Woods’ return to Masters boon for books’ handle

Even when he was not on top, Tiger Woods was the hottest topic in golf. Of course, when his secret sex life was exposed, the X-rated details dominated the discussion.

The talk now is all about his fine form and refined swing, not his shady sideshow as a swinger. Woods is winning again, and he’s on top of the betting board as the favorite to win the Masters, which begins Thursday morning in Augusta, Ga.

Woods has won three times this year, and, at some point, he will win another major. He could slip on a green jacket, something he has not done since 2005, as soon as Sunday. The odds on Woods are 7-2 at the LVH and 3-1 at most Las Vegas sports books.

It’s obvious he’s back to being the player who deserves the favorite’s role. But he’s not truly back on top until his next major accomplishment.

“I don’t think he’s back to his peak from the early 2000s. I still see some inconsistency. But he’s as close as he’s been the last four years to being back,” LVH golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “He’s had such a long major drought, he needs to win one of these to get back on course. To me, that would validate it.”

At 37, Woods’ hairline is receding, and he’s without a major win since the U.S. Open in 2008. He is not without rivals, however, old and new.

Phil Mickelson has won two of the past seven Masters, and he blew a shot to win last year. Mickelson is the third choice at 10-1 odds and is the leader in ticket count at the LVH. Woods ranks second in ticket count, Sherman said, but about four times more money has been wagered on Woods than on Mickelson.

Rory McIlroy is caught in the middle at 9-1 and overshadowed by what bettors view as a Woods-Mickelson showdown.

“We always take Tiger money. The bettors support him no matter what,” Sherman said. “Everyone knows whether Phil’s in good form or bad form, he shows up on this course. There are so many people who like his personality and how he interacts with fans. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

A year ago, when Bubba Watson won as a 30-1 shot at Augusta, Sherman said the LVH wrote a record handle on the Masters. This year’s wagering handle is on pace to equal or surpass it, especially if Woods and Mickelson stay in the hunt through the weekend.

“This is the one tournament of the year when people who don’t normally bet on golf will bet on golf,” said Sherman, who has posted a grocery list of player matchups and propositions.

Woods is a minus-185 favorite over McIlroy and a 2-1 favorite over Mickelson. A prop on whether Woods will win the Masters — “No” is minus-420, and “Yes” is plus-350 — has attracted “tremendous two-way action,” Sherman said.

The key to winning as a golf bettor, according to SportsMemo.com handicapper Alf Musketa, is not to spray money all over the futures board and pray for a long shot to hit.

“You’ve got to play matchups, and you’ve got to play the props,” said Musketa, who is “fading” Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer in matchups. “It’s not so much who we’re betting on, it’s who we’re betting against.”

But for those who play the futures, and most of us do, it’s also wise to shop for the best prices. The odds on a given player can vary significantly from book to book. For example, Snedeker is 30-1 at the LVH and 5-1 at Harrah’s properties, where the Nevada Gaming Commission might want to do some investigating.

Most books I’ve visited this week — including the LVH, MGM Resorts, South Point, William Hill and Cantor Gaming — are posting fair odds and plenty of props. But Woods is a 2-1 favorite at Harrah’s, where the odds sheet reads like a comedy script.

This is a major wagering event, even if it’s not the Super Bowl or NCAA Tournament, and it’s better because Woods is a legitimate threat.

“We’ll write a ton of business on it this week,” South Point sports book director Bert Osborne said. “I’m very happy with what we’ve written so far on the futures.”

Peering into the near future, Sherman sees positive results coming from Justin Rose (20-1) and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (25-1). He also expects former UNLV standout Adam Scott (25-1) to be in the hunt, despite his unforgettable British Open blowup in July.

I cashed with Watson last year but won’t bet on Bubba to repeat. I’ve got tickets on Mickelson, Dustin Johnson (25-1), Keegan Bradley (25-1) and Jason Dufner (50-1) as a starting point and also will play the adjusted odds after each of the first three rounds.

“Everyone has to include Woods as being in the mix come Sunday,” Sherman said.

Imagine how mundane the Masters would be without Woods. It’s good to see him back, even if he’s not quite back on top.

Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal 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.

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