At the peak of his career, Tiger Woods was better than an ATM. A wager on the world’s most dominant golfer was an investment that typically produced a solid return.
But, in recent years in major tournaments, a bet on Woods has been a charitable donation to the sports book of your choice.
Since a U.S. Open triumph in June 2008, Woods has watched his personal life and his game get exposed. Twenty majors have passed without a Woods win. He missed the first two because of injury. In the others, he fell short or simply flopped, most often in the favorite’s role.
Woods’ tumble from the top has been costly not only to him. Based on futures wagering figures provided by several sports book directors, bettors in Las Vegas have lost more than $1.5 million on Woods over the course of the past 18 majors.
“It’s been good booking this stuff for the past five years. Actually, it’s been better than good,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill books. “You get people chasing him, even the smart guys.
“At the beginning, it was one guy and how good could he be? But he kept winning, and we kept paying. For the first eight years, Tiger carried us out. For the past five years, he’s been great for us. So, I would say it’s about a push since he started.”
Woods tees off Thursday morning as the British Open favorite at Muirfield in Scotland. He’s offered at 7-1 odds at the Golden Nugget and LVH yet as low as 3-1 and 5-1 at some spots.
“I had Tiger at 10-1 and took quite a bit of action on him,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “I love putting those high odds on Tiger. I want people to bet him. But, hey, that could change this weekend.”
And people are betting Woods, despite his five-year losing streak in majors and more injury concerns. LVH golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said Woods accounts for about 25 percent of the wagering pool this week.
“It’s amazing. It feels like it keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Sherman said. “It surprises me how many large wagers keep coming. This is the most that we’ve written on him in a major. People are betting on Tiger like this thing has already been played.”
In the interest of fair and sharp oddsmaking, Sherman posted a Yes/No proposition on Woods to win. The “No” side is minus-900. The books posting Woods at 3-1 or 5-1 odds don’t offer the Yes/No prop in an effort to cheat uneducated bettors.
“It’s hard to bet against Tiger, but I don’t think he’ll win this week,” said Alf Musketa, a professional bettor who writes golf columns for ESPN.com. “With his elbow injury, who knows how fit and how ready he’s going to be? He hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, he’s got an elbow injury, and I don’t like his chances.”
Musketa does like the 20-1 odds on Phil Mickelson, who is coming off a victory at the Scottish Open, his first win in Europe in 20 years. He also recommends looking at Branden Grace and Martin Laird, each at 100-1.
“I don’t like where Tiger’s sitting right now,” Sherman said. “I’ve just never been a fan of Mickelson in this type of format. I look for the longer-shot Europeans more.”
Sherman has Adam Scott and Justin Rose, each at 20-1, as his top power-rated players. Scott won the Masters in April, two months before Rose won the U.S. Open with the help of Mickelson’s final-round meltdown.
Woods was a frustrated hack in the U.S. Open, finishing 13 over par while bothered by a strained left elbow. If he finds the deep rough at Muirfield, it could be trouble. But he recently claimed the elbow is healed.
“I guess people are believing that and going to the betting window on it,” Sherman said. “His name is Tiger Woods, so they bet him.”
Maybe it’s the due factor. Woods is long overdue, and a 14-time major winner at a respectable plus price can be tempting.
“You don’t get blind support for him like you used to,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said, “but if he puts in a strong performance a week before a major, he draws a ton of action.”
It has been two months since Woods looked like the world’s No. 1. But he owns four PGA Tour wins this season, including The Players Championship in May at 8-1 odds.
Musketa still believes Woods, 37, someday will surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.
“If he can stay healthy, I think he’ll win 20,” Musketa said. “I think he’ll be playing in the majors through his mid-50s, so he’s got another 20 years. He can win five or six, if he stays healthy.”
Woods last won the British Open in 2006. Streaks like that are piling up, and so are bettors’ losses.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.