Tiger-less Masters still ripe for profit

A dominant favorite no longer exists in golf majors, and that’s not breaking news. Even when Tiger Woods was a single-digit favorite in recent years, he was little more than a scarecrow at the top of the odds board.

Woods’ role as the favorite was a reflection of his public perception and a threat of his potential, and usually an empty threat.

Woods has not won a major since 2008, and there is no threat of him stopping the skid this week. He backed out of the Masters, a tournament he has not won since 2005, with a back injury.

Despite his dry spell and dull interviews, Woods will be missed. The enthusiasm surrounding the year’s first major at Augusta, Ga., has been curbed.

“There is a lot less of a buzz around when Tiger’s not involved in it,” said Jeff Sherman, golf oddsmaker at the LVH sports book.

So, in the spirit of Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, who’s trading places with Tiger? Is it Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson or all three?

“McIlroy and Scott are the starting points for me,” said Sherman, who posted those players as 10-1 co-favorites.

Even if Woods had been set to tee off Thursday morning, he would not have gone off as the favorite, Sherman said. Woods was probably going to get 12-1 odds.

Instead of wasting more words writing about one guy who won’t play in the Masters, let’s look at several players who could cash a ticket.

In most tournaments, I prefer to bet a handful of long shots before the first round and then play a few contenders at adjusted odds after the first, second and third rounds. McIlroy, Scott and Mickelson (12-1) are players I’m putting on hold.

Scott is aiming to become the first repeat Masters champion since Woods in 2002. It’s obviously rare when it happens, but Scott, a former UNLV player, is swinging with confidence and is in a groove.

“I think he’s as live as anybody in this tournament,” Sherman said. “Scott is one of the top players in the world. In the past year or so, he has played the best golf out there.”

On a course tailored for left-handers, Mickelson and Bubba Watson (20-1) figure to be in the hunt on Sunday. Mickelson won the green jacket in 2004, 2006 and 2010, so he thrives in even-numbered years, to throw in an odd trend. Watson was the winner in 2012.

“I like the way Bubba is playing,” Sherman said, and I’ll endorse a bet on Bubba, who I won with two years ago.

Jason Day (12-1), Matt Kuchar (15-1) and Dustin Johnson (20-1) are getting a lot of play, but it’s a smarter strategy to look for players north of 20-1 odds.

Jason Dufner (30-1) has a realistic shot. He shared the 36-hole lead in the 2012 Masters and won last year’s PGA Championship.

Jordan Spieth (30-1) might be the PGA Tour’s next great player, possibly even the next Woods. He’s 20, with only one career win, but he’s a lock to win a lot in the near future. He’s also one of a record 24 first-time Masters starters in the 97-player field.

“He’s up there with the big boys, there’s no doubt,” Sherman said. “Spieth is popular every week, not just this week.”

Angel Cabrera (40-1) lost a suspenseful playoff to Scott last year, when I hit a ticket on Scott but did not bet a dollar on Cabrera. This time, I did throw something on Cabrera, the 2009 Masters winner.

Rickie Fowler (50-1) is not one of my favorite players, and he never has won a major, but he’s due for a breakthrough. He also had a phenomenal practice round Tuesday, for what it’s worth.

Sherman has posted 62 player matchups and 40 propositions at the LVH, where the tournament’s handle is trending toward about a 5 percent overall decrease from last year, mostly because of Woods’ absence.

Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel are fine players, but they don’t create excitement in sports books or drive TV ratings.

Woods finished tied for fourth last April, when the Masters went to a playoff for the second straight year. That finish was as good as it gets, and it’s worth tuning in to see if Scott can do it again.

There is less of a buzz this time around, minus one big-name favorite, but there are several long-shot players who could cash a big ticket.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans 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, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.