Is Tiger a good bet at Augusta?

April 01, 2009

Not necessarily. He's a 2-to-1 favorite, but as Lorne Rubenstein of the Globe and Mail notes, "Woods shouldn't be a 2-to-1 favorite to win the Masters. It's the difference again between being the golfer 'most likely' to win a particular tournament and 'likely' to win the specific event. John Allen Paulos, professor of math at Temple University in Philadelphia, explained the distinction in this space last year.

"A quick review will underscore the point: Woods is most likely of all his colleagues to win any tournament he enters. He wins nearly 30 per cent of those he plays; nobody else is near that winning percentage.

"But he doesn't win 70 per cent of the time, so he's not likely to win any specific tournament. The field against Woods is always a better bet.

Woods has played 12 Masters and won four, or 33 per cent of them.

"Does his winning percentage justify his being the 2-to-1 favorite? Again, no."

All of this is true, of course. But it does not account for one critical point: Predicting the likelihood of someone winning isn't the point of the odds. If the odds on Tiger winning were established at, say, 20-to-1, so much money would be bet on him that the risk to bookmakers would be untenable. At only 2-to-1, far more of the risk is assumed by bettors. Hence, he's 2-to-1 -- odds so low that they'll discourage bettors from loading up on him.

-- John Strege