Tiger Woods last won a golf tournament 20 months ago and has plummeted to 111th in the world rankings, the lowest he’s ever been in his professional career. That isn’t stopping bettors from backing him at the Masters Tournament.
A win for Woods this week at the season’s first major championship would result in the most significant financial loss for the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook -- the result of odds that have fluctuated between 40-1 and 50-1. The biggest sports book in Nevada, the SuperBook has more liability on Woods than any other golfer in the 98-man field.
“Whether he’s playing well, in the 5-1 range, or he’s playing poorly and he’s up here at these odds, he always gets support,” SuperBook Assistant Manager Jeff Sherman, who runs the website Golfodds.com, said in a telephone interview. “When it’s going like now, people think, ‘You don’t see Tiger at these odds, let me take it. If he can put something together like Tiger used to do, maybe I could score.’”
Woods, 39, last played competitively two months ago, when he withdrew from the U.S. PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Feb. 5 with back pain. In addition to physical woes, Woods struggled with his chipping and with swing changes in his most recent events, shooting an 11-over-par 82 in his last full tournament round at the Phoenix Open on Jan. 30.
Woods, who won the most recent of his four Masters titles 10 years ago, announced he’d be in this year’s field after flying into Augusta, Georgia, last week for a practice round. Woods spent time Monday working on his chips and pitches at the practice facility at Augusta National Golf Club before playing 11 holes in preparation for the tournament, which starts Thursday. Woods played the first nine holes with Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters champion, and the 10th and 18th holes solo.
“I felt like I had to get my game into a spot where I could compete to win a golf tournament, and it’s finally there,” Woods told reporters after his partial practice round.
Woods ranks sixth in the number of wagers at the SuperBook, where Jordan Spieth has a sizable lead in total tickets over defending champion Bubba Watson.
“He’s definitely the people’s choice this week,” Sherman said of the 21-year-old Spieth, who’s had a win and two runner-up finishes in his last three tournaments.
Johnny Avello, the executive director of the Wynn Las Vegas Race and Sports Book, said Woods is an exception when it comes to golf, as most bettors look at recent performance.
“Golf is a fickle betting sport,” Avello said by phone. “People like to bet who’s going well at this time. Did they win last week? Are they playing good coming into this tournament, did they win this event before? It’s who’s hot.”
Spieth’s 8-1 odds of winning trail only Rory McIlroy, who is listed at 6-1 and needs a victory to complete the career Grand Slam of wins in all four majors. Watson is 10-1, followed by Dustin Johnson and Jason Day at 12-1. Johnson, Rickie Fowler (30-1) and Patrick Reed (20-1) have also been more popular among bettors than Woods, though the wagers continue to come in on the 14-time major champion.
“Every time I go to 50-1, they take it and I have to go back to 40,” Sherman said. “It’s a lot of accumulation -- $20, $50 bets, stuff like that. No real big ones.”
The SuperBook has also offered odds on whether Woods will make the cut for weekend play and whether he’ll finish in the top 20, with a money line that puts his chances at 22 percent, according to handicapping information website Pregame.com.
Woods hasn’t won a tournament since the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013. Yet Avello said bettors are taking a chance on Woods because of his experience and his odds. At 50-1, a winning $20 bet on Woods would return a $1,000 profit.
“You’d never get anything close to that in the past,” Avello said. “I don’t know if anyone really, truly feels that he’s going to win it. But I have a lot of tickets on him -- a lot of small stuff with people just taking a chance because they’ve never seen Tiger’s odds that high before.”