LAS VEGAS – He is the brightest star in a sport poised to step onto the biggest of stages at the most prestigious of tournaments. He's won here four times during his illustrious 18-year career, but focuses more on what he has yet to accomplish rather than what he has already achieved. By his standards, he's come up short in his last seven visits to this iconic golf course.
But after notching three victories in only five PGA Tour events this season, odds makers and bettors alike have installed Tiger Woods as the heavy favorite to claim his fifth green jacket at this weekend's 77th edition of the Masters.
"The public keeps supporting him," Jeff Sherman, assistant manager of the LVH Race & Sports book in Las Vegas, told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. "Coming off his last win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational we moved Tiger from 9/2 to 3/1 and have still taken a ton of money on him. Even on our 'Will Tiger Woods win the Masters?' (Yes: +300, No: -360) prop, we still keep getting 'yes' bets. There's nobody who is really looking to oppose him right now."
But while the total amount of money wagered at the LVH sports book has favored Woods more than any other participant in this week's field, there are actually two golfers who have had more betting slips written with their names on them.
Starting with three-time Masters Champion Phil Mickelson.
"Mickelson (10/1) always gets his due," said Sherman. "He's leading the ticket count right now. We've actually written more tickets on Mickelson than any other golfer this week. Tiger would be third, behind Mickelson and [Matt] Kuchar (30/1). But the amount of money bet on Tiger far exceeds anybody else. A lot of the larger wagers come in on Tiger.
"Another player who has been getting a lot of support is Keegan Bradley (25/1). He's been in great form recently and he's a guy a lot of people are picking this week."
While it pales in comparison to high-profile sporting events like the Super Bowl and March Madness, golf wagering experiences its biggest boom of the year during the Masters. That's because while many will quickly balk at the idea of investing four hours of time to watch the Farmers Insurance Open, most of us will spend at least a few minutes between Thursday and Sunday monitoring the events as they unfold at Augusta National.
"The Masters is by far the biggest," said Sherman. "What we handle on this event is twice as much as the U.S. Open. The majors go in descending order. We write a ton of tickets on the Masters and then it drops off for the U.S. Open and then again for the British and the PGA Championship. But those four Majors far exceed any weekly golf event. They aren't even in the same conversation."
Sherman told Yahoo! Sports that the total amount of money bet on the first major championship of the season will likely double the volume of cash that is wagered on a Monday night football game.
HORSE(S) FOR THE COURSE
Any golf wagering analysis that's worth a nickel has to begin with the identification of which golfers excel and which ones struggle at the course in question. Unlike the NBA where every playing surface is exactly the same, professional golf venues vary greatly from one track to the next. Was it really a surprise that Charley Hoffman – a 36-year-old who entered last week's Valero Texas Open with just one top-65 over his previous five starts – finished third at TPC San Antonio? Of course it wasn't. Hoffman may be having an ordinary season by most standards, but he had finished T13 or better in six of seven starts at the Valero. That's the kind of information that can go a long way in golf wagering.
Here's a rundown of golfers in this week's field who have had an abundance of success playing at Augusta National:
Tiger Woods: The world's top-ranked golfer has made 18 career starts at Augusta, winning four times while recording 12 top-10 finishes. And while last year's T40 was Woods' worst finish since his T41 in 1995, take note that the man with 77 career PGA Tour wins under his belt has placed fourth or better in six of his last eight starts at the Masters.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty has finished in the top 5 at the Masters in a staggering nine of his last 12 starts, with three wins and a total of 14 top-10s in 20 appearances. In fact, Mickelson's career average finish of 15.1 just edges out Tiger at 15.2 for the best in this week's field. It just wouldn't be the first Major of the year if the San Diego native weren't in contention come Sunday.
Justin Rose: Has only played here seven times, but has two top-10s on his résumé and has finished 11th or better in each of the last two years. Take note that Rose has shot par or better in seven of his last eight rounds at Augusta.
Adam Scott: Tough to back the Aussie after watching his epic meltdown at Royal Lytham & St. Annes last July, but it's possible that such a devastating collapse could serve to harden Scott's shell for the next time he's in contention. Since missing the cut at Augusta in 2009, the 32-year-old has rattled off three straight top-20 finishes, including a T2 in 2011 and a T12 last year.
Lee Westwood: One of the Tour's most consistent runner-up finishers, Westwood has gone to the clubhouse at 11th or better in each of his last three Masters appearances, with a solo second in 2010 and a T3 in 2012. Keep in mind that the 39-year-old has shot over par in only two of his last 12 rounds at Augusta.
Ian Poulter: Recognized more for his dominance in match play, most fail to realize that Poulter is eight-for-eight in cuts made at Augusta while never finishing worse than 33rd (2005). The Englishman has finished in the top 10 at the Masters in two of his last three starts and is just one year removed from his best performance (solo seventh).
Fred Couples: At 53-years-old and playing in his 29th Masters this week, it's unlikely that "Boom Boom" Couples will walk away with his second green jacket. But don't be surprised if the laidback Seattleite is hovering near the top of the leaderboard at some point during the weekend, as Couples has 11 career top-10 finishes at Augusta with three straight top-15 performances (solo sixth in 2010).
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