Tiger Woods is fueling record-setting wagering on golf’s Masters Tournament at Las Vegas sports books, where many bettors are convinced the former No. 1 ranked player in the world has regained the form that helped him win 14 major titles.
Woods enters the Masters as the 9-2 favorite after his last start, two weeks ago in Orlando, yielded his first U.S. PGA Tour win in 2 1/2 years. The longest winless drought of his career was marked by revelations of infidelity and the breakup of his marriage, the loss of sponsors, the firing of his former caddie, an overhaul of his swing accompanied by a change in coaches, and the emergence of players such as Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, who all have held the No. 1 ranking.
With the victory, Woods’s return to relevance has led to a surge in interest among bettors as the season’s first major championship starts tomorrow at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
“It looks like it’s going to be a record-breaking Masters,” Jimmy Vaccaro, the director of sports operations at Lucky’s Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “This kid has conjured up a lot of attention in the past 2 1/2 weeks. We lose right now if Tiger wins, I’ll tell you that.”
Jeff Sherman, the golf oddsmaker at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino’s sports book, said betting on the Masters has climbed “into six figures” for the first time in his 18-year tenure.
“Wagering levels are at an all-time record,” Sherman said. “Tiger is accounting for about 10 percent of wagering tickets and 20 percent of wagering handle.”
None of the books would reveal this year’s expected handle or the record handle for Masters betting.
It’s a return to Woods’s pre-scandal days, when he was winning tournaments and heavy betting interest made him a significant favorite every time he teed off. The odds on Woods, 36, mean a winning $100 wager on him would return $450 plus the initial stake. McIlroy, the reigning U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland, is the second choice at 11-2, followed by three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson at 12-1.
“Is the old Tiger back? I don’t know, but the bettors think he is,” Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “The old Tiger odds are back again.”
Last year was the first time since 1999 that Woods wasn’t the pre-tournament favorite at the Masters.
Donald, an Englishman who is the current No. 1-ranked player in the world, is the fourth betting choice at 15-1, according to the LVH sports book. Donald has yet to win one of the sport’s four major championships.
“I’m still a decent number in the bookies, aren’t I?” Donald said yesterday at a news conference when asked about expectations that the tournament may come down to Woods and McIlroy. “I don’t know if I’ve been written off yet.”
Westwood, also from England, has 20-1 odds, with Australia’s Adam Scott and Hunter Mahan, who won last week’s Houston Open to become the top-ranked American in the world at No. 4, at 25-1. Woods is ranked seventh, after being as a low as 58th in November 2011.
Woods has won four career Masters titles, most recently in 2005, and he hasn’t won a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods said he’s ready to move closer to Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors.
“Everything is headed in the right direction at the right time,” said Woods, who is grouped with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sang-Moon Bae for the first two rounds.
Vaccaro said the public interest in Woods has pushed betting for the Masters on par with that of a Monday night National Football League game, without giving specifics.
Proposition bets on Woods are popular, from whether he makes the cut for weekend play to whether his opening-round score is better or worse than 71. Vaccaro said that 70 percent of the prop bets at Lucky’s are on Woods.
The betting limit for that type of wager is $1,000 and Vaccaro said he’s seen a number of maximum tickets on Woods.
“It’s the Masters, people love the props and probably most important, this kid is relevant again,” Vaccaro said.
The 22-year-old McIlroy, who blew a four-shot final-round lead at last year’s Masters, said he “couldn’t care less” who the bookmakers’ favorite is, while adding that he’s excited Woods is healthy and playing well again.
“He creates excitement that no one else in the game can,” McIlroy said. “A lot of people want to see him make history and it looks like he’s back on track to maybe doing that.”
Woods’s return to past form would be a welcome one for the bookmakers in Las Vegas.
“It certainly helps drive the handle up,” Avello said. “When his prices are low, then there’s value in others. As long as he continues to play well, it bodes well for us.”