PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


No Bets On Tiger Taken Here

March 16, 2008

So, who do you like this week at Doral? I'm thinking Martin Kaymer. Or perhaps you are leaning more toward the chalk and have your eyes on Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh or Adam Scott to grab the CA Championship in Miami. Tell you one thing: If you are betting Tiger Woods you ain't gonna make much money. Young Eldrick's level of domination is so complete right now the bookies pretty much have to pay people to bet against him.

Sports betting, which is legal in foreign countries like Great Britain and Las Vegas, has a self-policing economy that apparently regulates itself better than the home loan business. When a team or a player gets hot the betting lines show what those Wall Street gurus like to call a correction. Let's just say the market has corrected for Tiger this week.

Now, I have long believed that the betting odds on golf are way too low. For example, one operation I found has the odds of Tiger Woods winning the Grand Slam at 7-2. As great as Tiger is, that's just ridiculous. Golf is the most difficult sport in which to dominate because there is no sport in which you have so little influence over your opponent. Woods could play lights out in one of the majors and still get beat by someone who was even better. On that particular day

That said, the odds I've found on a Website that surveys the betting lines of various legal operations seems to have a pretty accurate handle on the CA Championship. Tiger is the favorite at 10-11, with Mickelson at 16-1, Els at 22-1, Singh at 25-1 and Scott at 33-1. (That Singh number, by the way, is about what the betting odds should be on Woods winning the Grand Slam.) Kaymer, by the way, is 100-1 -- at Doral, not the Grand Slam.

OK, so you have to bet $11 on Tiger to win $10 while a $1 bet on Mickelson will earn you $16. Pretty much for the risk you take to win $10 on Tiger you can win $160 on Mickelson. Why, that's outrageous. And it pretty much accurately reflects the state of things right now in professional golf. Woods is not only playing golf on a different level than everyone else, he's doing math to a totally different set of rules.

But here's what the other 71 fellows are facing when they tee it up Thursday on the Blue Monster course at Doral; Woods has won five consecutive PGA Tour events, seven in a row worldwide and nine of his last 10. There have been five occasions when a PGA Tour player has won five or more events consecutively, and three of those five have been by Woods.

Byron Nelson, of course, has the record with 11 in a row, and Ben Hogan won six straight. Woods has now fashioned winnings streaks of five, six and seven. But the most telling statistic going into Doral is not a number but a feeling: The sense of inevitability is back.

Did anyone anywhere really have any doubt that Woods was going to birdie the last hole at Bay Hill on Sunday to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational? Yes, Tiger had missed some fairways, but not when it mattered. And yes, he had an ugly three-putt from seven feet on No. 10, but the tournament wasn't on the line then. All he did on the 72nd hole was hit a perfect drive, a perfect approach and a perfect putt.

That birdie gave Woods PGA Tour victory No. 64, tying Hogan for third place on the all-time list behind Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82). And Tiger is only 32 years old. Nicklaus won 28 times after his 32nd birthday, and Snead won 51 times after his. You do the math. Woods is on his way to 100 wins.

When Tiger won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes at the age of 21 and then took home nine titles including three majors in 2000 at the age of 24 we all thought he had redefined when it was that a golfer reaches his peak. The conventional wisdom had long been that it was in the early to mid 30s. The record of Nicklaus and Snead seem to support that. Tiger made it feel as if great players no longer needed to wait that long to hit their stride.

What if we were wrong? What if it is still true that pros peak in their 30s? What if Tiger Woods has not yet reached his peak? What if his best years are still ahead of him? Think of all the remarkable things he has done and then ponder the possibility that there could be more incredulous achievements still ahead.

One thing Woods has never lacked is motivation. He has always played against history and not the field, and he has an almost magical way of creating a carrot he can dangle in front of himself in order to remain moving at full stride. He's given us some hints this year as to what is driving him, saying the Grand Slam is merely a matter of winning the right four tournaments, and even refusing to take Nelson's record of 11 consecutive wins off the table as a goal.

Think back to Sunday's finish at Bay Hill. Remember that perfect drive, precise second shot and center-cut putt. Now remember Tiger's reaction when the winning shot toppled into the cup. He was pretty demonstrative. That full-pumped fist that has become more of a rarity was on parade.

Seems to me like Tiger really wanted to win at Bay Hill. Why? To tie Hogan? Maybe. Because it's Palmer's event? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, it's because the carrot he is dangling in front of himself this time is truly audacious. Maybe Woods is not only thinking about winning all four majors, maybe he is thinking about winning everything he plays. I wonder what kind of odds you can get on that? Probably not as good as you think.