Tiger Woods’s absence from the Masters Tournament will be felt from Augusta, Georgia, to Las Vegas, where some sports books are projecting a 20 percent decline in the total amount wagered on golf’s first major championship of the year.
Woods, the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer and the winner of 14 major titles, withdrew from the tournament yesterday following surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his back.
It marks the first time in 20 years that the five-time Masters winner will miss the tournament, which is scheduled for April 10-13 at Augusta National Golf Club. The Masters is “by far” the most popular golf tournament each year at Nevada’s 183 sports books, according to Jeff Sherman, assistant manager at the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook.
“It’s basically double the next one, which is the U.S. Open,” Sherman said by phone. “It’s like when people get out and bet the Kentucky Derby or the Daytona 500; it’s the one golf event the casual fan will end up getting involved with. There’s so many people that say, ‘I just want to root for Tiger,’ and now they’re not going to get the opportunity. Those people don’t turn their attention elsewhere.”
Woods, 38, said he’ll be forced to miss several tournaments to focus on rehabilitation and getting healthy, with a goal of trying to resume playing this summer. Woods three weeks ago had been the 6-1 favorite to win the Masters at the LVH Sportsbook. After back spasms forced him to miss the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, Woods was adjusted to a 10-1 co-favorite with Rory McIlroy and defending Masters champion Adam Scott.
“The back issues he’s been dealing with this year had shied some people away,” said Sherman, who also runs the website golfodds.com. “Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot less interest and I bumped his odds up to 10-1 prior to his withdrawal trying to attract more money because it hadn’t shown up like it has in the past.”
Woods’s participation in golf tournaments has boosted television ratings throughout his career and his absence has led to declines. When Woods was out for eight months following knee surgery in 2009, his absence caused a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in ratings for U.S. PGA Tour events he missed, according to former CBS Sports head Neal Pilson, now the president of Pilson Communications.
Buoyed by Woods, Masters ratings have remained high even when he hasn’t figured prominently on the Sunday leaderboard. Final-round viewership has been above 14 million in five of the past six years. The first time Woods won the Masters, in 1997, the tournament drew more than 20 million final-round viewers.
Betting on golf coincides with TV ratings, Sherman said, without disclosing specific wagering totals.
“The casual fan might not be tuning in when they hear he’s out,” he said. “When the TV ratings go down a little bit, our betting handle goes down.”
With Woods out, Northern Ireland’s McIlroy is the Masters favorite at 8-1 odds, followed by Scott and fellow Australian Jason Day at 10-1. More wagers have been placed on Day, who finished third in Augusta last year and was tied for second in 2011, than any other player, Sherman said.
Matt Kuchar is second in total tickets at the LVH SuperBook, followed by fellow American Jordan Spieth. SuperBook bettors who wagered on Woods to win the Masters will get a refund once the tournament concludes, Sherman said.
Woods said he opted for surgery -- a microdiscetomy -- after failing to make the necessary progress in his attempt to get ready for the Masters. The repetitive motion from golf can cause an injury like a pinched nerve, and Woods could have suffered further damage if he continued to play, according to a statement on his website.
Woods said there should be no long-lasting effects from the surgery and that it shouldn’t impact the longevity of his career. Woods is four major titles shy of matching Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 and nine wins away from tying Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories.
“It’s tough right now, but I’m absolutely optimistic about the future,” Woods said in his statement. “There are a couple records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I’ve said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine.”
Nicklaus, 74, said he thinks Woods, who got his last major win in 2008, has a lot of good golf ahead of him.
“I hate to see him robbed of some of that time by injury,” Nicklaus said on his website. “But we all know he is doing what is in the best interest of his health and future.”