markets in play here,” LVH golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “The general public is betting on Tiger to win, and we’ve got the most tickets written on him to win. The sharps are playing against him in matchups and the prices are moving against him.”

Woods opened the week at 25-1 odds at the LVH sports book. Think about that for a minute. That’s an offer you almost can’t refuse.

“They came firing on Tiger,” Sherman said, “and I had to lower him to 15-1.”

In reality, Woods will be a long shot when he tees off Thursday morning at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England. It will be a surprise if he’s in the hunt on Sunday. The player best positioned to take his place at the top is Adam Scott, who is expected to be in contention.

In 2006, Woods won the tournament on the same course. But he’s obviously not the same player at age 38. Twenty-four majors have been played since Woods last won one.

His caddie, coach and wife are all long gone. So is his air of invincibility.

The proposition bet on Woods’ finish position this week is 39½. He’s a short favorite (minus-220) to make the cut, and an underdog in matchups against Phil Mickelson (minus-165) and Henrik Stenson (minus-210).

“I don’t know if he’s ready. I would bet Tiger to miss the cut,” said Brady Kannon, a Pregame.com handicapper and president of BK’s Golf Services (LVTeeTimes.com).

Kannon’s theory is Woods is on schedule to play his best golf of the season in August, and that’s a popular theory.

“I don’t expect much out of him,” Sherman said. “I think he’s got a better shot at the PGA than he does here.”

Woods tees off at 1:04 a.m. Pacific time Thursday, and that’s one reason the British Open is my favorite major. For night owls, there’s nothing better than live events in the middle of the night. But this also is the most unique and unpredictable major.

Links golf in changing weather conditions is a stiff challenge, and this tournament will be won by a solid ball striker who can steer clear of the rough and score around the greens.

Scott, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose share the favorite’s role at 12-1. Scott, who’s stuck on one major title, is my pick from that threesome.

“I think Scott will play really well,” Kannon said. “I think driving accuracy is going to be important. You really have to play golf to win it. You just have to be able to do everything. It really is a world championship.”

Scott does everything well. So does Zach Johnson, who at 50-1 is Kannon’s pick to win.

“The last three years he finished sixth, ninth and 16th. He continues to get a little better every year,” Kannon said. “He’s a low-ball trajectory guy, so if the wind blows, he can handle that. I don’t know if he’ll win, but I think he’ll be in the mix. The trends and stats, you plug everything in and it pops out Zach Johnson, so that’s my guy.”

Rickie Fowler (30-1) and Keegan Bradley (80-1) are long-shot players who fit the profile of this week’s winner.

Sherman recommends two players — Stenson (15-1) and Jim Furyk (50-1) — and Stenson is a bet I also made. He has been close so many times and is due for a breakthrough on a course tailored to fit his game.

“People always like to look for the Europeans, and Stenson has got so many things going for him going into this tournament,” Sherman said. “Of the four majors, this is the most wide-open one.”

A mediocre performance by Woods is a predictable result. But it’s good to have him back as a betting option.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.