During the years when Tiger Woods’ greatness was a memory, when he was more of a curiosity than a contender, golf was mostly a niche sport for bookmakers. The wagering handle was steady yet rarely moved the needle.
All of that changed Sunday, when Woods won the Masters to complete a comeback that spanned a decade. Tiger is back and golf is again a mainstream media fascination. Along those lines, golf betting is cool and relevant again.
It matters to bookmakers when they get blindsided and buried. Woods’ win meant severe losses for books from New Jersey to Nevada, where William Hill paid out $1.19 million on an $85,000 wager on Woods at 14/1 odds and the Westgate SuperBook paid $120,000 on a $10,000 bet on Woods at 12/1. The losses piled up from a record-breaking handle on a golf major. The needle was broken.
“It was bad. It was a scalding,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “But it’s great for golf.”
Eleven years after his 14th major win, which many doubters thought would be his last, Woods finally won his 15th. It was his fifth green jacket and first since 2005. During the lean years, the betting public continued to support Woods, meaning the books won millions on Tiger’s failures before paying some back this week.
Bookmakers took the punch and prepared for the next round. A few hours after Woods’ win at Augusta, Westgate golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman made Woods the 8/1 favorite in the next major, the PGA Championship at Bethpage on Long Island in May.
Sherman also took the first-ever step of opening odds on the 2020 Masters a year in advance. Masters odds typically are posted in August after the year’s final major. This time, because of Woods’ popularity, Sherman decided to treat the Masters similar to Super Bowl futures.
“It’s the biggest golf tournament of the year and the one everybody gets involved with, so I decided to put it up for the whole year,” said Sherman, who also made Woods the 8/1 Masters favorite.
“Look at what Tiger has done. He contended in the last three majors, and he will get the most betting support.”
Golf betting is not about to challenge the NFL, but Tiger’s latest triumph will resonate and elevate the sport, much like Woods’ first major win at the Masters in 1997 and Jack Nicklaus’ 18th and final major championship at Augusta in 1986.
“I think this Tiger win at the Masters is bigger than Jack in ‘86,” VSiN golf handicapper Brady Kannon said. “The difference is that nobody gave Nicklaus a chance, and people definitely felt Tiger would be competitive here. Jack came back from four shots down with four holes to play. Tiger came back from oblivion, on and off the course, and it's thrilling for golf.
“I never said that Tiger would not win another tournament. In fact, I felt he would, but I was willing to bet against him ever winning another major. It was not as much a bet against him as it was a bet on the current competition in today's game.”
Bogdanovich is not getting swept away in the Tiger hype. When William Hill posts PGA odds, Bogdanovich said he’s not inclined to make Woods the clear-cut favorite and might group him with Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in the 10/1 range.
“I’m not ready to anoint Tiger as the best out there,” Bogdanovich said. “I’ve got him there with Rory and DJ. From a pure handicapping standpoint, I don’t think Tiger is better than those two guys. The Masters was great drama and great storylines, but I didn’t see great golf. Tiger was rock solid all week and the rest crumbled.”
Woods’ one-stroke win over younger challengers Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele was more dramatic than dominant, but it does set the stage for the rest of the year and future years.
How much magic is left in the balding 43-year-old with a bad back? The next two majors set up well for Woods, who won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the setting for the tournament in June.
“We ask now if Tiger can catch Jack, and can he win three more majors to get to 18 for his career?” Kannon said. “How many more majors can he win this year?”
Masters opening odds 2020
Tiger Woods 8/1
Dustin Johnson 12/1
Rory McIlroy 12/1
Jordan Spieth 14/1
Rickie Fowler 16/1
Brooks Koepka 16/1
Justin Rose 16/1
PGA Championship odds, Bethpage Black, May 16-19
Tiger Woods 8/1
Dustin Johnson 10/1
Rory McIlroy 12/1
Justin Thomas 12/1
Brooks Koepka 14/1
Rickie Fowler 18/1
Jon Rahm 18/1
Justin Rose 18/1
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