A player with five letters in his last name took the British Open by storm and threatened to blow away the field. It had to happen eventually. What everyone was waiting for finally arrived, and it was Shiv Kapur.
When writing about golf majors, it’s almost impossible not to make Tiger Woods the beginning, middle and end of the story.
“This stuff is all driven by Tiger,” said oddsmaker Jeff Sherman at the LVH sports book, where there is a record handle on the British Open this week because there is a record amount of wagering on Woods.
More than $100,000 was bet on Woods at Las Vegas books before Thursday’s first round, and that money was bet at odds ranging from 3-1 to 10-1. Woods’ odds closed at 6-1 at the LVH.
A posse of bettors sensed Woods’ five-year losing streak in majors was due to end on the Muirfield links in Scotland, where the winds off the sea were light and the morning sun was unusually bright when ESPN’s coverage started after midnight here.
And then Woods stepped to the first tee and displayed the form of a guy who has not won a major since June 2008. His drive hooked into the high weeds and was so comically bad that commentators called it the worst of the day at No. 1.
Meanwhile, a 31-year-old from India birdied six of the first seven holes. I follow golf pretty closely, but I never had heard of Kapur, who played in college at Purdue. I talked to three other gamblers who follow golf, and all said they never had heard of Kapur.
“I knew him because he’s played on the European tour,” said Sherman, who did not include Kapur among the 96 players on the LVH’s futures board.
Kapur was a field bet at 10-1. It was reported that Kapur’s odds were 500-1 at some British books.
What’s great about the British Open is it’s quirky and unpredictable. Each year, a player or two comes out of nowhere to land on the leaderboard on the first day, as Kapur did by briefly seizing the lead. By the end of the day, he was two shots off the pace with a 3-under 68.
Zach Johnson, who closed at 60-1, fired a 66 to take the first-round lead. Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello (200-1) and 56-year-old Mark O’Meara (a field bet) were one stroke back, forming an improbable threesome at the top.
Big names are on the leaderboard — Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson and, finally, Woods. Mickelson played early in the day when conditions were favorable to post low scores. Woods was on the course when the winds picked up, the fairways dried out and the greens turned icy slick.
Mickelson and Woods were tied at 2-under 69. In golf, the superstars are known by their first names, and going into the second round, Tiger was looking a little better than Phil.
“I didn’t expect to see so many high scores with minimal wind and decent conditions,” Sherman said. “Tiger played really well. He played not to make mistakes, a conservative type of round. He’s in a good position.”
Rory is a different story. McIlroy carded an 8-over 79, and in what remains a wide-open tournament, he’s already out of it.
“At 20-1, we did see some bets on him,” Sherman said of McIlroy, whose odds plummeted to 300-1.
The LVH posted adjusted odds to win after the first round and made Woods a bigger favorite at 5-2. Of course, most books are looking at major liability on Tiger and facing significant payouts if he winds up the winner.
While baseball’s All-Star break created some of the slowest sports wagering days of the year, the British Open was the center of attention.
“It’s going to end up being the best one we’ve had in terms of handle,” Sherman said. “We had lines of people all day (Wednesday) betting the British stuff. There is so much Tiger money this week, I’ve never seen anything like it. I didn’t think there would be so many big bets, and I’m not talking $20 and $30 tickets.”
Book directors on the Strip and across town said the same, reporting $7,000, $5,000 and several $1,000 wagers on Woods.
Trailing Tiger on the LVH adjusted odds board are Mickelson (7-1), Zach Johnson (10-1), Snedeker (12-1), Dustin Johnson (15-1), Adam Scott (20-1) and several other players still in the hunt.
I’m holding a small ticket on Tiger at 8-1 and also took a few long shots, including Dustin Johnson. In a major as odd to figure as the British, I play conservatively early and plan to bet more on the adjusted odds after today’s second round.
Woods is there in the beginning, he’ll probably stay there in the middle rounds, and bookmakers surely are rooting for him to fizzle at the end.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.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.