HADDINGTON, Scotland – At Scotbet on Market Street, the TVs are tuned to the dog track and horse races. But sitting on the table in the middle of the place is a fresh stack of British Open betting sheets.
Two doors down, at Ladbrokes, they were also taking action on both the horses and the greyhounds – and cricket, and soccer. But the talk was about the Open being contested just up the two-lane road that winds from the coast through the farmlands to here.
At these legal betting parlors five miles south of Muirfield, site of the 142nd British Open, it might as well still be 2008. Here in the time warp, there was no broken leg. There was no crashed SUV. There was no career-sabotaging scandal.
Here in the time warp, Tiger Woods remains the favorite – in this major, and in every major he's contested since his last win. (Which, truth be told, is similar to the betting patterns in America as well.)
Doesn't matter that he hasn't won any of the last 20, or that he hasn't won the British since 2006. If forced to put their pounds on any individual golfer, the Brits are betting on Tiger.
[Related: Tiger Woods' dominant days are long gone]
Woods is the 10-1 favorite at Ladbrokes, and 8-1 at Scotbet. When asked about the persistent appeal of Tiger, Colin, the ruddy-faced bet taker at Ladbrokes, explained, "He likes the [left-to-right] fades, and the course plays for fades." That case can be made, but after walking all 18 holes of the circular layout Wednesday, I found six holes playing with the wind, three playing against the wind, six playing into a right-to-left crosswind and three playing into left-to-right winds.
In other words, the winner on this ancient course bordered by stone walls and the sea is going to have to shape all kinds of shots in constantly changing wind. This isn't a layout where nine holes go one way and the other nine go in the opposite direction, leading to a modicum of predictability and routine. The breeze blowing in off the Firth of Forth will be coming from all directions, depending on the hole.
So it will take more than fades for Tiger to win his first major in five years.
As the guy behind the betting window at Scotbet pointed out, "He's 8-1, but normally he'd be 9-4." So Woods' appeal is diminished to the point that he's not the prohibitive punter's choice. Nobody is.
(Looking at the odds, you wonder whether past precedent is being factored in at all. Phil Mickelson, who has never won the British Open and rarely come close, is the second choice at both establishments – he's 16-1 Ladbrokes, 20-1 at Scotbet.)
The biggest difficulty in labeling anyone other than Tiger the favorite stems from the fact that nobody has consistently risen to the occasion in the last 20 majors.
Padraig Harrington won the last two of 2008, but hasn't won on the PGA or European Tour since. He's missed the cut in seven of the last 18 majors.
Rory McIlroy is the only other golfer to win two majors in the post-Tiger Dominance Era, and everyone agrees he has the game to win many more. But in 2013 his game has digressed, and that digression has been analyzed like the Zapruder film by everyone on this side of the pond.
Sir Nick Faldo weighed in to suggest young Rory isn't working hard enough at his craft. Naturally, McIlroy was asked about it Wednesday.
"He said I should be at the course 9 to 5," McIlroy said. "I was actually on the range at 6:15 [a.m.] and got out of the gym at 6:15 [p.m.], actually a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day."
How's that for a little pot-bunker sand smacked back at Sir Nick?
But no matter how many hours he's spending at the course, nobody is rushing to anoint McIlroy the favorite here. He's a tepid 28-1 at Scotbet.
There is some support for the past two major winners, England's Justin Rose and Australia's Adam Scott (both 20-1 at Scotbet). Some are still backing Englishman Luke Donald (25-1), who has risen to the level of being consistently good in major championship play without ever being good enough to win. The UK punters also have some love for homeboys Graeme McDowell (came close last year) and Lee Westwood (came close in 2004, '09 and '10), both 25-1.
But for the most part, they're turning to Tiger Woods, despite five years of reasons why he's not the guy to back.
Still, there are reasons to like Woods.
He had a scorching first half of the year, with four Tour victories. It can be argued that a single catastrophic break (the chip off the flagstick and into the water and into two-shot penalty purgatory at the Masters) is the only thing separating him from having already pocketed his 15th major. He was not disastrous at the U.S. Open, finishing tied for 32nd while playing through an elbow injury. His last British victory, in 2006, also came in warm, dry, low-scoring conditions in which he kept his driver in the bag and went with irons off the tee – which is his pronounced plan here.
And the track record at Muirfield says that this is a course for heavyweights, not fluke champions. The Ben Curtises and Todd Hamiltons and Paul Lawries win elsewhere. The past seven champions at Muirfield have been named Els, Faldo (twice), Watson, Trevino, Nicklaus and Player.
Tiger Woods' name would certainly fit on that list.
The bettors in Scotland believe in him, despite five years of reasons not to.
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