When Tiger Woods scored his first PGA Tour win in more than five years at the Tour Championship on September 23, it was the capper to a stirring athletic comeback story. Once the world’s best golfer by a wide margin, seemingly on a trajectory toward being universally regarded as the greatest ever to strike the ball, Woods had been decimated by injuries and personal problems. When he returned from two largely inactive years in January, he was ranked 656th in the world. So to win a tournament, any tournament, after all that, was remarkable.
It did not, however, make Tiger instantly the best in the world again at age 42. He’s currently ranked 13th, a fair assessment of his standing entering any individual major next year.
But don’t tell the sports betting public that.
Masters is his domain
The next golf major is the 2019 Masters, next April 11-14 in Augusta. Here’s how five mobile sportsbooks in New Jersey have the top two spots on the odds board:
- FanDuel: Tiger Woods +950, Jordan Spieth +950
- DraftKings: Woods +800, Spieth +800
- Play SugarHouse: Woods +800, Spieth +800
- BetStars: Spieth +900, Woods +1000
- 888sport: Woods +800, Spieth +800
The 13th-ranked golfer in the world is the co-favorite at the Masters (except at BetStars, where he’s alone at number two) alongside Spieth, who has finished in the top three at the Masters four of the last five years. Woods has shorter odds at every sportsbook than No. 1 ranked Dustin Johnson, than Justin Rose, than Brooks Koepka, than Rory McIlroy.
Why is the 13th best golfer getting odds between 8/1 and 10/1 to win a tournament with 90-100 competitors?
“The public loves to bet him, so [bookmakers] have to hedge even more with Tiger than anyone else,” golf betting writer Dan Daly tells US Bets. “It’s almost impossible to get ‘fair odds’ on any golfer to win a tournament in my opinion. I think the ‘true odds’ for even the best PGA tour player these days would be 30/1. Tiger is by far the worst, though. Now that he has won again, his odds in 2019 will be even shorter and not anywhere close to what his true odds should be.”
Too public to bet?
Even before he’d returned to the winner’s circle, more bets were placed on Woods at the Las Vegas SuperBook to win the Tour Championship than on any other golfer. Anticipating a rush of money on Tiger, Westgate immediately made him 9/1 for the Masters, setting the standard for what the lines would look like in New Jersey.
It’s all been fairly predictable, Daly says: “As soon as he won The Tour Championship, and even leading up to it, people were already going crazy on Tiger futures for 2019. If he wins or even comes close to winning a tournament before the Masters, he may drop as low as 4/1. Throw in the fact that he has already won a major on three of the four courses they are playing in 2019, and his odds in 2019 will be so short it makes betting on him not worth it even if he does happen to win one — which I think he will.”
How’s that for a statement: I think he’s going to win one of the four majors … and it’s still not worth betting on.
Tiger is just too public to bet, if you’re being smart with your money. And it’s always been that way, whether he was in his prime, struggling badly over the last few years, or back in the hunt in 2018.
By the time the 2008 Masters teed off, Woods was even money to win! (He finished second, three strokes behind Trevor Immelman.) When he was trying to come back from injuries, his odds were longer than ever, but still far too short given the fact that he had no chance at all of winning for much of that stretch. And now they’ve tightened significantly again, because the books know people will bet on Tiger even at an unrealistic number.
Gravy for the oddsmakers
Thanksgiving is seven weeks away, and the sportsbooks are already working on stuffing their pockets with bettors’ money. Woods and Phil Mickelson will engage in a head-to-head exhibition match on November 23, and the odds have moved quite a bit since Tiger opened as a -150 favorite with Phil listed as a +130 ’dog.
At Westgate Las Vegas, Tiger is all the way up to -220, and at FanDuel Sportsbook online in New Jersey he’s -230, with Mickelson at +190. The movement has been a little less drastic at DraftKings Sportsbook, where Woods is -200 and Mickelson is +160.
So if you want to bet on “Lefty,” the best price you can find a $190 return on your $100 wager. If you want to bet on Tiger, the best price is to bet $200 to win $100.
Has it turned into a stay-away thanks to Tiger’s recent triumph?
“I’m not touching it,” Daly says. “Tiger is clearly the better golfer right now and should blow Phil away in a single 18-hole event. However, there is no way I would be willing to lay more than 2/1 on an exhibition match where anything can happen and neither is taking it very seriously.”
Not everyone feels that way, though. The public is backing Woods even at unfriendly odds, as you’d expect; ESPN’s David Payne Purdum reports that at Westgate, the majority of the money has come in on Tiger. However, the largest bet they’ve taken is a $4,000 wager on Phil.
So, clearly, some people aren’t scared of the exhibition factor — nor of the fact that Mickelson finished dead last, 24 strokes behind Woods, at the Tour Championship.
Event after event, Tiger Woods, because of public money, is the worst bet in golf.
But against a public opponent on November 23, he might, for once, only be the second worst bet on the board.