All in on Tiger: The hysteria around Tiger Woods’s comeback is keeping Vegas sportsbooks busy

March 23, 2018

LAS VEGAS — One way to measure how far Tiger Woods has progressed in his latest comeback is to track his uptick in greens in regulation.  

Another way is to weigh Jeff Sherman’s workload on his days off.  

Sherman is the golf oddsmaker at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, and the man most local sportsbooks look to when setting their own odds. Thursdays and Fridays are supposed to be his weekend. 

These, of course, aren’t ordinary times.  

The new normal for Sherman, a soft-spoken 47-year-old with close-cropped hair, is what transpired this month during the Valspar Championship in Tampa, where Woods’s strong first-round showing dashed any hopes that Sherman had of sleeping in.  

As Woods’s name crept up the leaderboard, Sherman’s cell phone buzzed with texts from the office, alerting him to money coming in on Tiger. People were betting him to win the Masters, the golf event that draws, by a wide margin, more gambling interest than any other.  

The Tiger-wagering trend was a continuation of what Sherman had seen during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January, where Woods scratched his way to a T-23. And then again at the Honda Classic, in South Florida, where Woods flashed signs of his former alpha self, finishing 12th. With springtime and Augusta fast approaching, Tigermania had set in.  

Like any smart bookmaker, Sherman goes to great lengths to minimize risk, which is why, in recent weeks, he’d been busy tweaking his Masters line on Tiger, dropping it from 25 to 1 to 16 to 1 during the Honda, and then to 12 to 1 after Woods’s sharp first-round play at the Valspar.  

The second round in Tampa was barely underway when Sherman’s cell phone sounded yet again: another $4,000 on Woods at Augusta.  

Sherman slashed the odds once more, this time to 10 to 1. “With other golfers, it takes three to four good rounds to really create much movement in their odds in the majors, so there’s no urgency to adjust,” Sherman says. “But with Tiger, it takes just a few good holes to change the landscape of the betting market. He’s the one guy who keeps me busy on my days off.”  

Work was less relentless for him late last summer when the PGA Championship drew to a close and Sherman set his opening Masters odds. He listed Woods at 100 to 1.  

Given what Tiger was doing at the time — rehabbing from spinal fusion surgery — 100 to 1 seemed like the right odds for whether he’d be tying his own shoes by April. But so it goes with wagering on Tiger Woods: Payouts rarely square with probabilities.  

People want to root for Tiger. They want to bet on Tiger. And they do, no matter what the numbers say.  

That makes Sherman’s job a mix of art and science: He does his best to calculate Woods’s true chances, then adjusts them to his knowledge of how bettors behave.  

Sure enough, those opening Masters odds attracted Tiger money, so Sherman dropped the line to 80 to 1. Not long after, when rumors began swirling that Woods would return at the Hero World Challenge, Sherman assumed (correctly) that the news would translate into action. In a preemptive move, he revised the line on Tiger to 50 to 1. Never mind that Tiger had yet to strike a shot in competition.  

“Just the idea that he might be playing was enough for people to take a chance by supporting him,” Sherman says.   

Bookmakers like Sherman don’t just count how much is being wagered. They keep watch on who is placing bets.  

In gambling, as in golf, there are pros and there are schmoes, or, more kindly, regular Janes and Joes — different populations playing very different games. Those who do it for a living study stats and trends. The rest of us are mostly swinging wildly, acting on gut instinct or emotion. A flyer on our favorite player? Sure, we’ll take it. Gambling, after all, is entertainment, right?  

That’s not how the pros treat it. They don’t bet Tiger at 10 to 1.  

Ask a betting insider like Brady Kannon, a Vegas-based golf handicapper, and he’ll tell you that Woods’s true odds at Augusta are closer to the neighborhood of 20 to 1.  

“Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady getting injured can move a point spread 10 points,” Kannon says. “That’s huge. But I don’t think there is a bookmaker out there who would tell you that there is a more impactful player (than Tiger) in any sport.”  

As if its own irrational exuberance weren’t enough, the public’s view of Tiger is further distorted by media coverage of sports betting. Late last week, as the Arnold Palmer Invitational got underway, TheStreet.com asserted in a splashy headline: “If Tiger Woods were a stock, now would be the time to go all in.”  

Given his inflated value in the market, pretty much the opposite is true. But so it goes.  

There’s fake news, and there’s real news, and here’s a fact: With Bay Hill in the books, Sherman has established yet another line for Tiger at the Masters, setting him at 8 to 1, the outright tournament favorite. Depending where the money falls, that line may drop again. It will all be settled, finally, late Sunday at Augusta, which doesn’t mean that Sherman will see any respite.  

“On Monday,” he says, “I’ll by busy working on my U.S. Open lines.”