What has happened in Tiger Woods’ personal life in the past 10 years is part tragic and part comedy. It’s a fascinating story of a fallen superstar and a surprising comeback, and the next chapter will be written this week.
Just in the past eight months, Woods has gone from an afterthought (100-1 odds) to the favorite (6-1) in the Masters. His sudden resurgence is something Las Vegas oddsmakers did not see coming, and neither did the critics who laughed and said Tiger never would win another major. Even the man in the middle of the story is stunned.
Woods said last week, “I got a second chance on life. I am a walking miracle.”
His latest back surgery, a spinal fusion operation, was a high-risk, high-reward roll of the dice that revived his career. His 14th and last major win was in June 2008. Ten years later, at 42, he’s again showing signs of greatness and captivating the audience.
Woods is among the favorites at Augusta National and will tee off Thursday morning with a legitimate shot to win the year's first major. The same can be said of Phil Mickelson, 47, and a young gun generation of golfers that includes Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm … and the list goes on.
“It’s the most anticipated Masters I can ever remember doing,” said Jeff Sherman, golf oddsmaker at the Westgate sports book.
The record-setting golf wagering handle on this Masters — estimated to be $12 million or more in Nevada — has much to do with the hype surrounding Tiger’s return to contention.
“It seems like a perfect storm to get everyone interested,” Sherman said. “We already have blown away last year’s handle by such a large percentage. Tiger’s effect has been about 30 percent extra to what we normally do.”
The Westgate booked 30 bets on Woods at 100-1, Sherman said. But this event is not all about Tiger. The futures board is lighting up with action because there are so many other elite players chasing the green jacket.
“Whether you want to bet on Tiger or not, you want him in this field,” said Vinny Magliulo, Gaughan Gaming sports book director and VSIN oddsmaker. “Not only is he generating interest, but the most important thing about Tiger being in this field is you’re getting better prices on other quality golfers.
“I don’t think he’s going to win. I could definitely see him in the top 20.”
South Point sports book director Chris Andrews posted a “Yes/No” proposition price on Woods to win. Betting the “Yes” side is plus-600, with “No” at minus-1,200. (https://twitter.com/andrewssports/status/981714579905376261)
Sherman typically posts 40 props on the Masters. This year, he posted 100. Tiger’s return after a two-year Augusta absence has turned this into the Super Bowl of golf betting.
At the Westgate, Spieth, Thomas and McIlroy are the 10-1 favorites, followed by Johnson, Justin Rose and Woods at 12-1. Rose fell to Sergio Garcia, an unlikely major champion, in a playoff last year. The ticket count leader at the Westgate is Woods. (https://twitter.com/golfodds/status/981565860673306624)
Will there be a Cinderella story out of nowhere?
Wagering closes Thursday morning — the South Point book remains open all night — but adjusted odds to win will be posted after each of the first three rounds and some Las Vegas books will post live odds during the Saturday and Sunday rounds.
A look at some of the props, player matchups and top contenders:
Will there be a hole-in-one? Yes -140; No plus-120
Will there be a playoff? Yes plus-275; No -350
Will any left-hander player win the Masters? Yes plus-700; No -1,100
Will Tiger finish in the Top 5? Yes plus-300; No -400
Will Tiger finish in the Top 10? Yes plus-155; No -175
Will Tiger finish in the Top 20? Yes -160; No plus-140
Lowest round shot by Tiger: 68.5
Will Tiger make the cut? Yes -500; No plus-375
Will Tiger lead after the third round? Yes plus-1,000; No -2,000
Will Phil Mickelson finish in the Top 10? Yes plus-170; No -200
Jordan Spieth -120
Justin Thomas plus-100
Dustin Johnson -115
Rory McIlroy -105
Tiger Woods -120
Phil Mickelson plus-100
Jason Day -145
Rickie Fowler plus-125
Sergio Garcia -110
Jon Rahm -110
Players to Watch
JORDAN SPIETH (10-1)
Current form and course form are the top two factors I use to handicap golfers. Spieth has played remarkably well at Augusta National and, after a slow start to the year, he’s finally in positive form. His tie for third in the Houston Open (16 under, three strokes back) is a buy sign and obvious evidence of Masters momentum. Unfortunately, the 14-1 odds available on Spieth last week are long gone. The 2015 Masters champion has three other impressive Augusta starts — ties for second in 2014 and 2016 and a tie for 11th last year. Spieth was more confident and consistent on the greens in Houston and now goes to Augusta as a serious threat to win.
JUSTIN THOMAS (10-1)
Of all the young guns on the PGA Tour, Thomas is currently the best all-around player. Unleashing the driver is a big key on this course, and Thomas goes long off the tee. His iron play is precision and his putting is typically exceptional. What’s not to like? First of all, for those betting the futures board, 10-1 odds are no bargain in a stacked field with so many players capable of winning. Next, his course form is unimpressive, with a tie for 22nd last year and a tie for 39th in 2016. His first-round scores the past two years were 73 and 76, and he’s 12 over par in eight rounds at Augusta. It’s probably better to pass on Thomas and watch how he breaks from the gate on Thursday.
DUSTIN JOHNSON (12-1)
A year ago, DJ swaggered down Magnolia Lane as the clear favorite and hottest player in the world. Of course, he never teed it up. He slipped on stairs in his rental home, according to his story, and suffered a back injury that forced him to withdraw. Johnson opened 2018 with a win in Hawaii and his current form is solid. In his past two Masters starts, DJ finished fourth in 2016 and sixth in 2015. But his overall history at Augusta is spotty, including a 77-74 missed-cut blowup in 2014, so there are not enough reasons to bank on him this week.
JUSTIN ROSE (12-1)
All golf bettors hold painful memories of near misses. I bet Rose at 25-1 last year, and he was the favorite to win on Sunday’s back nine. But he failed to seize the moment and left the door cracked open for Sergio Garcia, who beat Rose in a playoff. His 2018 form is excellent and he’ll probably be in contention this weekend. Rose’s past eight Masters finishes — 2, T10, T2, T14, T25, T8, T11, T20 — indicate he should give his backers a good run for their money. Or it could be another agonizing run for the money.
RORY MCILROY (10-1)
The hole in Rory’s major resume is a Masters win, but he has been close. He has four straight top-10 finishes at Augusta. He’s also in positive form after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month. McIlroy’s erratic putting was a problem the past couple of years, when he was overrated and a bad bet, yet he might be solving some of those issues. It tends to be a guessing game what you will get from enigmatic players like McIlroy and Jason Day from week to week. Still, with McIlroy and Day each winning this year, they are back in the picture and part of what makes this the most anticipated Masters in many years.
RICKIE FOWLER (16-1)
One of the best players never to win a major, Fowler is knocking on the door and entering his prime at age 29. A year ago, a second-round 67 at Augusta put him in position to chase the green jacket, but he imploded on Sunday with a 76 and tied for 11th. That was after he missed the cut in 2016. His course form is otherwise good with a tie for 12th in 2015 and fifth-place finish in 2014. Don’t be surprised if Fowler comes out on fire before fading on the weekend, which is exactly what happened last week in the Houston Open. Fowler has the talent to win, but he’s not yet a master of the mental aspect of the game.
PHIL MICKELSON (16-1)
Billy Walters is probably rooting against his former friend, but Lefty will be the sentimental favorite. And he actually has a shot. This is not just a fairy tale scripted by Jim Nantz and the CBS crew. Mickelson, 47, won in Mexico and has three other top-10 finishes in 2018 as proof of his recent resurgence. The Augusta layout favors left-handers, and Mickelson has three green jackets (2004, 2006 and 2010) and seven other top-5 finishes since 2001. Look to play Lefty in matchups and to finish inside the top 20. His odds to win do not present much value.
BUBBA WATSON (16-1)
Speaking of resurgent lefties with history at Augusta, Bubba is back. The Masters champ in 2012 and 2014 was written off by everyone before winning twice this year. He’s ripping it off the tee, pin hunting and playing with a new attitude at the right time. Watson missed the cut last year, partly because of health issues, but he has been so dominant lately that it would be a surprise if he’s not in the top 10 this week.
PAUL CASEY (25-1)
If not for Casey’s ability to close the deal, Tiger Woods probably would have one in the win column this year. Casey was one stroke better than Woods in his win at the Valspar Championship in Florida last month. The 40-year-old from England is not a sexy pick, but it’s smart to consider him a contender. Casey finished sixth or better in each of the past three Masters, with final-round scores of 68, 67 and 68.
TIGER WOODS (12-1)
The record-setting wagering handle on this Masters has much to do with Tiger’s return. He’s not only back at Augusta after a two-year absence, he’s back with a shot to contend. People love comeback stories, and this could be a classic. When odds opened in August, Woods was listed at 100-1. He recently moved as low as 6-1. He has won on this course four times, most recently in 2005, and finished fourth or better six times since. The last player to win back-to-back Masters was Woods in 2001 and 2002. In 20 Masters starts, he shot in the 60s (68 in 2010) only once in the first round. With that trend of slow starts, it’s probably wise to play his adjusted odds after the Thursday or Friday rounds because his current price offers no value. His downfall could be driving accuracy. It’s not a bad idea to bet on Woods to finish in the top 10 or 20.
Ten long shots who could land on the weekend leaderboard: Tommy Fleetwood (30-1), Henrik Stenson (30-1), Matt Kuchar (40-1), Marc Leishman (40-1), Alex Noren (40-1), Bryson DeChambeau (60-1), Louis Oosthuizen (60-1), Patrick Cantlay (80-1) Kevin Kisner (100-1), Ryan Moore (100-1).
* Odds from Westgate sports book.
Best bets: Spieth (10-1), Thomas (10-1), Fowler (16-1).
Will Tiger finish in the Top 20? Yes -160.