Hiatus boosts odds on Tiger

Analysts and TV talking heads see Tiger Woods' return to golf at the Masters as a chance for the sport to boost its ratings and for the superstar to begin to repair his tarnished image.

At least one local handicapper thinks it is an opportunity to get some value betting on the world's best golfer.

"My philosophy with betting golf is I hate to go against Tiger," Vegas Insider's Barry Holthaus said. "You're trying to find ways to be on Tiger, not against Tiger."

Woods is again the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, but he now stands at about 4-1 around town as opposed to the prices in the 2-1 range that he was fetching in last year's majors.

The off-the-course events that have kept Woods in the headlines and away from the game the past few months, combined with the fact that the major will be his first tournament back, have driven up the odds slightly at local sports books.

"That's really why he's 4-1, because of all the circumstances," said Jeff Sherman, the golf oddsmaker at the Las Vegas Hilton. "Normally, we were taking money on him in the 5-2 and 9-4 range, just over 2-1. If none of this would have happened, that's where you'd see him right now."

The odds for the Masters have been on the board at the Hilton since the conclusion of the PGA Championship in August. Woods has been a betting option throughout his sex scandal, as removing him would have complicated previous wagers placed on Woods and theoretically made him part of the "field" bet. Bettors would not have been refunded had Woods opted not to play the event.

The odds on Woods have fluctuated slightly based on news reports of when he planned to return.

Woods was a 9-4 favorite on the night of Nov. 27, when he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree outside his Florida home, the accident setting off tales of Woods' extramarital affairs. The Hilton had him at 7-2 just before he publicly apologized for his behavior Feb. 19, then moved him to 6-1 when he said he was unsure about his return to the game.

"Then, when it started to gain momentum that it looked like he was going to play a couple of weeks ago, I went down to 5-1," Sherman said. "Last week, when people were really talking about it, I went to 4-1, and that's where I'm at right now."

The official announcement of Woods' return has had more of an impact on the other players in the field.

At the Hilton, second-choice Phil Mickelson went from 6-1 to 8-1, for example.

"(Tiger being in the field) makes a difference to every other golfer's (odds)," said Mike Colbert, the sports book director at the M Resort, where Woods is at 5-2. "Now that Tiger's going to play, everybody else's price has gone up."

Holthaus said he knew all along Woods would play the Masters, though he's surprised the golfer is not planning to play a tuneup event.

"Other than a physical injury such as his knee surgery, I think it is laughable to think he would miss the Masters or any other major," Holthaus said. "Can you imagine Tiger in a group therapy session while a major is being played?"

Holthaus gives Woods a legitimate chance of winning the Masters.

"People might be overestimating the impact on his golf game. When he steps between the ropes, it's kind of a sanctuary. There won't be any problem with focus. Rust may be a factor, but not so much those outside things," Holthaus said. "It will be tough for him to win this, but if anyone can do it, he can."

Colbert expects Woods to be ready to compete immediately.

"I think he's going to play enough golf before the Masters to be ready. Tiger's not going to play unless he's 100 percent ready. He's not going out there to hack it around. He's going out to win ," Colbert said.

The Hilton also moved Woods from minus-120 to minus-150 to win at least one major in 2010, based on Tuesday's announcement.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.