Arriving by helicopter is always a good way to make a grand entrance, which is how Tiger Woods landed in Ireland last week. He strutted around wearing a backward cap and sunglasses with his girlfriend by his side.
It had been about two months since Woods made a public appearance as a professional golfer. It has been almost three years since he won a tournament, and he might never win again. But in terms of aura and intrigue, he’s still the undisputed No. 1 player on the planet.
A majority of the headlines leading up to this week’s British Open have featured Tiger — his health, his practice rounds and his respect for the sacred grounds of St. Andrews, his favorite course in the world and the stage for the year’s final major.
Media hype is often an accurate barometer of what drives the sports wagering handle, and Tiger moves the needle like no other player.
“Tiger adds that extra factor,” said Jeff Sherman, Westgate SuperBook golf oddsmaker.
Woods is certainly the X factor in this British Open. It’s a bigger event due to his presence, so he’s always welcomed by bettors and bookmakers. Fifteen to 20 years ago, he was the favorite at short odds in these events. But the script has flipped and he’s hobbling along as a long shot.
“Now with his odds being so long, it’s attracting people to him,” Sherman said.
As the British Open approaches, here are five burning questions:
1. Is Tiger still a threat?
On the DraftKings odds board, 23 players are listed before Woods at 60-1. The SuperBook is offering Woods at 100-1 and getting lots of action at triple digits.
“I don’t think he has much of a chance at all,” Circa Sports golf oddsmaker Jeff Davis said. “I don’t want to say zero chance, but it’s close to that. We’ve seen how his play deteriorated day by day at Augusta, and he was crippled at Southern Hills.”
More than a year removed from a car crash and serious leg injury, Woods made an inspirational return at the Masters in April, made the cut, faded miserably on the weekend and finished 47th. At the PGA Championship in May, he again made the cut, yet struggled to walk the hills and withdrew after 54 holes. So he skipped the U.S. Open in June with a plan to show up in better shape at St. Andrews.
Davis said he bumped Woods’ odds to 140-1 on Monday morning, “after I saw him hobbling around at St. Andrews this past weekend.”
The Circa price on Woods to make the cut was + 115, but by Monday afternoon, the line shifted to Woods as a -135 favorite to make the cut, and his odds to win moved to 110-1.
The action showing on Tiger might have something to do with positive media reports from his Sunday practice round. Still, bookmakers such as Davis and Sherman are more than happy to take wagers on Woods to win.
“It would be astounding if Tiger went out there and topped the field,” Sherman said.
“I would have a hard time seeing him beat these guys who are grinding week in and week out and are half his age. The grind of the four days takes a toll on him. It would not surprise me at all to see something similar to the first two majors.”
So, in other words, the best bet on Tiger is to make the cut — it’s how I bet Woods in the first two majors and that’s my plus-money play this week.
Woods won the British Open at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005. He’s a much different player now, of course, but the Old Course fits his game because it emphasizes iron play and putting, two of his strengths. Tiger is highly motivated to make it to the weekend for the 150th Open, and being competitive is his realistic goal at age 46. Don’t burn money betting on Woods to win.
2. Will it be back-to-back major wins for Matt Fitzpatrick?
It took a long time for Fitzpatrick to knock the door down in a major. In fact, his U.S. Open win in June was his first title on the PGA Tour. Now that he’s got the confidence to be a closer, he’s got everything it takes to continue to win.
Fitzpatrick played well last week, finishing sixth in the Scottish Open, and I played him this week at 20-1.
3. Who’s hotter than Xander Schauffele?
No player is hotter than Schauffele, who has won three straight starts, including a pro-am in Ireland two weeks ago. Scottie Scheffler was on a similar run before winning the Masters three months ago. Schauffele has been a frequent contender with top-10 finishes in all four majors since 2018, yet his odds of around 15-1 offer no value, so I’ll pass.
“Xander has been right there all the time, and he figured out how to win,” Sherman said. “The way he’s running right now, there’s no reason he couldn’t get over the hump and get a major win. He’s truly my No. 2 power-rated guy this week. But I generally don’t like guys to win back-to-back tournaments.”
4. Is it finally Rory McIlroy’s time?
McIlroy, who has not won a major since 2014, is in good form and deserves to be the favorite — 9-1 at DraftKings, 10-1 at Westgate and 12-1 at Circa — but don’t bet the “due factor” and don’t bet short odds in a loaded field.
5. What are the best futures bets?
Davis and Sherman each bet on Tyrrell Hatton in the 45-1 range. Sherman said he also got good numbers on Schauffele (27-1) and Fitzpatrick (40-1).
I played Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth (18-1), Cameron Smith (28-1) and Max Homa (64-1). According to PGATour.com, Spieth is a combined 42-under-par at the British Open since 2015, 16 strokes better than any other player. Spieth is my favorite among the favorites due to his track record on European links-style courses.